Unity showed Labour the path to power

IT was not only the desire for change after 18 years of Conservative governments which swept Tony Blair to power 11 years' ago. It was unity.But that unity is now unravelling, and the two main protagonists just happen to be supporters of Norwich City.

Graham Dines

IT was not only the desire for change after 18 years of Conservative governments which swept Tony Blair to power 11 years' ago. It was unity.

But that unity is now unravelling, and the two main protagonists just happen to be supporters of Norwich City.

The long wilderness years saw Labour fragment with influential members quitting to form the Social Democrats in protest at the antics of Militant and the so-called “loony left” which dominated the party at constituency level.

The discord all but destroyed Labour until, on the death of its then leader John Smith, the party rebranded itself 'new' and heralded in a breed of young politicians focussed on one objective - winning power. And to do that, an iron discipline took over which silenced the mutterings of the old left and told the voters they could have confidence in a strong, united party.

Not any more. Since Gordon Brown bottled out of holding a General Election last October, virtually everything he has touched has turned to ashes. And it has ignited feuds between the diehard Blairite wing and the supporters of the Prime Minister.

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It comes as no surprise to find that Schools Secretary Ed Balls has become Enemy Number One for the Blairite. Gordon Brown's closest political ally, Mr Balls was credited with constantly briefing against Blair to propel Brown into Downing Street.

But the dark corners of the Palace of Westminster are occupied by the disaffected whisperers claiming that Brown's days are numbered, Balls doesn't like it.

As the Prime Minister hunkers down to tough out the disillusion which is engulfing his leadership, Norwich South MP and former Home Secretary Charles Clarke accused Balls of being “well acquainted” with the kind of anonymous briefing he has blamed on the Prime Minister's internal critics.

He went on to urge Mr Balls to look at his own record - as a Treasury adviser and minister as well as at the Department for Children, Schools and Families - when considering present difficulties.

“Many Labour MPs, including myself, are disappointed by policy decisions such as the abolition of the 10p tax rate, the over-bureaucratic and insensitive nature of the post office closure programme, and the problems arising from lack of preparation for a Northern Rock-style economic challenge,” said Mr Clarke. “These all stem from Treasury positions with which he is very familiar.”

Mr Clarke added that he and “many” others were disappointed with Mr Balls' education policies. “He should stop attacking others anonymously or in code and look to his own performance and record.”

The two Canaries locked horns before Gordon Brown's humiliating climb down in the face of Labour's 10p tax rate rebels. Staring at the prospect of near-certain defeat in the Commons, Mr Brown caved in by offering key concessions to compensate low earners hit by the controversial move.

The abrupt volte-face followed a week in which the premier and Chancellor Alistair Darling had repeatedly insisted that rewriting the financial package was impossible.

The Prime Minister insisted the “fundamental” element of the 2007 Budget was abolishing the 10p income tax rate, and that was still going ahead. He rebuffed suggestions he had been made to look foolish by the tax rebels. “I don't think I've been pushed about at all. What I've done is to listen and made the right long-term decision.

“When we looked at it in more detail we saw we could do more to help those people who are just below the retirement age and also those people who are in couples and single.

“I said I wouldn't move on the 10p tax rate, I have not moved on the 10p tax rate. The right long term decision was to abolish the 10p tax rate.”

While that may be true, the Prime Minister only “looked at in more detail” because he had been forced to by angry Labour MPs championing five million people worse off because of the changes.

The Chancellor announced that additional support would be given to an estimated 5.3 million of Britain's poorest people who will lose out from the tax change, unveiled by Mr Brown in his final Budget before leaving Number 11 last year. Losses suffered by groups such as low-paid workers without children and pensioners aged 60-64 will be offset through the winter fuel allowance system, tax credits and the minimum wage, according to Mr Darling.

The u-turn came in a letter from Darling to the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, which was published just in time to save Brown from an expected PMQs mauling at the hands of his own backbenchers.

But he still had to face David Cameron in the Commons, who was revelling in the confusion and policy backtracking. Nothing could be more damning than Cameron's put down: “Labour's finally worked out, it has a loser not a leader.”

FOLLETT'S ESSEX AVOIDANCE `SIMPLY UNBELIEVABLE'

CHELMSFORD West's MP Simon Burns summed up the answer given to him by a junior Government minister in two words: “Simply unbelievable!”

He had tabled a question in the House of Commons to the Department for Communities and Local Government asking how many times Barbara Follett, the East of England's designated minister to champion the region, has visited the area administered by Essex county council since her appointment.

The answer came forth from junior minister Parmjit Dhanda: None.

However, he was able to tell the MP that Mrs Follett will be visiting Chelmsford on July 7 for a meeting with Essex county council and other county parties.

Mr Burns said: “This is simply unbelievable. How can someone who has been tasked by the Prime Minister to speak up for the East of England and champion it among Government departments not have visited the region's biggest county? For goodness sake, she's been in office for nearly 12 months.”

Before the Easter parliamentary recess, Mr Burns had asked how many times Mrs Follett had visited Essex, to be told that she had twice popped in to Thurrock.

“I put in the second question because Thurrock is a unitary authority and not part of the Essex county council administered area. The reason she went to Thurrock was obvious - it's an area in which Labour is desperate to do well at the local elections and which has two marginal parliamentary seats.”

A spokesman for Mrs Follett said it was not because of a lack of interest that she hadn't been to Essex.

“The minister has been actively involved in Essex county council matters she she was appointed. She has met with a number of county council representatives and other local authorities in Essex. She has discussed the county's preparations for the Olympics and this Monday she will be in Chelmsford to meet with representatives.

“On Monday July 7, she will return to Chelmsford to attend a meeting with Essex county council and other county partners to discuss the county's multi area agreements. The regional minister spent half a day on February 25 this year talking with Thurrock councillors, officers, health officials and members of the South Essex rape and incest centre.”

LET'S HEAR IT FOR GOOD OLD TIM!

I COUNT, the campaign of the Stop Climate Chaos coalition which brings together more than 70 organisations, from environment, development charities to unions, faith and women's groups have congratulated Suffolk South MP Tim Yeo for signing a pledge to strengthen the UK's Climate Change Bill .

The Climate Change Bill sets legally binding emissions reduction targets for the government and will make the UK a world leader in the legislation needed for industrialised nations to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

Mr Yeo, who is chairman of the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, has joined a growing list of so-called 'Climate Hero MPs' who have signed an Early Day Motion 736 calling for the Bill to set a tougher 80% target for cutting carbon dioxide by 2050, as well as include emissions from the UK's contribution to international aviation and shipping.

Mr Yeo, MP said: “The Climate Change Bill is a bold but necessary move to tackle climate change and confirms the UK government as global leaders in getting carbon emissions under control. However to be effective the targets in the Bill must be set according to current scientific thinking and account for emissions from international aviation and shipping.”

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