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banner Saturday, 23 September, 2000, 22:36 GMT 23:36 UK
Brighton may rock Labour
Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives in Brighton ahead of the Labour Party conference
Tony Blair prepares for a rough ride at conference
Labour ministers have begun arriving in Brighton for the party's annual conference following the government's toughest week in office.

After the chaos of the fuel crisis, the conference, which starts on Sunday, is likely to see Prime Minister Tony Blair under more intense pressure than at any time since he became party leader.

Mr Blair and his deputy John Prescott had routine meetings with union bosses at a reception on Saturday.

But they face continued fierce lobbying on the issue of pensions, with the giant Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU), the GMB general union, Unison the public sector union and the MSF clerical union clamouring for change.

The Sunday Mirror newspaper, previously a staunch supporter of New Labour, is also launching a campaign to increase pensions.

'Pensions the priority'

Despite Gordon Brown's promise of an extra 12 a week for pensioners on the lowest incomes, the chancellor's refusal to restore the link with average earnings is likely to provoke an emergency debate.

bill morris
Morris: Pensions priority
The TGWU's Bill Morris said the restoration of the link was the union's "number one priority".

Pensioners' champion and former Cabinet minister Dame Barbara Castle, 89, and ex-union leader Jack Jones are due to address a meeting on pensioners' rights in Brighton at lunch time on Monday - just before Mr Brown make his keynote speech in the main conference hall.

The chancellor is expected to stress the benefits of his tough economic strategy during the past two years and say his package for poorer pensioners will give greater help to those who need it than anything proposed by his opponents.

Angry protests

Mr Blair is also facing demonstrations from angry farmers next week along with rumoured protests from hauliers determined to make their point on the price of fuel.

The latest NOP opinion poll showing William Hague's Tories with an 8% lead is another blow to the premier.

But in Scotland voters are backing Mr Blair's government, according to a different survey.

Scottish Opinion Ltd asked 818 Scots who they would vote for in an election for the Westminster Parliament.

A total of 34% backed Labour, 24% the SNP, 22% the Conservatives, and 16% the Liberal Democrats.

In contrast, the NOP poll put the Conservatives on 40%, ahead of Labour on 32% and the Liberal Democrats on 22%.

In another NOP poll, Cabinet Office minister Mo Mowlam has emerged as the voters' favourite to succeed Mr Blair as Labour leader.

Ms Mowlam has announced she is standing down as MP for Redcar at the next election after repeated reports of a Westminster rumour campaign against her.

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See also:

18 Sep 00 | Labour
Labour conference coverage
22 Sep 00 | Labour
Labour conference schedule
08 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Unions back pensions link
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