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Labour Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 21:07 GMT 22:07 UK
Labour defeated over pensions
Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown listens as the pensions set back unfolds
The Labour leadership has suffered an embarrassing defeat after conference delegates backed a motion calling for the restoration of the link between earnings and pensions.

Ministers had tried to block the motion being put up for a vote.

But 60% of delegates backed the motion with 39% voting with the Labour leadership.

Conservative leader William Hague said the result at the party conference in Brighton amounted to "total humiliation" for Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Pensioners have not blocked the oil refineries, they have not threatened the public services

Rodney Bickerstaffe
But Mr Brown said the government would not give in to the motion and said it was up to the country to judge its policy.

The issue came to a head after Unison general secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe successfully pushed it to a vote.

The chancellor and Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling had led a strenuous behind-the-scenes-effort to forge a compromise and persuade Mr Bickerstaffe to back down.

One union leader said afterwards the chancellor had "read them the riot act".

Impassioned speech

But although union and constituency representatives voted finally in favour of withdrawing their motion, Mr Bickerstaffe refused to agree to this, and left the meeting vowing to force the issue to a vote.

He also faced an impassioned conference floor speech from Mr Darling, who said the government's proposals would mean "more, much more" than restoring the earnings link for Britain's poorest pensioners.

He went on: "We must be the first government that abolishes pensioner poverty, once and for all."

And Mr Darling pledged that funds would be made available for "transitional arrangements" in the pre-Budget report.

Rodney Bickerstaffe
Bickerstaffe: under pressure but refused to back down
He also confirmed the government would raise the minimum income guarantee for pensioners to 90 a week.

But Mr Bickerstaffe told conference delegates that restoring the link was his union's policy.

It was not about being left-wing or pig-headed, he said.

A host of delegates, including veteran former cabinet member Dame Barbara Castle, gave passionate speeches for and against the government's position.

Dame Barbara - who first introduced the link in the 1970s and turns 90 this week - said: "Comrades, pass this resolution today."

"This country can afford it because remember one thing - the cost of the earnings link only rises if earnings are rising too."

'Government disintegrating'

Responding to the vote, Mr Hague said: "The government is starting to disintegrate under pressure."

"This dreadful defeat for Mr Blair follows a day of abortive deals in smoke-filled rooms between Labour leaders and union barons.

"In other words the Labour party reverting to type."

"How can Tony Blair expect the people of this country to believe him when his own conference throws his pensions promises back in his face?"

We can do more, much more, than an earnings link for Britain's poorest pensioners

Alistair Darling
Gordon Brown claimed the Government had won the argument and the debate, but the union leaders had prearranged positions.

He told the BBC: "I'm not going to give in to the proposal that came from the union leaders today, we have said quite clearly we are not doing that."

The chancellor said the country would make its own assessment of the government's track record on pensions.

"It is for the country to judge, it is not for a few composite motions to decide the policy of this government and this country.

"It is for the whole community, and I'm listening to the whole community."

The BBC's Andrew Marr
"This has been a humiliating day for them"
Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer
"I'm going to take the argument right into the country"

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See also:

27 Sep 00 | Labour
25 Sep 00 | Business
27 Sep 00 | Labour
27 Sep 00 | Labour
24 Sep 00 | UK Politics
27 Sep 00 | UK Politics
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