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Wednesday, 4 July, 2001, 14:38 GMT 15:38 UK
Labour's chairman defends new role
Charles Clarke
Clarke expects no conference controversy over his role
Labour chairman Charles Clarke has moved to quell controversy over his cabinet post in an attempt to head off a potential battle between trade unions and the party leadership at this autumn's annual conference.

Tony Blair created the post in last month's government reshuffle and there had been speculation the move could prove to be a flashpoint at Labour's first conference since its landslide election win.

My job is to get the party in all its aspects working together on delivery

Charles Clarke
But Mr Clarke promised Labour MPs on Wednesday he would not try to usurp the traditional roles of other party figures.

He said the Labour leadership would not be tabling a change in the party's rules to formalise his new job.

Controversy avoided

Mr Clarke told reporters he did not expect controversy over his role to be aired at either the coming trades union conferences or Labour's own gathering in Brighton at the end of September.

Labour already has a general secretary - Margaret McDonagh, who is stepping down - and a chairwoman of its ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), Maggie Jones, as well as a chairman of conference.

All posts are formally appointed by the NEC.

Mr Clarke said: "I don't intend to take on either of those roles in any way...

"I'm not going to be a super-general secretary, nor do I have any special powers."

He argued his role would not cause "substantive confusion", although he was open to suggestions about his job title.

Mr Clarke, who is also minister without portfolio, would hold the post as one of the cabinet nominations to the NEC.

The big picture

His salary is paid by the Labour Party and he said it was important discussion of the "minutiae" of his job did not obscure its real importance.

"The prime minister is saying that it's critically important that the party as a whole works closely with the government on delivering our agenda, particularly on public services," he continued.

"My job is to get the party in all its aspects working together with the government on delivery."

In the line with that message of a two-way dialogue, the minister will be pressing the flesh at the Transport and General Workers' Union conference on Wednesday evening.

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