BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK: Politics  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
Politics
Education
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
Friday, 27 September, 2002, 09:20 GMT 10:20 UK
Labour's unity challenge
BBC political editor Andrew Marr examines the challenges facing Tony Blair and his cabinet as they head to Blackpool for the party's annual conference.

There is no getting away from it: Iraq is bound to dominate the Labour conference in a way that even the awful attacks of September 11 didn't last year.

Then, the deep sense of shock and awe at the scale of the challenge produced a disciplined, united response.


The anti-war rebels believe that the party conference may be one of their last real chances

Tony Blair's speech was seen as Gladstonian and visionary, and warmly welcomed by the vast majority of Labour people.

This year no such unity is possible.

The 53 Labour rebels in the Commons at the beginning of the week, and the growing extra-parliamentary campaign against any attack on Iraq, with a major London demonstration planned for this weekend, shows Mr Blair has a struggle on his hands.

Chance

His masterful speech at the TUC deflected some hostility.

But since then we have had President Bush's "strike first, by ourselves if need be" doctrine explained, and the dossier of Iraqi misbehaviour has been published, without convincing many critics.

The anti-war rebels believe that the party conference may be one of their last real chances.

They are very unlikely to let it go by. It will be a fascinating test of how much the Labour membership has changed - do they really trust Tony?

But of course there is a lot more to argue about than Iraq. The next most obvious problem area for the government is union-led hostility to public-private partnerships.

The GMB union has withheld 1m of funding for Labour as a punishment for its PFI policies; the communication workers have withdrawn a further 500,000.

Business links

Gordon Brown and John Prescott have already started the government's counter-attack.

Their case is essentially that PFIs allow investment in the public sector which would otherwise be impossible.


Will the many teachers in the hall rally to Estelle Morris over the exams chaos, or turn on her?

They have to confront the suspicion of thousands of active Labour supporters who believe this has become an unapologetically pro-business party, making friends with European right-wing leaders like Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, and pursuing an anti-union strategy.

Mr Brown's speech will be particularly closely watched. He will argue that the huge extra spending on health and education shows where the government's real centre of gravity lies; his colleagues will be watching for covert hand-gestures to "Brownite" enthusiasts on the Left.

Ones to watch

As at any government party conference, we will have announcements carefully crafted to catch headlines; but the ministers really worth observing are the ones in trouble.

Will the many teachers in the hall rally to Estelle Morris over the exams chaos, or turn on her?

How will David Blunkett be received after his blunt and provocative comments about asylum seekers and English speaking among immigrants, and his proposals on ID cards?

Book your tickets now.

One other protest group will be there: the Countryside Alliance rarely misses a chance to heckle the steamroller of power.

They, however, will be outside, in the Blackpool wind. When Labour's in town, they always are.


Key stories

Background

FEATURES

INTERACTIVE

AUDIO VIDEO

E-mail this story to a friend



© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes