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Last Updated:  Friday, 4 April, 2003, 09:39 GMT 10:39 UK
Ian McCartney: Blair's backstage fixer

By Mark Davies
BBC News Online political reporter

The name Ian McCartney will not ring many bells with the man on the street.

McCartney is well liked within Labour
But the new Labour chairman has been a key figure within the party because of his links with the unions and Labour's grassroots.

There was a sign of that last year when he was called on by Tony Blair to try to find a way to resolve the firefighters' strike.

He is seen as someone with whom the union movement feels it can work - Mr McCartney has "been through the union mill", as one observer put it.

Now he is charged with leading Labour's campaign for May's elections.

Not to mention trying to heal the rifts in the party over the war in Iraq.

The MP has long been regarded as one of a key group of advisers who kept the prime minister in touch with developments among the unions.

That influence lessened slightly after the Makerfield MP became pensions minister.

So his latest move puts him right back in the centre as Mr Blair's bridge between Downing Street and the party.

Well-liked among Labour activists, he an extremely active MP famed for his withering attacks on the Tories in the Commons
There is little doubt that Mr McCartney's experience will be invaluable.

It'd be easy to characterise him as a bluff, tough Scot who'll now step in to bang heads together. But like many of those with their finger on the pulse of Labour's grassroots on whom Tony Blair has so often depended, there is much more to him than that.

MP for Makerfield since June 1987, Mr McCartney is one of Labour's most respected ministers.

A frontbencher since 1992, he immediately joined the government at the trade department after the party's 1997 election triumph.

Withering

And his close links with the unions helped him to bring Labour's flagship employment settlement successfully through the Commons.

He was also able to put the minimum wage, for which he had long campaigned, on the statute book.

On moving to the Cabinet Office in 1999, he took on the government's campaign again drugs, an issue close to his heart after the death of his son following a heroin overdose.

He was appointed pensions minister after the last election.

Well-liked among Labour activists, he is an extremely active MP famed for his withering attacks on the Tories in the Commons.

He combines his tough political exterior with a sense of fun, and is a popular performer at party conferences.





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