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Last Updated: Monday, 25 September 2006, 20:42 GMT 21:42 UK
Labour deputy leader rivals clash
By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News, Labour conference in Manchester

John Prescott
John Prescott has yet to say whether he is going to quit
The two early contenders to be Labour's next deputy leader when John Prescott quits have clashed at a fringe meeting.

Peter Hain and Harriet Harman both backed Gordon Brown as the next leader.

But they disagreed over the future direction of the party with Mr Hain dubbing Ms Harman's foreign policy ideas "amateurish".

Jack Straw, who is also thought likely to run for the deputy's job, and Alan Milburn, who refused to rule out a leadership bid, also took part.

When asked about his deputy leadership ambitions, Mr Straw repeatedly insisted he wanted to talk about policy not "personalities".

This argument was repeated by Mr Milburn when asked about his possible leadership ambitions.

'Personalities'

Mr Milburn said "too many people" had already thrown their hat into the ring.

"We haven't got a contest," he said. "Given where we are at, and the focus on personalities, we need a little fewer hats being thrown into the ring and few more ideas on the table about what we do in the future."

But Ms Harman, who has already declared her intention to stand for the deputy leadership, responded: "I don't agree with that."

She said contenders could perfectly well put forward their arguments and an open contest would improve the level of debate.

'Chaos'

Mr Milburn also took a thinly veiled swipe at Chancellor Gordon Brown, saying debate on tax policy should not be a "no-go" area for the party.

He said the party should debate tax because its policy had brought electoral success in the past and the priority now must be "people at the bottom end".

A lot had been done to help such people but some "marginal" tax rates remained high, he said..

Ms Harman and Mr Hain both ruled out their own leadership ambitions and pledged their loyalty to Gordon Brown.

"The Number Two has got to be loyal to the Number One. He cannot be after the Number One's job. Otherwise that is a recipe for chaos," said Mr Hain.

'Complex negotiations'

Ms Harman, who said she believed there could be a leadership campaign without the contenders being "nasty" about each other, set out her vision of how Labour could win a fourth term.

The constitutional affairs minister said the party had to be better at telling people about its success stories - such as more jobs and reduced hospital waiting lists.

She also called for a "forensic critique of the Tories", saying the party had "got out of the habit" of effective criticism of its chief opponents.

She urged Labour not to let Conservative leader David Cameron "get away with things" such as posing for a photo opportunity with women candidates when so few had been chosen in winnable seats.

She also called for more openness and debate about issues such as pensions, the environment and social cohesion.

And said the party should target former Labour members and encourage them to "come back to your party and shape a democratic future".

'Building engagement'

But Ms Harman's call to give ordinary voters "more of a say" in foreign policy came in for criticism from Hain, who cautioned against being too open during "complex negotiations".

The Northern Ireland Secretary said there needed to be more debate about whether country went to war or replaced Trident missiles.

But he added: "Let's not pretend foreign policy can be done in an amateurish way".

But Ms Harman hit back saying she was not suggesting diplomats broke off meetings to hold referendums.

It was about "building engagement" and giving people a "sense of ownership" over foreign policy," she said.

Mr Hain backed electoral reform - saying Britain's first-past- the-post voting should be scrapped in favour of the Alternative Vote system - a form of proportional representation which he said retained an MPs' constituency links.

He also pledged to "rebuild partnerships" between government, the trade unions and the wider Labour party - and in that way re-connect with the public at large.

Mr Hain said he wanted to place limits on the expansion of the private sector into public services.

And he said he would scrap the 11 plus exam, which is still used in grammar schools in England, as he had recently done in Northern Ireland.


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