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Thursday, 11 May, 2000, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Blair warned of core 'disengagement'

Frank Field: "Labour voters saw New Labour as alien"
Former Labour minister Frank Field has warned Tony Blair that the Labour is facing a significant "disengagement" by the party's traditional voters.

The ex-social security minister predicted that Ken Livingstone's victory in last week's mayoral election in London could help to break up the Labour vote across the country.

Mr Field, MP for Birkenhead, also warned that the style of Conservative leader William Hague on the issues of immigration, law and order and Europe was more in tune with many Labour voters than that of the government.

Writing in The Spectator magazine, Mr Field said the disengagement of long-time Labour voters had grown to "a tidal force" at last week's local elections.

A Labour spokesman later described Mr Field's comments as "hyperbolic".

'Tory collapse'

He went on to say that Mr Hague was now conducting a two-Parliament campaign designed to drive a wedge into the Labour vote.

Mr Field, who resigned from the government after not being promoted to the cabinet in 1998, said Mr Livingstone's election in London held out the most immediate threat to Labour.

Ken Livingstone: "Continual annoyance"
"At the very best [from Labour's point of view] Ken will be a continual annoyance. At worst, his political comeback could help break up the Labour vote across the country.

"The timing of Livingstone's effective expulsion - setting the party against the views of so many voters - is especially unfortunate.

"The disengagement of a significant proportion of Labour's traditional vote was there to be seen at the last election. It was disguised, of course, by the extent of the Tory collapse.

"It was impossible to canvas in 1997 and not be aware of the extent to which some Labour voters saw New Labour as alien, finding the new elite's choice of friends strange and their rich lifestyle foreign."

He spoke of "the great positive force" that bound the Labour vote together for more than a century through the idea that Labour was on the side of poorer working people.

"The party's totally proper attempt to widen its appeal before the last election was clearly too much for some long-time voters.

"A move to disengage at the last general election became a tidal force last week."

Mr Field continued: "The media keep prattling on that Hague is planning a two-year campaign to secure his personal survival. It should be seen as a two-Parliament campaign to break up Labour's traditional vote.

"Hague's campaign cannot be aimed at winning large-scale Labour converts.

"Driving a wedge into the Labour vote so that it splits would be a much easier objective."

A senior Labour spokesman said the government had no intention of following the Tories' policies on issues like immigration and law and order.

"William Hague has been showing in his recent announcements just how extreme and opportunistic he is. He is putting forward solutions which just would not work," the spokesman said.

"No one in the Labour Party is complacent about the next election. We shall be fighting for every vote between then and now - but Mr Field's comments do appear to be a little hyperbolic."

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