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Tuesday, 27 June, 2000, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Labour MP bids to counter 'President Blair'

Andrew Mackinlay: Promises to "challenge the orthodoxy"
Labour backbencher Andrew Mackinlay has announced his intention to contest the chairmanship of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) in a bid to counter Tony Blair's "presidential" leadership style.

The Thurrock MP will challenge sitting chairman Clive Soley, a Blair loyalist who has been criticised as more concerned with defending the government to its backbenchers rather than acting as Labour MPs' shop steward.

The chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party should be seen as a caucus leader having both a mandate to be heard by, and enjoying access to, the prime minister

Andrew Mackinlay MP
Mr Mackinlay told his fellow backbenchers it was "make your mind up time".

They faced a choice between the kind of "sterile, vacuous" debate that took place at prime minister's questions, or a reinvigorated and empowered PLP.

The winner will be decided by a secret ballot of what has in the past been described as "the most sophisticated electorate in the world" - better known as Labour MPs - this autumn.

Mr Mackinlay's challenge ensures the first contest for the position since Mr Soley took the post in 1997.

Caucus leader

Clive Soley: Stands accused of being too close to the leadership
At a Westminster news conference on Tuesday, Mr Mackinlay MP said: "At a time when inexorably we are moving to a presidential style of government, the chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party should be seen as a caucus leader having both a mandate to be heard by, and enjoying access to, the prime minister."

He also argued that the role of PLP chair conflicted with being a member of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee; Mr Soley is a member of the NEC.

Mr Mckinlay said ministers paid insufficient heed to backbenchers' opinions; the government should recognise its own MPs "as having good political antennae".

"For us in Labour there is a need to ensure that the policy and programme we had endorsed at the election is prosecuted with vigour and not trimmed."

"Communications between government and the backbenchers must be improved."

Mr Mackinlay argued for more time to be given to backbench MPs' private members' bills, and said he would also fight for "a substantial increase in MPs' staffing and office cost allowances" - another issue on which Mr Soley has been criticised in the past year.

Tony Blair: Andrew Mackinlay thinks he gets too many "fawning" questions
Holding the executive to account and the "need to renew the relevance of Parliament" form a key plank of Mr Mackinlay's campaign.

The Thurrock MP expressed his deep regret that former home affairs and education select committee chairs Chris Mullin and Malcolm Wicks gave them up to become "under-secretary of state for paperclips and statues".

Mr Mullin is a junior environment minister; Mr Wicks a junior education minister. Both men had previously enjoyed reputations as being highly effective at holding the executive to account through the select committee system.

Mr Mackinlay, a member of the foreign affairs select committee, hopes to send a strong message to ministers by securing the backing of at least 100 fellow MPs, possibly including some ministers.

'Unwise' - Soley

Mr Soley said he thought his challenger had been "very unwise to go for what is, in effect, a four month election campaign".

"I think people need to ask themselves whether they want to go to the position that the Conservatives had, when you had the chairman of the 1922 Committee coming out on the media and constantly criticising John Major and the government.

"That's the route back into opposition and I don't recommend it."

The Ealing, Acton & Shepherd's Bush MP confirmed he would be standing for re-election in the autumn.

Other contenders may also enter the fray: former consumer affairs minister Nigel Griffiths - a close ally of Chancellor Gordon Brown - and former Foreign Office minister Tony Lloyd are known to be weighing up their chances.

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05 Feb 00 | UK Politics
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