Tide will turn against the Blair clique

says veteran Labour MP
By Eve-Ann Prentice
(Filed: 24/12/2002)

A long-serving Labour MP says that Tony Blair is beginning to lose touch with his party and will eventually face a backlash.


Alice Mahon, 65, the anti-war MP for Halifax, says that the Prime Minister's inner sanctum rules Britain as if it was the management of Marks and Spencer, and predicts that the tide will turn back to more traditional Labour values.

The comments by the defiantly Old Labour MP, who this month announced that she is to stand down at the next election, come as the Prime Minister faces increasing pressure over the prospect of war against Iraq, and the firemen's dispute.

"There is a coterie of advisers round the PM who are not from our movement," she says. "They come from a completely different background and have a completely different agenda. They are status quo conservatives founded on a big-business-first agenda.

"Their starting base is more like you would expect from MDs of Marks and Spencer.

"Bringing privatisation to the heart of the health service, for instance; there is huge resentment within the party about that. This is not a good time for New Labour. This is not as comfortable a Parliament for the Government as the last one. I do see movement going the other way."

She went on: "I support the firefighters, but there is an attitude at the centre of New Labour that the firefighters are our enemies. They should have seen the firefighters' dispute coming, but they didn't. After all, it was the Labour Government which commissioned the report which said the firefighters deserved more money."

Mrs Mahon, who won Halifax for Labour from the Conservatives in 1987, comes from traditional Old Labour roots: both her parents were union and party activists and she has a background in trade unions and local politics.

The former nurse has been a thorn in New Labour's side in the past. She was sacked as Private Parliamentary Secretary to the Culture Secretary, Chris Smith, after she joined a large back-bench rebellion and voted against cuts in lone parent benefits in 1997.

She also vehemently opposed the Nato bombing of Yugoslavia and is campaigning against war on Iraq. "We want to oppose Saddam by blowing little children to bits," she says. "The lack of conscience I find hard to understand."

The people now closest to Tony Blair, she says, tend to have come "straight from university or the press - maybe people should do something else first. It is not so much that they are cold or hard, but more that they are unaware."

Of the Prime Minister, she says: "Tony is very easy to talk to, very approachable, but at the end of the day he has already made up his mind. Conference now is almost like a Democratic convention in the US."

She adds that there is a class issue about the Palace of Westminster: "It comes out of the walls almost."

She stresses that she has never felt bullied by the party whips and that the Government has made some changes for the good , such as abolishing museum admission charges. "I think some really good things have been put in place in the health services; in Halifax we have a new hospital and new school buildings."

But the implication is that what she sees as the main achievements were largely in the early days of Tony Blair's premiership.