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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Labour Meets to Debate Future




BRIGHTON, England -- Britain's Labour Party on Monday opened its first annual conference as the governing party since 1978, declaring it is "making up for lost time" during its first hectic months back in office.


"In 18 weeks, the new Labour government did more good for the ordinary people of Britain than the Tory party did in 18 years," said Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, the party chairman, opening the week-long conference.


Despite the celebratory mood among the 1,300 delegates in this south England seaside town, Prime Minister Tony Blair faces revolts by left-wingers, including one over plans to introduce party reforms that could further erode the power of the labor unions.


Blair, whose landslide election victory May 1 ended a generation of Conservative Party rule, has also angered leftists with by holding down pay for teachers, doctors and nurses, and plans to introduce university tuition fees.


Under reforms being put to a vote later Monday, Blair proposes to scale down the annual party conference, which traditionally votes on policy, and where trade union chiefs control 50 percent of the voting power.


Instead a 175-member National Policy Forum would devise policy. As a concession to the unions -- big contributors to Labour's campaign funds -- minority reports from the new forum could still be voted on a party conferences.


"If we are to retain the trust which we have won from the British people, we must prove that we are willing to modernize our party in the same way that we ask them to accept the modernizing of their country," said Cook.


In five months, Blair has embarked on constitutional reforms and held referendums which endorsed setting up separate assemblies in Scotland and Wales.


In the next move, the government, which has an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons, will strip hereditary peers of powers to vote in the unelected upper House of Lords.


"Before Britain enters the 21st century, I want us to be free of the medieval lumber of hereditary peers from the 15th century," Cook told delegates.


Earlier, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown had stonewalled public sector unions urging Labour to abandon state spending restrictions laid down by the previous Conservative administration.


"The only way to invest more in health and education is to be disciplined about the way we use money elsewhere, and that includes public sector pay settlements, which have got to be based on firmness and fairness," Brown said in a BBC radio interview. On Sunday, when delegates began arriving, some 1,000 protesters marched outside the conference center on the seafront chanting, "Tony Blair hear us say, tax the rich and make them pay."


Labour, which in May won support from millions of middle-class voters who deserted the Tories, has pledged not to raise personal income taxes over the next five years.