Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Labour's Misfortune Gives Major Room on European Issues

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Labour's Misfortune Gives Major Room on European Issues

Article excerpt

BRITIAIN'S Prime Minister John Major and his beleaguered administration have been given some breathing space for the June 9 European Parliament elections amid signs that ideological squabbles within the Labour movement are resurfacing.

The death on May 12 of John Smith, the Labour Party leader whose steadiness and firm grip on party dissidents is already being missed, has thrown the party into uncertainty. Media attention is starting to focus on the race for the party leadership, and the spotlight is moving away from Mr. Major's personal unpopularity and splits within his ruling Conservative Party.

An unexpected result of Smith's absence is that contests for the 84 Euro-seats at stake on June 9 are now more likely to be decided on European rather than domestic issues. Within hours of Smith's death, Margaret Beckett, the Labour Party's acting leader, announced that campaigning by the party for the Euro-elections was being put on hold until the weekend of June 21-22. Major and Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, concurred.

Without Smith at the helm, tensions between left-wing traditionalists and moderates who want to modernize the Labour Party are likely to intensify. Last weekend, four contenders for the leadership emerged. They reflect the left-right rift in the party: Tony Blair (home affairs spokesman) and Gordon Brown (shadow chancellor) are both modernizers; John Prescott (employment) and Robin Cook (trade and industry) are radicals.

Mr. Blair is seen by most analysts as the front-runner, but Labour Party rules call for a lengthy campaign, with trade unionists holding one-third of the votes.

When public campaigning starts up, Major's officials say, the Conservatives will stress a more loosely united Europe than the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats want. …

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