Labour’s internal debate rages

Tony Blair’s departure from Downing Street continues to be the subject of intensive debate among prominent Labour politicians, who used the Sunday newspapers to play out the latest round of arguments between the two sides today.

Blairites have argued that a fresh debate on Labour policy is required in the run-up to the next general election. But close supporters of Gordon Brown have resisted such efforts to provoke a discussion on the future direction of New Labour.

They believe any debate would inevitably lead to the emergence of differences of opinion – something which could threaten Mr Brown’s uncontested coronation as Mr Blair’s replacement.

Former transport secretary Stephen Byers described Mr Blair’s exit in the Sunday Telegraph as a “challenge and an opportunity for all those who wish to take on positions of leadership within the party”.

“They should use this period ahead to detail their vision and policies for the future and the political direction they want the Labour party to take,” he said.

In direct opposition to this view, Ed Balls, the long-term ally of Mr Brown, wrote in the Observer that “the idea that we need a period… of internal navel-gazing in which to renew is absurd”.

“The idea today that there are fundamental divides between so-called modernisers and consolidators, or reformers and the rest, is a fiction,” wrote Mr Balls, who played an influential role in formulating Mr Brown’s economic policies.

“I do not believe the Conservative party can win the next election. but we must make sure we do not lose it.”