Former New Labour rivals bury the hatchet to back Tom Watson's moderate group
Former bitter Labour rivals have come together to back Tom Watson's new group of moderate MPs.
Supporters of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown - who waged war against one another during the New Labour years - buried the hatchet at the first meeting of the Future Policy Group.
Deputy leader Mr Watson established the group for "social democratic and democratic socialist" Labour MPs to meet and come up with new policy ideas.
Around 160 MPs and peers attended the get-together in Committee Room 8 of the House of Commons.
They included leading Blairites such as Peter Mandelson, David Blunkett and Pat McFadden, as well as Brownites Stewart Wood, Yvette Cooper and Mr Watson himself.
Other senior figures in attendance were former leader Neil Kinnock and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.
In all, 13 former Cabinet members attended the meeting, as did 14 current frontbenchers, including Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald, Gloria de Piero, Jim McMahon, Justin Madders and whips Mark Tami and Vicky Foxcroft.
Lord Mandelson told the meeting it was time for "Blairites and Brownites to work together to save the party".
Mr Watson said: "I know that the last thing the party needs is another faction and this group is certainly not one. This meeting is intended to pull the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) together at a time when our country needs a united Labour party with all shades of red represented."
He said Luciana Berger and Ian Austin's decision to quit Labour had been "a personal wake up call to step up and do more".
"I really fear that unless we restore pluralism and tolerance to this party it will be irreparably damaged and we will see a schism bigger than any we have experienced in our long history," Mr Watson added.
"This party is made of many elements and we’ve only ever worked and been elected to government when the pluralism of our different traditions has been respected.
"Jeremy to his credit kept the voice of his tradition alive through the campaign group during the new Labour years. So he understands the need for those from the social democratic and democratic socialist traditions to give ourselves the strongest voice we can.
"I feel, and I suspect that many colleagues in this room feel, that the voice of the social democratic and democratic socialist traditions hasn’t been strong enough in recent times. It is to defend those traditions that I’ve invited you here. Not just because it’s critical for the future of the Labour party. But because these traditions are critical to the future of the nation."
Among the policy areas the new group will focus on are foreign policy and defence, the future of work and pay, education and social mobility, and the future of the NHS and social care.
Bristol West MP Darren Jones, who will co-ordinate the group's policy work, said the meeting "represented a unity in the Labour party".
He said: "Some have said this is a new faction - it is in fact the complete opposite. As Lord Kinnock was saying, this is a coming together of previous factions into the mainstream Labour party and we're looking forward to putting together the ideas to transform the country and get Labour into government.
"We're not the ERG. We're not a party within a party. We're providing a space for people from all wings of the party to bring forward new ideas. This is about the coming together of the TBs and the GBs."