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Royal_mail_logo Afternoon update: Ken Clarke, the shadow business secretary, has put out the following statement during the course of the afternoon:

"Royal Mail is a flagship business for this country, but Victorian practices and inefficiency are at the root of its problems. Twelve years of shameful neglect by New Labour ministers have brought Royal Mail to its knees. We will support the part-privatisation plans, because what the taxpayer needs is a fully modernised and efficient postal service that can compete with the best in the world. It’s the best way to secure a future for Royal Mail and make sure that we can send mail anywhere in the country for the same price.

“But the Government must explain how they are going to tackle the pensions deficit at minimal cost to the public. This Government is already running up hundreds of billions of pounds of debt. We are ready to provide the Government with the majority that the Parliamentary Labour party won’t let it have, because it is the best way to save Royal Mail."

It happened with the Iraq War. It happened with foundation hospitals. And it also happened with Tony Blair’s last big education bill: they all got passed by the Commons because Conservatives backing the Government outvoted Labour rebels opposing their own party.

And it would seem that a repeat performance will be required over the Government’s plans to part-privatise the Royal Mail, set to be published tomorrow.

The CWU is threatening to disaffiliate from the Labour Party over the issue and scores of backbench Labour MPs have signalled their opposition to the move.

But with the Conservatives (and the Lib Dems for that matter) having signalled their backing for the move in principle, Gordon Brown can afford to press ahead in the knowledge that he can find a Commons majority with the aid of the opposition parties.

Jonathan Isaby

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