Blair bids good-Byers

10.3.07: THE FIRST THING the new Labour PM, Stephen Byers, did was invite union leaders to No 10 for a symbolic 'beer and sandwiches' meeting.

Byers, previously regarded as one of the most faithful Blairites, promised to be his own man. 'We used to talk about new Labour and old Labour,' he said. 'I say there is only one Labour party.'

Blair, who had clung to the leadership after the party's election defeat in 2002, finally quit two years ago when his popularity rating fell below that of Michael Foot in the 1980s.

'The trouble with Tony was that once people stopped focusing on his sincerity, there wasn't much else,' said a friend.

Byers won through after a bitter three-way leadership battle in which the rehabilitated shadow education spokesman Peter Mandelson and shadow chancellor Gordon Brown fought themselves to a standstill in a series of televised debates.

Promising an era of candour and competence, Byers had said in his acceptance speech to the 2005 Labour party conference in Blackpool: 'Let us hope our old guard can give way gracefully and allow true Labourites to hold the middle ground of British politics.'

The Byers cabinet saw a few less-than- gracious departures ­ most significantly that of Brown, who decided to return to the backbenches. Mandelson was given back his old job as trade and industry secretary.

William Hague now faces a leadership challenge from Michael Portillo. DS