Blair raps 'rebellious' Cook

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair, the Labour leader, issued a veiled warning to senior members of the Shadow Cabinet yesterday, calling for more "unity and discipline" amid rising tensions over policy towards striking London tube drivers.

Sources say he was annoyed by the lukewarm endorsement of his opposition to the strike offered by Labour front-benchers, including Robin Cook, Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Mr Cook was asked in a radio interview if he backed Mr Blair's demand that the strikers call off their action and go to arbitration. The Shadow Foreign Secretary failed to do so, merely saying that he abided by collective cabinet responsibility.

"He obviously did not agree with it, otherwise he could have said that Tony Blair was absolutely right," said a Shadow Cabinet aide. "To say the leadership was unhappy would be an understatement."

A leadership source said yesterday that Mr Blair expected "more unity and discipline after the Shadow Cabinet election". Mr Cook is expected to top the poll in the election on Wednesday, strengthening his position in the Shadow Cabinet.

Mr Blair insists that senior party figures should be willing to defend policies even when they have personal reservations. Friends of Mr Cook argue that he was "ambushed" by the Today programme, on which he appeared to talk about the BBC and the threat to the World Service. Critics say the disagreement is genuine.

John Prescott, the deputy leader, and Michael Meacher, the party's spokesman on employment affairs, also backed the leader's call for arbitration, but in a less robust fashion.

There will be another one-day tube strike in London on Thursday, and eight more have been called by the two rail unions, Aslef and RMT.

Postal workers are due to begin a 36-hour strike on Friday, with other walkouts later.