Labour expels two left-wing MEPs

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The sacking of Ken Coates and Hugh Kerr, two left-wing MEPs, from the Labour Party had been an automatic formality following their decision to apply to join the Green Party group in the European Parliament.

In a letter of notification sent yesterday, Tom Sawyer, Labour's general secretary, told them that "such membership is fundamentally inconsistent with the terms and conditions of your membership of this party".

A party spokesman said they had been asked to do the honourable thing and resign. "They clearly have no intention of doing so. We have therefore acted promptly in line with party rules."

In a statement, the two said that they had been denied the right to speak at a European Parliamentary Labour Party meeting. "But they cannot stop us speaking to the millions of Labour voters who are distressed and angry at the Tory policies which are being pursued by the Blair government in respect of lone parents and their children, the rights of the disabled, and the very future of the welfare state."

The vehemence of those views would have made it most improbable that the two men would have been selected to stand on a Labour ticket for next year's elections, and the way in which they have confronted the leadership suggests a strategy to carve out an alternative platform.

Whether there are millions of distressed Labour voters champing at the bit to vote for the two men as symbols of "progressive" resistance would be well-tested under the proportional representation system being introduced for the elections.

Michael Howard, the shadow Foreign Secretary, yesterday sought to capitalise on the expulsions with an accusation of "Stalinism" against Tony Blair. "Free speech is only permitted in the Labour Party if you agree with the leader," he said.

But little was being said by the Tories after a one-hour meeting between William Hague and Edward McMillan-Scott, leader of the British Tory MEPs, over their concern that candidates would be required to toe the leadership's hostile line towards the European single currency. "We are trying to find a way of running a positive campaign on Europe," Mr McMillan-Scott said before the meeting.