Labour in 'secret police' row

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A high-profile political defection by a prominent Labour Euro MP is set to plunge the Government into a damaging row over "secret police" files on Members of Parliament.

Hugh Kerr, left-wing MEP for Essex West and Hertfordshire East, has told friends he may soon quit New Labour - possibly for Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party and the hardline United European Left group at Strasbourg.

The defection could seriously embarrass the Government, still riding high on post-election euphoria buttressed by tight discipline on MPs at Westminster.

But it also brings into the open the files on potentially dissident Labour MPs and MEPs kept by party apparatchiks at the Millbank headquarters. The information is collated on Excalibur, the party's pounds 2m computer.

An Excalibur file was used last week to bring together a case against Mr Kerr, who was elected to the European Parliament in 1994. "Hugh Kerr has always been a source of trouble, and the fact that he is thinking of defecting comes as no great surprise," said a senior Millbank insider. "If he does intend to go, the sooner he takes the plunge, the better."

Party officials have drawn up a "charge sheet" of offences said to have been committed by Mr Kerr. He signed the infamous Guardian advert calling for the retention of the nationalising Clause IV. The list of "misdemeanours" includes an allegation that Mr Kerr heckled Tony Blair at a private reception organised by the South East Region for MPs and MEPs at last year's party conference in Blackpool. He is said to have pushed Peter Townsend, the sociologist, into Blair's path, saying: "This is the man who is going to defeat you on pensions this week."

The charge sheet further alleges that Mr Kerr heckled Margaret McDonagh, a senior party official, during a presentation she was making to MEPs on election strategy. Another "misdemeanour" was to engage in "a very public spat" with the leader of the Labour Group in the European Parliament, Wayne David, over the leadership of the Strasbourg delegation to Australia. Mr Kerr was chairman of the body until he was ousted by fellow MEPs last year in what was seen as a disciplinary move.

Mr Kerr, who is 53, was a lecturer specialising in European social policy at the University of North London before he unexpectedly won the Essex West and Hertfordshire East constituency by a majority of just over 3,000 votes. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Excalibur file also records items in Mr Kerr's favour. It says he "funded very generously" the campaigns for key seats in Harlow and Stevenage during the general election. He is also praised for raising the profile of Europe in his local papers, in one of which he has a column.

A fellow Labour MEP who wished to remain anonymous said of the secret files: "Preventive medicine is now the order of the day. But if it is exercised too thoroughly, it could be like weedkiller in a garden."