Labour to crack the whip on MPs

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The Independent Online
In a dramatic crack of the whip, Labour MPs were warned last night that if Tony Blair becomes Prime Minister, they will be expected to work longer and harder at Westminster, toe the government line in all votes and end the sniping and backbiting.

Nick Brown, Deputy Chief Whip, said in an interview with the Independent that loyalty and unity would be the basic requirement - and every Labour MP would be elected on that basis. Laying down a law that will displease his more cantankerous colleagues, he said: "The election is fought by national political parties and the role of the individual, although important, is subservient to the role of the party." On that basis , he said,it would be the duty of MPs to sustain their government - and that meant a day-to-day requirement to maintain enough numbers in the Commons to fend off ambushes by the Tory opposition.

At the moment, he said, there was a tendency for Labour MPs to go back to their constituencies on Thursdays, so they would be in place for their "constituency Fridays". Departures on Thursdays could be at risk if a Labour government majority was threatened by Tory guerrilla tactics.

"It would be a grotesque betrayal of everybody that has not only worked so hard, but also pulled back their differences and personal views in order to make the unity so necessary for a Labour victory, if we botched it up by taking an evening off, or by being slack," Mr Brown said.

Although he was reluctant to dwell on sanctions that might be taken against rebels - or slackers - Mr Brown was scathingly outspoken about Labour MPs who leaked embarrassing material, and leadership sources who abused their position by attacking frontbench colleagues on a non-attributable basis.

Citing an example, he said that if he could prove who had taped a recent confidential backbench meeting with Mr Blair, then leaking verbatim quotes to a malign Tory tabloid newspaper, he would do all in his power to have the culprit expelled from the Parliamentary Labour Party and from the party itself, ensuring the loss of his or her Commons seat.

"They would risk expulsion from whatever I could get them expelled from," Mr Brown said. But he was at pains also to insist that the whips would be even-handed enforcers of unity and discipline. They would be just as robust with unidentified "leadership sources" who briefed against colleagues.

In an evident reference to the fate of Clare Short, he said: "Imagine how demoralising it must be for members of the Shadow Cabinet, doing a perfectly good job, who, commanding the support of their parliamentary colleagues, read that they are out of favour with the leadership, or believed to have botched this up, or not to have done that well.

"Imagine how destructive that is of the essential unity of the party, which is an absolute prerequisite in sustaining a Labour government, and yet it is said to be the leadership view."