Labour's hard line prompts dismay

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The Independent Online
Labour's hard-line style of leadership came under the spotlight yesterday, after a suspended MP claimed pleas for sympathy had gone unheeded. Another suspended party member claimed she had been told of her fate not by officials but by the BBC.

The Liverpool West Derby MP, Robert Wareing, wrote to his party's Chief Whip, Nick Brown, in a suicidal state after being accused of having links with a front organisation for the Bosnian Serbs, but his letter went unanswered. He said yesterday that he knew how his fellow MP Gordon McMaster felt during the "last dark hours" before his own suicide last month.

Mr Wareing was found to have failed to declare a business interest, for which he was suspended from the Commons for a week and ordered to apologise.

In a statement, he said: "Colleagues must understand how deeply hurtful it is to have one's integrity called into question. Integrity is not a political prop to be tossed aside in exchange for a morning's headlines.

"After 50 years membership of the Labour Party, I was deeply shocked to be the subject of unfounded and scurrilous allegations which led to me being suspended from the party with no notice.

"All of the allegations, bar a failure to register a worthless shareholding in Robert Wareing Ltd, were thrown out by the committee, yet I have still not heard a word from my own party."

His claims were compounded by similar complaints from Olga Clayton, a councillor suspended after Mr Brown's inquiry into Mr McMaster's death. It emerged that she had not been informed of the disciplinary action being taken against her before the press were told, though a Labour spokeswoman said unsuccessful efforts had been made to contact her.

Last night, Labour sources were largely unsympathetic to Mr Wareing's claims, though one hinted that Mr Brown had been instrumental in ensuring that the MP received support from his friends. He had several meetings with the widow of John Heddle, the Mid Staffordshire MP who killed himself in 1989, and she helped him to overcome his depression.

Mr Brown, who is generally known at Westminster as an affable if tough Chief Whip, was not available for comment last night. He has maintained in the past that he will not tolerate any form of rebellion by members. "They would risk expulsion from whatever I could get them expelled from," he said before the election.

A Labour spokeswoman said it would not have been appropriate for Mr Brown to have replied directly to Mr Wareing, as the inquiry into his conduct was still ongoing. A similar letter to Tony Blair had been acknowledged and would be answered more fully when he returned from holiday.

Another source said: "There is no sympathy for this guy really. He has been found guilty by a Commons committee and we acted swiftly, as did the House of Commons."

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