Rebels fight 'diktat' rule

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TONY BLAIR and Paddy Ashdown are facing growing party rebellion against their "control freak" tendencies. At meetings of senior party figures in both camps this week, they will each be challenged over their "high-handed" approach to likely rebels. Anger was fuelled last week by the extension of the role of the joint cabinet commitee on which Labour and the Liberal Democrats sit.

Left-wing members of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee, which meets on Tuesday, say they will refuse to agree to the new code of conduct, criticised as a "gag" on dissenters.

Mark Seddon, editor of Tribune and NEC member, compared the Labour Party to a "narrow Christian Stalinist cult". In an article for the IoS, he says he will not obey the draft code, which asks members to consult Labour's press office before speaking to journalists. "I have every intention of speaking my mind," he writes. "This was why I was elected. To do otherwise would be to accept that I had joined some Masonic club whose members communicate by semaphore and burn the flags afterwards."

Labour yesterday began its fightback against allegations that it is obsessed by control. Ian McCartney, the Trade minister, said in a speech to the Trades Union Congress: "Those who are trying to attack us ... have one objective ... to weaken Labour."

Senior Lib Dems made clear they were increasingly angry with Mr Ashdown over his insistence on "cosying up" to Labour. Allegedly, several prominent figures considered resigning on Wednesday night, following a joint statement on extending co-operation.

The frustration is certain to boil over when the party's federal executive meets tomorrow. Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem health spokesman, yesterday accused Mr Ashdown of leading "by diktat".

Focus, pages 24-25