Awkward squad big enough to rein in PM

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Indy Politics

Labour left-wingers have gained the parliamentary muscle needed to inflict major damage on crucial parts of the programme to be outlined in next week's Queen's Speech, Tony Blair was warned last night.

Rebels opposed to plans for ID cards, tough curbs on immigration and asylum or new anti-terror laws have the numbers needed to cut or even overwhelm the new Government's projected 66-seat majority, analysis of the new Labour benches shows.

Leading dissidents warned last night that the Government would have to negotiate with the left or risk losing key parts of its "unremittingly New Labour" manifesto. One Labour MP said the election result "marked the death of Tony Blair's presidency of Britain".

The make-up of the new Parliamentary Labour Party shows that the bulk of the Labour "awkward squad" has survived the election. Nearly a third of all Labour MPs have defied government whips at least five times since 2001 during one of the most rebellious parliaments on record. Repeated rebellions during the 1997 and 2001 terms were absorbed by Labour's huge majorities.

Analysis based on an in-depth study of Labour rebellions by Philip Cowley at Nottingham University shows MPs have the potential to inflict serious defeats on controversial legislation. Figures show 56 returning Labour MPs voted against anti-terror laws earlier this year. Anything more than 33 of them voting against the Government would be enough to wipe out Labour's majority.

Twenty returning Labour backbenchers voted against the ID Cards Bill in the last parliament - a block potentially large enough to cut the new Government's majority by 40.

Plans for new asylum and immigration controls could also be explosive on the back benches, with up to 36 returning MPs on the list of rebels who voted against immigration legislation since 2001. An emboldened left could also damage the Government's ability to overturn Lords defeats on issues such as civil liberties.

Alan Simpson, Labour MP for Nottingham South and a leading figure on the left of the party, said Thursday's election "marked the death of Tony Blair's presidency of Britain and put the nail in the coffin of New Labour".

He said: "We will now have the numbers to stop the "unremittingly New Labour" agenda. Greater use of private companies in the provision of health care, increased selection in school and repressive anti-terrorism laws would be challenged, he said. ID cards will be consigned to the New Labour dustbin. Spending £10bn on a new generation of Blair's nuclear weapons of mass destruction would create mayhem inside the Labour Party."

John McDonnell, chairman of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, warned that ministers would not be able to push through legislation against the wishes of left-wingers. He said: "I think they are in trouble on a range of issues. They are going to have to negotiate with us. People have been harangued on the doorsteps, not just about Iraq but about all of the New Labour programme.

"The whole human rights programme is critical - asylum, ID cards and anti-terror legislation. There is a long-running issue about public services, and plans to cut the civil service have alienate a lot of our party members in the public services.

"We have moved on from a small group of us going defiantly into the 'No' lobby. It's much more important now that with the majority around 66 the Government has to start negotiating. If the majority was 50, 40 or 30, they would be able to whip things through. At 66 they will have to talk to us."

There was also a warning shot from Dave Prentis, general secretary of the large Unison public-sector union. He welcomed Labour's victory and blamed its reduced majority on Iraq.

But he warned that: "In addition, voters were turned off by Labour's privatisation agenda - they voted the Tories out because they didn't like it then and they don't like it now - what people want are good local schools, hospitals and transport."

The Labour rebels


for Nottingham South.

Committed environmentalist who is one of the leading members of the Campaign Group and one of the most high-profile left-wingers.

He said the results "marked the death of Tony Blair's presidency of Britain, and put the nail in the coffin of New Labour".


The most rebellious of Labour MPs, voting against the Government 148 times.


Chairman of Socialist Campaign Group. Has defied the whips 153 times since 2001.


Birmingham Selly Oak MP. Hard-left serial rebel over issues including tuition fees.


Maverick barrister who led revolt over jury trial curbs.


MP for Liverpool West Derby. Fierce critic of the Government's anti-terror measures.


MP for Luton North.

Sceptical of New Labour's free market economics.

The legislative battlegrounds


Labour is committed to reintroducing the ID Cards Bill, which was blocked by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at the end of the last parliament. Of the 26 Labour MPs who rebelled against it, 20 remain after the election.



A Bill is expected to fast- track asylum-seekers, give new powers of detention and create a points system for economic migration. A total of 36 MPs who rebelled over the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill remain in the Commons. Thirty MPs remain who rebelled over the Asylum and Immigration (treatment of claimants) Bill.


Tony Blair has pledged a Prevention of Terrorism Bill to create new offences of acts preparatory to terrorism. A total of 56 Labour MPs who rebelled over its predecessor remain.


There are 51 MPs still in the Commons who rebelled over faith schools, and 68 over foundation hospitals.