Benn leads backbench attack on 'President Blair'

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Indy Politics

Labour backbenchers fiercely attacked Tony Blair's semi-presidential style of government last night, claiming that backbenchers were being taken for granted.

Labour backbenchers fiercely attacked Tony Blair's semi-presidential style of government last night, claiming that backbenchers were being taken for granted.

Tony Benn, the MP for Chesterfield, used a short debate to condemn the "Lib-Lab project" of promoting closer links between Labour and the Liberal Democrats over issues such as constitutional reform and Europe. He stressed that there was a growing "tendency of the leadership of all parties to centralise power at the top".

Mr Benn, who will not stand at the next general election, told MPs: "I note the tendency of the leadership of all parties to expect unquestioning support from their backbenchers for whatever proposal they bring forward, even where these were not the subject of any prior consultation with colleagues, nor were put to the electorate at the last election."

The former cabinet minister has long campaigned for Parliament to strengthen itself and was one of the most vocal opponents of the Government during the Kosovo crisis.

Mr Benn also put down an early day motion backed by 10 other MPs claiming there were "few effective checks and balances on the power of the executive". Speaking of the "growing public cynicism about parliament and politics, which may damage the reputation of parliament itself", Mr Benn called for backbenchers to play a more active role themselves to boost Parliament's influence.

"All MPs, while honouring their personal and political obligations and loyalty to their own party and the manifesto on which they were elected, are invited to speak and vote more freely on the proposals put before them," Mr Benn said.

He previously led a rebellion over the Government's plans for House of Lords reform and joined the revolt against cuts in lone parents benefits and the cuts in incapacity benefits.

Mr Benn added: "By doing so [voting against their own party's line], MPs re-assert their historic role as elected representatives, their right and duty to express their own deeply held convictions and their responsibility for maintaining the role of this House as a democratic legislature."

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