Blair faces 72-hour showdown with rebel MPs

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Indy Politics

The success of Tony Blair in cooling the Labour rebellion over education proved short-lived last night as his MPs plotted three more challenges to his authority over a 72-hour period next week.

The left-wing Campaign Group of Labour MPs meets tomorrow to discuss tactics in the hope of defeating the Bill to introduce compulsory identity cards. With the Tories set to oppose the measure, Mr Blair's majority will be at risk.

In a briefing note to Labour MPs, the London School of Economics questioned the Home Office's claim that ID cards were needed to counter the estimated £1.7bn cost of identity fraud. "We are walking blindfold into a scheme which will give rise to new opportunities for ID fraud and forgery," said the LSE.

Mr Blair returns a day early from a conference in South Africa for Monday's crunch Commons vote on ID cards. Last week a Bill on religious hatred was lost in his absence by one vote.

Next Tuesday, the Government's preferred option of a partial ban on smoking in public places is expected to be rejected in a free vote by Labour MPs in favour of a total ban on smoking in pubs and possibly clubs. The following day, Labour rebels will oppose a move by the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, to restore plans to outlaw the "glorification" of terrorism to the anti-terror bill. It was thrown out by the House of Lords. Mr Blair breathed a sigh of relief yesterday after it appeared that his concessions on the Schools Bill had been accepted by most Labour rebels. But there was a backlash when the small print was read by hostile MPs.

Some were preparing an alternative Parliamentary Labour Party report expressing concern over two areas. They are unhappy that the Education Secretary will retain a veto over proposals by local authorities to create new schools; and fear that parental interviews will still be allowed for the purposes of selecting pupils.Quizzed by the chairmen of Commons committees yesterday, Mr Blair denied that concessions to Labour MPs had taken the heart out of the White Paper on schools published in October. "Schools will have the freedom, as of right, to become self-governing trusts; they will be able to own their own assets, manage their own staff, develop their own independent sense of freedom and culture," he said. "That is the heart of reform and that remains."

David Cameron, the Tory leader, said Mr Blair was giving in to backbenchers. "He doesn't have to back down or cave in because he still has Conservative support," he said. "If it turns out that the Bill still reflects the White Paper then we will back him."

Frank Field, a former Labour minister, felt "a certain amount of dismay" over the concessions. "I saw the White Paper reforms as a first step in trying to make a gear change in the form of education that is offered in this country and I think the measures are a retreat back to safety."

Committee's questions

Issues raised by the Liaison Committee:

TRIDENT

Mr Blair refused to commit himself to a Commons vote on plans to update the Trident nuclear missile system.

HEALTH

He said deficits of £620m this year mean some NHS trusts will have to stop offering current levels of service.

ENGLISH VOTES

Mr Blair rejected pressure to allow only English MPs to vote on Bills affecting just England.

WAR POWERS

He said Britain would not go to war without a "full parliamentary debate" but refused to match David Cameron's plan to ditch prime ministers' powers to go to war without a Commons vote.

IRAN

Mr Blair said military action was "not on our agenda" but refused to rule it out.

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