Labour leadership 'targets' rebel MP

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Indy Politics

Disciplinary action is being taken against a rebel Labour MP as a warning to other left-wingers not to further destabilise Tony Blair before the handover of power to Gordon Brown.

Alan Simpson, a leading member of the left-wing Campaign Group, has been reported to the most senior committee of backbench Labour MPs for a meeting today with Mr Blair.

Officially, he is being disciplined for comparing Downing Street under Mr Blair to Franco's Fascist regime and dismissing his replacement by Mr Brown as being like Saddam Hussein being replaced by his notorious son Uday. But it is being seen as an attempt by Downing Street to stop the left openly calling for Mr Blair's early departure.

Mr Simpson is refusing to apologise for his comments. At a convivial lunch in a Whitehall pub yesterday for a group of rebels, jokingly referred to as the Old Testament Prophets - a phrase used by Mr Blair against the traditional left - he was given the support of fellow left-wing Labour MPs.

He could become the first Labour MP since the general election to be disciplined for insubordination, and could be threatened with the ultimate sanction of losing the Labour whip, which could threaten his position as a Labour MP for the next election.

The Chief Whip, Jacqui Smith, has also taken the unusual step of reporting the MP to the constituency management committee in his Nottingham South constituency for censure at a meeting tomorrow.

However, last night, Mr Simpson, a persistent critic of the Prime Minister over the war on Iraq, remained defiant, saying it was a sign of weakness for the Labour leadership to single him out at a time when the Government was losing the support of the public.

"Downing Street may not have liked my comments about the war, but they really need to get out more. It is the party's self destructive abandonment of principles that is causing the haemorrhage of support for Labour, not those who try to criticise it," he said.

Other Labour rebels rallied behind Mr Simpson yesterday, saying he was being made an example to the rest. "This is the worst possible time to try to be putting some stick about," said another member of the Labour backbench "awkward squad". "It just shows how desperate they are to shore up Blair's authority."

Mr Simpson is confident he will get the backing of his constituency tomorrow. That could leave the Labour leadership looking weaker, if their views about him are rejected by his constituents.