Labour MPs want Jowell's party critics disciplined for 'disloyalty'

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Labour MPs loyal to Tony Blair have made furious calls for two of Tessa Jowell's female backbench critics to be disciplined for attacking her over her husband's £350,000 "gift" from Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister.

Ms Jowell was supported by the so-called Labour "sisterhood" in the Commons on Monday but in a private meeting, angry Labour MPs condemned outspoken remarks by Glenda Jackson, the MP for Hampstead and Highgate, and Kate Hoey, the Labour chairwoman of the Countryside Alliance.

The MPs called for both to be brought before Labour backbenchers to explain their "disloyal" criticism of the embattled Secretary of State for Culture at a private meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Jane Kennedy, the Health minister, is reported to have protested to the private meeting that ministers were "defenceless" when they were attacked by their own side.

Others who criticised the attacks included Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Education, who backed Ms Jowell in the chamber by attacking the media. One MP said: "Sheerman said it was time the PLP did something about it. He said, 'Where is Glenda; where is Kate?' It got pretty heated. He said they should be brought before the PLP."

David Blunkett, the former cabinet minister, and a close friend of Ms Jowell who supported him when he was ousted last year, yesterday described Ms Jackson as "doleful". He attacked her for referring to large quantities of money "washing around like a vast launderette". In The Sun, Mr Blunkett wrote: "Glenda would have learned all about that through her acting links with the great money machine in Hollywood."

But Ms Hoey is determined to stand by her remarks. She said she was reflecting the views of Labour supporters in her seat, Vauxhall, London, who were appalled at the reports of David Mills, as the husband of a Labour minister, investing large sums in off-shore funds to avoid tax.

Ms Hoey was sent text messages on her mobile phone by constituents, including a Labour councillor who said Ms Jowell should go. Ms Jowell announced at the weekend she was separating from her husband, and she was cleared of breaching the ministerial code by Mr Blair.

But the damage over "Jowellgate" continued yesterday with the annual report of a parliamentary standards watchdog which criticised the Government for not having an independent panel to oversee the ministers' code of practice.

Sir Alastair Graham, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said parish councillors are subjected to stronger ethical standards than cabinet ministers under Mr Blair. But No 10's spokesman said the Prime Minister was against handing his role to an independent panel. He said Mr Blair believed the judgement over the fate of ministers should rest with someone who was accountable to the electorate and Parliament.

In Milan yesterday, prosecutors rejected an attempt by lawyers for Mr Berlusconi and Mr Mills to bring forward more evidence in the case in which the men are accused of attempting to obstruct justice. Mr Berlusconi is accused of having paid Mr Mills for not telling a corruption trial facts damaging to Mr Berlusconi.

Mr Mills admitted he had done this in a memo to his accountant and to prosecutors in July 2004. But he has repudiated his testimony.

An Italian judge will see the evidence this week and decide if it is strong enough for the men to be charged. In refusing the defence's request, it is likely any trial would begin imminently.