MPs' threat to oust Blair ally Soley

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Indy Politics

Labour MPs are threatening to give Tony Blair a "bloody nose" by ousting Clive Soley, a Blair loyalist, as chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Labour MPs are threatening to give Tony Blair a "bloody nose" by ousting Clive Soley, a Blair loyalist, as chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Nominations open tomorrow for an election that iscausing concern in Downing Street. Mr Soley will be challenged by Tony Lloyd, a former Foreign Office minister, and Andrew Mackinlay, the MP for Thurrock.

Critics of Mr Soley claim he has become "too close" to the Prime Minister and has failed to pass on the views of backbenchers. They claim MPs' warnings that pensioners would be angry about the 75p-a-week rise in the basic state pension were ignored.

Close allies of the Prime Minister are worried that Labour MPs will regard the secret ballot as a "free hit" to express their simmering discontent with the Government. "There is a danger that Clive Soley becomes a lightning conductor for Tony Blair," one said yesterday.

Mr Lloyd has emerged as the main challenger and is believed to have secured the backing of about 100 Labour MPs. Although Mr Soley hopes to win the votes of at least 160, he could be in trouble if he fails to win an overall majority when Labour MPs vote next week. Voting would then go to a second or third round, when Mr Soley's opponents could join forces to defeat him by rallying behind one challenger.

Mr Mackinlay could win 30 or more votes and it is possible another MP could enter the race, further splitting the vote. Nigel Griffiths, a former Consumer Affairs minister, is considering whether to run.

Some female Labour MPs want a woman candidate, although three possible contenders - Ann Clwyd, Jean Corston and Helen Jackson - may hold off until after the general election. Mr Soley has let it be known that he would be likely to stand down from the post at the election.

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