Sacked Labour duo exchange insults

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The fallout from Tony Blair's first sackings of Labour spokespeople turned into farce yesterday as the two disciplined MPs heaped insults on each other.

Ann Clwyd and Jim Cousins, dismissed from the frontbench on Monday for visiting Turkey and northern Iraq without permission from the Labour whips, each claimed they had to hold the other's hand on their mission to Kurdish guerrilla territory. While they were away they missed several three-line- whip votes.

On their return at the weekend, Mr Cousins accepted his removal from Labour's foreign affairs team with enthusiastic humility, while Ms Clwyd complained bitterly that she had been victimised by the whips.

Mr Cousins said: "I am not whingeing one iota, and I strongly recommend that Ann doesn't whinge either," and added that he had stayed on in Iraq to "protect" Ms Clwyd from herself.

Ms Clwyd said yesterday: "The idea he went out to protect me is ludicrous. He even came home 12 hours early having taken fright." She described travelling through an area where they were bombarded by Saddam Hussein's troops. "I'm afraid Mr Cousins was bleating and whimpering and I had to hold his hand," she said.

"Everybody who knows me knows I don't need protection in these circumstances. I've been into dangerous areas before without having to call for the assistance of Mr Cousins," she added. "I think he's been got at by the whips, and that he thinks his best method of defence and his best interests are served by launching completely unfounded and silly attacks on me."

The row descended further into a game of chicken when she was supported by Clive Furness, secretary of the Campaign Against Repression and For Democracy in Iraq, who was also on the trip: "Jim was extremely anxious about travelling the final stage of the journey in the dark," he said. "He spoke to his wife on the 'phone and she said something, after which he seemed to flip. He didn't speak 10 words except to say `I must get back to see my family'."