Labour rebels have offered to show Tony Blair the full list of more than 100 Labour MPs who are threatening to vote against the Government when the Higher Education Bill goes to the Commons next week.
They say that, contrary to reports put out last week, the size of the potential rebellion has not fallen substantially, despite intense efforts by ministers and whips to win over the rebels.
George Mudie, the former deputy chief whip who has been co-ordinating the rebellion, said yesterday that the number of known rebels had fallen by only three over the past seven days.
"I offered to show the list to Tony Blair. I put the offer through a Cabinet minister. The Cabinet minister came back and said would I meet Tony, and I said, 'Of course'." His claim that the Government is still facing defeat is borne out by a survey of 115 potential Labour rebels conducted over the past three days by The Independent on Sunday. Out of 98 who agreed to be interviewed, 75 still say they will not be supporting the Government in the critical vote on 27 January. Ten have decided to support the legislation, and 13 were undecided.
The figures suggest that Mr Blair and his Secretary of State for Education, Charles Clarke, still face defeat on a major piece of government legislation - which would almost certainly trigger a vote of no confidence in the Government from the Conservative leader, Michael Howard.
The confidence vote would take place on the very day that Lord Hutton publishes his long-awaited report into the death of the government scientist Dr David Kelly. There had been speculation that the imminence of the Hutton report would inspire Labour rebels to close ranks, for fear that the argument over tuition fees could turn into a crisis and bring down Tony Blair.
Frank Dobson, a former Cabinet minister who has joined the rebellion, insisted that it is not an attack on Tony Blair's position.
Writing in The Independent on Sunday, Mr Dobson today insists: "Government whips have been making dark suggestions that the Prime Minister would have to resign if he lost. A more paranoid minority have even been suggesting this motivates those who oppose variable top-up fees.
"Both ideas are simply ridiculous. Prime ministers don't resign if they lose a vote in the House of Commons. The vote on top-up fees isn't a vote of confidence."
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