Labour MPs could be disciplined for consistently criticising their party leaders under a new code of conduct which was approved yesterday.
The code, which creates a new offence of bringing the party into disrepute, was accepted by 86 votes to 27 despite protests from several left-wingers. It also asks members to attend Parliament regularly, to refrain from personal attacks on colleagues and to act "in harmony with" party policy.
However, the party's leadership accepted an amendment which said it would not be used to "to stifle democratic debate on policy matters or weaken the spirit of tolerance and respect referred to in Clause IV of the Labour Party constitution."
Last night Tony Blair, the Labour leader, insisted that the move was not meant to prevent free and open discussion.
"What it is about is showing we are a serious, professional and disciplined organisation. Everyone understands that if you are serious about governing the country well you have to be professional and disciplined.
"You only have to look at today's Tories to understand that. They are a classic example of how a country should not be run," he said.
One senior Labour MP recently attacked Tony Blair in the left-wing Tribune newspaper under the byline "Cassandra." And three MPs who recently put their names to a petition organised by the Socialist Workers Party, which condemned any attempt to weaken Labour's links with the trade unions, were not disciplined.
If Labour decided that one of its MPs had stepped out of line under the code, which comes into force in January, a vote of all its members would be taken before they were suspended from the parliamentary party.
A number of left-wingers were unhappy with the outcome last night. Dennis Canavan, MP for Falkirk West, said he had voted against the code. "It is wide open to subjective interpretation. I don't think it should have any place in a democratic socialist party," he said.
Ken Livingstone, MP for Brent East, also objected to the new code. "I think it is unbelievably crass to say we have to support the party even if it is wrong," he said.
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