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Labour MP defects to Lib Dems over Iraq

By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor .

26 April 2005 .

A prominent Labour politician will announce today that he is defecting to the Liberal Democrats in protest at Tony Blair's "lies" over Iraq. .

The defection of Brian Sedgemore, who is standing down after 27 years as a Labour MP, threatens to upset Mr Blair's apparently unstoppable campaign for a historic third term. .

Declaring that "enough is enough", Mr Sedgemore also reveals that a small group of unnamed fellow MPs who are standing down are secretly planning to leave the Labour Party in protest at Mr Blair's leadership after the election. .

His decision to defect will intensify the escalating row over the legality of the war which was yesterday thrust to the centre of the election campaign. .

A defiant Mr Blair insisted he would not apologise for the war when he came under sustained criticism after the leaking of the Attorney General's advice questioning the legality of the conflict. But Mr Sedgemore , who has been a Labour Party member for 37 years, yesterday blamed the Labour Party's policies on Iraq for his decision to join the Liberal Democrats. .

Writing in The Independent, Mr Sedgemore says: "I voted against the war on Iraq and it becomes clearer every day that Blair decided to go to war after meeting Bush on his Texas ranch in 2002. After that, he lied to persuade the country to support him. .

"The stomach-turning lies on Iraq were followed by the attempt to use the politics of fear to drive through Parliament a deeply authoritarian set of law-and-order measures that reminded me of the Star Chamber. The Star Chamber used torture but at least they allowed a proper trial before throwing someone into prison. That is when I decided enough was enough.

"For some of us it's not just about the war, it's about top-up fees and privatising the health service. We were going to issue a joint statement. That would have been the easiest thing for me to do but I believe I owe it to voters to speak out now," he says.

Labour's spin machine may dismiss Mr Sedgemore as a maverick with a case of sour grapes. But there will be fears in the high command that his call to voters to back the Liberal Democrats could mobilise dissenting voters against the war, and tip the balance against Labour in marginal seats. Alastair Campbell revealed in a weekend memorandum that Labour could be hit hard by voters refusing to turn out. Welcoming the defection, Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrats' leader, said: "It is not surprising that he finds himself at this election in greater sympathy with Liberal Democrat policies rather than those of Tony Blair's Labour Party."

Mr Sedgemore, 68, urges wavering voters to "give Mr Blair a bloody nose". He says: "I'm renouncing Tony Blair, the Devil, New Labour and all their works. I don't do this lightly. I know that some of my friends will be angry, and that I will be rubbished by the New Labour spin machine. Mad Dog Reid will be set on me." Mr Sedgemore breaks the silence among disillusioned Labour MPs who want Mr Blair to step down as soon as possible. He says that Mr Blair is "loathed" by many Labour candidates fighting to retain their seats. "Among the MPs there are 150 who loathe him and another 50 who have grave doubts about him and another 200 who love him. They are sometimes called the Clones or the Stepford Wives," he adds.