"I HAVE listened and I have learned."

This humble and uncharacteristically subservient post-poll promise by Tony Blair will be tested almost immediately by the reduced ranks of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

Tony Blair's majority was slashed by almost 100 seats last Thursday and with it went the New Labour style of government which had consistently bypassed parliamentary authority in favour, it claimed, of a direct dialogue with the people. Now the long-ignored backbench ranks of Labour MPs, many of whom were never hypnotised by the Blair-Brown project and were branded rebels if they failed to kowtow to the official Downing Street line, believe it's their turn to be listened to.

Alan Simpson, member for Nottingham South and one of the leading members of the Socialist Campaign Group of leftist MPs, told the Sunday Herald: "There's been a warning shot over everyone's bow. Labour was lucky on May 5. Had there been a credible opposition on offer, I believe the electorate would have taken up that option. Instead there was a slap in the face [for Blair] and it marks the end of the presidential politics that Blair and Peter Mandelson tried to install in Westminster.

What we have seen is the public striking back."

In common with many of his like-minded parliamentary colleagues, Simpson believes the 2005 poll result was a call for a return to consensus politics. And if he doesn't get it, he, the rest of the campaign group, and many other "rebels" are intent on making life as difficult as they can for Tony Blair. For how long? "Until he gets the message, " said Simpson.

"The Rebels Strike Back" may sound like the latest Star Wars episode, but it is the immediate strategy of many on Labour's left who believe they now have the chance to limit, if not end, the New Labour project.

Ian Davidson, the Glasgow South West MP, was out in his constituency yesterday morning handing out leaflets of thanks to those who returned him to the Commons. But there was little thanks for the role of the central party machine in getting him re-elected. "I called for 'regime change' at my count and I want that to happen as soon as possible."

Davidson, a vocal critic of the government, especially on European policy, said that if Labour wanted to build towards a successful bid for a fourth term - "and that is what we should be concentrating on now" - then he claimed "the true believers of the [New Labour] project will have to begin behaving, begin to recognise, that there are other points of view that now need to be listened to". He added: "We won despite the excesses of Blairism, not because of it."

For Simpson, Davidson and the remaining ranks of rebels-in-waiting, an early indication of whether or not Blair is serious about wanting "to listen" will be the parliamentary programme outlined next week in the Queen's Speech.

The tone and language of the speech, says Davidson, will be crucial. He will be looking for a new style and a new approach that he said was absent in the last parliament.

"So let's see if he really means it - but if he doesn't then the New Labour project is a train smash waiting to happen."

This is the rejuvenation of the left's spirit and the strangely confrontational language that a slashed majority has engendered. With a 161 majority, the Labour whips' office during the last term effectively corralled the dissent into a threat that never really delivered a killer blow. That has now dramatically changed.

The core of the "awkward squad" - as the disenchanted rebels were often referred to - has been carried over into the new PLP.

According to analysis carried out by the Sunday Herald, the ability of a rebel minority to seriously derail government legislation has been magnified in the arithmetic of the new parliament. In effect the "comfort zone" - which allowed repeated rebellions in the 1997 and 2001 Commons to be cushioned by the scale of the landslide majorities - has been destroyed.

The MPs who left their rebellious signatures all over the last term have been returned in sufficient numbers to resume their attack:

among the lengthy list of "the usual suspects", the whips office nightmares, will again be:

Jeremy Corbyn, veteran rebel MP for Islington North; John McDonnell, chairman of the Socialist Campaign Group; Kate Hoey, the former sports minister; Bob MarshallAndrews, the lawyer who thought he'd lost last Thursday before a recount returned him to Westminster; Mark Fisher, the former arts spokesman; Clare Short, the former international development secretary who turned against the government over its handling of Iraq; Glenda Jackson, the former transport minister; Gwyneth Dunwoody, Diane Abbott, and of course Dennis Skinner, the "beast of Bolsover".

The magic number that will now be pinned up inside the Chief Whip's office in Westminster is 34. One returned MP said:

"That sign will be bloody large, maybe it'll be in red ink, maybe even written in blood; but it will be the number that will drive the first part of the parliament, in place until Blair finally does what he should be doing today, and that is standing down because this old palace [Westminster] isn't going to behave like it has in the past."

In any other post-war government 34 would be regarded as containable. But in the 2001 to 2005 term nearly a third of all Labour MPs voted against the government on at least five occasions. Dissent was acceptable because it was, according to one adviser, "essentially non-toxic". This is no longer the case.

One of the imminent tests of the new arithmetic could be any attempt by the government to re-introduce plans for compulsory national identity cards. In the last parliament ID cards were claimed to be an essential tool in the fight against terrorism.

This was questioned by many civil liberties groups who claimed it would only be a marginal tool in this area.

The Conservative manifesto backed ID cards in principle. But given the likely scale of any anti-government rebellion on this issue - 20 of the returning Labour MPs voted against ID cards in the last parliament, meaning the majority would be instantly slashed by 40 if their vote was repeated - the Tory frontbench team would be likely to rethink their support if it meant inflicting serious damage on the government.

Other issues where a sizeable rebellion could be anticipated include the future plans likely to be unveiled this year on asylum and immigration controls; any reform of the public sector that would include a greater input from private sector companies; the possibility of the Education Secretary Ruth Kelly trying to expand selection in state schools as the specialist schools network expands and almost any anti-terror measures that could be identified as repressive and following the US pattern of threatening basic public liberties.

McDonnell, who wields organisational power through the Socialist Campaign Group, believes the government will be in trouble on a wide range of issues and will not be able to ignore the input of the left. "They are going to have to negotiate with us, " he said.

In Blair's first two terms that isn't something with which he's had to concern himself. But the rebels' language suggests they believe they now hold all the cards and cannot be ignored.

It all sounds like a threat to Blair, a threat against him to ignore consensus at his peril.

But Simpson doesn't quite see it like that.

"This is as much a message to Gordon Brown as it is to Blair. The Prime Minister has to wake up and smell the coffee and change his political style. If he can do that - and it will be hard for him . . . Well, if he can't he is in deep trouble. If the New Labour language isn't tempered, someone will have to break the news to him that New Labour is dead."

Simpson insisted that the objective would not be to force votes of confidence on key issues. Instead the tactics will be to reject issues "one by one" or as he put it "to trash them" and see parliamentary accountability returned. He added: "Downing Street won't like it, but this is the new reality. Parliament is no longer a fan club."

These descriptions of what Blair can expect in the early part of his third term, even with a majority of 66, do not sound like the culture that has helped mould Blair's authoritative leadership style. For some in Labour's senior ranks this predicted confrontation - which will be enjoyed by the main opposition parties - means Blair has two basic choices: adapt, or go quickly.

Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, thinks he should go now and with some dignity. Writing in the Guardian yesterday, Cook claimed Blair should not risk another ballot box test of his shrinking popularity and urged the Prime Minister to set a timetable for his departure "rather than leave the nation and the party guessing when he might go".

To safeguard what he called "Blair's legacy" Cook said he should go before next May's local elections. The message was stark. "How can he [Blair] imagine that the millions of voters who deserted Labour over Iraq last Thursday will return while he remains leader?"

The stay-but-adapt wing of the party was being headed over the weekend by the new Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Hain, and the former Blairite moderniser, Stephen Byers, who said Blair could not simply put up a "business as usual" sign outside Number 10 and pretend nothing had changed.

Byers said his former boss must not repeat the mistake of launching controversial policy proposals on an unsuspecting public. He identified foundation hospitals and tuition fees as how not to go about developing policy.

But for Blair the immediate problem is not so much listening to the public - who spoke last Thursday - but his own party. And already there are signs that he is struggling. Outside Number 10 on Friday morning, Blair tried to sound inclusive, collegiate, repentant even.

His focus was not the Labour Party, but what he called "the British people". And he wanted to say to them "very directly, that I, we, the government are going to focus relentlessly now on the priorities the people have set for us".

A former minister who predicted Blair would not serve out a full term and would see quickly "that he has to go or risk being humiliatingly pushed" added that "Tony Blair still can't see the crucial difference between 'I the government' and 'We the government'. It is not in his nature. On Iraq he said 'he' had to make the tough decisions. That was the problem: he didn't need to take the tough decisions privately.

"If he had openly discussed these decisions among his Cabinet and been honest with the party and parliament we would perhaps be sitting here today and discussing the demise of the Conservative Party. That could have been the legacy of Tony Blair. Instead we are discussing when he should take the opportunity to go. It is no longer a tragedy - it is a selfinflicted inevitability."

JEREMY CORBYN Islington North 23.60% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Iraq War

JOHN MCDONNELL Hayes & Harlington 18.40% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Iraq War

KATE HOEY Vauxhall 17.40% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Iraq War

BOB MARSHALL-ANDREWS Medway 16.50% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Iraq War

GWYNETH DUNWOODY Crewe & Nantwich 14.90% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Criminal Justice

ALAN SIMPSON Nottingham South 14.60% Issues: Terrorism, Gambling, Iraq War

LYNNE JONES Birmingham, Selly Oak 14% Issues: Terrorism, Iraq War, Criminal Justice

DIANE ABBOTT Hackney North 12% Issues: Terrorism, Iraq War, Criminal Justice

ROBERT WAREING Liverpool, West Derby 11.70% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Iraq War

MARK FISHER Stoke-on-Trent Central 11% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Iraq War

KELVIN HOPKINS Luton North 10.80% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Iraq War

DENNIS SKINNER Bolsover 10.50% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Iraq War

RT HON CLARE SHORT Birmingham, Ladywood 10.20% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Gambling

GLENDA JACKSON Hampstead & Highgate 8.20% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Iraq War

MIKE WOOD Batley & Spen 7.80% Issues: Terrorism, Iraq War, Criminal Justice

NEIL GERRARD Walthamstow 7.60% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Iraq War

RT HON FRANK FIELD Birkenhead 6.70% Issues: Terrorism, Gambling, Lords Reform

DAVID TAYLOR North West Leicestershire 6.50% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Iraq War

ANDREW MACKINLAY Thurrock 5.90% Issues: Terrorism, Gambling, Lords Refrom

GORDON PRENTICE Pendle 5.70% Issues: Terrorism, Gambling, Iraq War

DAVID DREW Stroud 5.50% Issues: Terrorism, Gambling, Iraq War

IAN GIBSON Norwich North 5.50% Issues: Terrorism, ID Cards, Iraq War

BILL ETHERINGTON Sunderland North 5.20% Issues: Terrorism, Asylum, Iraq War

MICHAEL CONNARTY Linlithgow 5% Issues: Terrorism, Asylum, Iraq War

JIM COUSINS Newcastle Central 5% Issues: Terrorism, Gambling, Iraq War

PETER KILFOYLE Liverpool, Walton 4.90% Issues: Terrorism, Iraq War, Lords Reform

PAUL FLYNN Newport West 4.80% Issues: Terrorism, Iraq War, Lords Reform

AUSTIN MITCHELL Great Grimsby 4.70% Issues: Criminal Justice Gambling, Hunting

JIM DOBBIN Heywood & Middleton 4.60% Issues: Iraq War, Lords Refrom, Civil Partnerships

JOHN AUSTIN Erith & Thamesmead 4.30% Issues: Terrorism, Health & Social Care, Iraq War

MICHAEL CLAPHAM Barnsley West 4.20% Issues: ID Cards, Iraq, Lords Reform

IAN DAVIDSON Glasgow South West 4.20% Issues: Gambling, Iraq War, Lords Reform

DAVID HAMILTON Midlothian 4.10% Issues: Terrorism, Iraq War, Gambling

HARRY COHEN Leyton & Wanstead 4% Issues: Terrorism, Asylum, Iraq War

ANDREW DISMORE Hendon 4% Issues: Hunting, Lords Reform, Transport


Name of Labour MP;

Constituency represented at 2005 election;

Votes against government as a percentage of total votes;

Sample issues rebel MP voted against the government on