A veteran Labour MP has accused the Communities Secretary Hazel Blears of acting out of “venal and personal reasons” with regard to the merger of councils in Cheshire.

In an unusual attack, Gwyneth Dunwoody said: “I have seen the crawlers. I’ve seen those whose sexual preferences were of interest to others.

“I’ve seen those who’ve demonstrated a great commitment to their own interest, irrespective of the political parties they were supposed to be representing.

“But I have rarely seen a decision like this taken with such cynicism and with so little respect of the interests of the average voter.”

Ms Dunwoody, who has been the MP for Crewe and Nantwich since 1974, is chair of the transport select committee and a highly-respected parliamentarian.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government told the BBC:

“We find these comments disappointing and baffling.

“This proposal came from four councils in Cheshire. It is not devised or imposed by the government and has been judged on merit against strict published criteria.”

Cheshire MPs Christine Russell, Andrew Miller and Sir Nicholas Winterton all back the proposal to merge seven councils into two unitary authorities. It was suggested by four of the councils in question.

Ms Blears, the MP for Salford, ran for deputy leader of the Labour party earlier this year, but was defeated by Harriet Harman.