Blair rounds on Mawhinney over 'Lie Machine'

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The Independent Online

Political Correspondent

Tony Blair, the Labour leader, made an unusually strongly worded attack yesterday on Brian Mawhinney, the Conservative Party chairman, accusing him of running a propaganda "Lie Machine".

After the collapse of three Tory public relations offensives in a week, Mr Blair told a Scottish Labour Party dinner in Glasgow: "The Tory Lie Machine has moved up a gear as the election nears. They will smear, as they always do, and lie and cheat and spend vast sums on untruthful propaganda."

He cited Conservative Central Office's role in using sensitive Home Office information about individual asylum applications, in publicising an opt- out ballot at a school in his own constituency against the wishes of the headteacher, and in placing a story which the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, was forced to deny.

Michael Heseltine, deputy prime minister, counter attacked Labour last night in a BBC TV interview. He said there had been copious reports over many months of media manipulation on behalf of Mr Blair by Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell. He said the Conservatives were now hitting back and Labour "didn't like it,"

Donald Dewar, the Opposition chief whip, has written to Mr Mawhinney asking about the role in these cases of Sheila Gunn, the new Tory press officer. Ms Gunn was appointed by Mr Mawhinney, who became chairman in July. Mr Dewar asked: "Are these people merely incompetent, or malicious, or is it simply that they are out of control?"

Mr Blair's speech last night broadened the attack, accusing Mr Mawhinney of "reducing government to an extension of Central Office . . . It's propaganda first, second and third, the national interest last. Lie about Labour, lie about the past, lie about the future."

He accused Michael Forsyth, Secretary of State for Scotland, of lying about Labour's "tartan tax" plan to give a Scottish parliament power to raise or lower income tax by up to 3p in the pound. "Tartan taxes are scare stories. Tory taxes are all too real. Our devolved parliament will not tax anyone unless the people of Scotland vote for it. Nobody voted for 20 new Tory taxes in 1992 but they got them just the same. They lied about their tax plans then. They are lying about our tax plans now," he said. Mr Forsyth fought back yesterday, saying Mr Blair had no credibility with his "pathetic assertion that he would create a power to raise a tartan tax but that it might not be used and that we must await a manifesto to find out".