The midnight announcement of life peerages for advertising wizard Maurice Saatchi and Tory public relations guru Peter Gummer was immediately denounced by Labour.
Frontbencher Frank Dobson said: "Awarding peerages to Peter Gummer and Maurice Saatchi takes the Tory party and the peerage system to new depths. But no coronets and ermine will cover up Maurice Saatchi and Peter Gummer's role in dragging British politics lower than the gutter. When they're deciding which title to take, one of them will be Lord of the Lies. "They've already admitted that it's a lie to portray Tony Blair as the devil incarnate. They've already admitted their object was to make that image of him the principal image of the election campaign. They are proud to peddle lies. This announcement confirms that John Major has given his personal seal of approval for the most negative election campaigning ever."
Mr Saatchi is on holiday, but a spokesman for M&C Saatchi replied: "This is a disgusting slur on a man who has made the British advertising industry respected throughout the world, and created thousands of jobs."
While the peerages would have been offered well before the "New Labour, New Danger" campaign climaxed with the satanic portrayal of Tony Blair, the timing of the announcement was entirely in the gift of the Prime Minister. It can be taken as his calculated response to those urging a retreat.
The peerages for Mr Saatchi and Mr Gummer, brother of the Environment Secretary, were included in a list of 14 "working peers" - an unusually balanced six Tory, six Labour and two Liberal Democrat candidates.
The Tory list included two women from the party machine -Joyce Anelay and Hazel Byford; Sir Ian Maclaurin, chairman of Tesco; and John Taylor, the barrister who unsuccessfully contested Cheltenham - and Tory racism - in the last election. He will be the only Afro-Caribbean Tory in the Lords.
The Labour peers include two women: Meta Ramsay, a former adviser to the late John Smith, and Elizabeth Symons, leader of the Association of First Division Civil Servants. Mr Blair also nominated Swraj Paul, chairman of the Caparo iron and steel group, which has donated pounds 113,000 to Labour since 1993, plus pounds 460,000 a year to charity; Sir Richard Rogers, architect of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and the Lloyd's of London building; David Currie, professor of economics at the London Business School; and Larry Whitty, Labour's former general secretary.
Paddy Ashdown has not only nominated one of his own party stalwarts, Martin Thomas QC, president of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, but also John Alderdice, leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. Plum signings, page 4
Leading article, page 11