Election '97: Labour cry foul over rivals' tactless tactics

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The Independent Online
The muck and bullets of the hustings arrived at a school gate in Sheffield Hallam yesterday, when Labour and Liberal Democrat activists clashed over "dirty tricks".

While Paddy Ashdown toured Greystones primary and infants school, the party's foot soldiers skirmished with half a dozen Labour representatives who claimed the Liberal Democrats were flouting Queensberry rules to persuade electors to vote tactically.

As children frolicked amiably in the playground, the adults outside engaged in a set-to, in a constituency which the Liberal Democrats are desperate to wrest from the Conservatives.

Labour's ire had been raised by a letter from Richard Allan, the Liberal Democrat candidate, which pointed out that the Labour man had finished a distant third in the last election "and everyone agrees that he cannot win here".

More infuriating for Labour activists was the claim that they were sending their crack troops to other, more winnable, constituencies, and that Bruce Kent, a former Labour candidate in the area, was urging his party's supporters to vote for Mr Ashdown's party.

Mr Allan's letter, which was sent to voters, went on: "Of course, a few fanatics will still vote Labour here - even if their vote helps re-elect Sir Irving Patnick, the Tory MP! But many Labour supporters say they will be making their vote count on this occasion, to make sure the Liberal Democrats defeat the Tories here."

James Brown, a Labour Party member for 45 years, said he was proud to be a fanatic and that his party was not sending its most energetic activists elsewhere. Mr Brown said there was no question of him voting for another party.

"In that case," said Mr Allan, "we could wake up on 2 May and be one of the few mugs left with a Tory MP."

Mr Allan, an ex-computer specialist working for the National Health Service, tried for sympathy: "I gave up my job in February to campaign in this election and now I owe pounds 15,000 to the bank and members of my family. My house has got no central heating."

Mr Ashdown had more important matters on his mind, as he sat down to a lunch of cheese, pie and chips and jam tart with the children.

Despite the main parties' concentration on key constituencies, activists are refusing to lie down. Sheila Bacon, 62, a Labour supporter, said: "If you are going to vote tactically, you should vote Labour."