Howarth's helpline to betrayers

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The Independent Online
The Labour Party has launched a telephone helpline on which wavering Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Nationalist activists can confess their secret admiration for Tony Blair, and receive counselling during the process of defecting to his party.

The phone line, Switch on to Labour, puts faint-hearted deserters in touch with former Tories and Lib-Dems, who will offer confidential advice on how to jump ship with a clear conscience. According to the party's Budget Day freesheet, The Rose, credit for the idea goes to Alan Howarth, MP for Stratford-upon-Avon, who, on the eve of last October's Conservative Party conference, made his own high-profile switch to the Opposition. His pursuit of a safe Labour seat at the next election has so far proved fruitless.

Howarth told The Rose that "many Tory, Lib-Dem and Nationalist voters are finding it easy to switch to Labour. But for active card-carrying members it can be a difficult decision".

Callers are treated to a soothing recorded message in which a softly- spoken Howarth explains his change of heart in terms of New Labour's attachment to "values of opportunity and community", inviting the like-minded to follow his lead and transfer their affections to Tony Blair.

John Maples, spokesperson for the Stratford-upon-Avon Conservative Association, has listened to the message and is unimpressed: "It's just Alan in a rather sugary voice saying that going over to Labour was the most wonderful thing he ever did. I'd be very surprised if anyone rang this - people don't want to discuss the way that they vote with anybody, especially if they're going to change their mind. I think it's just a PR stunt."

You can ring Switch on to Labour on 0171-277 3305.