It didn't hurt. It didn't work

Tories admit their anti-Blair campaign was a total failure
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The Independent Online
The Tories yesterday conceded that they had not landed a punch on Tony Blair since he became Labour leader two years ago. With less than a year to an expected May 1997 election, John Major endorsed a strategy somersault.

In a reversal of previous campaign themes, a specialmeeting of the Cabinet agreed for the first time that Labour had indeed changed its colours, but that it was now more dangerous and extreme than it ever had been under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.

Stephen Dorrell, Secretary of State for Health and one of the mildest men in the Cabinet, last night gave a dramatic illustration of the new strategy with a speech in which he hinted that Labour's plans for constitutional change could threaten bloody civil war in Britain.

A Conservative spokesman said the Cabinet had agreed to pursue a new attack strategy under the slogan, "New Labour, New Danger".

But he added the remarkable admission: "It's a recognition that we have been using a number of attack strategies in the past that have not delivered, that have not laid the punches."

Gordon Brown, shadow Chancellor and chairman of Labour's day-to-day campaign committee, told the Independent: "This is an astonishing admission, that the whole of their political strategy has been wrong for two years.

"They are now saying that Labour is new and has changed. The claim that it is now more dangerous and more damaging cannot be sustained; they will not lay a finger on us."

But Labour unity was again broken from the Left when Diane Abbott, the MP and member of Labour's National Executive, threatened to vote against a Blair government if it went too far to the right.

The party's national executive will today get its first sight of the 10,000-word "Road to the Manifesto" document, the Blair programme for government that is expected to be overwhelmingly approved for a Thursday launch.

Labour's Deputy Leader, John Prescott, said last night: "Without even knowing the contents of the 'Road to the Manifesto' document, they have decided to launch a new negative campaign."

The Tory spokesman said: "Over the last two years, we have come up with a number of lines of attack against the Labour Party as Tony Blair has shamelessly lurched to the right in the pursuit of Middle England.

"Those lines of attack have included the accusation that he's been stealing our clothes. That is not terribly threatening because that's exactly what Tony Blair wanted us to say."

He said the message being put out by the Tories had been contradictory and confused, and after yesterday's Cabinet endorsement of the new line, Mr Major urged his colleagues to show discipline in "singing from the same hymn sheet".

Mr Dorrell said last night that the people of Britain should not take for granted the evolutionary political change of the last three centuries.

"You only need the most cursory acquaintance with the blood-stained pages of history to understand its significance.

"And yet it is precisely that record on continuous evolutionary change which is now under threat from Labour's half-baked ideas for the constitution."

Other threats that will be highlighted include a sell-out to Europe, higher taxes, and a resurgence of union power. Drawing a comparison with Wilson and Callaghan, the Party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, said on Friday: "In many important respects, Labour have a more dangerous policy agenda today than they did in the 1960s and 1970s."

A copy of a Tory election campaign budget, leaked recently to Labour, shows the party is planning to spend more than pounds 2m on a "New Labour, New Danger" poster campaign, starting today and running to the end of September.

The campaign will then shift into another gear, moving from the negative to the positive, with a party political broadcast, and posters, arguing "Life's Better" under the Conservatives.

One Tory complaint is that Mr Blair has deliberately taken on the left in his own party to show how moderate he is.

The Labour left continued to feed that perception yesterday with more protests against Mr Blair's dictatorial leadership. Ms Abbott told the Independent last night that she would not leave the Labour Party, but that Mr Blair was planning to rely on "votes from other quarters" rather than his own left wing.

Donald Macintyre, page 13