Labour studies US dirty tricks

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The head of broadcasting for the Labour Party, who is in California for mid-term elections described as the most vicious television campaign in the history of the Golden State, has concluded that the party has much to learn from US-style ``attack'' advertising.

Mish Tullar said yesterday he had no intention of going to the vituperative lengths that the Californians employ, described by one Democratic campaign official as ``going for the throat, the stomach and the groin''. But he believed Labour could learn from negative campaigning, especially its use of a simple, snappy message. ``We have to recognise that the negative message is an easier one to get to grips with and, in immediate terms, does have more impact.''

Mr Tullar is one of four party officials who have spent the last two weeks monitoring the Democratic campaign in California, looking for techniques to use against John Major in the next election.

This year's political races in California have been dominated by 30-second ``attack ads'' on television in which the candidates for the most important offices - the governorship and a seat in the US Senate - have repeatedly traded insults. Michael Huffington has spent more than $20m on his bid to become a Republican senator, much of which has gone on commercials attacking his Democratic opponent, Dianne Feinstein. These have included advertisements, showing an unflattering photograph of her, which accuse her of voting for US government money for a business in which her husband was involved. Ms Feinstein has repeatedly slammed Mr Huffington as the ``Texan millionaire who you can't trust'', and attacked his refusal to disclose his income tax records and his hiring of an illegal immigrant.

Some political commentators believe negative campaigning has disillusioned voters, and is partly responsible for low turn-out in the June primaries. But Labour is still smarting from two negative ads mounted by the Conservatives at the last general election: ``Labour's Tax Bombshell'' and ``You Can't Trust Labour''.

Mr Tullar said: ``If you do polling on negative and positive ads and ask people to rate them one to ten, they'll give three or four points to the negative one, and eight or nine to the positive ad. But, at the end of the day they will none the less have remembered the negative ad.

``We need to get a grip on this ourselves, but we need to refine it, rather than a sort of general, broader tack which the Conservatives have used. And I think to say, `Oh well, we want to keep our politics clean and sweet,' is pie in the sky.''