London Mayor: Labour and Tory HQs plot attacks on Livingstone

Party insiders predict dirty war ahead as campaign designed to discredit and undermine `Red Ken' begins in earnest
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The Independent Online
THE CAMPAIGN to undermine, discredit and eventually crush Ken Livingstone got under way in earnest yesterday with savage attacks from both Labour and the Tories.

Day one of the "Dirty War", as some Labour insiders have called it, was marked by the Conservative Party issuing a memo urging all its MPs to describe Mr Livingstone as "terrorist-friendly".

In a move that upstaged even Millbank's attempts to assassinate his character, the "daily bulletin" from the Tory Research Department gives detailed advice on attacking the former Greater London Council leader.

The memo, titled "The Line to Take - Red Ken", includes sections on "Livingstone the Extremist" and attacks policies he has floated such as an airport tax and a pounds 7.50 congestion charge for motorists. The election of Livingstone would mean an unwelcome return of the Loony Left, terrorist-friendly, tax and spend, socialist policies of the old GLC."

The advice from Conservative Central Office contrasts with the stance of its candidate, Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare, who only last month ruled out using personalised negative campaigning against Mr Livingstone.

Labour's attempts to erode the Brent East MP's support started even before the London Selection Board began its interviews yesterday with the four candidates hoping to become the party's choice for Britain's first directly elected mayor.

Lord McIntosh, who was ousted as leader of the GLC by Mr Livingstone in 1981, led the charge on the BBC Radio's Today programme, accusing him of disloyalty to New Labour. Lord McIntosh also claimed that the MP had been offered and turned down a ministerial job. The allegation, which is regularly circulated by Blairites, was dismissed by the Livingstone camp as "pure fiction".

Tony Blair, who has already given public backing for Frank Dobson, will launch the main assault against Mr Livingstone in an article in today's London Evening Standard.

In a high-risk strategy that could backfire if the backbencher does win the contest, Mr Blair will portray the battle as one between Old and New Labour. The article is the first shot in a concerted Downing Street campaign, and will be followed by similar comments from Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and most of the Cabinet over the next few weeks.

Ministers will portray Mr Livingstone as the embodiment of the "Loony Left" years of the 1980s, echoing a letter to Labour members this week from Neil Kinnock, the former party leader.

With most unions backing Mr Livingstone and MPs backing Mr Dobson, the party's electoral college will be decided by the members in the capital. It is estimated that Mr Livingstone needs to win the backing of at least 70 per cent of the membership to have a chance of winning.

Although the party is supposed to remain impartial in the contest, the full might of Labour's Millbank machine will be directed against the former GLC leader.

Official rules prevent any candidate from "attacking or denigrating" their rivals, but the Dobson camp believes that this does not rule out clashes over their policies or record in government.

When Mr Dobson launches his manifesto on Thursday, it is expected that he will be supported by at least 20 ministers as he pushes the message that he is the only sensible choice for the nomination.

However, Mr Livingstone's campaign, now set up in an advertising agency in central London, will do its best to counter what it calls the "propaganda" against him. Backed by donations from the public, he has a full-time team of volunteers who will join the Dobson campaign in telephone canvassing of all 68,000 party members.

A master of media relations and high-profile campaigning, he has already shown his ability to score successes against Mr Dobson, painting him as a lapdog of Downing Street.