Parliament: Wales: Row over `dirty tricks' tactics

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THE BATTLE for the Labour leadership of the Welsh Assembly entered its bitterest phase yet, with the rival campaigns accusing each other of "dirty tricks" tactics.

As Tony Blair paid his third visit to Wales in three months, supporters of Rhodri Morgan, the rebel backbencher, and Alun Michael, Secretary of State for Wales, criticised each other yesterday.

The Morgan camp claimed that its opponents had breached party rules by sending out an extra leaflet to all 25,000 Labour Party members in the principality on the same day as ballot papers were mailed. But as Mr Morgan's supporters submitted a formal complaint about the leaflet, the Michael camp produced their own evidence of "sleaze" by their rivals.

The Welsh Secretary's campaign team revealed that the pressure group Charter 88 was furious that Mr Morgan's staff suggested it was prepared to fund ballots of Labour- affiliated organisations ahead of the leadership vote on 20 February. Charter 88 has asked Mr Morgan to launch an urgent investigation into why his team wrote to the Labour Students organisation in Wales, saying: "We can make money available to fund a ballot, from a source coming via Charter 88."

Greg Power, the pressure group's acting director, told Mr Morgan: "Charter 88 is a politically independent organisation and we take the view that these matters are for the political parties themselves ... We are very concerned about the way in which Charter 88's name has been used."

Peter Hain, the Welsh Office minister who runs the Michael campaign, said that the revelations suggested "unethical behaviour". He added: "What could have been a constructive contest about policy and the direction of Wales has been confounded by Rhodri Morgan's unscrupulous tactics. The Charter 88 ruse has now been exposed as a complete lie."

Yesterday, both sides insisted they were optimistic about victory, claiming that telephone canvassing had shown leads for their candidate. Although Mr Morgan has a head start, the Secretary of State's allies claim he has the momentum to win after securing the backing of the AEEU engineering union. A key test will be the vote of Unison, the public service union, which has 5 per cent of the total votes in the electoral college.

The electoral college gives a third of the votes to trade unions and other affiliated organisations, a third to constituency parties, and a third to Welsh Labour MPs, MEPs and candidates for the assembly.