Put away the rubber chicken: chardonnay and crostini will fuel Labour's garden party campaign

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The Independent Online
The garden party, the traditional bastion of Conservative ladies and vicars, is set to become New Labour's secret weapon in the battle to win a second term of office.

The new intake of Labour MPs have been asked to host summer garden parties for supporters as a way of consolidating their hold on their constituencies.

And just in case they are not quite sure of the ropes, they have been issued with a list of helpful hints: "It should be a relaxed event - nice wine, good food!"

A party should be held between 3.30pm to 6pm on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Suggested dates are 26 July and 30 August. Hold it in the back garden "if it is big enough", MPs are told. If not, find a special garden, such as a local large house that puts on similar functions.

"Make the effort to talk to everyone who attends - they can tell all their friends they talked to their MP," the list suggests.

It is also important to allow the guests to bring a friend because "it is easier to attend an event with a friend than on your own".

The garden party has three main advantages, MPs are told: it makes members feel that they are part of the Labour government by speaking to an MP; it heightens the MP's profile among members; and it gives the MP the chance to listen to members.

There is one drawback - MPs are not told who is going to pay for the barbecued bangers and Chardonnay.

But the new MPs have been advised that garden parties are a "great opportunity to collect subscriptions - members will really enjoy coming to a party hosted by their MP. It will be a very special event for them".

There will be no rest for the new MPs during Parliament's summer recess. In addition to garden parties, they are being urged to spend this summer hosting conferences for local business leaders, sending direct mailshots to supporters and having two weeks of "roving surgeries" to improve contact with constituents. They will need a holiday after that.