Opening an election campaign appeal to trade unionists, with newspaper advertisements and posters urging them to join the Conservative Party, Mr Mawhinney said: "New Labour has abandoned the hard-working classes."
A party spokeswoman said there was ICM polling evidence for Mr Mawhinney's assertion that the workers were swinging back to the Tories, although Market & Opinion Research International (MORI) said it had detected no such shift. According to MORI's latest aggregate data, for the second quarter of this year, Labour's current lead among C2, skilled workers, was 41 percentage points, and among DE, unskilled workers, it was 50 points, with Labour at 68 per cent, compared to the Tories' 18 per cent. Labour's overall national lead, on the same basis, was 29 points.
Labour replied to the attack on its traditional support, saying that more than a million factory jobs had been lost since 1983. "And they now have the cheek to ask for support," said employment spokesman Ian McCartney.
But the Conservatives' private polling has evidently detected a Labour weak-spot among lower-income families - which explains the latest publicity drive. The Tory machine is finely-tuned in its reaction to polling trends.
That also explains the current Whitehall search for the "no-nonsense" policies - like workfare and curfews for young offenders - that are thought to appeal to that section of the electorate.
John Major said after attending a breakfast for businessmen in Newbury, Berkshire: "Millions of hard-working families have always voted Conservative. There's nothing new about that.
"We share the instincts they have. They want a strong line on law and order - we do. They want the lowest possible taxation consistent with good public services - we do.
"They want to make their own choices for their own families in education and other things. We want to see them doing that. I am going to make that point very clear." The attack on Labour included an accusation that it had dumped "ordinary working men and women as though they were a pair of dirty overalls." Mr Mawhinney threw in the negative, personal line that now marks Conservative campaigning. "Mr Blair always seems embarrassed when he is in the presence of a union member. What a contrast with John Major. "Our leader is not ashamed of people who work for their living - because that is the background from which he came himself."Reuse content