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Tories revive 'demon eyes'

Party ignores criticisms and switches poster campaign from Blair to taxes
The Conservative Party is to revive the "demon eyes" theme for a new advertising campaign, despite last week's condemnation by the Advertising Standards Authority.

The eyes will be featured on posters for the first time this week, staring out of a purse above the slogan "New Labour, New Taxes" on hoardings all over the country.

In a landmark judgment only three days ago, the ASA told the party to drop advertisements depicting Tony Blair with demonic eyes. It ruled that the Conservatives had broken its code of conduct by portraying the Labour leader as "sinister and dishonest" and declared that they "should have known better".

But Conservative Central Office is to flout the spirit, if not the letter, of this ruling by using the "demon eyes" theme in a now 500-site poster campaign claiming that Labour would put up taxes.

A spokesman for Tony Blair said yesterday: "If, after all the condemnation there has been of their ridiculous negative campaigning, the Tories resort to effectively the same tactics on yet another issue on which they have lied, it will backfire again."

A Central Office spokesman admitted: "The eyes will definitely be there, but no final decision has yet been taken about which poster we will use."

The Tory advertising campaign, which began last month, is designed to rouse voters' fears of "New Labour, New Danger". Opposition MPs argue that the Conservatives have plumbed new depths of negative campaigning, borrowing from American politics. Tory officials insist they are only using Labour's own words. Clare Short, the Opposition front-bencher, criticised "dark forces" at work around Mr Blair.

Either way, the Conservatives are hugely satisfied with the outcome. Central Office insiders say the pounds 125,000 spent on publishing the "demon eyes" advert in three newspapers generated at least pounds 5m worth of publicity.

This week will be the first time the eyes appear on street hoardings. Central Office will not divulge how much is being spent, but Labour sources say leaked documents show the Tories will spend up to pounds 10m on advertising in the run-up to polling day.

The original "demon eyes" advertisement, which superimposed red, glowing eyes on a photograph of Mr Blair, triggered more than 150 complaints to the ASA, including one from the Bishop of Oxford.

Labour will tomorrow launch what it hopes will be a pre-emptive strike on tax against the Tories. Gordon Brown, the Shadow chancellor, is to list 22 ways in which the Government has extended VAT since 1992, despite election campaign promises not to do so.

The party has built up a dossier from papers lodged in the House of Commons library that lists the imposition of VAT on credit cards, on the servicing of cash-point machines, on charities' advertising, on stationery purchases and on blood products, among others. Labour also argues that the average British family pays more in taxes than when Mr Major was returned to power in 1992.

"The Tories lied at the last election on taxes," said Mr Brown. "We will not allow them to get away with it again. We will continue to remind the electorate that, having said there would be no tax increases, they then raised taxes by the biggest margin in history. No one will trust the Tories on taxes ever again."