Leaked Labour memo warns of voters' distrust

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DIVISIONS between the 'modernisers' and their opponents in the Labour Party deepened yesterday with the leaking of a confidential internal report warning the leadership that wavering Tory voters would still not trust Labour.

The leaking of the report was seen by critics, including John Prescott, a member of the leader's committee that will consider it next week, as part of a campaign to persuade John Smith, the Labour leader, to throw his weight behind the changes advocated by the self-styled 'modernisers', who include some Shadow Cabinet ministers and party aides.

Mr Prescott, the most outspoken critic of the modernisers in the Shadow Cabinet, questioned the validity of the findings of the report by David Hill, Labour's director of communications, because they were based on a poll among wavering Tory voters in the South-east.

Some modernisers said yesterday these were the voters Labour needed to convince to win next time. Mr Hill says in his report that Labour has no clear identity with the electorate and is seen as being on the side of the losers. None of the wavering Tory voters polled was swung by Mr Smith's leadership to vote Labour, in spite of gloom about the economy and the monarchy.

The report says: 'The deep-seated nature of our problems and the degree of the electorate's prejudices - which mean that the winter of discontent was still effectively deployed against us on the doorstep - requires us to get the new messages across as a matter of urgency.

'As it is our aim to mitigate or eradicate antagonisms to Labour which have developed over many years, it is vital that the new perceptions of the party begin to be transmitted to the electorate during 1993 and that by the 1993 conference we have a clear set of messages spelling out what we stand for.

'To wait any longer is to deprive ourselves of the time needed to establish a popular understanding of these messages in time for the next election.'

It says polling after the 9 April election revealed deep reasons for Labour's fourth defeat, including the impression that it was 'the party of the past, untrustworthy, inexperienced, and in favour of minorities, rather than the ordinary man and woman'.

'The recent polling shows these doubts remain in full, in particular amongst the aspirational working classes who set the highest premium on the financial wellbeing of themselves and their families.'

Mr Hill said people felt disillusioned and cynical about current affairs, politics and politicians. They would not be persuaded that someone had the solution, unless they were presented with the big idea that would make them rethink.

'In the absence of this, their instincts are to revert to the devil they know.'

But Mr Prescott said: 'It leads me to say that data is being doctored to what we think. I am beginning to think in the last 12-18 months there has been too much of a Pavlov's dog - we have been told what we need to know, what to do, and too little about how it's been arrived at, whether we should be questioning some of the judgements from the polls.

'If it's based on the polling information and it's not as objective as we have been led to believe - it's very subjective - and behind it, the conclusions follow the course of action . . . of people who happen to work as advisers, my real concern is that these people are becoming the arch-priests of politics.'

Mr Prescott emphasised that he supported radical policies, as he had demonstrated on transport. 'But I do think we have to marry idealism, conviction, passion with the policies we have got. You don't get that from polls. You get that from our own direct experience. You don't have to do that with the old language of taking over the means of production and ownership, but show there is a role for public ownership.'