Ed Miliband today accuses David Cameron of plotting to run the “dirtiest election campaign” in two decades by putting “smear and character assassination” against him at the heart of the Tory strategy to get re-elected.
In an article for The Independent on Sunday he says that Mr Cameron “demeans his office” with a political strategy “to sling as much mud as possible in the hope that some of it sticks”.
The tone of Mr Miliband’s remarks show the extent to which Labour has been rattled by Tory attempts to link him and Ed Balls to the former Co-operative Bank chairman, Paul Flowers.
Mr Miliband describes the attacks as “smears” and “a new low”. He blames much of the change in tone to the arrival of the Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby at the Tory HQ. And he contrasts the “Crosbyisation” of the Conservative party to more optimistic election strategy pursued by David Cameron in 2010.
In a sign of Tory sensitivity to being labelled the “nasty party” at the next election, a senior Cabinet minister was authorised by Downing Street yesterday to slap down the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, for suggesting that politicians needed to “wake up” to the problem of corruption in ethnic minority communities.
Mr Grieve told The Daily Telegraph he was referring “mainly to the Pakistani community”, claiming some immigrants came from communities where corruption was “endemic”. He later apologised for giving the impression that he thought the Pakistani community was “a particular problem”, saying, “I believe the Pakistani community has enriched this country a great deal.”
After his initial remarks the Conservative Party chairman, Grant Shapps, took to the airwaves to criticise his Cabinet colleague. “I don’t agree that pinpointing one community over another is the right thing to do,” he said.
“I have to say, the Pakistani community has contributed a huge amount to this country and we will make sure we treat every community absolutely fairly.”
Labour, however, is concerned that such emollience will not extend to attacks on Mr Miliband in the run- up to the 2015 general election, and that the Tories will benefit from the most anti-Labour press since 1992, providing a “proxy” platform for Conservative attacks.
Mr Miliband’s aides hope that by speaking out now, he can blunt the right-wing press’s power to influence voters.
“It is impossible now to distinguish the coverage in The Times from that of the Mail,” said a senior Labour source.
“They are part and parcel of a group of newspapers who will do anything they can to damage Labour and Ed’s leadership.
“We are going to call them and the Tories out on this every time they do it.”
In his article Mr Miliband says: “David Cameron used to claim he wanted to change his party and lead it back to the middle ground: one that cared about the environment and all Britain’s citizens – including the poorest,” he writes.
“That project has now entirely disappeared. This is a Conservative Party preparing to fight the dirtiest general election campaign that we have seen in this country for over 20 years.”
Mr Miliband also appears to link the Tories with media attacks in the Daily Mail on his late father.
“With the support of a determined section of the press, [the Conservatives] have decided that mud-slinging matters more than the futures of millions of families across this country.
“We had seen this approach before with the Daily Mail crossing the line of common decency with its attacks on my Dad.”
Those close to Mr Miliband said they were particularly angry that Mr Cameron had claimed not to have read the offending article in the Mail when asked about during the Conservative Party conference.
Mr Miliband’s aides denied that his remarks were hypocritical, after attacks on Mr Cameron for his links with bankers and hedge funds.
“There is a qualitative difference between calling someone out for the links with people for whom they’ve given tax breaks and trying to smear them.”
Referring to the row over Labour’s financial links to the Co-op Mr Miliband writes that on Wednesday Mr Cameron “hit a new low by trying to use the gross errors and misconduct of one man, Paul Flowers, to impugn the integrity of the entire Labour movement.
“We all want proper answers as to what went on at the Co-operative Bank, and the public deserves better than the desperate attempts by the Tory party score the cheapest political points, including ludicrous claims that Labour’s historic links with the Co-op movement were the invention of Rev Flowers.”
But the Conservative chairman, Grant Shapps, said denied the claims: “This is a pathetic attempt to evade the serious issues.
“Labour has big questions to answer, and when they are asked, they simply try to avoid them by claiming they are smears.
“We suggest they explain how the corruption at Falkirk happened, and how the Rev Flowers was allowed to become and remain an adviser, rather than dismiss legitimate questions as smears.”