Exclusive: Labour prepares for dirty war against Tory spin machine ahead of 2015 election

New adviser to model instant rebuttals on successful Obama campaigns, while party braced for attacks on ‘weak’, ‘weird’ Miliband that echo notorious 1992 election

Political Editor

Labour is to set up an “attack unit” to hit back immediately at Conservative attempts to target Ed Miliband in the clearest sign yet that the party is preparing for a “dirty war” at next year’s general election.

Mr Miliband will model Labour’s hard-hitting approach on a successful rebuttal campaign by supporters of Barack Obama in his 2012 presidential campaign. Labour will step up its media monitoring and will reply instantly to attacks on the party and its leader in Conservative-supporting newspapers.

Labour officials insist the tougher line does not mean they will “match smear with smear” or declare “class war” by highlighting the privileged backgrounds of David Cameron and George Osborne. However, Labour will portray the Tories as “out of touch” and  “standing up for the wrong people”.

The Labour battle plan is being discussed in the United States this week by Michael Dugher, a Shadow Cabinet member and Labour vice-chairman who is in charge of the party’s communications. In Chicago, he met David Axelrod, the senior Obama strategist who Labour hired last week to advise on its general election campaign. He is meeting Mike Donilon and Larry Grisolano from Mr Axelrod’s company AKPD, who will also work for Labour.

Mr Dugher will hold detailed discussions in Washington on Thursday about rebuttal techniques and advertising with Jim Margolis, a political consultant who worked on the Obama 2012 campaign. On Wednesday he will meet Media Matters for America, an Internet-based, not for profit research group which monitors material in print, broadcasts and online to expose, rebut and refute “conservative misinformation”. A similar operation will be “a major element” in Labour’s election effort, according to party sources.

Labour strategists fear that the Conservatives will encourage their newspaper allies to portray Mr Miliband as “weak” and “weird”. Labour is bracing itself for the most dirty, personalised election since 1992, when Neil Kinnock came under constant attack. Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper The Sun ran a front page headline with the Labour leader’s head in a lightbulb, saying: “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights” (below).

Mr Dugher told The Independent: “We won’t put up with what Kinnock did in 1992. When people tell lies about Labour, we’re going to nail that lie, and quickly.” He added: “This will be the most technologically advanced campaign ever. It will be faster, more direct and discursive and will be the first to be fought online as much as it will on the doorstep and over the airwaves.”

Mr Dugher said: “We know the Tories and some of their friends in the media are intent on making this a nasty, negative and personal campaign against Labour and prominent Labour people. We are absolutely determined to call out our opponents when they distort the truth or smear Labour people - and there's much we can learn from the masters of media and online rebuttal in the US.”

The shadow Cabinet Office minister, who was a Downing Street spin doctor under Gordon Brown, said: “The Obama campaign inspired America because of its message of change in 2008 and because of its relentless focus in 2012 on raising living standards for hardworking people. But it also inspired because of its innovative, inclusive, cutting-edge campaigning which combined community organising with massive digital engagement. Labour’s communications strategy will encompass the best lessons from both campaigns.”

He added: “Labour is undergoing a communications revolution similar to that of the 1980s and 1990s. We now have a standalone digital team boosting online engagement, a comms operation targeting media in the [106] battleground seats, and we're setting up a unit which will prioritise rapid rebuttal and expose this Government's failure to make hardworking Britain better off. Add to that, we now have local organisers in every target seat.”
David Axelrod watches Barack Obama deliver a speech in 2008 (AP) David Axelrod watches Barack Obama deliver a speech in 2008 (AP)
Tory officials suspect the appointment of Mr Axelrod signals a shift towards “negative campaigning” by Labour, despite the party’s denials. They said the Obama team ran a “soak the rich” campaign against Mitt Romney in 2012. Labour has promised to restore a 50p rate on incomes over £150,000 a year and branded the Coalition’s decision to reduce it to 45p “a tax cut for millionaires”.

Labour insists that attacking the Tories’ policy choices is wholly legitimate.

Mr Axelrod likes to build campaigns around a party leader’s “story” and so Labour’s desire to protect Mr Miliband’s reputation may be even more important.

Mr Miliband showed he is willing to take on hostile newspapers over alleged “dirty tricks” by demanding an apology after the Daily Mail described his Marxist academic father as a “man who hated Britain.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Payroll Officer - Part Time

£12047 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Part Time Payroll Officer required for t...

Recruitment Genius: Event Management and Marketing Admin Support

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Negotiator

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Central London based firm loo...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot