General Election 2015: Backlash follows Tory attack on 'backstabbing' Labour leader

Miliband claims Fallon has demeaned his office; Clegg says it is a sign of panic

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The Conservatives have been accused of panic and dragging their election campaign into the “gutter” after a cabinet minister launched a vicious personal attack on the Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Some senior Tories tried to distance themselves from remarks by Michael Fallon who warned Mr Miliband would “stab” his country in the back to become Prime Minister in the same way he stabbed his own brother in the back to become Labour leader.

Mr Fallon faced a backlash after he said that Mr Miliband’s defeat of his brother David “showed just what he would do to get into power” and that he would strike any deal with the Scottish National Party – including abandoning Britain’s nuclear deterrent – to get into government.

The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, refused several times to repeat his cabinet colleague’s remarks which, The Independent understands, were authorised from the top of the Conservative campaign. Tim Montgomerie, who founded the Conservative Home website, went further, describing the attack as “embarrassing” and “way too personal”.

The Conservative backbencher Charles Walker told The Independent: “It’s not something I would do but I am a mere humble backbench member of Parliament. You have got the big beasts at the top of the parties. It’s like a dinosaur film with their tails flapping and slamming into each other while the cavemen are watching.”

Mr Cameron defended Mr Fallon’s remarks, claiming there were serious issues at stake in the election and the Defence Secretary was right to question Labour’s approach to the renewal of the Trident nuclear programme in “a pretty frank way”.

But Mr Hammond refused four times in a BBC interview to repeat the back-stabbing claim, saying: “I will leave it to the public to make up their mind”.

Mr Miliband said Mr Fallon was “a decent person but he had demeaned himself and demeaned his office”.

The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said of the attack: “It is a sign of panic. The Conservatives know they cannot win outright. They are lashing out in the most vituperative way.”

Douglas Alexander, Labour campaign co-ordinator, said, “This is desperate stuff from a rattled campaign that spent yesterday defending tax avoidance and has now descended to the politics of the gutter.”

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