Labour chief denies he knew of plan to smear top Tories

Latest polls show the McBride affair has damaged Government's standing with voters

Labour's general secretary was yesterday forced to deny that he knew of plans to spread false rumours about senior Tory politicians, dashing Gordon Brown's hopes of ending the smears scandal engulfing the Government.

Ray Collins admitted attending a meeting to discuss how Labour should use the internet with the two men at the centre of the scandal, but said he had no knowledge of a plan to smear figures including David Cameron using a new gossip blog called Red Rag.

The meeting included the disgraced special adviser, Damian McBride, who has now left No 10, and Derek Draper, a former aide to Peter Mandelson who runs the website Labour list. The meeting, which took place in December, was also attended by Charlie Whelan, Mr Brown's former press secretary. "I spoke to the Prime Minister this morning and we reiterated that we both feel there is absolutely no place for personal smears in politics," Mr Collins said. "Neither I, nor the Prime Minister or anyone else in the Labour Party have any time for this type of activity."

Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, was also forced to deny allegations that he was responsible for running a "smear unit", including Mr McBride, from No 10. A spokesman for Mr Balls, one of the Prime Minister's closest allies, called the accusation "malevolent nonsense".

Downing Street said the "strategy group", jointly chaired by Mr Balls and Cabinet minister, Liam Byrne, was also attended by senior civil servants, while its agenda was set by the Cabinet Office rather than by Mr Balls.

Despite the controversy, the Wednesday afternoon meetings will carry on with Mr Balls remaining as its chairman alongside Mr Byrne.

Mr Byrne said that the idea that the meeting constituted a "black ops" unit as "inaccurate, nonsensical and pretty offensive". He added: "In the all the months I've worked closely with Ed, I've only ever seen him totally, professionally, focused on helping build a better country," he said.

Senior Labour figures were out in force yesterday attempting to limit the damage. One poll released by The Sunday Telegraph suggested that Labour now trail the Tories by 19 points, four points more than just three weeks ago.

Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, said speculation over who else knew about the potential smears would lead "precisely nowhere". "We don't need to go into the past actions of Mr McBride because as far as the Government is concerned he is no more," he said. Lord Kinnock said it was not possible for the Prime Minister to keep tabs on the activities of all his advisers.

Opposition MPs seized on the ongoing controversy, with one saying that Mr Brown's Government was less ethical than John Major's administration, which was defeated in 1997 after a series of sleaze allegations.

The shadow Business Secretary, Ken Clarke, who was chancellor in the Major government, said Mr Brown's administration was failing to meet "decent ethical standards".

"New Labour is a very long way from where we were," he said. "John Major's government was not a successful government by the end, but his government had better ethical standards."

George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, pledged to change the culture within government should the Tories win the next election. He blamed the possible smear campaign on a culture created by the Prime Minister going "far beyond Damian McBride".

Labour troubles: The architect's daughter

Labour found itself hit by yet another high-profile controversy over the weekend: the election of a candidate for one of its safe seats had to be postponed when it was discovered a ballot box had been tampered with. The race to become Labour's candidate for Erith and Thamesmead, south-east London, had already provoked anger among local party activists, amid claims that the daughter of one of Tony Blair's close friends was being parachuted into the seat. Georgia Gould, 22, is daughter of Philip Gould, one of the architects of New Labour, and had been the favourite to win the selection. The constituency's outgoing MP, John Austin, complained she was receiving "inappropriate" support from prominent Blairites. Now Ray Collins, the party's general secretary, has begun an investigation into the damaged ballot box, and the selection process may drag on weeks. The Olympics minister, Tessa Jowell, said the row had been "blown up in the heat of an election campaign" for the seat.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones