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?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
News
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
music
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine