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
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
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: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

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
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn