Labour's leaflets are a Tony-free zone

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Indy Politics

Labour candidates across Britain have been campaigning without Tony Blair's photograph on their leaflets to avoid upsetting voters.

Labour candidates across Britain have been campaigning without Tony Blair's photograph on their leaflets to avoid upsetting voters.

Even members of Mr Blair's Cabinet, including Alan Milburn, his campaign co-ordinator, have omitted the Prime Minister's photograph in the first week of the campaign, saying that Mr Blair's face will be appearing later.

But some Labour candidates are using photographs of themselves with Gordon Brown, rather than Mr Blair, because the Chancellor's standing with voters is higher. They fear the loss of trust in the Prime Minister over the war in Iraq could cost them votes.

Anti-war Labour candidates admit they have a "Tony-free zone" around their election leaflets. Alan Simpson, Labour's candidate in Nottingham South, is issuing a leaflet this week of himself at an anti-war rally proudly standing in front of a "Labour Against the War" banner.

"Ninety per cent of the Labour doubters are because of the war and a lack of trust in Tony Blair," Mr Simpson said. "I'm not using his photograph in my leaflets. This wound is much deeper than the party will acknowledge."

He said people on the doorstep have been telling him Mr Blair made a bad mistake when he was asked this week about trust, and replied, "Let the people decide". Mr Simpson added: "Voters are saying they will take him up on the offer and decide. They say they didn't want to go to war in Iraq and he didn't listen then, why should he listen now?"

Bob Marshall-Andrews QC, the Labour candidate in Medway, a Labour marginal, has a photograph of himself with Gordon Brown on his website.

Mr Marshall-Andrews was a leading anti-war campaigner and after he rebelled against the Government in the last parliament, the Chief Whip, Hilary Armstrong, threatened that cabinet ministers would not visit him in the election. He told her he wanted a guarantee they would not visit.

Ian Gibson, the candidate for Norwich North, who also opposed the war, confirmed he was not using Mr Blair's photograph. "People make up excuses for not voting, but they all hate Tony Blair. That is the standard response I am getting. They say, 'We would vote for you if it was not for Blair.' I am focusing on local issues."

Peter Kilfoyle, who resigned as a defence minister, said Mr Blair was a "voter turn-off" in Liverpool and would not be featuring on his leaflets. He did not expect Mr Blair to show his face in his constituency of Liverpool Walton.

"I think Mr Blair is far too busy working closely with Gordon Brown for him to put in an appearance here," he said. "We are concentrating on local matters."

Nick Brown, a close ally of the Chancellor, has not used Mr Blair's face on his leaflets during his campaign to retain Newcastle East and Wallsend. He said: "In the general election leaflet which is going out now, I have a picture of me with my pal, Gordon Brown, and the headline, 'Vote Labour ­ vote Brown'."

In Tory-held Billericay, Annelliese Dodds, the Labour candidate, who opposed the war, said she had not put Mr Blair's face on her leaflets because she was concentrating on local issues, such as plans for an incinerator plant. Her Tory opponent, John Baron, resigned from the Tory front bench in opposition to the war. "All three of the main candidates are against the war," she said.

Labour campaign leaders have issued party candidates with a template for their election leaflets, suggesting that they focus on four key issues, including the economy, education and health, but many MPs are using the format for their own messages. One candidate said that he had replaced the Labour material with his own message calling for peace, not war. Others refusing to use Mr Blair's photograph and some of the official Labour material in their campaign leaflets include Clare Short, who resigned from the Cabinet after the war, and called for Mr Blair to make way for Gordon Brown.

John Reid, one of the Prime Minister's strongest supporters in the Cabinet, also issued a leaflet without Mr Blair appearing in it. A spokesman for the Secretary of State for Health said he had omitted the photograph because he was focusing on pensioners.

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