Party accused of using sixth-formers to spin conference for young

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Indy Politics

Hundreds of sixth-formers are being drafted into the Labour conference today in an apparent attempt to stage-manage the event and give the party "street credibility" among young people. Labour was accused of trying to manipulate the public by pretending that the youngsters, aged 16 to 18, were the fresh face of young Labour.

Zoë Slater, a 17-year-old from Highcliffe comprehensive in Christchurch, said she had no intention of supporting Labour and that she preferred the Conservatives.

"I am sure this is a scheme to have a young face of Labour at the conference. But I wouldn't vote Labour, my views would tend to be more to the right. I am not a fan of Blair although I supported the war. I don't agree with Gordon Brown but I know what he stands for," she said.

Her classmate Jasmine Rouf, said she was interested to see what the conference was like but she thought it was a "stunt". She added: "It won't change the party's image as being anti-young people. With policies such as tuition fees and the antisocial behaviour Bill it's ironic they are inviting young people to the conference so it looks good.

"I am an old Labour supporter and I am not a fan of New Labour. I prefer Gordon Brown to Tony Blair."

The visit by about 250 sixth-formers will be made on the day David Blunkett is expected to criticise yobbish behaviour among young people.

But Labour, which claims to have renounced spin and control-freakery, has not succumbed entirely to an obsession with youth. Delegates to the conference said party managers had attempted to "brainwash" them into shows of support for the Government and Tony Blair.

They travelled to sessions at the party's London headquarters in Old Queen Street last month and were told to say Tony Blair's speech was "wonderful" if asked by the media.

Audrey Gardner, an active party member for more than 35 years, was also given a lecture by Stephen Ladyman, a Health minister, on the advantages of foundation hospitals in an abortive attempt to forestall a delegates' revolt.

"I went to the seminar," Ms Morgan said. "It was the brainwashing session. We were told by a press officer that after Tony Blair's speech if the press noticed we were not standing during the ovation we would be approached by the media and asked about Tony Blair's speech." They were told to "say it was wonderful".

Fee-paying schools are among those sending sixth-formers to the conference.

Mark Oaten, chairman of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party, attacked the tactics, saying: "Labour's control freak and spin instincts are alive and kicking in Bournemouth. Alastair Campbell may have gone but spin is here to stay."

But Labour denied its Old Queen Street seminars were attempts to brainwash party members. "They are just one-day events where delegates have a chance to have the issues explained to them,"a Labour spokesman said.

Meanwhile George Galloway compared the Labour Party's conference to a "Nuremberg rally". The controversial Glasgow MP, speaking on BBC Scotland's Holyrood Live programme, said the conference was "stuffed full of apparatchiks" and that their job was to bring the crowd to an "orgiastic climax" on the US political convention model.

Mr Galloway was suspended by the party in May for his comments about the war in Iraq but insisted he stood by everything he had said before, during and after the war. He said the Bournemouth conference was "rigged".

Of the Prime Minister's speech on Tuesday, he said: "I think it was the only 2,000 people in the whole country who would have cheered Tony Blair ... in the sea of troubles in which Britain and the Labour Party now finds itself.

"I do think it was like a Nuremberg rally and in fact the leader's speech had a lot of the leader principle, the Fuhrer principle, about it."

Asked if he was equating Mr Blair to Adolf Hitler, he said: "No, but I'm equating the Labour Party conference these days with a Ceausescu-ish desire to suppress any sign of political life and to subjugate the party and its democracy to a kind of follow-the-leader idea.

"I think it's entirely alien to Britain, it's entirely alien to the Labour Party and I don't think it will go on for very much longer, for these were the only 2,000 people in Britain who really feel that way about Tony Blair."