Tories get personal in war to stop Blair win

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Conservative election campaign managers have urged party officials to dig out "personal items" on Labour frontbenchers in order to generate fear of a victory by Tony Blair.

A Tory strategy paper leaked to Labour says: "There is a real risk that the 'fear factor' which played such a large part in the last election has been neutralised." The paper ordered material to be generated for use in the media about the difference between national Labours rhetoric and its inefficiency and dogma in local government.

"In all instances," the paper says, "there should be a complete file on the frontbench spokesmen, showing their record in local government where applicable, their affiliation with unions, the policies of the union which supports them ... and any personal items like Harman and Blair's choice of schools.

"Together with normal briefings to the media, specific TV programmes need to be designed with suggested participants. The media also needs to be encouraged to interview local Labour chairmen of education."

The first fruits of the Tory strategy have already appeared this week in the Daily Telegraph and The Sun in pieces headlined: "Ten left-wing councils run up debts of pounds 9bn" and "Labour's town haul of waste".

Labour yesterday accused the Tories of hypocrisy, saying that in spite of privatisation proceeds, the national debt had doubled to pounds 7,000 for every man, woman and child.

Labour's environment spokesman, Frank Dobson, picked up a report to be published by the official Audit Commission today, which says: "Councils are caught between a rock and a hard place: between government targets to reduce local authority spending and pressures for more and better services.

"Unwelcome though such financial pressure may be, local government has coped well."

Mr Dobson said: "The Audit Commission have exposed the Tory lie machine for what it really is - the same old lies from the same old Tory liars.

"The Audit Commission says most councils are doing a good job under increasing difficulties - caused in the main by Tory Government policies."

The leaked Conservative paper says: "If Labour are totally incompetent at running local budgets and most of their MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates are drawn from local government or union bodies, how can they run a national economy?"

In addition to Labour's success in defusing the "fear factor", the Conservative strategists concede Westminster council's "homes for votes" scandal has created a problem. "Homes for votes has been a brilliantly enacted slur campaign executed by the whole of the Labour Party," the paper says.

"It has made it very difficult for the Government to attack Labour in the critical area of local government." It suggests research is needed, "particularly into the activities of the objectors." The "three best stories should be carefully planned and timed for maximum effect".