Tory attempt to embarrass PM on radio foiled by leak

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An attempt by the Conservative Party to ruin Tony Blair's debut as a radio phone-in host backfired yesterday when its plan to encourage Tory supporters to swamp the programme with calls was leaked.

A Conservative Central Office e-mail sent to councillors and party activists read: "We would like our supporters to phone in and question him. Obviously he is vulnerable on Hutton and tuition fees." The message added: "Please DO NOT pass to the media."

Labour accused the Tories of "dirty tricks" as the Prime Minister went ahead with his phone-in on LBC Radio, when he fielded questions from listeners as part of Labour's "Big Conversation" consultation exercise in the run-up to the next general election.

Mr Blair hinted at a possible retreat over David Blunkett's plans to make speeding motorists pay an extra £5 to a fund to compensate victims of crime. He told one angry caller: "The decisions have not been taken yet and we are obviously going to listen carefully to what people say." On Monday, the Home Office said the proposal should become law by the summer.

The Prime Minister raised the prospect of another crackdown on the workshy, saying that Britain should no longer tolerate a "something-for-nothing" culture. "I think the main thing to say to people who are on benefit, but could work, is, 'we'll offer you a job, but your obligation is to take it or you don't get the benefit'," he said.

Mr Blair said he had enjoyed his brief experience of being a radio disc jockey, adding: "It's always better when you are actually talking to people direct."