War room with rapid response

  • @johnrentoul
Labour's general election campaign will be fought from the party's new pounds 2m media centre at Millbank Tower - already christened Mandelson Tower - on the Thames between the House of Commons and the Tate Gallery.

The first floor of the high-rise block has been taken over by a huge open-plan "war room", modelled on Bill Clinton's Little Rock, Arkansas, HQ in the 1992 US presidential election campaign. The party already has a "flexible, task-force-based" campaigning operation, which combines press office, "instant rebuttal unit" for responding quickly to opponents' propaganda, campaign and policy departments.

By the time of the election campaign, the media centre will accommodate about 150 people, including staff from leading politicians' offices. Peter Mandelson, head of the election campaign team, already has an office there - hence the name.

Tony Blair and John Prescott were also intended to be based there during the campaign, although an official said a final decision had not been made. (After the dissolution of Parliament, politicians cease to be MPs and no longer have access to the Palace of Westminster - although a dispensation has been made for opposition party leaders in the past.)

Much has been made of the high-tech computer systems at the centre, especially the powerful database called Excalibur. When the Scott report on arms to Iraq was published, all 1,800 pages were scanned into the system in five hours, to make it easier to find the key quotes.

The system has all Labour politicians' recent speeches, statements and policy documents on it, as much Tory material as is consistent with copyright laws, and is connected to the Internet. And the computer terminals have screen-savers which scroll messages including: "New Britain. New Labour"; "Young Country. Stakeholder Economy."

The centre includes a converted mini-cinema on the ground floor, refurbished as a news conference venue with a fibre-optic cable link to the Westminster bases of the BBC, ITN and Sky.