Miliband 'attack unit': general election dirty war starts here

Tory spin-doctors go straight into action as Labour seeks advice in US on countering press smears

Column LAST UPDATED AT 08:27 ON Thu 24 Apr 2014

ED MILIBAND has been accused by the Tories of bringing back “Gordon Brown’s boot boys” for the general election after one of his close allies, Labour shadow minister Michael Dugher, boasted in The Independent that Labour would be reintroducing a US-style rebuttal squad to “nail” Conservative lies in the media.

Under the headline 'Labour prepares for dirty war against the Tory spin machine', the Independent says Labour strategists fear the Tory press will be encouraged to portray Miliband as "weird" and "weak" (Cameron has repeatedly accused him in the Commons of being a weak leader).

Labour is therefore braced for the "most dirty, personalised campaign" since 1992 when Neil Kinnock was vilified in the Tory press, culminating in the The Sun's infamous election day headline: 'If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights'.

Dugher, vice–chairman of the Labour Party in charge of the party’s communications, told the Indy his fast-response unit would monitor the press and social media and issue instant rebuttals, to ensure Miliband does not suffer as Kinnock did. "When people tell lies about Labour, we’re going to nail that lie, and quickly.”

Dugher is in America this week discussing the strategy with Barack Obama’s team led by David Axelrod – hired last week for Labour’s campaign by Miliband - and learning from their successful use of attack squads and social media to win two presidential elections in a row.

The Indy report has been quoted approvingly on Twitter by Labour MP John Speller and other party supporters who say it's time "Labour tackled Tory lies".

But within hours of the Indy interview appearing, the Tories used the social media to attack Dugher. Conservative Central Office tweeted a spoof Dugher ‘pledge card’ containing Labour’s offer to the voters in 2015 with a big tick against 'Gordon Brown’s boot boys' and a big cross against 'any long-term plan for the economy'.

The Tory spin doctors also pointed out that before becoming an MP in 2010, Dugher was a member of the team run by Damian McBride.

McBride was the Labour spin-doctor who admitted in his memoirs leaking details about the personal lives of Labour ministers seen as a threat to Gordon Brown's chances of succeeding Tony Blair as party leader after the 2005 election.

McBride appalled Labour supporters by publishing his memoirs during last autumn's party conference, thus drawing attention to the dark arts of the Brown years.

There was no suggestion from Conservative Central Office this week that Dugher acted like McBride, but it was a clear attempt to tar him with the same brush – and just the sort of "smear" Dugher aims to crack down on with help from the Americans.

As if to confirm Dugher’s worst fears of Twitter smears, the spin doctors at CCO were forced to kill a tweet they had put out ridiculing a photograph of Gordon Brown, when they discovered it was a taken of the former PM attending a memorial for the dead in two world wars at the Cenotaph. CCO admitted to PoliticsHome that the tweet was “a mistake and inappropriate”.

Edinburgh East Labour MP Sheila Gilmore said: “Even for the self-proclaimed ‘nasty party’ this is a new low and shows the Tories are willing to use any tactic, no matter how distasteful, to fight the next election.”

There are 13 months to go before the election. Get ready for a very long and very dirty war. ·