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Labour campaign to start without Brown


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David Cracknell, Political Editor

GORDON BROWN has been sidelined from the launch of Labour’s general election campaign this week even though the party plans to make the economy its central issue.

A leaked memo seen by The Sunday Times reveals that the party is planning to steal a march on the Tories by starting its campaign tomorrow.

The chancellor, who ran Labour’s two previous successful campaigns, has been left out in the cold although the party’s election strategists know its economic record is its strongest card.

A poster and mailshot campaign highlighting how mortgages would go up under the Tories and attacking Michael Howard’s record as a minister will go ahead tomorrow.

The campaign is spearheaded by Alan Milburn, Labour’s election co-ordinator and rival to Brown to succeed Tony Blair as party leader.

Brown has not even been granted an office in Labour’s new election “war room”, in Victoria Street, Westminster, which the party moves into next week. But he will be travelling the country pursuing his own agenda, promoting his child trust fund scheme and making a speech on debt relief and development for poor countries.

Ian McCartney, the party chairman, has also been snubbed over the war room, according to leaked plans of the building. McCartney, who was nearly sacked in September but for an intervention by his ally John Prescott, will have to remain at the main party headquarters in Old Queen Street.

According to the internal party memo sent out last week by Milburn’s deputy Fraser Kemp, the election campaign is now “ready to go”. May 5 is still the likeliest poll date.

The memo, headlined “Operation Onslaught” and marked “private and confidential”, reveals for the first time the entire Labour election strategy. There is to be a nationwide poster campaign emphasising Labour’s economic record. “Britain is working — don’t let the Tories wreck it” will be emblazoned over 2,000 sites.

Mailshots will be sent only to key types of voters in marginal seats; those Labour believes could swing back to the Tories or Liberal Democrats. They will be sent what the memo describes as a “mortgage wheel” showing how much more they will have to pay for home loans under the Tories. Such a message was central to last year’s successful re-election campaign by John Howard, the conservative Australian prime minister.

The Tories, however, are likely to point out that the chancellor has made the setting of interest rates independent by putting the decision into the hands of the Bank of England.

The memo also reveals that Labour intends to make personal attacks on Michael Howard as the “weakest link” and who can be directly linked “to past Tory failures, such as negative equity mortgage misery”.

Kemp quotes “sources close to Howard” saying that the Tory leader suffered “a major crisis of confidence wobble” in November on his first anniversary as Tory leader, when opinion polls showed he had made no progress since taking over from Iain Duncan Smith.

Blairites say they are eager for Brown to take part in the election campaign and write a strategy paper on the economy’s transformation under Labour. But one source said that Brown is in “a big sulk” and refusing to co-operate. Sources close to Brown say this is far from the case, and that it is Milburn who has excluded the chancellor.

Relations between Blair and Brown are now so bad that the two men rarely speak. Blairites believe the chancellor is quietly hoping for a small Labour majority so that he can mount a leadership bid within two years.


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