An internal Labour briefing document on how to tackle the Liberal Democrats at council level tells local parties to smear them and make secret deals with the Tories and others to attack them jointly.
The briefing paper, leaked to the left-wing Red Pepper magazine and seen by BBC News Online, advises inner-London Labour officials to use virtually any tactic to see off the local threat of the Lib Dems.
|The briefing paper has been circulated to party officials
Titled Beating the Liberals, the document draws lessons from Labour’s fight against the Lib Dems in Lambeth, where Labour lost control of the council in 1994 but regained it at the local elections earlier this year.
The paper has been circulated to party officials in other boroughs – including Hackney, where Labour lost control of the council following a long stretch of bad publicity over sleaze and incompetence, and increased support for the Lib Dems.
Lib Dems ‘on the rampage’
Written by a senior Lambeth Labour councillor, it acknowledges that “in some Labour heartlands [the Lib Dems] are on the rampage because they tap into, and express, the severe dissatisfaction of residents with the local council”.
Labour officials are starkly warned that “no matter how hard you work they can overrun even the strongest Labour wards. This is because in addition to mobilising the volatile independent voters they attract huge swathes of traditional Labour supporters.”
The solutions proposed are more than cynical enough to gain entry into an updated version of Machiavelli’s The Prince.
One suggestion is to call for a pact with local Lib Dems, “then slam them for opposing it. The Liberal Democrats will never do a deal with Labour so you can offer them one in complete safety.”
Another is to “use the other opposition groups. They tend to hate the Liberal Democrats as much as you do and with their support you can win in the council chamber and the press…. Do deals with them and build their confidence in working with you ‘off the record’.”
‘Smear them all’
|At the top table: Ashdown and other Lib Dems sit on the cabinet’s constitutional reform committee
In the most controversial section, Labour officials are advised to smear their Lib Dems opponents: “The Liberal Democrats always have a fuzzy image so redefine them clearly in a negative light.
“Check their declarations of interest and their records. Find one flaw and smear them all – after all they put up with it and would do the same to you. Go negative until swamped by complaints. Then do it again.”
The leaking of the document comes at a sensitive time. At national level relations between Labour and the Lib Dems are, according to the leadership of both parties, good.
Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown sits alongside Labour ministers on a cabinet committee on constitutional reform.
But while Mr Ashdown’s policy of “constructive opposition” is pursued at the top and in parliament, at grassroots level the animosity between the two parties is unmistakable.
The leak also coincides with the Lib Dems’ annual conference, where relations with Labour is the single issue forecast to dominate the week – and Lib Dem activists have been asking if Paddy Ashdown is getting too close to Labour for the good of his own party.