Helen Liddell in the Press

'People tend not to realise that under Gordon Brown's dour exterior, he's actually a miserable bastard!'

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Scotland on Sunday

Labour in civil war as Brown blasts Liddell


Blair expected in Scotland this week to intervene over Nat-bashing campaign

Labour's Holyrood election campaign has been plunged into civil war with leading supporters of Chancellor Gordon Brown launching a bitter attack on the 'Nat-bashing' tactics of Helen Liddell.

With fewer than 100 days to go until polling day on May 6 and Prime Minister Tony Blair expected to visit Scotland later this week, allies of Brown have been briefing privately that the Deputy Scottish Secretary's over emphasis on attacking the SNP at every opportunity is weakening Labour's campaign.

A Blair visit would come against a backdrop of increasing irritation from leading 'Brownies' over Liddell's approach and a power struggle for control of the direction of the campaign.

Brown's supporters say the Chancellor is moving to halt Scottish Labour's preoccupation with slamming the Nationalists amid growing criticism of the party's failure to get over a positive message.

'Helen seems to be running her own private campaign - and she's not even standing in Scotland,' complained one MP who is closely involved. 'All we are doing is giving the SNP publicity and making ourselves look anti-Scottish.'

Another friend of Brown's said: 'Her strategy is wrong-headed. She doesn't seem to understand this election at all. Scaring people is not enough.'

One senior figure in the Scottish party said that Liddell was convinced that it was her Nat-bashing that is responsible for an apparent improvement in the party's standing since the low point in opinion polls last summer. But while Brown's closest supporters believe that it is necessary to criticise the SNP they believe it should not drown out positive campaigning.

Liddell was appointed by Prime Minister Tony Blair in the reshuffle to lead the campaign as well as carry out her ministerial duties as Scottish Office education minister.

The growing tensions in the campaign were given added impetus by a secret meeting held last Saturday before Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar spoke at a Labour conference in Dunblane.

Liddell's election pep talk infuriated some of those present, and several appealed for the party to be allowed to campaign on a positive platform.

Following the meeting, all Labour MPs in Scotland have now been issued with 'pledge cards' containing a detailed summary of Labour's promise to spend 4 bn extra on public services over the next three years. The cards, which are to form the basis of local campaigning, contain only one reference to the SNP, a fact being pointed out by Brownite MPs as evidence that their favoured approach is being adopted.

One insider at Labour's Scottish HQ said Liddell's insistence on continuing the Nat-bashing was met with stunned silence from the MPs present at last week's meeting.

'Helen got up and said that Donald Dewar had been trailing Alex Salmond in all our private polls until we started attacking the SNP,' said one. 'She insisted that negative campaigning was why we are doing so well now - and she said it without laughing, which is more than I can say for us.'

Others at the meeting complained at the lack of positive publicity material from Delta House, Labour's campaign headquarters.

It is also understood that a secret meeting has been organised for later this month by Brown supporters. More than 20 potential MSPs will be invited to discuss where they think Labour can improve on its recent performance.

Brown's move comes after the leaking last week of a secret campaign memo from Douglas 'Invisible Man' Alexander, the MP for Paisley South and a key aide.

While Alexander agreed the Party had to engender a fear of the SNP, he said the real fault lay in Labour's failure to offer a positive message to the electorate.

'Attacks on the SNP's economics and Scotland's fiscal position have been seen as Labour implying Scots are too weak or poor to go it alone,' he wrote. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is also determined to take a strong interest in the campaign. His visit last weekend was regarded as only the first of many.

A source close to him said that he is determined to prove that 'Scotland is not just Gordon Brown's fiefdom'.

- Jan 31