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EDITIONS
Sunday, 9 June, 2002, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
Labour accused of demeaning politics
Pam Warren, founder of the Paddington Survivors' Group
Paddington survivors continue to campaign on safety
The latest spin row shows Labour treats ordinary people with disdain, says Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith.

His comments come after a former government special adviser apologised for trying to discover in an e-mail the political sympathies of the Paddington Survivors' Group of rail crash victims.


I dislike this attitude you can try to get dirt on somebody rather than dealing with the issue

Martin Minns
Paddington Survivors' Group
Mr Duncan Smith said attempts by Tony Blair and his government to "crush" those among the public who complained were "stupid and crass" and demeaned the political process.

Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid admitted Labour had made mistakes but said it was the media's obsession with "personalities and froth" that was bringing politics into disrepute.

'Getting dirt'

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling and his predecessor Stephen Byers have also both apologised for Dan Corry's e-mail, which the Tories have branded a "smear" campaign.

It has since emerged that Martin Minns, the adviser to the Paddington Survivors Group mentioned in the message, used to work at Conservative Central Office.

But Mr Minns told the Independent On Sunday newspaper that his political links were irrelevant to his campaigning on rail safety.

John Reid, Northern Ireland Secretary
John Reid: Politics is an honest trade
"I dislike this attitude you can try to get dirt on somebody rather than dealing with the issue," he said.

"I'm no hero but this is irritating. This is not an isolated incident.

"Ken Livingstone will no doubt know about it. The Chancellor [Gordon Brown] also has had nasty briefings against him."

At the time of the e-mails, Labour officials had been unable to discover any political affiliations for Mr Minns or his colleagues.

Mr Duncan Smith demanded an apology from Tony Blair over the debacle - something former survivors' group leader Pam Warren also wants - as well as a guarantee it would not happen again.

'Crass and insensitive'

The row involved people who had been scarred, hurt or even killed as they went about their normal daily working lives, the Tory leader told BBC One's Breakfast with Frost programme on Sunday.

"I think it's insensitive, stupid and crass to start playing games with them as though they were political leaders like myself or politicians," he said.

Poll positions
Labour: 39%
Conservative: 33%
Lib Dems: 21%
Source: YouGov/Mail on Sunday
"What we are getting from this Government is such disdain from ordinary people that they actually try and crush them, because they have the audacity to ask the government why it's failing in what it's done.

Mr Duncan Smith added: "Politicians and the whole political process is demeaned when the government plays with people's lives like this."

Ministers had hoped the cabinet reshuffle would enable the government to put the spin rows surrounding Mr Byers behind them.

A YouGov poll for the Mail on Sunday suggests the affair has prompted a fall in Labour support.

The survey put Labour on 39%, Conservatives 33% and Liberal Democrats 21%.

That is only the second time Labour has fallen below 40% in YouGov polls since Tony Blair became party leader in 1994 - the only other time was during the fuel protests two years ago.

Froth focus

John Reid said Labour had made mistakes in government but he countered suggestions of sleaze.

"They have not been the corrupt and crooked things that ended up with Tories in jail," Dr Reid told Breakfast with Frost.

There was now a media culture that concentrated on the personalities and "the froth", portraying criticism of other politicians into smears and political donations into sleaze, he said.

That culture not only damaged Labour but also had brought politics as a whole into disrepute, argued Dr Reid.

"Politics is an honourable trade," he said. "Most of us are trying to get a better health service, better education for the people of this country.

"That's politics and that's what we should concentrate on."

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The BBC's John Pienaar
"Labour is losing public trust, according to the latest polls"

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