A senior Government Minister has criticised Birmingham Labour MP Steve McCabe’s disastrous “Tory Toff” campaign in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election.
Former Cabinet minister Tessa Jowell, the Minister for the Olympics and Minister for London, claimed the tactics used by Labour in last month’s by-election were old-fashioned and unpopular.
She reignited controversy over the campaign in Crewe, where the Conservatives overturned a Labour majority of 7,000.
Mr McCabe (Lab Hall Green) was despatched by Gordon Brown to mastermind Labour’s efforts to hang on to the Cheshire seat, in the run-up to last month’s poll. But he became mired in controversy after party officials in London accused him of waging “class war” by focusing on Tory candidate Edward Timpson’s background and public school education.
The Conservatives went on to win the seat with a majority of 7,860, a swing of 17.6 per cent away from Labour, leading Tory leader David Cameron to declare the “end of New Labour”.
Ms Jowell has now become the most senior figure to attack the campaign publicly. She said: “I don’t think anybody is impressed by ‘toff talk’.
“We need to be both more subtle and also recognise that the world has changed. This is an old-fashioned way, for our young voters, for people to talk.”
She said Labour needed to avoid repeating the mistakes of Crewe in the future.
“Although people may feel that if you’ve been to one of the schools of extraordinary elite and privilege, like Eton, you may not quite be of the world that everybody else is ... people don’t see this as something that they hold that person responsible for.
“I don’t think that ‘toff talk’ and ‘toff attacks’ are the way that we should be directing our attack. And I also really don’t think that people like personal attacks.”
She made the comments in an interview with a magazine published by a left-wing think tank and distributed to Labour MPs.
Mr McCabe has defended himself in the face of criticism, insisting that the campaign did not, in fact, focus on Mr Timpson’s background. He argues that the campaign was misrepresented by the Conservatives - and that Labour figures then helped the Tories by repeating their propaganda.
He said this week: “I’ll credit the Tories with a useful bit of spin. It was smart to take the heat off a weak candidate by turning the by-election into a row about “toffs” rather than the strengths of the candidates.
“Theirs was a tactic that could only work because of a very uncritical press and some remarkably silly people in London who briefed rather than enquired.
‘‘I guess that, like the scorpion, it’s in their DNA,’’ he said. ‘‘I knew from day one that it was mission impossible, but I’m not one of those who only surfaces when things are easy. Genuine Labour loyalists aren’t like that.”
Criticism of Mr McCabe has angered some of his colleagues in Birmingham. Backbench MPs in the city argued that he was asked to take on an impossible task, as the Tories were always certain to win the seat following Labour’s disastrous showing in May’s local elections. The Government’s popularity has taken a battering following the 10p tax band row.
There had been speculation that the Crewe campaign had been a dry-run for a General Election campaign focusing on David Cameron’s Eton education.