Nothing ranks higher in the demonology of the Labour movement than ‘the Tory press’. It printed the forged Zinoviev Letter, which won the 1924 election for the Tories with the false but subtle claim that Labour’s softness towards the Soviet Union was encouraging communists to plot a revolution in Britain. It so smeared Neil Kinnock, the hopeless John Major won the 1992 election. For almost a century, the Labour tradition held that if its leaders did not win or if left-wing arguments did not convince, it was not because the leaders were fallible or arguments weak but because the Tory press had convinced voters to ignore them.
Although Labour people believed the Tory press capable of anything, they would never have believed that the agents of a Labour Prime Minister would use it to destroy the reputation of a Labour minister. Last week, far too many MPs for Gordon Brown’s comfort thought that was exactly what his supporters had done to Ivan Lewis.
The junior minister is a political ally of Alan Johnson, the affable health secretary, who as one of the few politicians in Westminster who can speak to the English working class is also a potential candidate for Brown’s job. In March Lewis wrote that Labour needed ‘national renewal and a new generation of political leadership’. You did not need to be a code-breaker to know he meant that Brown was yesterday’s man. In August, he argued that the government should tax the rich not the middle class, hardly a radical argument for a Labour politician, but one Brown did not want to hear.
Lewis ought to have known that Whitehall had a secret which could hurt him
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