Major claims Labour ‘sleazier than Tories’

Labour are now “sleazier” than John Major’s government, the former prime minister has claimed.

In a rare outspoken attack, Mr Major said the problems in his government had been the result of a few individuals “misbehaving” whereas sleaze was “systemic” within Labour.

Mr Major said Labour seemed to be “institutionally careless in the grand manner”.

He said the government had shown a “clear pattern” for accepting money, be it from Bernie Ecclestone in 1997, Richard Desmond in 2002 and Abrahams in 2007.

The sexual and financial scandals that beset the Major government in the mid-1990s have been widely credited with helping Tony Blair secure Labour’s landslide victory in 1997.

Speaking to the Andrew Marr show yesterday, Mr Major said voters would “just laugh” if Labour repeated their claim to be ‘whiter than white’ or ‘purer than pure’.

The former prime minister denied claims sleaze had led to his government’s downfall, pointing instead to voter fatigue.

He said: “Frankly we had been there so long, if the leader of the Conservative party had been the Archangel Gabriel and the Cabinet had been a choir of angels, I think after 18 years we would have lost.”

Mr Major said the way Mr Blair had attacked his government was “absolutely unscrupulous” and comparable to the McCarthy trials of the 1950s.

He insisted is had been wrong to accuse people like Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine, Douglas Hurd and Virginia Bottomley of sleaze.

Mr Major continued: “Lots of people misbehaved in the 1980s and 1990s, but they were all individuals. It was never institutional. It was never related specifically to the Conservative party or to the Conservative government.

“What happened in the 1990s, there was a deliberate attempt to portray the Conservative Party as an institution. It was almost McCarthyite frankly, as though it were sleazy and it wasn’t.”

He concluded: “The distinction is that sleaze has seemed to be systemic since 1997.”

In a documentary for the BBC, Mr Blair recently admitted he regretted pushing the sleaze issue to the extent Labour did.

The Commons public administration committee is set to publish its report into the cash-for-honours scandal this week, with the findings likely to damage both Labour and the Tories.