The Labour Party has been heavily implicated in a political dirty tricks campaign carried out over the Internet. Thousands of anti-Plaid Cymru messages posted to various political newsgroups have been traced back to the Labour Party's communications headquarters in Millbank, London.
The messages, which attack Plaid Cymru (the Welsh nationalist party) councils and policies, were posted mainly on the wales.politics.assembly newsgroup and purported to be from members of the public. However, users of the newsgroup grew suspicious of "David Currie" and "Hairy Melon Jones" - a reference to Plaid Cymru assembly member Helen Mary Jones - and accused them of working for the Labour party, a charge that was denied online.
However, newsgroup members traced the messages over the Internet and found they had come from Millbank. Welsh national paper Wales on Sunday, ran its own investigation into the claims and came to the same conclusion. Confronted by evidence, Labour admitted the postings had come from its machines but said it was the work of a "volunteer" working in his own time.
Considering that David Currie has so far managed to post 2,971 messages* on 27 different newsgroups, since the middle of November - an average of 37 messages a day - you could be forgiven for thinking that Millbank knew exactly what was going on. Hairy Melon Jones has posted far fewer with only 38 messages since July last year, but they tend to be far more provocative.
Among the postings were accusations that Plaid Cymru was racist, wanted to put controls on English immigrants, was propping up Tory administrations, was responsible for future industrial action and was full of hypocrites.
Plaid Cymru representatives are furious and have filed a motion in the Welsh National Assembly asking the first minister to distance himself from the messages. The party has also called for the resignation of Adrian McMenamin, a "special advisor" to Welsh secretary Paul Murphy. McMenamin - a protégé of fallen Labour spin supremo Peter Mandelson - has been heavily implicated in ongoing investigations.
McMenamin also posted heavily to the same political newsgroups under his own name. His first posting came within days of David Currie's and since then he has written 358 messages on Deja newsgroups. Since November, McMenamin and "David Currie" have frequently supported one another's views. One posting, titled "English immigrants must be controlled - Plaid Cymru", was started by one Hairy Melon Jones and of the 51 responses, 22 were from David Currie and 2 from Adrian McMenamin - all critical of Plaid Cymru. Wales on Sunday is currently investigating whether Adrian has breached any political rules by posting his political views at all. The newsgroup itself bans party representatives from entering the discussion.
The whole issue raises the spectre of a co-ordinated propaganda campaign over the Internet by New Labour from Millbank as the election draws near. The position in Wales makes Labour particularly sensitive to Plaid Cymru. Of the 60 elected assembly members, 28 are Labour, 17 Plaid Cymru, 9 Conservative and 6 Liberal Democrat. Despite a coalition between Labour and the Lib Dems, the nationalist Plaid Cymru poses a significant threat to Labour's power in Wales.
The other question is: if in Wales, then why not in other parts of the UK? If Labour has embarked on an anonymous dirty tricks campaign, it won't do its image any good to have this widely touted just before an election. ®
* - A Reg reader has rightly pointed out that Deja's figures for number of postings may be inflated due to cross-postings.