Alan Milburn has accused the Conservatives of "playing dead as the best way of staying alive".
Labour's campaign chief said the Conservatives wanted voters to think it safe to cast a protest against Tony Blair because the Tories cannot win.
A Tory spokesman branded Mr Milburn's comments "bizarre" and said they showed Labour was "rattled".
The spat came as veteran Labour backbencher Brian Segdemore defected to the Liberal Democrats.
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