Conservative Central Office denies that its dossier on Opposition MPs is a descent into personal attacks, Sheila Gunn writes

The Times – 7 March 1992

Conservative officials handed journalists dossiers yesterday listing Labour MPs who have espoused left-wing causes, although they said it was not an attempt to make personal attacks. The 259-page pink dossier, Who's Left?, revealed the extent of the Tories' research into the personal records of Labour MPs over the past seven years. It is understood to be the work of Julian Lewis, a deputy director of the Tories' research department.

Chris Patten, Tory party chairman, said that the dossier was a “serious and scholarly work” on the attitudes of MPs seeking re-election towards prominent left-wing causes. Labour said that it was full of inaccuracies. The document was accompanied by a statement from Mr Patten who said that, unlike Labour, the Conservatives had not paid attention to the personal backgrounds of Opposition candidates. Yet it details support given by 207 named MPs to left-wing causes under such titles as “support for law-breaking”.

Mr Patten cited the ‘Larry Whitty’ letter as proving that Labour resorted to dirtier tricks than the Tories. Mr Whitty, Labour's general secretary, had written to all Labour groups in August 1990 asking for information on “the various lunacies, gaffes or misdeeds of prominent Tory candidates, MPs, councillors, etc.” and examples of “rabid right-wing policies”. Leading Tories reacted with outrage at these tactics.

Bryan Gould, the shadow environment secretary, said that the dossier was part of the unsavoury aspect of the Tories' election campaign.

“It is something they have derived from American campaigning techniques, spending a great deal of money attacking their opponents in personal terms. This is not what the election should be about,”

he said. Norman Tebbit, the former Conservative Party chairman, anticipated the reaction by saying that if Labour MPs denounced the document as a smear then they were being

“smeared with the truth”.

Although the document does not carry a price-tag, Tim Collins, the Conservative Party's press secretary, said that it would cost £30 from Conservative Central Office.

“We do not expect to sell a large number,”

he said.

“This is not a profit-making exercise. It is a valuable and important contribution to public debate.”

Mr Patten defended the publication as justified because Labour tried to convince the public that it was now a moderate and responsible party.

“Unlike our opponents, we have not sought to make personal attacks, drawing attention instead to their political record.”

He said that allowances could be made for isolated mishaps and misjudgments.

“But when you consider that no fewer than 99 Labour MPs have endorsed four or more leftist causes, this clearly suggests both consistency and commitment. It cannot be brushed aside or dismissed. Who's Left? is a serious and scholarly work, meticulously undertaken and painstakingly documented.”

His main target is the support given by Labour MPs to unilateral nuclear disarmament, the former communist regimes and militant trade unionism.

“These are not fringe issues of interest just to political pundits,”

Mr Patten said.

“They have had a major impact on our recent history. People are entitled to ask themselves, if these MPs' judgments were so flawed in the past, why should we trust them in the future?”