Gordon Brown urged to apologise over election leaflet 'lies'

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Indy Politics

Tory frontbencher Michael Gove today called on the Prime Minister to rebuke Labour MPs and ministers who had spread "fear and smears" about Conservative policies in their election leaflets.

He urged Gordon Brown to apologise to those voters who had been subjected to "lies" about the Tories.

In a press briefing in central London, shadow schools secretary Mr Gove said Labour had "forfeited the right to govern" by claiming that the Conservatives planned to cut benefits for the elderly.

The leaflets sparked the most heated exchange of last night's televised leaders' debate, as David Cameron denied planning to axe perks such as winter fuel payments, free bus passes and TV licences and challenged the Prime Minister over the election literature.

"These lies you are getting from Labour are pure and simple lies. I have seen these lies and they make me very, very angry," he said.

Mr Cameron called on the Prime Minister to withdraw the leaflets and said he should be "ashamed" of them.

Mr Brown insisted that he had not "authorised any leaflets like that".

But the Conservatives said the claims were repeated on Labour's website and in party political broadcasts, and featured in leaflets put out by Mr Brown's parliamentary private secretary Jon Trickett.

And they unveiled a poster in the aftermath of the debate, depicting Mr Brown as the Little Britain character Vicki Pollard next to the words: "Did I lie about the dodgy leaflets? Yeah but no but yeah but..."

Asked this morning if he was pleased to have scored points over the leaflets, Mr Cameron told Sky News: "I wasn't pleased about it - I'm frankly pretty angry about it, because I've been seeing these leaflets for a long time and they really are appalling.

"There was even one that said pensioners would lose their passports. I mean it's just not right, and I'm pleased I was able to make the point because it's been making me extremely angry seeing what was being done, and I hope that these leaflets will now be withdrawn. They should be."

Mr Gove said: "The truth is that Labour have been peddling these allegations against the Conservatives for years.

"But we have taken the opportunity at every turn to rebut them.

"Last night, for the first time when he was confronted with the consequence of these lies, the Prime Minister said that he had not authorised these leaflets.

"He acknowledged these claims were indefensible."

The Prime Minister needed to tell voters why ministers and MPs had repeated such claims, Mr Gove said.

"Will he now rebuke these colleagues, insist that these leaflets are withdrawn and apologise to the electors in these seats?"

Labour's campaign had "so far been based on fear and smear", he added.

"They have nothing new to offer the British people other than scaremongering and, on that basis, they have forfeited the right to govern."

Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles told reporters that Mr Cameron was the only leader who had looked like prime minister.

He said: "Anyone watching the debate last night would have seen why a hung parliament is such a bad idea.

"There is just simply too much disagreement to give this country the clear direction that it needs."

A hung parliament would mean the TV debates "would not stop after 90 minutes but go on for weeks or years".

"So if you want dither and division, you vote for the other lot," he said.

"But if you want clear leadership to get the job done ... then vote Conservative."

Mr Gove said Labour's campaign was based on "pessimism, fear and smear, and the politics of the past that the British people comprehensively want to reject".

The "old team" of Lord Mandelson, Charlie Whelan and Alastair Campbell had been brought back - the "Emerson, Lake and Palmer of British politics, a supergroup from the past attempting to revive their old hits".

Labour was making "deliberate attempts to frighten old people and those on low incomes by spreading lies about what the Conservative Party would do".

Mr Gove was asked why proposals for free eye tests, which Labour claim the Tories will drop, were not included in the Tory manifesto.

"The claim we'd get rid of them is so risible that it's hardly worth rebutting it," he said.

The Tories also faced accusations of "rank hypocrisy" by one reporter, following the recent rash of front pages targeting Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

Mr Pickles said: "We have a free press ... we are not responsible for what the newspapers put in."

He added: "We have a free and vigorous press, beware of politicians who want to put restraints on the press.

"We don't complain when articles are written about us. We might be unhappy about it ... but we don't think it's a big conspiracy."

The newspapers had used bank accounts and other research that the Conservatives did not have access to, he said.

"The information that was principally used about Mr Clegg we would not have possession (of), it came from his bank accounts and the Conservative Party do not keep the bank details of Mr Clegg."

Mr Gove said the newspapers were "edited by grown-ups, read by grown-ups".

He added: "We've been insistent this week that we want to redouble the positive."

Shadow chancellor George Osborne told BBC News: "One of the consequences of last night's debate is that Labour's campaign - the scare stories and the leaflets - has unravelled, because Gordon Brown said he didn't authorise them.

"And that is a very serious thing for Gordon Brown to say on television when it's clearly not the case, because the Labour campaign - the leaflets, the party election broadcasts - has continued to tell scare stories which the Prime Minister denied."

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said it was Labour's "duty" to highlight what the Conservatives planned to cut.

Proposals to keep winter fuel payments and free TV licences may be in Mr Cameron's manifesto, but free eye tests and free prescriptions were not, he said.

At a Labour briefing in London, Lord Mandelson told reporters: "Now if these things are absent from the manifesto, it is our duty to highlight them and to ask questions at TV debates.

"That's exactly what the Prime Minister did last night - if David Cameron wants to make policy up on the hoof under pressure as he did, fine - victory for G. Brown, bad night for D. Cameron."

He held up a Tory campaign poster, featuring a tombstone, which attacked Labour's social care plan for the elderly.

"And by the way, don't give us any lectures about frightening, scaremongering advertisements," he said.

"This was the advertisement that the Conservative party put up all over the country - a tombstone designed to frighten elderly people.

"That's rich coming from them, let's not hear anything more of their hypocrisy."