Widdecombe an extremist, says Labour

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LABOUR WAS accused of "desperate" tactics last night after it issued a dossier claiming that Ann Widdecombe was the most extreme member of the Conservative Party.

In an unprecedented personal attack on a serving politician, the Cabinet Office minister, Ian McCartney, claimed that the Tory Home Affairs spokeswoman was in favour of capital punishment and the handcuffing of pregnant prisoners.

Ms Widdecombe, in charge of Conservative Central Office while William Hague is on holiday, was the "extremist face" of the Tory party, Mr McCartney said. She wanted to reduce the National Health Service to a safety net for the poor, believed that clinical services should be privatised and supported the disgraced former Tory MP, Neil Hamilton.

The former Home Office minister opposed the age of consent for homosexuals, had described BBC TV output as "filth" and wanted capital punishment reintroduced, the dossier says.

The attempted character assassination was part of Labour's "X-files" campaign to place its opponents on the fringes of politics. "Ann Widdecombe has always been firmly on the right wing of the Conservative Party. She has been rewarded for her views by being twice promoted by William Hague," the document states. It says Ms Widdecombe had described the Government's handguns ban as "authoritarian" and had overseen the shambolic Tories' Immigration and Asylum Act.

Earlier this week, Mr McCartney launched an attack on the general "extremism" of the Tories, but the six-page report is the most personal attack to date on a member of the Opposition and could herald tougher campaigning tactics at the next election.

The Conservatives claim the criticism proves that their repeated attacks on the Government's policy on transport and the euro have rattled ministers.

Ms Widdecombe refused to comment on the dossier or Mr McCartney's remarks, but a Conservative Central Office spokesman said that she was "hooting with laughter" at the inaccuracies. "This is not an X-file. It is execrable," he said.

He added that Ms Widdecombe had never suggested that everyone used private health care, nor that they pay to see their GP. She was not in favour of handcuffing or "shackling" pregnant prisoners and did not want the NHS reduced to a safety-net service, he said.