A war of words has broken out between Islington politicians, with allegations of “smears,” “dirty tricks” and “paranoia” as the local and general elections draw near.
Disagreements between Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians are threatening to divert attention from important campaign issues in the upcoming weeks.
Bridget Fox, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Islington South, has rubbished Labour allegations that she published “scaremongering” claims about the pensioner “freedom pass” and cancer treatment in an election leaflet. In an interview for Islington Now, she said: “I am afraid that we are facing a nasty few weeks as desperate Labour try to smear us.”
However, Ms Fox did not directly challenge specific points made by Ian McLaughlin, chair of Islington South Labour party, who took issue with some of the claims made by local Lib Dems in the leaflet and in letters to the Islington Gazette newspaper.
Mr McLaughlin told Islington Now that Emily Thornberry, the Islington South Labour MP whom Ms Fox is trying to unseat, had been assured by the Government that free travel for people over 60 and the disabled – the “freedom pass” – would not be cut. The Lib Dems had accused her of “scaremongering,” he said, while “any reasonable person would agree Emily’s letter is one of reassurance.”
And he rounded on the Lib Dems for using “dangerously misleading” statistics which suggested the Government had ensured that only one-in-eight women with suspected breast cancer had been seen by a specialist within two weeks. “The real figure for Islington is 92%. The figure the Lib Dems used refers to a different target, for referrals of women with non-cancer breast symptoms,” Mr McLaughlin said.
Ms Fox hit back, saying that even Labour local authorities in London had expressed concern about the freedom pass, and that the only reason why the scheme had survived in Islington was because “thankfully the Lib Dem council coughed up the extra money.”
On cancer statistics, she added: “There are many different ways of analysing cancer statistics. The stats we use are taken from official figures reported. I am not aware that our interpretation has been criticised by anyone other than Labour who clearly have their own axe to grind.” It is the latest in a series of claims and counter-claims between the two parties before the Islington local elections on 6 May, and the general election, which is expected to be held on the same day.
Ms Fox also dismissed as “paranoia” claims by the Labour councillor for Tollington ward, Richard Watts, about “dirty tricks” by Lib Dem activists, including sending fabricated letters – purporting to be from members of the public – to local newspapers. Councillor Watts checked the name of a “Mr Gosgrove”, who sent a letter criticising him to the Islington Tribune in January, against the electoral roll, but found no evidence of the sender.
But Ms Fox said: “It is entirely possible that someone could be a real person and not on the electoral roll. They might not be a UK voter. Or they might be on the roll under a different name.”
“I think it’s sad that Labour campaigners are hunched over the electoral roll trying to spot who is criticising them.” Last November, under the threat of legal action, the Lib Dems retracted claims that Ms Thornberry had the ninth worst attendance record among MPs at House of Commons committees. They reportedly paid Ms Thornberry a four-figure compensation sum after admitting that the claim “was neither true nor correct.”