Factometer: fact

The claim
“We will keep the free television licence, we will keep the pension credit, we’ll keep the winter fuel allowance, we’ll keep the free bus pass. Those leaflets you have been getting from Labour, the letters you have been getting from Labour are pure and simple lies.”
David Cameron, Leaders’ debate, 22 April 2010

Cathy Newman checks it out
The attack on Labour’s dodgy leaflets was perhaps David Cameron’s strongest suit in last night’s TV debate. Labour apparatchiks mutter that it’s a sign of desperation that the Tories felt the need to shore up their leader with a pre-cooked dossier of so-called “leaflet lies”.

That’s as may be. But as a tactic it worked. Gordon Brown’s response (which we’ve FactChecked today too) was defensive, evasive even. The PM’s shiftiness suggests the Tory leader had struck a raw nerve.

FactCheck has been finding out.

The analysis
We looked at Labour leaflet claims a month ago, when David Cameron accused Labour of lying to the public by claiming the Tories would cut prized pensioner perks: the winter fuel allowance, free bus travel, and free TV licences.

Back then, Labour provided some circumstantial quotes from Conservative politicans, but we didn’t find a smoking gun, and found Cameron was on the side of fact.

But in the past month, the Tory leader has been explicit that far from cutting such things, in fact a Conservative government would protect the winter fuel payment, free bus passes and free TV licences for pensioners (plus the pension credit).

So Labour candidates should have altered their literature accordingly. But that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Since Cameron made his pledge, the following leaflets have hit doormats around the country:

On 7 April, Jim Knight, employment minister and PPC for Dorset South, warned the Tories would put at risk an array of pensioner benefits.

Knight writes: “I am campaigning to protect all of the measures the government has introduced to help older people, such as the winter fuel payment, free TV licences and free bus travel. All of our progress could be at risk if we get a Tory government. Pensioners are right to be worried.”

Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy’s leaflet, delivered on 8 April 2010, quotes a pensioner who is worried that the Tories “seem to want to make big spending cuts and haven’t given guarantees about pensioners”.

One leaflet from another PPC, delivered on 6 April 2010, contains an outdated claim directly from the party’s national website: “David Cameron has refused to commit to maintaining Labour’s winter fuel allowance levels.” (The Tories have compiled a dossier of some of the leaflets distributed in the past few months.)

A Labour official said the leaflets in question were not part of a national campaign and, when questioned on it this morning, the prime minister asserted the Labour party’s right to ask questions.

Cathy Newman’s verdict
Perhaps sensing he was on a sticky wicket, Gordon Brown this morning countered that the Conservative manifesto made no mention of free eye tests. But this really did smack of desperation.

It’s political innuendo pure and simple to accuse the Tories of planning to butcher any public service that doesn’t appear in their manifesto.

And while the leaflets that pre-dated Cameron’s explicit pledge exploited a grey area, there’s really no excuse now the Tory leader has made his position crystal clear.