Alex Massie

Rod Liddle is Right

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Why, as Rod asks, has so little attention been paid to the story about Labour sending 250,000 women leaflets suggesting that if they get cancer they'd probably die under a Conservative government? I was in Ireland at the weekend and so didn't see the Sunday Times story but as far as I can see, what follow-up there's been on the BBC and elsewhere has been remarkably restrained. To recap:

Labour has become embroiled in a row about the use of personal data after sending cancer patients alarmist mailshots saying their lives could be at risk under a Conservative government.

Cards addressed to sufferers by name warn that a Labour guarantee to see a cancer specialist within two weeks would be scrapped by the Tories. Labour claims the Conservatives would also do away with the right to be treated within 18 weeks.

Cancer patients who received the personalised cards, sent with a message from a breast cancer survivor praising her treatment under Labour, said they were “disgusted and shocked”, and feared that the party may have had access to confidential health data.

[...]Labour has sent out 250,000 “cancer” postcards, each addressed to an individual, asking: “Are the Tories a change you can afford?”

Many of those receiving the cards have undergone cancer scans or treatment within the past five years.

Now as Dizzy says there may be a Data Protection issue here but it's also possible that with sophisticated voter targetting and the use of publicly available information Labour and their direct mail company were able to target voters who were simply massively disproportionately likely to be cancer patients and that no laws on DP have been breached.

Nevertheless, that's only part of the matter. This would be grotesque even if the leaflets had been sent to people with neither any history nor prospect of having cancer. Few of us, I think, expect campaigns to be especially elevating affairs but most people can agree that there are certain obvious limits. And this would seem to cross them.

Because the suggestion made by Labour is not simply that the parties disagree on the way to reduce waiting times - the Tories want to focus on outcomes rather than the setting of targets - but something rather nastier. Namely, Labour insinuate not only that Conservative policy might put cancer patients "at risk" but that the Tories are callously happy to see you die. Your death, Labour suggest, is a price the Tories will willingly pay.

Sure, the Tories are happy to go negative too but, as best one can tell, their negativity generally runs along the traditional lines of Look at Gordon Brown. Look at his record. Imagine another five years of him in Downing Street? That's rather different from implying that the Tories don't care about treating cancer patients.

Now, again, given everything, it's not a surprise that Labour are prepared to go to just about any lengths but there are limits suggested by common sense and it doesn't take much decency to appreciate where they may be drawn.

Journalists sometimes spend too much time wondering if the way a party or candidate campaigns has any bearing upon how they might conduct themselves in power but this occasion might be thought an example of how a party's campaign might indeed reveal something telling about it.

PS: Incidentally, look too at how often Brown lays on the "risk" factor in voting Tory  - another reminder that, as I suggested the other day, he's borrowing from the Al Gore playbook.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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