The row over Gordon Brown’s social care plans intensified last night when it emerged that five Labour councillors were put under pressure to withdraw their names from a campaign against his pledge to help the elderly.
All five Labour authorities that signed a letter to The Times criticising Mr Brown’s free home care idea as flawed and unfunded issued retractions within hours of the Department of Health learning of the existence of the letter. It also emerged that Downing Street knew of the operation to silence the Labour councils.
In each case, the councillor responsible for adult social care agreed to support the letter, which stated that the Personal Care at Home Bill had “major weaknesses”. Critics have condemned the legislation as a “back-of-the envelope” piece of electioneering.But on the brink of publication the leaders of their Labour councils asked for their names to be removed.
In furious exchanges in the Commons yesterday, David Cameron told Mr Brown that the letter illustrated cross-party concerns about the Government’s ill-conceived plans.
Sir Jeremy Beecham, leader of the Labour group at the Local Government Association, admitted that his group had contacted the five Labour council leaders. He said that he did not know where information about the Times letter came from and denied that he had had any conversations with Downing Street or Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, about the issue. He added, however, that it would be “perfectly normal” for a special adviser in the Department of Health to ring up the Labour group and inform them about the letter.
An official from Mr Burnham’s office, which was informed of the existence of the letter, said that there had been contact with Downing Street about the letter, as was routine. Read in full in the Times.