The Conservatives have claimed they did not mean to delete David Cameron’s pre-election speeches from the internet in a move that prompted accusations of Orwellian interference.
At present the Tory website retains an archive of speeches only going back to January 2013. Meanwhile its own transcripts of historic orations by Mr Cameron cannot be found through engines such as Google – except on other websites such as newspapers.
There was speculation on Wednesday that Mr Cameron had authorised a deliberate drive to minimise the reminders of his pro-green, pro-localism speeches from the halcyon days of opposition.
The Tory leaders has struck a more hard-headed note since taking power against a backdrop of a bleak economy and a soaring national deficit.
Other speeches he might want to forget include the 2006 promise of no more top-down reorganisations of the NHS, which was broken soon after 2010.
It appears that some working for the party took measures to delete copies from elsewhere on the web. By editing a small file on its website – the so-called robots.txt file – that person instructed sites that automatically maintain a copy of the Conservative site not to include certain pages in their archive – notably its archive of news and speeches.
The instructions in the robots.txt file also caused the Internet Archive, a widely-used digital library that seeks to preserve the public web, to block access to its records of the speeches.
The news was broken by trade magazine Computer Weekly, which claimed the move was akin to “hiding Conservative speeches in a secretive corner of the internet like those that shelter the military”.
The effect of the changes was “as alarming as sending Men in Black to strip history books from a public library and burn them in the car park”, the magazine added.
A spokesman for the Tories denied any deliberate attempt to remove speeches, saying there had been an oversight by IT staff who were “doing up” the party’s website. “They didn’t do it from a political point of view,” he said.
“We’re making sure our website keeps the Conservative Party at the forefront of political campaigning,” he said. “These changes allow people to quickly and easily access the most important information we provide.”
Critics pointed out with some relish that the Tory leadership were pioneers of so-called “open source politics”.
The deleted speeches included calls by Mr Cameron to democratise information held by people in power. Similarly George Osborne in 2007 urged political leaders to “learn to let go” and open up the information which in the past had been guarded jealously.
Labour MP for Edinburgh East Sheila Gilmore described the changes to the Conservatives’ website as a “cynical stunt” saying “it will take more than David Cameron pressing delete to make people forget about his broken promises”.
However the attempt to scrub the information from the web was incomplete. The speeches are still available through the British Library’s web archive, which has been capturing the Conservative Party website since 2004.