One senior Tory operator said comms chief Andy Coulson, a former editor of the News of the World, held a secret dossier of information about Labour MPs.
The Tory source said: ‘It is undoubtedly true that Coulson has some type of file of information about certain Labour people that he has obtained from his tabloid links.
It played a role in the recent story about Jacqui Smith and it has played a role in others. But they have all been legitimate stories and that is why it is completely different from what McBride was doing.’
The source added: ‘Coulson’s good at what he does but he is not stupid about it. He knows that you can be sued if you screw up, so there is always some proper background.’
A second source with close links to Tory HQ backed up the idea of a secret file. He said: ‘It is standard stuff for a party to collect. But we will make accusations over the way the Government has handled things or if people have lied. McBride actually made up scurrilous crap and that is where this stinks. Everyone does muck-raking, everyone does spin and everyone does dirt-digging. But not everyone makes things up for the hell of it.’
However, a Tory spokesman insisted: ‘No such file exists.’ He added: ‘The Conservative Party utterly condemns the actions of Damian McBride. We would never adopt the tactics he used.’