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Fake News: Conservatives Slammed for Party By-Election Leaflets Pretending to Be Local Newspapers

Tories are using “fake” local newspapers in all three by-elections

Rishi Sunak faces tough questions over the practice, which is not illegal. Photo: Associated Press / Alamy

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Amid a trio of significant by-elections, the Conservative Party has been accused of repeatedly using “deceptive” tactics to win over the electorate.

In Selby and Ainsty, where voters go to the polls on Thursday (July 20), the party has launched what looks like a local newspaper, the North Yorkshire Chronicle. It is in fact a party political leaflet with a small imprint at the bottom noting it is promoted by the Conservatives, as reported by press industry title Hold the Front Page.

The leaflet follows on from the creation of the so-called “Somerton and Frome Chronicle” in Somerset, one of the other seats a by-election. Byline Times can reveal the Tories have used the same tactic in Uxbridge, with a leaflet branded “Uxbridge and South Ruislip People” – a very similar title to the local council freesheet, “Hillingdon People”.

One local source told this newspaper the leaflet “looks like a deliberate attempt to imitate the Hillingdon People to me.” Uxbridge Tory candidate Steve Tuckwell is resident and local councillor. “It’s completely implausible that the similarities are a coincidence,” the source added.

The local Conservative party in the seat Boris Johnson abandoned over parliament’s partygate lies report was also accused of misleading voters, by claiming support from a local ‘English teacher’ – who is in fact a Conservative councillor and chair of the education committee on the Tory-run council. 

As Byline Times first reported, Councillor Heena Makwana, who was a keen supporter of Boris Johnson, features on a recent leaflet handed out to Uxbridge residents.

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Chronicling Failure

The North Yorkshire “newspaper” leaflet in Selby and Ainsty. Credit: James Mitchison / Yorkshire Post

The separate North Yorkshire Chronicle leaflet cleverly side-steps any direct reference to the Tory party and only acknowledges their association in small text at the end, saying it is “promoted” by the Tory candidate Claire Holmes. Election rules dictate all party-political leaflets need to have this imprint, though there is no requirement for a party logo or name elsewhere. 

The sham newspaper boasts an exclusive write-up from Rishi Sunak in its “special edition”, professing to serve “Ainsty, Tadcaster, Selby, Sherburn-in-Elmet and our villages”.

James Mitchinson, Yorkshire Post editor, took to Twitter to express his discontent with the “newspaper”, branding it as a “devious, cynical journalistic imitation” devised to hoodwink voters. Mitchinson issued a warning to the electorate: “They want to trick you. Beware.”

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A party spokesperson defended the practice earlier in the year, asserting that “any literature from the party has to clearly state that it is from the party”.

Hold the Front Page highlighted the issue of political parties emulating local press ahead of the 2019 General Election. In response, the Electoral Commission issued calls for significant amendments to laws governing misleading political leaflets.

The Liberal Democrats have also used this tactic over the years. 

Earlier in 2023, a successful challenge was launched against the local Tory association by Hereford Times editor, John Wilson. The North Herefordshire Conservative Association had published a supposed newspaper titled “Herefordshire Champion” which Wilson criticised. 

His criticism resulted in backtracking by the Association, who initially defended the practice as CCHQ had provided templates for these pamphlets in the run-up to May’s elections.

The Conservative Party has yet to comment. 

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