Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

Revealed: The Scandal of the Fake Newspapers Pushed by Conservatives in ‘Dirty Tricks’ Campaign

The elections watchdog has said the fake newspapers from local Conservative parties appear to be within the rules

Newsletter offer

Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.

Byline Times has been inundated with examples of the Conservative Party publishing party-political leaflets dressed up as local newspapers in what appears to be a national campaign strategy.

On Wednesday, this newspaper reported that the Conservatives’ campaign tactics were branded “appalling” by one of Britain’s most renowned photojournalists after imitating a shuttered local newspaper to garner votes.

Lincoln Conservative MP Karl McCartney has issued a leaflet to residents branded as the ‘Lincoln Chronicle’ – the same name as a weekly newspaper in the seat that was closed 15 years ago, and which many residents remember. 

The tactic was used successfully in Uxbridge and South Ruislip last month, with the party’s ‘Uxbridge and South Ruislip People’ urging people to “Stop ULEZ” (Labour London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone expansion). The fake magazine mirrored the title of the local council-run Hillingdon People, which is meant to be apolitical. 

Don’t miss a story

Byline Times asked the Lincolnshire Conservative Party why it was mimicking a defunct newspaper for party political purposes. We have still not received a response. 

However, on Thursday, McCartney hit out at the BBC for picking up this newspaper’s story and grilling him on his use of the fake newspaper.

He tweeted afterwards: “One Look North BBC minion [journalist] @peter_levy just called re non-story Labour are talking-up (attempting to) in Lincoln. For reference: my quality leaflet & its fact-based content that overshadows their poor attempt at campaigning). Typical of BBC News to dance to that tune.”

“[A] heated discussion ensued as I asked why Look North hadn’t called me re recent £2m secured Govt. funding for YMCA Lincs nor £4m secured Govt. funding for Lincoln’s new Diagnostic Centre in centre of the City for my constituents & others. No answer to that, too positive for them.”

Now Byline Times can reveal dozens more examples of fake newspapers – nearly all using the same template – issued by local Conservative Party candidates and MPs. 

Readers have responded with anger online.

One wrote: “Many people will be fooled by this, especially older people who I would imagine tend to read the local papers more are also less likely to notice the microscopic small print in hard to find places.”

Another branded it “Tory marketing deliberately disguised as independent news”, while one recipient dubbed it “dirty tricks” campaigning.

The ruse has previously been condemned by industry body the News Media Association among other press groups.  

Dr Mike Maloney OBE, one of the UK’s most decorated photographers and a Lincolnite who began his career at the real Lincoln Chronicle in the 1970s, told Byline Times that the fake newspaper was “typical of politicians”. He added it represented the idea of “never letting the facts interfere with a good story”.

“It was very, very sad when the Chronicle closed,” Dr Maloney said. “I started my career there decades ago. At one time, it was a great paper.”

Broadcaster Carol Vorderman, who has been highlighting the issue on social media, told Byline Times: “I’m truly astonished that any party is allowed to cloak themselves like this. I hope that the next government introduces a fundamental review and actions major failures in our democratic system. 

“This could be seen at the minor end of legalised misdemeanours. Most importantly, the ministerial and MPs codes of conduct need urgent revision. Our faith in politics must be at an all-time low right now.”

Gareth Aethwy said he’d received another in Anglesey: “It arrived through the letterbox this morning. Imprint so pale it’s hardly noticeable. Certainly nothing to suggest it’s political or from the Tories.”

And one reader noted: “Given these fake local newspapers are electioneering, the Conservatives should be making the source abundantly clear to readers/voters.”


Conservatives Caught Publishing Fake Newspapers Again, as Party Mimics Defunct Local Outlet

This deception seems to be becoming part of a deliberate strategy by Conservative Party HQ.

Tim Maw added: “My copy of the ‘Summer 2023 issue’ of the ‘Wimbledon Chronicle’ says in the small print that it’s ‘promoted on behalf of’ Stephen Hammond, but not the Conservative Party. It mentions Conservative MPs a few times without ever actually saying that Stephen Hammond is one of them.”

However, the Electoral Commission watchdog responded to many voters saying that the leaflets appeared within the rules – as they are not classed as campaign material outside of an election period. 

That in turn has triggered calls for a change in the rules and a ban on parties mimicking local newspapers – particularly in areas that are under-served by cuts to genuine local outlets.

An Electoral Commission spokesperson told Hold the Front Page, responding to Byline Times’ story: “Voters have expressed concerns to us about the presentation, labelling or layout of campaign material. We encourage all campaigners to undertake their vital role responsibly and to support campaign transparency.

“However, we don’t have the power to regulate campaign material. There is nothing in law to control the style and presentation of campaign material. The Commission’s remit when it comes to campaign material relates to whether printed material has an imprint and we regulate party and campaigner compliance with the law.

“Existing imprint laws require campaigners to be clear about who is responsible for producing and promoting campaign material, although these do not require the inclusion of a specific label or text identifying it as election and referendum campaign material.”

An imprint only currently requires the name and address of the printer and promoter who authorised the material to be included on all printed material such as posters, placards and leaflets, the site reported.

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

NMA, the trade body for the regional and national press, wrote to the Electoral Commission in 2021 ahead of a campaign launch to call for “an end to fake local newspapers”.

Then NMA chairman, Henry Faure Walker, said at the time: “Political propaganda leaflets designed to look and feel exactly like independent local newspapers are being pushed through letterboxes across the country. 

“During the 2019 General Election, the News Media Association (NMA) railed against these publications after examples published by Labour, Conservatives and the Lib Dems emerged.

“The Electoral Commission criticised the practice, citing it as an example of misleading campaigning techniques which the public were concerned about.

“We thought we’d seen the back of them but, sadly… they’ve started popping up again. Make no mistake, these publications are designed to fool you into thinking you are reading independent journalism.

“In fact, they are the exact opposite – party political propaganda sheets masquerading as real newspapers… We think this cynical attempt to mislead you is wrong. It undermines trust in both politicians and independent local newspapers.”

The body launched a ‘Don’t Be Duped’ campaign to call out the publications “for what they are and see them stopped once and for all”.

Thank you to all Byline Times readers who sent in their examples of the fake newspapers from across the country

Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing

Written by

This article was filed under
, , , , , ,