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Voters have been posting back fake newspapers sent by the Conservative Party to their head office – in a bid to cost the party cash.
Last week this newspaper was 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.
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 even 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. Other fake papers, which were issued by Conservative Party HQ, even got the name of the local area wrong.
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Yet the tactic of publishing fake papers 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.
Now voters receiving them across the country are sending them back to CCHQ without a stamp, in the hope it costs the party cash. There has been a major backlash to the party’s tactics, which have been branded deceptive by journalists and organisations like the News Media Association.
One voter told Byline Times they had posted approximately half a kilogram of takeaway menus and junk mail to CCHQ from a post box “nowhere near my house” – with a handwritten note saying “No more fake news please”. It was enough weight (>250 g) to count as a parcel so, in theory, should get priority treatment from the Royal Mail.
Andy Burge wrote on the social media site formerly known as Twitter: “If you receive one of these fake newspapers, post it back to your Tory constituency office without a stamp. They will have to pay £2.50 postage costs.”
Many replied that they had done so. Yorkshire photographer Mick Fattorini was one of those who said he’d posted one of the flyers back to Conservative HQ, as did George McCutcheon, while others say they simply tore them up and recycled them.
One who received the “Cramlington and Killingworth Chronicle” said theirs was “back in the post!”.
Others joked they would attach an old phone book to the flyer when returning it to the sender – a potentially very expensive prank for the Conservatives to receive if they accepted the delivery.
One Nottinghamshire voter said: “I got one for [the seat of] Gedling from ‘One term Tom [Randall]…[I’ve] torn it up and will send it back with no stamp.”
The Conservative Party would only be charged if they accepted the post – though if it’s in an envelope they may be likely to do so.
Many others reported receiving the variously-titled fake newspapers. “I’ve had one too. It shows how worried they are though that they are playing down that it’s a Conservative publication,” another voter added.
Paul Dickson put it simply: “Like they don’t have enough newspapers shilling for them – they now have to invent them.”
It comes as a spokesperson for the Electoral Commission told Byline Times that “generally speaking,” election materials require the name and address of the printer and promoter.
But there was a big caveat – we are currently not in an official election period. They added: “The candidate imprint rules don’t apply yet, as the general election has not been announced yet and so there are no candidates as such – someone can only officially become a candidate when the UK Parliament is dissolved.”
That means we are currently in a campaign wild west – where fake newspapers can be put out by political parties without even saying who’s publishing them.
The Electoral Commission spokesperson added: “We encourage all parties and campaigners to include imprints on all material, to provide voters with transparency.”
A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission has previously told this newspaper that there are no rules against parties imitating local newspapers, or from hiding their party name in party-political materials. However, the watchdog has previously condemned the practice.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives face an intellectual property theft row after a Derbyshire Conservative MP, Robert Largan MP, distributed a “newspaper” titled the High Peak Reporter – despite the name of the title being owned by an actual newspaper group.
Chris Bird owns Quest Media Network, which itself owns the brand title High Peak Reporter, and told the Prolific North outlet: “I guess we should be flattered by this stunt, but we are not. Would Mr Largan have tried this with the Daily Mirror or Daily Telegraph? Absolutely not, because that would have cost him and his party a lot of money for the blatant breach and ‘passing off’ guideline.”
The newspaper group, which also includes the Tameside Reporter, Glossop Chronicle and Oldham Reporter in its portfolio, has been publishing for 167 years, the title reported.
There is no mention of the Conservative Party on the front page of many of the leaflets – even on the “microscopic” imprint at the very bottom.
Byline Times asked CCHQ why they were mimicking defunct newspapers for party political purposes. We have not yet received a response.
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 last week 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. I started my career there decades ago. At one time it was a great paper,” Dr Maloney said, adding that the decision by the local Conservatives to imitate the defunct paper was “appalling.”
Maloney has toured with the royals as a photographer and was three times voted Press Photographer of the Year. He was Chief Photographer for Mirror Group Newspapers for three decades and dined with Margaret Thatcher shortly before her death in 2013.
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