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Conservative Promos Banned by Local Newspaper After Party ‘Wrongly Suggests Paper Endorsed’ Candidate

“A political line has been crossed – and we are angry”, the paper’s editor wrote.

Graffiti on a Conservative Party election poster. Photo: Jeffrey Blackler / Alamy

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A local newspaper editor has hit out at a Conservative parliamentary candidate for putting out a leaflet that wrongly implied the paper had endorsed his campaign.

Yousef Dahmash, the Conservative candidate for Rugby and Bulkington in the upcoming general election, used a quote from the Rugby Advertiser in party material, which editor Phil Hibble says gave the impression it was an endorsement.

This quote stemmed from an article about Dahmash’s nomination as the Conservative choice for the parliamentary seat, taking over from the retiring MP Mark Pawsey, local press title Hold the Front Page reported. 

Hibble hit out in a comment piece on the title’s site, stating: “A political line has been crossed – and we are angry. Many of you would have seen that a leaflet from the Conservative’s Yousef Dahmash that seems to have an ‘endorsement’ from us, The Rugby Advertiser. We are politically neutral and would never endorse a candidate. We will take action so this will never happen again.”

Photo: Local Conservative leaflet via Rugby Advertiser

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The paper has declared a ban on publishing any Conservative press releases until the issue is addressed.

Editor Hibble wrote: “The good folk of the town will be wondering ‘Has our local newspaper suddenly abandoned their position of political neutrality?’ Let us assure you – no, we haven’t. And we are angry. The ‘endorsement’ came in the shape of a ‘quote’, which read: “Someone whose Rugby credentials are not in doubt….”. It then went on to list Yousef’s credentials and attributed it to the Rugby Advertiser.

“Not only did the Tories fail to notify us about using our name on their literature, but they used the quote out of context.”

The original article – ‘Rugby Tories play it safe with candidate for next election’ – included the line Cllr Dahmash used, but the full paragraph read: “After taking flak for selecting Lisa Parker to stand again for the borough council in May on the controversial basis that an allotment in Bilton was reasonable grounds for someone who lives in Northamptonshire to represent Rugby residents – and though external candidates are allowed in the parliamentary field – the association has gone for someone whose Rugby credentials are not in doubt.’”

Hibble added: “Using a line out of context as an endorsement on political literature is, at best, morally questionable. But at worst, it is damaging to our reputation as a trusted source for local news. And that has consequences for local democracy.

“We have asked the Tories to make a public statement about this and we will not publish any of their press material in the editorial space until the matter is resolved. Using our name as an endorsement for a candidate is never acceptable and deeply unfair to the people of Rugby.” 

A Labour source told Byline Times: “People trust their local paper to give fair and balanced views of local and national politics, but the Tories want to erode that trust with silly tricks that undermine good journalism.

“Sunak promised ‘integrity, accountability and professionalism at every level’. Instead we’ve got impersonation, ambiguity and poppycock.”

Hibble claimed in his piece that Cllr Dahmash had defended the pamphlet in a phone conversation.

UPDATE: Cllr Dahmash told Byline Times: “As you correctly identify…a quote was used from a Rugby Advertiser article in a recent leaflet. It was not intended to be an endorsement and no member of the public locally has raised this misinterpretation with me or with Rugby Conservative Association.”

He added: “We believe that anyone who has read the leaflet, or will read it in the future, will be able to determine it is used as a quote. We do not believe that it meets the definition of an endorsement. 

“The quote contains factual information reported by the Rugby Advertiser. We did not include the quote in an effort to suggest I was preferred as a candidate by the newspaper, but to draw attention to what the Rugby Advertiser had itself reported and printed in the public domain.”

We have removed a line from a Labour source which suggested Cllr Damash had ‘made up’ the quotes. This was incorrect and we’re happy to amend.  

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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