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Electoral chiefs ‘powerless’ to stop Tory MP using defunct local paper’s name

Electoral chiefs have claimed they are “powerless” to stop politicians from mimicking local newspapers after a Tory MP used the name of a former regional title on his campaign material.

The Electoral Commission has said it cannot “control the style and presentation” of such pamphlets after Lincoln’s Conservative MP Karl McCartney used the name of defunct weekly paper the Lincoln Chronicle, which was closed by Johnston Press in 2007.

According to Byline Times, there is no mention of the Conservative Party on the front page of the MP’s leaflet – even on the “microscopic” legally-required imprint at the very bottom.

As well as the example in Lincoln, pictured, which former Chronicle photographer Mike Maloney described as “appalling” to the Times, similar examples of the Tories using the tactic have been discovered elsewhere in recent days.

Lincoln Chronicle

Former Yorkshire Post deputy editor Ian Day shared an image of the “absolutely shameful” Ossett & Denby Dale Chronicle, circulated on behalf of Dewsbury’s Conservative MP Mark Eastwood, on Twitter.

Swindon Advertiser reporter Daniel Wood has also received a copy of the South Swindon Messenger, promoting South Swindon MP Sir Robert Buckland, while University of Leeds lecturer Kate Parry has discovered the Colne Valley Chronicle, praising Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney.

As with Tory-produced publications the Somerton and Frome Chronicle and the North Yorkshire Chronicle, published ahead of the Somerton and Frome and Selby and Ainsty by-elections respectively last month, the fresh examples do not make any reference to the party on their front pages.

An Electoral Commission spokesperson told HTFP: “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.”

Currently, an imprint 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.

HTFP has repeatedly highlighted different parties’ use of the tactic in recent years, while the issue prompted Newsquest editorial director Toby Granville to threaten not to publish Liberal Democrat election campaign news ahead of the 2019 General Election.

The Commission subsequently revealed the practice was among the major concerns of the public in its report into campaigning ahead of the election and called for “real change” on the issue.

HTFP has approached the Conservative Party for a comment.