Tory hoping to replace Nadine Dorries slams point-scoring on 'political talk shows' in fake newspaper

Tory hoping to replace Nadine Dorries slams point-scoring on 'political talk shows' in fake newspaper

Related video: Nadine Dorries calls Rishi Sunak a 'privileged posh boy'


Although Conservative politician and former culture secretary Nadine Dorries is yet to formally resign as the MP for Mid Bedfordshire (despite previously announcing she would), candidates are already lining up to try and replace her if or when the by-election is called.

Tory candidate Festus Akinbusoye - who is continuing in his role as Bedfordshire’s police and crime commissioner while campaigning, even after the county’s police and crime panel recommended he “stand down for a period of time” – made his case to the local electorate by circulating a fake newspaper attacking his rivals.

Branded as the fictitious ‘Mid Bedfordshire Community Chronicle’, the four-page campaigning leaflet claims in its front page ‘headline’ that “Beds residents back local dad Festus” – without citing any statistics or testimony to back up that assertion like an actual newspaper would do.

In the second page of the marketing material, a picture of Mr Akinbusoye talking to a local business owner is captioned: “A Lib Dem or Labour MP will score points on the political talk shows, Festus wants to score wins for our business community.”

This is despite Ms Dorries, the current MP, legitimately having her own political talk show, Friday Night with Nadine, on TalkTV.

On the final page, taking a swipe at Labour, the ‘newspaper’ reads: “Don’t let Labour use our community for their political games”.

Sign up to our free Indy100 weekly newsletter

The section does not mention Ms Dorries being accused of “holding her constituency to ransom” by not immediately resigning as the MP for Mid Bedfordshire, instead choosing to await “responses to subject access requests” submitted about her being rejected for a peerage.

She tweeted in June: “I have requested copies of WhatsApps, text messages, all emails and minutes of meetings both formal and informal with names of senior figures unredacted. My office continues to function as normal and will of course continue to serve my constituents of Mid Bedfordshire as we have done for the last 18 yrs until this time.

“It is absolutely my intention to resign, but given what I know to be true and the number of varying and conflicting statements issued by No10 since the weekend, this process is now sadly necessary.”

Shockingly, it’s not against election rules to imitate newspapers in marketing materials. Instead, the main requirement from the Electoral Commission is that all leaflets contain the name and address of the promoter and printer of the material, alongside the same details for the candidate or party the material is championing.

Issues around fake ‘newspapers’ were noted by the Commission in its report on the 2019 general election, it which it acknowledged that “some leaflets were designed to look like local newspapers”.

In a section on campaigning, the watchdog warned: “If voters lose trust and confidence in political campaigning, democracy as a whole will suffer. Campaigners, candidates and parties themselves need to take greater responsibility for the presentation and content of campaigns they run and the impact of their activities on public confidence in elections.”

Another part of the report stresses that campaigners should “respect the spirit of the imprint rules” and “provide easily readable information about themselves”.

While it is not clear what size the font is for the imprint on Mr Akinbusoye, a very rough comparison in Word (and to the untrained eye) suggests it is around a miniscule size 9.

The gap in the rules allowing for fake ‘newspapers’ from political candidates to circulate has sparked condemnation from trading body the News Media Association, industry body the Society of Editors, and the journalism news outlet Press Gazette, who have all called for greater action against the “deception”.

Freddy Mayhew, editor of Press Gazette back in 2019, wrote in a comment piece at the time: “Local newspapers have long been praised as pillars of the communities they serve, so it is small wonder politicians are keen for some of this to rub off on them.

“But it is far better they engage with the press than try to copy it.”

In the interests of transparency – the very principle these fake newspapers are accused of avoiding – the Conservatives aren’t the only political party to resort to this “misleading” technique, with the Press Gazettereporting that the Liberal Democrats (then helmed by Jo Swinson) circulated the fake “Mid Hampshire Gazette” ahead of the 2019 general election.

We should also mention who else is hoping to take over from Ms Dorries when the by-election is finally called in Mid Bedfordshire. They are:

  • Dave Holland – Reform UK
  • Emma Holland-Lindsay – Liberal Democrats
  • Gareth Mackey – Independent candidate
  • Cade Sibley – Green Party
  • Alistair Strathern – Labour Party
  • Alan Victor – True and Fair Party

In a statement, the Electoral Commission told indy100 it is unable to "take specific action" in relation to Mr Akinbusoye's campaign material, as it doesn't "have the power to regulate" it.

A spokesperson said: "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.

"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 a particular font size for imprints or the inclusion of a specific label or text identifying it as election and referendum campaign material."

When questioned further on the meaning of a 'clear' imprint, they clarified it refers to the section having "all of the legally required information", with the law not covering font size.

"There isn’t anything we can do about that, but we believe it is important for transparency that the imprint is legible," they said.

Indy100 has approached Mr Akinbusoye’s representatives and the Electoral Commission for comment.

Have your say in our news democracy. Click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help raise this article through the indy100 rankings.

The Conversation (0)