This new political scam came to light yesterday as it was disclosed that Scottish Conservatives are also seeking to "pack" the audiences for BBC TV's Question Time. The invitation to sign Letters to the Editor prepared in advance by party hacks has gone out from the Conservative Party's North- West regional official Richard Hook, based in Blackpool.
In a circular entitled "The Campaigners" issued last week, he says: "During the run-up to the General Election, it is vital that the views of Conservative supporters and the policies of the party are reflected adequately in the correspondence columns of newspapers. This requires co-ordination so that the appropriate person writes on the appropriate topic at the appropriate time."
Mr Hook invites those who are "happy to support the party in this way" to give details of where they live, and their "normal form of signature". He asks them to tick one of three boxes for their preferred option:
8 "Bullet point facts for you to incorporate into a letter."
8 "A draft letter to copy in your own handwriting."
8 "A typed letter for you to sign and post."
The circular also asks them to complete a one-line questionnaire on their views about a range of issues, ranging from monetary union to unemployment.
A Conservative Central Office spokeswoman defended the practice as "quite normal". Some people were not very good at writing letters, or did not have the time. "There is no element of deception."
Brian Wilson MP, head of Labour's Rapid Reaction Unit, said: "We always believed the Tories could not think for themselves. Now we know. Editors should beware of this pre-cooked propaganda."
The Hook circular was made public hours after Scottish Conservatives admitted writing to their supporters, urging them to complain about alleged anti-Tory bias in the audience at Question Time broadcast from Glasgow last month. Bob Reid, the Conservative press officer in Scotland, said in a memo that they could write as "outraged Tories" or "non-partisan viewers".
The Tories again denied deception, but Harvey Thomas, who was communications director at Central Office during the Eighties, said: "There is a question mark because it suggests that you can be honest or a little more discreet if not dishonest."
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