Labour demands inquiry into Tory newsletter promoting Donald Trump-style ‘fake news’ tactics

Boris Johnson dodged questions about document in House of Commons

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 16 December 2020 17:45 GMT
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Outgoing US president Donald Trump
Outgoing US president Donald Trump (REUTERS)

Labour has called for an inquiry into a Conservative constituency newsletter which urged the Tories to follow the example of Donald Trump and “weaponise fake news”.

And deputy leader Angela Rayner called on the Tories to investigate allegations that activist Jack Summers had received threatening phone calls and been removed from a candidate list after raising concerns about the publication.

Boris Johnson dodged questions about the Wellingborough Conservative Association newsletter when challenged by Sir Keir Starmer at prime minister’s questions in the Commons.

The Labour leader told MPs that the document “gives a lot of advice to wannabe politicians”.

“It says this: ‘Say the first thing that comes into your head – it’ll probably be nonsense, you may get a bad headline, but if you make enough dubious claims fast enough, you can get away with it’,” said the Labour leader.

“And it includes, in the December edition, the advice: ‘Sometimes it’s better to give the wrong answer at the right time, rather than right answer at the wrong time.’ So my final question to the prime minister is this: is he the inspiration for the newsletter or is he the author?”

Mr Johnson responded by accusing Sir Keir of failing to make clear which way he would vote on an EU trade deal, joking: “In the words of the song, all I want for Christmas is a view.”

The Independent reported on Tuesday how the bulletin sent out to members in Northamptonshire said that “there are lessons that we can learn from Trump”, adding: “A lie can go round the world before the truth can get its boots on.”

It also vowed to “fight woke-ism”, and argued that Labour’s landmark Equality Act, designed to stamp out prejudice in the workplace and public services, “legalises discrimination based on gender”.

The newsletter says campaigners should view fake news as a technique that “crowds out genuine news” and allows “honest politicians” to be “pushed off the front pages”.

“You say the first thing that comes into your head,” it reads, adding: “It’ll probably be nonsense, but it knocks your opponent out of his stride and takes away his headline.”

In a letter to Tory chair Amanda Milling, Ms Rayner called on her to either condemn the newsletter’s contents or confirm whether they represent Conservative policy.

She demanded an investigation into the document and disciplinary action against any Tory member who wrote, edited or distributed it.

She told Ms Milling: “After the prime minister and the foreign secretary refused to speak out when president Trump was claiming victory and alleging fraud in the US presidential election, this newsletter seems to demonstrate that the Conservative Party is copying from Donald Trump’s playbook and implementing a political strategy of weaponising fake news, making dishonest statements and telling brazen lies in order to ‘crowd out’ and ‘overwhelm’ the truth.

“Given the importance of honesty and integrity in our politics, values which I am sure that you would want to uphold as chair of the Conservative Party, I look forward to your early response to the questions I have asked.”

Tory grandee and former MP Nicholas Soames said those responsible should be thrown out of the party, using one of his trademark Twitter hashtags to say “#uttelyviledisgracefulbehaviourtheyshldbeexpelledfromtoryparty”.

There was no immediate response from the Conservatives to a request for a comment.

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