“Is the Prime Minister fake news”

From the blog of Peter Cleasby:

Last week the Conservative Party – rebranded nationally as “Theresa May’s Team” – bought advertising space in a dozen local papers around the country to promote the Prime Minister’s general election campaign [1]. Nothing wrong in that in principle: it’s a long-standing habit of political parties to pay for advertising. The towns and cities in question appear to be Parliamentary seats which the Tories are targeting to win. So far, business much as usual.

The commentariat has tended to criticise the tactic as a way of getting around spending limits for constituency election campaigns. It’s a targeted national campaign which doesn’t mention the local candidates so it’s not local spending, and it’s all within Electoral Commission rules.

Frankly, that’s a second-order complaint. The Conservative Party is simply doing what any advertiser would do given the opportunity. If it’s an unintended loophole in the spending rules, it can be put right. Much more insidious, and an example of further erosion of any semblance of standards in corporate behaviour, is the way in which the newspapers allowed the ads to be designed and placed.

What the local papers did – or, probably more accurately, what they were told to do by their corporate owners – was to accept the advertisement in the form of a wrap-around, with each paper’s normal masthead integrated into the paid-for “front page”. In other words, a blatant attempt to mislead readers into thinking their local paper was supporting Mrs May’s election campaign.

Defenders of the scheme have argued that people would easily see that it was an advertisement. Really? Two points here. First, at least on the fake front page of the Exeter Express and Echo, the words “ADVERTISER’S ANNOUNCEMENT” are set in a white font on a pale grey background. This is invisible to anyone looking at the paper from a distance, on a newsstand for example.

Second, it’s not unheard of for national papers such as the Sun and the Daily Mail to trumpet their support for a political party as editorial matter on their front pages. If they can do it, why should people be surprised that the local papers are doing the same?

The advertising impact isn’t limited to people who buy the paper: indeed, they will soon discover the real front page inside and put Mrs May in the recycling. What the technique achieves is massive exposure of Mrs May’s slogans because the papers – typically weekly ones – are displayed on newsstands for a whole week. These stands are often to be found in prominent places in major retailers: in Exeter, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s have separate stands for the Echo in the entrance areas.

The edition of the Exeter paper that carried the fake front page also ran a leader article entitled “Delivering facts not fake news” [2]. The irony of this was lost on the paper’s editor. In response to my complaint to him about the fake front page, Mr Parker said:

“The material carried this week was part of a nationwide advertising initiative by the Conservative Party and the decision to publish it was made solely for business reasons as we are, after all, a business.

“It was made clear that this was an advertising arrangement with the Conservative party and is something we are at the moment exploring with other political parties.

“Again, any future decisions will be based on the commercial side of the business and will have absolutely no bearing on the way the Express and Echo covers editorially any news stories whether or not they are of a political nature.

“I cannot emphasise enough that we are a totally independent news operation and proud of that fact and will continue to be so.”

Taking advertisers’ money is one thing. Trying to mislead your readers – who may not be interested in the distinction between the commercial and editorial sides of the business – is quite another. And since the rules on political balance don’t apply to the press, we can assume that only those parties who can pay out hard cash for wrap-arounds will be included in the exploratory discussions Mr Parker refers to.

Up in Westmoreland, where the local paper also ran a fake front page, there is some community anger, threatening a boycott of the rag [3]. Something worth considering everywhere else, since even if local papers no longer care about their reputations, their owners do care about sales and profits.

Meanwhile Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and all other retailers giving prominence to local papers should move the newsstands carrying the fake front page to the nearest back room until normal service is resumed.”


[1] For a list of papers and constituencies, see https://www.buzzfeed.com/jimwaterson/how-the-conservatives-are-using-local-adverts-to-get-around

[2] A longer version of the article is in the online version at http://www.devonlive.com/8203-in-an-age-of-fake-stories-we-always-provide-trusted-news/story-30314208-detail/story.

[3] See https://eastdevonwatch.org/2017/05/09/northern-community-boycotts-local-paper-over-tory-wrap-around-ad/

Northern community boycotts local paper over Tory wrap-around ad

The Express and Echo was also guilty of publishing this ad, which coincidentally covered over the REAL front page detailing a local planning scandal!

“Hundreds of people have signed a petition demanding a weekly newspaper apologises for running a front page wraparound promoting the Conservative Party as the row over the adverts rumbles on.

The Westmorland Gazette was one of many regional newspapers to run the wrap last week ahead of Thursday’s local elections, but has now come under fire from readers who have demanded a full front page apology and threatened to boycott the paper until it complies.

The petition’s Avaaz page reads: “As regular readers of the Westmorland Gazette we are dismayed to see OUR community paper being misused for party political purposes.

“Whilst we would welcome balanced representation of all LOCAL candidates within the paper, we feel strongly that a front page advert for a single national party is not acceptable (especially when published on a polling day (4/5/17)!).

“We request that you publish a full front page apology in your next issue. Please note that many of us will be boycotting the paper until this occurs.”

The adverts coincided with the local elections, as readers went to the polls for council and mayoral elections.”


What is going on at Honiton Town Council (and the Beehive)?

THREE more resignations since yesterday’s shock resignation of the Mayor only minutes after she had been elected:

Honiton Town Council has been dealt a double blow after two more councillors quit the authority.

Former mayor Peter Halse and Luke Harvey-Ingram tendered their resignation today, meaning one fifth of the council has quit in the last 48 hours.

Yesterday evening, the council was rocked after new mayor Ashley Delasalle attacked the authority before dramatically resigning on the spot and leaving the meeting.

Her exit was followed by David Perkins quitting as a member, the council-appointed director of Honiton Community Complex Ltd and temporary responsible financial officer.

His resigned after councillors voted to remove him from a committee investigating the finances around the Beehive build.”


The Beehive community centre has been surrounded by controversy since its inception, when it was given a massive amount of money by EDDC (unlike most other similar centres in other towns) and got into much financial difficulty from the start, see here:


and here:


and here:


and a previous resignation here:


Why voters must think for themselves

The focus of this article is Brexit but it could be anything – the NHS, education, the environment, foreign policy.

It’s about how shady companies manipulate news and advertising to serve the ends of those who employ them and how together they can create a fake world that people can be influenced by without realising it is happening, so good are they at the job.

Don’t let social media or newspapers or politicians with particular allegiances tell you what to think – don’t even let East Devon Watch tell you what to think! Look around you, see for yourself, listen to different views (the more different to yours the better), think about how your life is now and how you would wish it to be for yourself and others in future – then put your cross in the box that fits best with that vision.

“ …the capacity for this science [data analytics] to be used to manipulate emotions is very well established. This is military-funded technology that has been harnessed by a global plutocracy and is being used to sway elections in ways that people can’t even see, don’t even realise is happening to them,” she says. “It’s about exploiting existing phenomenon like nationalism and then using it to manipulate people at the margins. To have so much data in the hands of a bunch of international plutocrats to do with it what they will is absolutely chilling.

“We are in an information war and billionaires are buying up these companies, which are then employed to go to work in the heart of government. That’s a very worrying situation.”


The law on disclosable pecuniary interest

What happens if I don’t follow the rules on disclosable pecuniary interests?

It is a criminal offence if, without a reasonable excuse, you fail to tell the monitoring officer about your disclosable pecuniary interests, either for inclusion on the register if you are a newly elected, co-opted or appointed member, or to update the register if you are re- elected or re-appointed, or when you become aware of a disclosable pecuniary interest which is not recorded in the register but which relates to any matter;

– that will be or is being considered at a meeting where you are present, or
– on which you are acting alone.

It is also a criminal offence to knowingly or recklessly provide false or misleading information, or to participate in the business of your authority where that business involves a disclosable pecuniary interest. It is also a criminal offence to continue working on a matter which can be discharged by a single member and in which you have a disclosable pecuniary interest.

If you are found guilty of such a criminal offence, you can be fined up to £5,000 and disqualified from holding office as a councillor for up to five years.”


Express and Echo names EDDC Vice-Chair Helen Parr as councillor under police investigation at Colyton

Councillor Parr is standing for the DCC Seaton and Colyton seat at elections tomorrow.

“The vice-chairman of East Devon District Council is under investigation over an allegation she influenced plans to develop her area while failing to declare an interest.

Councillor Helen Parr will be speaking to police officers on a voluntary basis, the Express & Echo understands.

The investigation into the councillor for Coly Valley regards late changes to the East Devon Villages plan made after she was among those who spoke at the meeting of the East Devon District Council strategic planning committee on February 20.

Cllr Parr is a director of a company which owns land next to the former Ceramtec factory site in Colyton. The factory was due to be slated for housing until Cllr Parr spoke at the planning meeting and it was decided to recommend that it remains for employment.

She told the committee: “The main concern and why people are not at all happy about what is proposed in the document is that the built up area boundary line now has suddenly, after the consultation, gone out round the built section of the Ceramtec site.

“It is a very large site and will accommodate, if it went only to houses, about 80 houses. It would be a large development for Colyton which nobody, until now, had any inkling of, in that the built-up area boundary excluded this site.

“There is concern because the bottom line for Colyton is that we lost 80 jobs when this factory closed and we would like to retained as much as possible for employment land.

“I would ask the committee to agree or to propose that the wording should make it clear that on the preamble to the plan that on page 20 it includes words that show that this is protected as an employment site and it should be retained for employment use.”

The East Devon Alliance – a group of independent district councillors – has raised concerns about Cllr Parr’s conduct with Devon & Cornwall Police.

Members say she should have declared and interest and not spoken on the issue.

Cllr Parr and her husband are directors of J & FJ Baker & Company Limited, which owns land at Turlings Farm, next to the Ceramtec site.

East Devon Alliance Councillor Cathy Gardner, at last week’s East Devon District Council meeting, revealed that there was an ongoing police investigation into the council’s handling of the matter.

A spokesperson for Devon & Cornwall Police said it could not confirm or deny the scope of the police investigation. Cllr Parr was asked for comment, but said that due to purdah – rules brought in before an election – she could not say anything.

Last year J & FJ Baker & Company Limited bought land on the south side of Turlings Farm which connects the Ceramtec site to the farm that the Parrs own. They paid £1 for the strip of property.

Cllr Gardner said at last week’s meeting of East Devon District Council: “It may be proven that undue influence has distorted the content of the plan. If that does turn out to be the case, do you agree that it is the responsibility of this council to rectify the result of this influence – in order to ensure the residents of Colyton are not adversely affected and to do so before the plan goes to the (Planning) Inspector?”

In response, Cllr Paul Diviani, the council’s leader, said: “In terms of the village plan, I can’t see a reason why we should be inclined to second guess what an inspector or other authority or otherwise is going to do and in that respect I will reserve judgement as to when we actually do take action.”

An East Devon Alliance source told the Echo: “She is the vice-chairman of the council and has been the chairman of the planning committee for years, so she knows what she is doing, so we have got to pursue this.”

An East Devon District Council spokesman said: “Only the three statutory officers at the council together with one other officer were aware that there was a police investigation prior to the meeting of council on Wednesday and these officers have kept the matter confidential.

“Given that there is an active police investigation, and the sensitivities around purdah for both the county and General Election, it would be wholly inappropriate for the council to comment on the investigation at this time. The council also cannot comment on how Cllr Gardner became aware of the police investigation, and the chief executive and monitoring officer were surprised that she raised this matter at a public meeting.

“The process that has been followed for the village plan and the representations made/considered by officers and reported to the strategic planning committee, can be found on the East Devon District Council website.”

The East Devon Villages Plan – a blueprint for development in the area – is currently out for consultation”.




CPS criteria for election fraud prosecutions

“Proceedings for major infringements will normally be in the public interest.

Proceedings for other infringements may not be in the public interest in situations where:

the offence is of a “technical” nature which does not infringe the spirit of the legislation;

the offence was committed as a result of a genuine mistake or misunderstanding;

the offence could not have influenced the result of the election process; or
the offender has remedied any breach of the law.

If the offence falls to be considered under one or more of the criteria above, the matter may be dealt by way of a caution administered by the police or, where appropriate, the provisions of advice as to an individual’s future conduct.

In practice, it may be difficult to prove that the result of an election has been affected by an infringement. However, the fact that a breach has or may have affected the result of an election is a factor to be taken into consideration in deciding whether proceedings should be instigated.

Whilst every case will of course turn on its own facts, where there is clear evidence that a breach has affected the result or is likely to have done so, the public interest is more likely to require a prosecution – even if the infringement itself is relatively minor.”

Dr Mark Pack notes:

“It’s worth in particular noting that a few of the more common reasons that crop up on online chatter either from Conservatives, or reported as being said by Conservatives, do not feature in the criteria.

In particular, the fact that someone might have secured re-election before a court case could proceed against them is not a factor.

Moreover, prosecutions are not restricted to proceeding only on the basis that the offence altered the election result. That’s only required for one very specific set of legal action, which isn’t what’s at stake in the current cases involving so many Conservative MPs.”