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Monday, Oct 26, 2020

Revealed: Tory candidates issued with attack manuals on how to smear rivals

Conservative candidates in the general election have been issued with a detailed dossier on how to attack Labour and Liberal Democrat rivals which contains numerous rehashed and potentially misleading claims, the Guardian can reveal.
The documents accuse the Liberal Democrats of pushing “pro-pimp” policies and sex work as a career for schoolchildren.

They also reheat a discredited claim that Labour’s policy on free movement would lead to 840,000 migrants coming to the UK each year.

Drafted by the Conservative research department, the documents are designed to provide candidates with approved messages to use on doorsteps across the country.

One 17-page briefing note is specifically for Tories in seats where the main challenge comes from Labour. Another 19-page document is for candidates fighting a Liberal Democrat threat.

Many of the statements within them are sourced from comments made several years ago, or by local party members, and do not accurately reflect the current positions of opposition parties.

Some draw on pledges made in the run-up to the 2015 election, or take statements out of context.

The document on how to attack Labour focuses on the economy and includes warnings that the party’s policies would cost the nation £1.2tn, and that every taxpayer could expect a bill for £2,400 to install Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. The claims were widely debunked when made two weeks ago.

The Liberal Democrats are painted as hypocrites with views that are at odds with Britain’s values. One attack line highlights the “anti-Brexit” comments from a Liberal Democrat candidate’s blog – even though they were made two years before the referendum took place.

Other highly dubious claims included in the documents include:

The Liberal Democrats want to scrap the promotion of “British values” and replace them with “universal values” – this was a suggestion made in relation to counter-terrorism only.

The party’s leader, Jo Swinson, supports a new tax on homes. This dates back to 2014, and is not party policy.

Labour’s plans will push up household bills by £2,000. This is sourced from the rightwing tabloid the Daily Express, which itself was reporting Tory calculations.

Labour will “automatically” support all strikes. This relies on a 2015 quote from the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell.

However, the party’s manifesto says it will only “remove unnecessary restrictions on industrial action”.

McDonnell has said that business is “the real enemy”. This draws on a 2011 speech he made, but misses the ending – he said the enemy was “the corporations who created the crisis”.

In one section headed “The Liberal Democrats don’t share people’s values,” the briefing note claims: “The Lib Dems have put forward ‘pro-pimp’ policies on prostitution – and have suggested prostitution should be suggested as a career to schoolchildren.” To reach this claim, the dossier took comments made three years ago by a former chairman of the Lib Dems’ Cheltenham branch and suggested they were indicative of party policy.

In fact, Dennis Parsons was forced to resign in 2016 after making the remarks, which he said were a rhetorical question and not his views. Parsons also apologised unreservedly.

The Lib Dem manifesto does not mention prostitution, although the party has a longstanding conference motion promoting decriminalisation to safeguard sex workers.

Tory candidates targeting Lib Dems have also been given lists of examples to support claims the party is soft on crime, and wants to “hike taxes on working people”.

Turning a press report from when Nick Clegg was leader in 2013 into a doorstep attack line for use in the December election, the party instructs activists to tell voters that the Lib Dems would “replace our nuclear deterrent with unarmed missiles”.

Clegg had boasted about blocking the Tories on Trident while deputy prime minister in the coalition government, but the party reinstated a policy of supporting the use of a nuclear deterrent two years ago under Tim Farron.

Swinson said in a flagship election interview that she was prepared to use nuclear warheads, while her party’s manifesto pledges to maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent while international deals on disarmament are sought.

On leaving the EU, under the heading “The Liberal Democrats cannot understand why anyone in the country voted for Brexit,” the authors back up the claim with comments made by the party’s environment spokeswoman, Wera Hobhouse.

“Wera Hobhouse called the ‘angry’ public ‘spoiled and selfish’, claiming they just don’t want to ‘share in the wealth of the country’,” the briefing note claims.

Hobhouse made those comments on her blog in 2014 – two years before the referendum was held.

The Guardian contacted the Conservative party for comment but had not received a response by the time of publication.

Earlier this month, the Guardian revealed how Conservative candidates had been told not to sign up to specific pledges on protecting the NHS from privatisation and trade deals or tackling climate change.

The 11-page briefing note explained the party’s position on nine key areas and “strongly advises” prospective Tory MPs “against signing up to any pledges” unless they have been agreed from the centre. However, it said supporting shooting was allowed “as an important part of rural life”.

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