Thursday, 19 April 2018

The tories have some nerve to cry foul over Gower

Yesterday - thanks to the help of an obviously planted question - the tory PM Theresa May used PMQs to imply that an erroneous tweet by a Swansea cafe manager cost the Conservative candidate the Gower seat in last year's UK general election.This of course is utter nonsense.The Conservative candidate - Byron Davies - lost Gower by over 3000 votes and the tweet referred to was only retweeted a handful of times. And rather than pursuing what appears to be a mean spirited vendetta against people for misusing social media Byron Davies would do well to reflect on the fact it was the tories disastrous general election campaign - and May's inept leadership of that campaign - which saw him lose in Gower. In fact Byron Davies himself said as much in a interview with Walesonline 3 days after the election


Byron Davies of course is the Chairperson of the Welsh Conservatives and last year the Welsh tories were in the news for all the wrong reasons following questions that arose about their use during the UK general election campaign of a call centre on Byron Davies doorstep - Neath. Following an investigation by the Information Commissioner's Office the tories received a formal warning with regards to their use of the Blue Telecoms call centre during the campaign, with the Commissioner's Office reporting that parts of scripts used by canvassers crossed the line from legitimate market research to unlawful direct marketing. So in other words the Conservatives in Wales were guilty of carrying out unlawful direct marketing.

The ICO had become involved following an undercover investigation of the neath call centre by channel 4 journalists which was screened by the channel two weeks later and which can be watched online here : https://www.channel4.com/news/revealed-inside-the-secretive-tory-election-call-centre

The investigation uncovered underhand and arguably unlawful practices at the Neath call centre in calls made on behalf of the Conservative Party. Among the allegations the programme raised were that the Welsh Conservatives:

● Used paid canvassing on behalf of Conservative election candidates - banned under Election law (Representation of the Peoples Act) 
● Carried out political cold calling to prohibited numbers
● Made misleading calls claiming to be from an ‘independent market research company’ which does not apparently exist

South Wales Police also initiated an investigation into the the call centre's use releasing a statement which said "South Wales Police can confirm it is investigating allegations relating to the Representation of the People Act 1983".

On the 8th of June - the eve of general election day - callers at Blue Telecoms were told that they would spend the day making calls on behalf of Conservative parliamentary candidates contesting marginal seats in Wales. Channel 4 News obtained evidence of ten key marginal seats targeted by the call centre, and among these was the Gower constituency (Byron Davies had captured the seat by just 27 votes in 2015 - the first time the tories had ever won the Welsh seat).

The undercover investigation also revealed the Neath call centre was visited by a senior Welsh Conservative Party official on election day itself and the day before, and that official was revealed to be Richard Minshull the Director of the Welsh Conservatives. We don't know if any other senior Welsh tories visited the call centre or liaised with its head Sascha Lopez. But it is certainly legitimate for people to ask if any tory candidates in the Welsh marginals being targeted - such as Byron Davies in Gower - visited or communicated with the controversial neath call centre during last year's general election campaign? And to ask what knowledge he may have had of the call centre? and of its unlawful direct marketing on behalf of Conservatives in marginal Welsh seats. For some reason these seemingly obvious questions don't appear to have been raised in the Welsh media during reporting of the investigation last year. But in view of Theresa May's ill informed comment on the Gower poll yesterday it seems entirely fair to ask such questions now.

I do appreciate that Byron Davies and his family would have been hurt by the false allegation made in the aforementioned tweet, for which he has now received a public apology and been awarded what is being reported as a substantial financial settlement. Yet Byron Davies appears to be unconcerned by the hurt he caused the writer and broadcaster Mike Parker when labeling Mike a racist when he contested Ceredigion for Plaid Cymru in 2015. And nearly three years on Byron Davies has yet to issue an apology to Mike Parker for that hurtful slur.

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