U.K. Tories Balk at Ads Attacking Labour in Latest Party Row
(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is embroiled in another row over ethics, with members of Parliament battling over a decision to target Labour lawmakers with personalized attack ads.
A number of MPs argued against the move in a private Conservative WhatsApp group aimed at sharing graphics to promote on social media, according to messages seen by Bloomberg. “These ads lead directly to attacks on MPs and their families and they stoke up hatred of politicians,” Miriam Cates wrote.
The new adverts target Labour MPs in marginal seats as well as leader Keir Starmer’s top team, including Jonathan Reynolds and Yvette Cooper. They focus on the party’s opposition to the government’s Nationality and Borders Bill.
The ads have stirred up concerns about the at times toxic culture in British politics, with MPs frequently facing abuse and threats over their stance on sensitive issues. Two lawmakers have been murdered since the bitter Brexit referendum campaign in 2016.
The row also underscores ongoing tensions within Johnson’s party over ethics, an issue that brought the premier to the brink earlier this year after the prime minister’s botched attempt to protect a Tory colleague and following a slew of allegations about law-breaking parties in Downing Street during the pandemic.
“Your MP voted to keep illegal migrants in Britain,” the adverts read, alongside a black and white image of the MP’s face. The campaign comes just two weeks before the U.K.’s local elections on May 5, as the Tories risk a drubbing over Johnson’s handling of “partygate.”
The graphics illustrate how the Tory party sees its stance on illegal migration as a key dividing line with Labour and hopes it will win over wavering voters. But the ads do not have universal support among Conservative MPs.
“This is very, very disappointing,” Tory MP Cates wrote on WhatsApp. Her colleague Jackie Doyle-Price said the party should “hold ourselves to good standards of behavior.”
But MP Jonathan Gullis intervened to say lawmakers should let Conservative campaign officials “do what they want to do, in what they believe is the best way to retain our seats.”
Gullis declined to comment further when approached by Bloomberg. There was no immediate response from Cates and Doyle-Price. The Conservative Party also had no immediate comment.
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