Tories accused of breaking own code of conduct over Twitter rebrand

20 November 2019, 16:30 | Updated: 20 November 2019, 16:52

The Conservative Party has been accused of
The Conservative Party has been accused of breaking their own editorial guidelines after rebranding their Twitter page . Picture: PA/Twitter
Kate Buck

By Kate Buck

The Conservative Party has been accused of breaking its own editorial guidelines after rebranding their press office Twitter page as a fact-checking service.

The Tories came under fire last night after changing the Conservative Party Headquarters press office account was renamed "factcheckUK" during a TV debate on ITV.

The account then offered commentary on statements made on Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and retweeted messages of support for Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Now, a fact-checking service from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) have accused the Tories of "breaking their own code of conduct" by making the change.

According to Tory Party rules, members who are found to be in breach of the code can can be suspended or even expelled.

In an open letter to Tory Party Chairman James Cleverly, CILIP have called for an investigation into the change.

The Conservative Code of Conduct says the party will "act with honesty and probity and in a manner which upholds the reputation and values of the Conservative Party. Such duty is fundamental."

The Tory Party press office rebranded itself as "factcheckerUK" during a TV debate on ITV
The Tory Party press office rebranded itself as "factcheckerUK" during a TV debate on ITV. Picture: Twitter

It continues: "Conduct which the public may reasonably perceive as undermining a representative’s honesty and probity is likely to diminish trust and confidence placed in them, and the Party, by the public.”

Speaking to LBC News, CILIP's chief executive Nick Poole, said the party "clearly have" broken their own code of conduct and added there was a "clear danger" in what they had done.

"There's a basic standard that a citizen should expect of their public institutions and and one of those is not to intentionally to lie to them," he said.

"We think on this occasion they have failed to meet that standard. That's why we're challenging it.

Nick Poole, chief executive of CILIP, has called for there to be an investigation
Nick Poole, chief executive of CILIP, has called for there to be an investigation. Picture: Supplied

He added: "I think some of the statements that have been put out defending and justifying the action today are wholly insufficient and the implications of what's been done.

"One of the things we had from the Conservative Party in government was about the need to avoid online harms, and here they are causing an online harm.

"When you look at the code of conduct it's entirely clear that they need to be honest, they need to be truthful and have integrity.

"None of those things add up to changing the name on their Twitter account to purport to be a fact checker.

When asked what the Tories were trying to achieve, he said: "I think it's part of a communications strategy which is about positioning the information they're putting out as an authoritative rebuttal of what's being presented by the Labour party.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn went head-to-head last night
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn went head-to-head last night. Picture: PA

"I can understand the underlying thinking but at no point has the Labour party purported to be a fact-checking service."

When challenged on it, Mr Cleverly claimed his party changed the account to "Stop Labour's lies", but was further criticised after being accused of misleading the public to claim that Corbyn was misleading the public.

So far, the Tory Party has refused to apologise for the move, which has attracted mass criticism.

Mr Poole continued: "I think it was a terrible call, I think it was a mistake and rather than defending it I think there is an opportunity here for them to learn a lesson and to make a clear statement about truth and evidence in public life.

"Any strong democracy depends on accurate information. People have the ability to make up their own minds about the rights or wrongs of any decision or policy.

"But they have to be presented with the best available information. What you're essentially doing by allowing political parties to misrepresent is removing people's democratic right to choose."

LBC News has contacted the Conservative Party for comment.

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