Claims emerged last night that the Conservatives may have committed election fraud by using a secretive call centre for what is alleged to be paid canvassing.
Channel 4 News revealed that the call centre may have broken data protection and electoral laws. Staff at the call centre were given a script to read to thousands of voters in key marginal seats in the lead-up to the election.
It is illegal to pay somebody to canvass under electoral law. Despite this, callers were instructed to say that they were “calling on behalf of Theresa May and the Conservative Party” – a clear breach of these laws.
The calls targeted undecided voters in marginal constituencies with ‘facts’ such as that ‘Jeremy Corbyn is not concerned about the numbers of people coming to live in the UK and it was reported on Sky News this year that Theresa May has restated her pledge to reduce net migration’.
Channel 4 also revealed that the script included key campaign soundbites, despite posing as market research. The script contained May’s claim that losing just six seats would result in Labour victory, and asking misleading questions, such as ‘Just thinking about these reports in the media and the reports that you live in a marginal constituency that may determine who is Prime Minister. Does that make you more likely to back Theresa May or more likely to vote for Jeremy Corbyn?’ Misleading participants with opinions and leading questions is also against industry regulations.
The scandal thickens as it was revealed that callers were told to identify themselves as part of ‘Axe Research’. No such company exists. A spokesman said that the call centre is run by Blue Telecoms as a ‘trading style’ of the Lopez Group, adding to the evidence of secretive and irregular process uncovered at this call centre.
The Channel 4 allegations could result on charges on different counts. Data Protection Law states that callers must say truthfully who they are and how the data will be used. Electoral Laws state that paying canvassers is prohibited.
The investigation also alleges that numerous calls were made to numbers registered on the Telephone Preference Service – again, a practice that is banned except for legitimate market research.
The Conservative Party alleges that it has not broken the law, and that the ‘market research’ scripts directly supplied to the call centre comply with all laws and regulations.
We believe that they will aim to sweep this scandal under the rug. The investigation is ongoing.