Conservatives risk bringing Hartlepool by election into disrepute by amplifying material from US-based misinformation peddlers
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has demanded the Conservatives apologise after it emerged the party has been amplifying misinformation from US-based conspiracy theorists during the Hartlepool by-election.
Rayner has written to Conservative Party co-chair Amanda Milling after attacks on Labour’s candidate, Dr Paul Williams, posted on the US-based ‘Hartlepool TV’ Facebook page were shared by official party accounts. Misleading claims about Dr Paul’s role in removing services from the local hospital were shared by the Conservatives and Reform UK.
The creators of Hartlepool TV run a number of social media pages – including Henderson TV and S&P TV – which have promoted different conspiracies about Covid-19 vaccines, the US Capitol Breach and voting fraud in the 2020 US elections. Labour is choosing not to share these videos, but they are freely accessible online.
In her letter, Rayner said: “It is incredibly serious to find that official Conservative Party channels have been sharing and amplifying [Hartlepool TV] content.”
Calling for the Tories to apologise for the attacks and for aiding the spread of inaccurate material, she added: “It is right that election campaigning is forthright and passionate. However, it must not stray into misleading and inaccurate claims and it must also not be used as a vehicle for the spreading of hate, conspiracy theory and misinformation.”
The full text of the letter:
I’m sure you will agree with me that our NHS workers have been among the heroes of the pandemic. That is why I’m sure you will also share my concern that Hartlepool Conservatives have been sharing dangerous misinformation from US-based conspiracy theorists seeking to undermine the work done by doctors in the local area.
Labour’s candidate for the Hartlepool by-election, Dr Paul Williams, is a GP of more than 20 years’ standing. Steve and Pam Gooderham’s attacks on Dr Paul on their ‘Hartlepool TV’ Facebook page can be found alongside videos about supposed voting fraud. On their other channels there are claims the US Capitol Riot was a staged event, that the US election was fraudulent and material undermining public confidence in COVID vaccines. It is incredibly serious that official Conservative Party channels have been sharing and amplifying their content.
More concerning still is the fact you appear to have amplified their claims in your own recent articles: https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/19243345.labour-candidate-accused-hospital-hypocrite-report-recommended-cutting-services/
We both know these attacks are dishonest – Dr Paul neither commissioned nor co-authored this report. The Conservatives alone are responsible for the NHS cuts which took Hartlepool hospital close to breaking point. You had already closed the town’s A&E department two years earlier. As the medical director for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said at the time, the closure of ICU services was necessary “to preserve and improve quality and safety.”
Dr Paul is proud of the work he and a co-operative of fellow local GPs have done and continue to do, providing care to 300,000 patients through their non-profit collective – set up to fight off competition from private companies like Virgin Healthcare.
It brought family doctors in the town together to provide extra services to local people. These include the Urgent Care Centre at the hospital, introducing social prescribing in every practice and extending opening hours so people could see a doctor in the evening and at weekends. All budget surpluses are invested back into the local community – not into the pockets of private shareholders and cronies.
The British people know that it is successive Conservative governments that cut NHS budgets, closed hospitals and downgraded services. North Tees and Hartlepool NHS faced £40m of cuts between 2011 and 2014 alone. The fact is that your Government’s most recent Budget imposed more cuts on the NHS and the pay of NHS staff.
The Prime Minister personally knows the value of the efforts of NHS workers on the front line of the Covid crisis. It is an insult for the Conservative Party to attack NHS staff for making difficult decisions in the interests of their patients’ safety, forced upon them by Conservative cuts.
It is right that election campaigning is forthright and passionate. However, it must not stray into misleading and inaccurate claims and it must also not be used as a vehicle for the spreading of hate, conspiracy theory and misinformation.
Can I ask that, in order to avoid bringing the election into disrepute, you:
- Immediately ensure that Hartlepool Conservatives delete these claims from all social media and post a full apology for amplifying channels that spread misinformation?
- Apologise for your own role in spreading these stories?
- Endeavour to ensure that the source of all information shared by Conservative Party channels is thoroughly fact checked in future?
- Apologise to those on the NHS frontline who the Conservative campaign has attacked?
Angela Rayner MP