War of words over leaflets in Britian’s politics

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Apr 07, 2016 17:06 IST
Prime Minister David Cameron holds a Q&A session on the European Union referendum with staff of PricewaterhouseCoopers on April 5. (Reuters)

Political leaflets with a history dating back to the 15th century seem incongruous in the age of digital communications, but British politics is engaged in a high-voltage war of words on and through leaflets.

Millions of homes have been sent leaflets focussed on two forthcoming events: the May 5 election for the London mayor and the June 23 referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, with campaigns for both raising the decibel level by the day.

Many London voters of Indian origin have criticised the alleged “racial profiling” in leaflets sent by Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, who used photos with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, visits to temples, and other India links to woo them.

On Thursday, Prime Minister David Cameron came under fire for using £9 million of taxpayers’ money to send leaflets propagating his government’s position that Britain should remain in the EU.

Is it a bid to divert attention from the Panama Papers row?

Many in the Brexit camp and even some Tory MPs think so. Cameron has been under pressure to come clean on his family’s role revealed in the offshore leaks. His late father Ian Cameron reportedly used offshore companies to avoid paying tax in Britain.

The “Vote Leave” camp said in a statement: “Number Ten is trying to distract the media’s attention from the issue of whether the Prime Minister’s family money is kept in offshore trusts. The government promised that it would not take on the lead role in the referendum, so it’s disgraceful that they’re spending taxpayers’ money which could go to the NHS on EU propaganda instead.”

Defence secretary Michael Fallon justified the pro-EU leaflets, saying the government is not neutral on the referendum, and is entitled to propagate its position.

But his party MP Graham Stringer was not impressed: “One can only think this (pro-EU leaflets) is an attempt to divert attention from the PM’s immediate problem about his income.”

Another Conservative MP, Liam Fox, said: “I don’t want my taxes to be used for pro-EU propaganda so when I get my leaflet I’m going to stick it in an envelope addressed to Number 10 and I would suggest others do the same.”

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