Australian charity workers or local Tory activists? Shropshire Tories struggle to tell the difference

This is from the “Department of You Couldn’t Make It Up”.

With less than a month to go to the May local elections here in Shropshire, the county Conservative group has had to halt delivery of its election manifesto. This came after we discovered the image of local activists at the head of the manifesto was lifted from the website of an Australian mental health charity.

All up elections for Shropshire unitary council will take place on 4 May. Postal votes arrive at the end of next week. All parties are pushing literature through letterboxes and knocking on doors.

The local Tory manifesto was published at the beginning of the month but I didn’t get to see a full copy until early this week. A photo on the front page troubled me. It didn’t look like a photograph of Shropshire Tories but I couldn’t put my finger on quite what was wrong.

It was only after a long night’s writing that it clicked. My mind was tired and idling but I suddenly realised what so niggled me about the photograph. The group of “activists” had twelve women and just one man. For an image used in this context, most of us would strive for a rough gender balance. I then discovered that one of the women was clutching a can of Xero, a brand I don’t think is sold in this country.

I was now very suspicious. I took a snap of the manifesto and fed it into Google for a reverse image search. In seconds, the search engine had identified the origins of the photo. It is a staff photo for the mental health charity, Grow, based in Queensland, Australia. It was taken on 28 June 2013 and shows the Tasmanian and Queensland staff.

Local media helped me check that this is not a stock image. They contacted the charity and the local Conservatives for comment. The charity has yet to respond and may choose to keep out of a political firefight. The Conservatives initially shrugged off the issue. “Nonsense.” “No-one’s complained.” “Hasn’t whoever’s doing this got better things to do?”

I think exposing this sort of conduct is a good thing to do. I demanded that the Tories withdraw the leaflet. They should apologise to the charity and compensate it.

Yesterday lunchtime, we learnt that the Tories had ordered distribution of the leaflet to be halted. They have also apologised to the charity. I suspect they may have had a word with their lawyers.

This story is all about trust. If the Tories use an image purporting to be of Tory enthusiasts but they are really charity workers on the other side of the world, why should we trust them to tell the truth about anything else? This is the party that has for so long declared itself “the party of law and order”. But lifting of an image from a charity website seems okay for them.

I cannot believe any political party would use a photo from a charity without permission. Even as local politicians, we must obey election law to the letter. It defies belief that the Conservatives decided to use this image rather than a photo of their own supporters. I reckon that they have been in power too long and have lost any sense of reality.

We all have different perspectives on what needs to be done in Shropshire. But we should never walk away from being honest. By using a picture of hard working mental health workers on the other side of the planet, Shropshire Conservatives have brought local politics into serious disrepute.

Our county deserves better than this. We Lib Dems are fighting as hard as we can, putting up 48 candidates (there are 74 seats).

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem living in Shropshire, and a former editor for Lib Dem Voice

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • nigel hunter 13th Apr '17 - 11:19am

    Good on you. Spread the word of their lack of responsibility . Oh! also the election fraud issue.(in case my other comment was over the top!)

  • Have you been to the Nationals? I’d imagine The Guardian, Mirror or Independent would be interested in a story like this.

  • nigel hunter 13th Apr '17 - 11:53am

    To me,to get the respect of the voter, we must be clean and be shown to be. plus show how devious the opposition can be.

  • Andrew McCaig 13th Apr '17 - 2:03pm

    That is the sort of thing that happens if you put your literature in the hands of marketing companies. I always despair in university admissions brochures of the tendency to use generic photos of happy young people with no context…

  • Ampleforth Jim 13th Apr '17 - 3:11pm

    Why do Grow not have a gender-balanced staff team?

  • To Ian comment, bring to attention of national Lib Dem press office, they will ‘help’ get this out to wider national and social media 🙂

  • Philip Knowles 14th Apr '17 - 9:12am

    People in glass houses…
    Remember this from last week.
    Canvass photo on her own doorstep.

  • nigel hunter 14th Apr '17 - 10:11am

    We must be purer than pure and make sure we do not slip up. However the opposition do not have the same scruples and will exploit whenever they can. Doing the same as they do labels us as no different, is that what we want?

  • Patrick Coleman 14th Apr '17 - 12:49pm

    I am reminded of a Tory leaflet in the Manchester Exchange by-election of 1973 (Liberal candidate Michael Steed), which headlined Tories listening to the problems faced by young people, with a photo of their by-election candidate, in a cafe or restaurant, with a group of “local youngsters” – among whom you could identify the (then) 33-year old John Gummer, Tory MP for Lewisham West (who – if not exactly a young person – indeed had a problem as he was about to lose his seat, in Feb 1974), aLONG with a couple of the members of the Manchester University FCS (tory students).
    The local cafe was in fact a university cafeteria – perhaps then a “safe space” for Tories.
    A further digression – the Tory candidate got 683 votes – 7.1% of a total turnout of less than 10,000 votes – with 4th place going to Ruth Pushkin, Marxist-Leninist

  • nigel hunter 14th Apr '17 - 7:24pm

    If they still deliver it it should be still pointed out.

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