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Case update 02 May 2024

Villains assemble: Tories forced to reveal links with election dark ops firms

By Jo Maugham

The Tories have had to come clean on the dirty campaigners they’re working with. We’re fighting to stop political parties illegally gathering data and targeting voters with bespoke misinformation.

After stalling for months, the Tories have finally folded and told me what they have been doing with my data: sharing it with shady PR companies, dodgy campaigners and a cabal of rightwing journalists.

Back in January I asked the Tories how they’ve been using all the information they’ve collected about me, as part of Good Law Project’s work to stop political parties from illegally gathering people’s data.

The material they’d gathered ran to more than 1,300 pages of A4. But they wouldn’t say who they had shared it with – which was unlawful. 

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It was only when we told them we were preparing formal legal action that they handed over the list of shady characters they’d been working with – throwing some light on the type of grubby tactics we can likely expect to see in the upcoming general election.

First on the list was Topham Guerin – the PR company who tried to run a paid-for smear campaign against Good Law Project at the end of last year. They wanted to find influencers who would discredit us for cash because – like patients, cross-party MPs, civil liberties groups and the British Medical Association – we had raised concerns about a £330m deal between spy-tech firm Palantir and the government to process millions of medical records.

Unfortunately for them, the scheme collapsed after Topham Guerin sent their pitch to someone we’d worked with before – who promptly let us know what the PR firm was up to.

The Tories have also shared my data with CTF Partners and the CT Group, two firms run by election strategist Sir Lynton Crosby, whose history of divisive campaigns includes Zac Goldsmith’s ugly bid for London Mayor in 2016. CTF Partners has spread disinformation for Saudi Arabia and other major polluters, while the CT Group has recently been in the High Court accused of unlawful information gathering.

To top it all off, the Tories have shared information about me with a rogues’ gallery of rightwing media companies, including the Sun, the Express, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and Guido Fawkes. We’ve long suspected close links between the Tories and their client journalists in the gutter press: this appears to confirm it. 

As the Tories gather an election unit to smear, misinform and muckrake, Good Law Project will be working to stop political parties illegally gathering data and targeting voters, particularly in key marginal seats, with bespoke misinformation.

We’ve already seen the Tories launch data grabs including an online tax tool, an MP’s bizarre petition for a chip shop and their London Mayor candidate Susan Hall’s dodgy parking ticket campaign. While the Observer has uncovered that Conservative staff and activists are “secretly operating a network of Facebook groups that have become a hotbed of racism, misinformation and support for criminal damage”.

The Tories won’t be the only political party trying to gather information about voters during the election. We’re keeping our eyes peeled to make sure that when they do, they do it within the law.

With a general election looming, it’s time to fight for democracy. Anything you can give to support our work will help us shine a light on these shady campaigning schemes and put us all back in control.

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