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How Political Parties Create "Grassroots" Letters To Send To Newspapers

Open letters keep appearing on front pages during the election. How do they get there, and who is responsible?

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In this election there have been letter-writing campaigns all over the front pages of newspapers, including this one in Monday's Daily Telegraph.

Telegraph

The story explains that the leaders of 5,000 small companies "signed a letter backing David Cameron and warned that Labour would pose a risk to the economic recovery".

The letter, which was sent exclusively to the Daily Telegraph, says it was organised by Conservative supporter and West Ham vice chair Karren Brady. It does not directly mention any involvement of the Conservative party campaign headquarters, also known as CCHQ.

In reality, the letter appears to have been created by CCHQ in Brady's name.

BuzzFeed News

This email was sent by Brady on 12 April to individuals signed up to the Conservatives' Team2015 campaign.

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Click the link and you are taken to a landing page on the Conservative website.

Conservatives

On the page, Conservative-supporting small-business owners are encouraged to hand over their contact details and pledge their name to the letter. It seems that around 5,000 of these names have been collated into an Excel document that, almost a fortnight after the email, formed the basis of the Telegraph front page.

However, the Conservatives appear to have forgotten to strip out data confirming they packaged the story.

Full letter from business owners on Telegraph website contains metadata showing it was authored by CCHQ. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Metadata attached to the PDF file on the Telegraph's website shows that the 5,000-strong letter was put together on a computer controlled by "CCHQ-Admin".

Coordinated letter-writing has not been an exclusively Conservative habit during this election, nor is it reserved for any newspaper in particular.

Guardian

Labour attempted to fight back against an initial Conservative letter by organising its own letter backing Ed Miliband. This was described as being signed by businesspeople, celebrity backers, and zero hours contract workers. But BuzzFeed News understands that some of the zero hours contract workers were also prominent veterans of the Labour party's youth wing.

The Liberal Democrats organised their own business letter, which was leaked mid-way through the signing process and then ended up in the Financial Times.

In short, absolutely everyone in politics is writing letters, they're largely stage-managed, and the signatories often come from existing core supporters.

Parties keep producing them because newspapers are willing to run stories about these letters on their front pages, and broadcasters' news agendas are guided by the same papers. It works: Monday morning's bulletins included reference to the Conservatives' small-business letter.

Still, having substantial numbers of party sympathisers willing to put their name to a public letter is not completely without merit.

But some political journalists are starting to despair.

I need 100 signatories for a letter begging political parties to stop organising supportive letters. Who's in?

@PickardJE @faisalislam it needs to be 100 people who have said the same thing before over and over again to make it newsworthy

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

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