Labour has reported fake election leaflets in the Batley & Spen by-election to the police in the belief that someone is attempting to smear the party's candidate in the contest to replace the late MP Jo Cox.
The leaflets, which use a crude copy of the style used by the pro-EU Stronger In campaign during the EU referendum, ostensibly appear to be in support of Batley & Spen Labour candidate Tracy Brabin.
A Labour spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the leaflets had been pushed through doors in the town of Cleckheaton early on Monday morning. It is a criminal offence to distribute election material without an accurate imprint setting out who is responsible for its content.
Former Stronger In staff confirmed they were not responsible for the leaflets, which say: "Stronger IN have an excellent Remain candidate Tracy Brabin who is standing for Labour and who will do everything she can in parliament to try to overturn and derail the disastrous referendum election result."
Labour believes the leaflet is an attempt to smear its candidate by emphasising her pro-EU stance. Voters in the Batley & Spen local council area voted Leave in the referendum and anti-immigration parties have previously done well in the area.
The publication goes on to say that people should vote for the "Labour Remain candidate" and stop the English Democrats, who are putting forward "the only credible Leave candidate" in the election.
Cox, a Labour MP, was killed on 16 June after attending a constituency surgery in Birstall, near Leeds. The UK's other major political parties chose not to stand in the subsequent by-election, meaning Labour is fighting a selection of independent candidates and fringe right-wing anti-immigrant parties, such as the English Democrats.
In the leaflet, the English Democrats candidate, Therese Hirst, is described as "standing for those appalling English nationalists" with policies such as "their Racist 'English jobs for English workers' and an end to 'foreigners' getting 'our' welfare benefits and social housing".
The leaflet appears to be an attempt to subliminally push anti-EU voters towards the English Democrats, although the party's chairman told BuzzFeed News his party had no involvement and was considering whether he should make his own formal complaint to the police.
“We’ve distributed our general recruitment leaflet and we’ve got leaflets being distributed by post," said English Democrats chairman Robin Tilbrook, who said he did not recognise the leaflet and insisted it would be "a bit weird" for the English Democrats to distribute material attacking themselves.
When the leaflet was read out to him he said there were elements of truth, although he strongly criticised any suggestion he led a racist party.
"If it’s saying that Therese Hirst is the challenger to Tracy Brabin and Labour then that’s nothing more or less than the BBC was saying the other day," said Tilbrook. "We are the leading Leave-supporting party in that election and Therese has a long history of being a Leave campaigner – she was previously the leader of Veritas. And she’s the only one who has a credible track record of standing in the area.
"We’re not a racist party. In the Witney by-election we’ve put up a black Englishman: Winston McKenzie. I reject the idea that we’re a racist party."
The anti-immigrant English Democrats are joined on the ballot paper by the far-right BNP, National Front, and Liberty GB.
Another independent candidate, standing under the name "Corbyn Anti", also happens to be a recent English Democrats parliamentary candidate who was previously known as Neil Humphrey. However, the English Democrats chairman rejected claims this was part of a campaign to drive up the party's vote in the by-election by taking votes away from Labour.
"We would rather he hadn’t stood," said Tilbrook. "That will certainly be attended to in the relatively near future if he is still a member. Standing against the party is a reason for which you can be expelled."
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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Marie Le Conte is a politics and media reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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