Will you put two fingers up to the political "robocallers"?

How to avoid telephone tactics in the run-up to the general election.

While you may seek cheap thrills from telling political campaigners exactly what you think of their parties, you've got no such capacity when you're hit with a so-called "robocall".

The Labour Party found itself in hot water recently when the Information Commissioner's Office said it had breached privacy rules by making unsolicited automated "robocalls" -- voiced by the Coronation Street star Liz Dawn -- to 495,000 people. But the Lib Dems, the Tories and the SNP have used the gimmick, too.

In the run-up to the election, it's likely these and other telephonic tactics will be on the increase.

But fear not, because help is at hand for those who prefer not to receive their campaigning, unsolicited, down the dog and bone. A new website has been set up by the inventor Steve Smith, who made TV history on Dragon's Den last summer when he received offers from all five Dragons on the show for his trueCall nuisance-call-blocking device.

He's set up If you register on this site, Smith promises to send your details to the main political parties, asking them not to contact you by phone. If they persist, he's pledges, he will name and shame the culprits.

"This is a growing problem and the parties that do it are worse than cowboy telemarketers," Smith said. "These calls can be made for a penny each, so the politicians can very cheaply flood the country with calls. It is extremely intrusive."

Not everyone will be signing up for the service, mind. Smith's company carried out its own research with MORI in October 2008 and found that although most voters would not be happy if a political party rang them and played a recorded message, a sizable 25 per cent clearly quite like the sound of a political robot's voice.

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Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.