Why coverage of the Liberal Democrats’ misleading leaflets could benefit them

For a small party in recovery mode, all publicity may be good publicity. 


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You have probably all seen them by now. The Liberal Democrats have been posting some rather strange leaflets through people's letterboxes.

First there were the bar charts claiming that the Lib Dems were vastly outperforming Labour in Jacob Rees-Mogg's constituency of North East Somerset (two years ago the Lib Dems got less than a quarter of the Labour vote there). Then in London they distributed a leaflet with a flattering quote attributed to the Guardian. Unfortunately for them, one such leaflet ended up on the doormat of the Guardian's political editor Heather Stewart, who promptly pointed out that the endorsement was bogus.

The paper had indeed written that the "Lib Dems were winning and on the up". But only because their journalists had been quoting party leader Jo Swinson. The independent fact-checking website Full Fact described the leaflet as "misleading and irresponsible".

But for the politically engaged, it is easy to forget just how important any exposure is to the Lib Dems. The country at large does not necessarily know who they are or what they stand for. Swinson used her party's conference to adopt a policy of revoking Article 50 because the decision grabbed headlines. Only a month later, at the Lib Dem campaign launch, Swinson seemed to row back and advocate her party's former position of a "People's Vote".

These undeniably mendacious leaflets are low fruit for journalists  just look at how Sky News tried to corner Lib Dem candidate Luciana Berger on the issue today. But in the same interview, the former MP had the opportunity to broadcast her own strong chances of winning Finchley and Golders Green. Never forget that the Lib Dems won only 12 seats at the last general election in 2017. Coverage is not a given.

Silly though the leaflets are, they grab people's attention. And any time a Lib Dem candidate is given airspace, it can only improve the party's chances.

George Grylls is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2019.

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