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Tories blasted for tax-funded calls

Frantic Strood electioneering saw special advisers drafted in

TORY ministers were condemned yesterday for ordering their publicly funded special advisers to campaign for the party during the Rochester & Strood by-election.

Parliament’s public accounts committee said it was “unacceptable” that ministers told advisers to take part in phone canvassing for Tory candidate Kelly Tolhurst.

The politically appointed civil servants, paid by central government, were scrambled by Tory chiefs in November as part of a doomed campaign to hold on to the seat after Ukip defector Mark Reckless had resigned.

Unnamed ministers directed and put “informal pressure” on their special advisers to pitch in, the MPs ruled in a report published yesterday. They also found assurances given to the staff were “wrong in law.”

Ministers told advisers to rely on a letter from Conservative Party HQ, which is not their employer, as proof they were not breaching the civil servants’ code of conduct.

Labour shadow cabinet minister Jonathan Ashworth said: “This is the latest blow to the Tories’ chaotic campaign.

“The parliamentary authorities have delivered a damning assessment of the No 10 operation, and we now need to know which ministers were complicit in issuing this ‘misguided’ advice.”

No ministers were named and shamed by the report. But the orders are believed to have been issued by Cabinet member and Conservative chairman Grant Shapps.

The right-wing Guido Fawkes blog reported that Home Secretary Theresa May’s special adviser Nick Timothy was stopped from standing for the Tories at the general election for defying the order.

Mr Timothy apparently argued that phone canvassing for the Tories did breach the code of conduct.

The latest scandal comes after the Star reported that Tory ministers were using taxpayer-funded official visits to tour swing seats.

Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood came under pressure to stop Tory ministers “electioneering at taxpayers’ expense.”

And Mr Ashworth called on the government yesterday to ensure special advisers will not be used to campaign in the general election.

“Given the proximity of the election campaign, we need a formal government response today which outlines how No10 will ensure no rules will be broken over the role played by special advisers,” he said.

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