Duncan Sandes and the diddled Western Morning News poll

Posted by Tim Ireland at July 31, 2008

Category: The Political Weblog Movement

This entry was posted on
Thursday, July 31st, 2008
12:35 pm and is filed
under The Political Weblog Movement.

Independent – Pandora: Tory press office in a spin over poll fix: To coincide with Cameron’s holiday in Padstow, the Western Morning News ran an online poll this week to find out whether locals thought Cameron would make a good Prime Minister. With the poll going heavily against him, a zealous staffer decided to try and shore up some support… To spare his blushes, I shan’t reveal the press officer’s name, but his colleagues aren’t best pleased with him. “It was an over-enthusiastic response from a member of staff,” says a party spokesperson when I call. “It is not something that the party would condone at all.”

The Pandora peeps are going needlessly easy on this nitwit; he was outed by another newspaper two days ago:

The Times – Tories rig local newspaper poll?

—–Original Message—–
From: Sandes, Duncan [mailto:Duncan.Sandes@Conservatives.com]
Sent: 29 July 2008 13:59
To: [76 Tory constituency and councillor e-mail addresses across the South West];

Subject: WMN poll – please vote

dear all,
the Western Morning News is running an online poll to coincide with
David Cameroin’s visit to Cornwall, asking if he would make a good
the bad news is that, as it stands, 76 per cent have said “no”.
the good news is only 230-odd people have voted.
so, if you can spare 2 minutes can you please go on and register your
vote for “yes” – it shouldnt take too long to change the percentage
if you follow this link:
and look for the large blue box to the centre right of the screen.
can you also please pass this on to all helpers, campaigner,s members
you can think of so we can push the percentage the right way.

many thanks,


Duncan Sandes

Conservative regional press officer – South West

1. Pay particular attention to his desire to ‘correct’ the poll so that it goes the ‘right’ way. He’s not doing anything wrong; he’s merely ‘righting’ a wrong!

2. Take a look at the comments under that story (and perhaps over at Bob Piper’s) and look for someone called ‘Simon’ (or ‘Richard’ or ‘Jim’ or ‘Laura’ or ‘Betty’ or ‘Archie’ or ‘ Veronica’ or…) who thinks it’s very important that he/she tell as many people as possible (as often as possible) how dull this story is and that everybopdy else is at it, too.

3. Note also under comments that only Justin (here, over at Bob’s) provides an example of someone other than the Tories doing anything like this. I’ve noticed many Tory bloggers and comment contributors making similar noises and playing this same game; they claim that the opposition is up to no good or guilty of equal/greater sins than the one they’ve just been caught at, but they never seem to come up with any evidence. Here, once more, I’ll happily show them how it’s done:

Other examples of Tory diddles and fixes include the sad tale of Grant Shapps, who, as Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party “with responsibility for campaigning”, unsuccessfully posed as a disheartened Liberal Democrat during the Ealing Southall by-election. Iain Dale, the only blogger who appeared to believe Grant Shapps’ story (that ‘someone’ accessed his YouTube account after guessing his password; ‘1234’), is himself no stranger to poll-rigging, and was recently caught red-handed inflating/misrepresenting his traffic figures (to this day he refuses to admit that he got caught cheating despite clear evidence to the contrary). It’s also definitely worth mentioning this similar example in Guildford; where some of the massive diddling of an online poll about the local council’s actions was traced back to a Tory member of the local council*. That senior councillor’s position was that he merely (and quite reasonably, in his view) “registered two votes to what I thought was a flawed poll”.

Now pop back up to #1 quickly, before we move on…

[*Psst! The since-censored list of recipients of Sandes’ email includes many Tory councillors.]

4. That local newspaper has reported this matter, but the report (an afterthought chucked in at the bottom of an unrelated article) is missing one vital detail:

Western Morning News – EXCLUSIVE: Cameron pledge on water bills: The Tories were last night accused of trying to influence an opinion poll on the WMN website. For two weeks, the online vote showed just a quarter of people who had taken part thought a Cameron government would be good for the Westcountry. But yesterday, Duncan Sandes, the Tories’ South West press officer, sent an e-mail to activists telling them to vote to “push the percentage the right way”. Last night, the result had turned around with just a quarter of voters saying a Cameron government would be bad for the region. Lib-Dem MP Nick Harvey said: “The change in ratings is not a reflection of a sudden change in the South West’s political colours but another example of political spin.” A Tory Party spokesman said: “It was a very over-enthusiastic response by a junior member of staff and we would not condone it.” Mr Sandes declined to comment.

The vital detail that’s missing?

Duncan Sandes, South West Regional Press Officer for the Conservatives, used to work as a reporter at the Western Morning News until about a year ago.

I would’ve thought that this warranted a passing mention at least. Sandes is messing about with a poll conducted by his former employer and suddenly he doesn’t have time to speak to his former workmates? There is, at the very least, an element of human drama that’s going to waste here… which I think is a pity.

5. Western Morning News is a daily tabloid newspaper based in Plymouth. It’s published by Westcountry Publications Ltd, which is owned by Northcliffe Media Limited, which is a subsidiary of Daily Mail & General Trust plc. A tabloid ultimately owned by the Daily Mail group that’s currently bragging; “(we) brought David Cameron to the West Country” and running a series of exclusives about David Cameron might seem to the uninformed outsider to be listing ever so slightly to the right, but I’m sure you’ll be glad to know that I have received assurances that the newspaper does not in any way favour the Conservatives:

Seeking a copy of some of Duncan Sandes’ past articles for the Western Morning News, I was initially refused, and so I asked if they’d like to go on record with that refusal.

I was quickly put onto News Editor Steve Grant, who wanted to know who I was and why I wanted to see them.

Keeping in mind that I was talking to the man most likely to have cleared the above article the above incomplete afterthought chucked in at the bottom of an unrelated article, I found his insistence that I share my name and background to be most amusing. I was even more amused when he declared the conversation at an end and hung up on me when I gave him my name (which I had already offered) and suggested that he use a search engine for anything else that he might need (if indeed this kind of thing mattered all of a sudden).


No matter. I called back and somewhere between the two calls we got down to it:

I explained that Duncan Sandes’ willingness to diddle a poll run by his former employer on behalf of the leader of the Conservative Party might make a curious person want to scan his past work for that employer… just case it revealed a teeny hint of pro-Conservative bias. I then asked again if WMN would share some of his past articles with me.

Grant replied; “That won’t be possible,” and then stated, “And it never happened. Not once did I see a single bit of bias from (Sandes). If I did then he wouldn’t have been working for me.”

Well, OK, then.

Given that things were that straightforward and confidence was high, and these articles were available via the British Newspaper Library etc. anyway, I asked one final time if I might see some of Duncan Sandes’ articles written for the Western Morning News.

Grant’s final response was firm and simple; “No!”



  1. undignified says

    Couple of quick points Tim. Firstly if newspapers did provide detailed access to their archives to every single person who rang up requesting it they wouldn't produce as many papers!But more importantly, I've done a check of Sandes's articles and apart from the usual local newspaper fodder (getting local opposition MPs to criticise gov policy – and even then only two or three times since 2004) there's nothing in his portfolio that implies any bias, it's all pretty boring!

  2. Manic says

    1. I've experienced little difficulty with similar requests to other newspapers/magazines before, most recently Private Eye, who came through very quickly and without the third degree.2. Sounds like they have nothing to hide, then. So why not mention Sandes' past association with the paper in the article?

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