Fight Labour online, Tory chairman Brandon Lewis says

Sunday, 14 Jan, 2018

Conservative candidates will be suspended if they insult rivals, the new party chairman says.

Labour's Jeremy Corbyn said respect should be "the norm in public life".

Many will see Mr Lewis' declaration as a reaction to claims Labour had raced ahead in the battle to win hearts and minds online.

Lewis also said he wanted the standards of debate online to be raised, pledging Tory candidates would sign up to a code of conduct, saying Labour should do too.

Brandon Lewis, promoted to the job in Theresa May's reshuffle last week, said it would create a "toolkit" of content for young people for sharing online that would include graphics, videos and gifs.

Digital strategists previously concluded that the Conservatives were outwitted by Labour in last year's general election, where Theresa May lost 13 seats and her Commons majority.

Mr Lewis, who is a former council leader in Essex who joined the Commons in 2010, is also hiring new staff to support the party's digital team.

Mr Lewis said his focus would be on getting the party "battle ready" for the next general election and prepared for some "really hard local elections" in May.

He added: "It's not just young people, older people are accessing their information through the digital world as well".

Hidden surcharges on using credit cards imposed by retailers, airlines and ticketing companies, which can be as high as 20% of the costs, will be banned after an EU-wide directive, but Brandon Lewis said it was right the Conservatives were able to promote the decision while the United Kingdom remained a member. "We've got to spread that message much more widely about the things we are doing".

Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit representative for the European Union parliament, tweeted it was "refreshing to see so many embracing the benefits of European Union legislation", and the Lib Dem leader, Vince Cable, said the Tories were "claiming a popular policy that they had nothing to do with".

Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Lewis said he meant to review the party's candidate selection process to make sure they were appointing "the best candidates" to fight for seats in parliament.

Mr Lewis has promised to travel around the country speaking to association chairman, local party officers and members "to make sure we are listening to them" and ensure "that I'm picking up the best practice from them so we can share that".

Asked how it compared with Labour's membership, which has surged beyond 500,000, Mr Lewis said he was "not going to play a numbers game", and that he planned to obtain an overall figure which was not now available.