Householders expecting their usual newspaper delivery would have been surprised a new publication dropped through their letterboxes. 

But it only appears to be a newspaper at first glance as the Liberal Democrats in Oxfordshire have been criticised for publishing election literature deemed to be misleading by some.

The campaign literature which included glowing endorsements for the Liberal Democrats’ contender for the Henley seat, Freddie van Mierlo, is advertised as the ‘South Oxfordshire Observer’ and is a “fake local newspaper”.

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On the front of the paper and included in small print, it said: "Paid for by Lib Dem members and volunteers".

Oxford Mail: The 'South Oxfordshire Observer' was posted through doors last SaturdayThe 'South Oxfordshire Observer' was posted through doors last Saturday (Image: Contributed)

Conservative group leader at the county council Eddie Reeves told the Oxford Mail this was an example of the party “saying anything and using anything to get elected”.

Oxford Mail: Conservative Eddie ReevesConservative Eddie Reeves (Image: Eddie Reeves)

Mr Reeves said: "A local 'newspaper' with suspiciously high pro-Lib Dem content is not a newspaper.

“At least, it isn't a newspaper that residents in Oxfordshire want to read after the shambles they have made of running local public services.”

Mr Reeves called for the party to get on with “improving education, housing and social care services across South Oxfordshire” instead of “pushing about spurious campaign literature that purports to be balanced and objective but is in fact, partial and partisan."

Oxford Mail: The 'newspaper' includes only Lib Dem party literatureThe 'newspaper' includes only Lib Dem party literature (Image: Contributed)

Oxford Mail and The Oxford Times Regional Editor Andrew Colley said: "In a world where the value of trusted local news is so important, it is incredibly disappointing to see a political party use these deceptive tactics once again.

"Politicians can argue all they want, but this is a flagrant attempt to exploit voters - to mask propaganda and election advertising as genuine news. 

"By mimicking local newspapers they are attempting to dupe residents at the same time as undermining the media industry."

However, the chairman of the Henley and Thame Liberal Democrats, Pieter Paul Barker, defended using the ‘newspaper’ to push out election literature.

He said: “All our campaigning literature in Oxfordshire, including tabloids makes clear it’s from the Liberal Democrats.

“Tabloid newspapers are an effective way of communicating with people and have been used by all political parties for years.”

He then went on to praise the Oxford Mail.

He said: “Having strong local media plays a critical role in holding those in power to account and we will continue working closely with great local newspapers such as the Oxford Mail.”

Oxford Mail: The 'South Oxfordshire Observer'The 'South Oxfordshire Observer' (Image: Contributed)

However, a South Oxfordshire householder, who wished to remain anonymous, was unconvinced by this justification and said: “The South Oxfordshire Observer fake newspaper was posted through my door by Royal Mail on Saturday.

“Mr Van Mierlo does not understand what he is undermining by faking himself and his political party for an editor and real news."

Oxford Mail: Freddie is running to be Henley's next MPFreddie is running to be Henley's next MP (Image: Freddie Van Mierlo)

Green Party and county councillor Ian Middleton said it was “not unusual for political leaflets to copy other familiar formats” and he hit out at the Conservatives’ for their previous similar use of such election literature.

Oxford Mail: Ian MiddletonIan Middleton (Image: Contributed)

He said: “The Conservative Party were heavily criticised during the 2019 general election when they put out a leaflet made to look like a copy of Hello Magazine.

“That was seen as a highly patronising attempt to capture a specific demographic whilst trivialising many of the important issues at the time.”

An Electoral Commission spokeswoman said: “There is nothing in law to control the style and presentation of campaign material.

“The Commission’s remit when it comes to campaign material relates to whether printed material has an imprint, and we regulate party and campaigner compliance with the law.

“However, voters have expressed concerns to us about the presentation, labelling or layout of campaign material.

“We encourage all campaigners to undertake their vital role responsibly and to support campaign transparency.”