A former Conservative minister is funding Facebook adverts attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party for their policies regarding private schools.
The ads are not obviously connected to the Conservative Party and appear as part of a recently created Facebook group called Parent’s Choice, which has no website and was only founded on 11 October.
Richard Patrick Tracey, who served as a minister for sport under Margaret Thatcher, told Sky News he was running the “defence ads” as an individual and not as part of the Convervative Party.
Mr Tracey said that the group was “not at all an attempt to conceal” his identity, which is recorded as funding the advertisements, but was a campaigning group for any parents to protest against the policy.
One advertisement states: “It’s not up to Corbyn or Abbott where our children are educated, but where are all the excess children going to go? And who is paying?”
Another says: “Not only is Corbyn telling us how we educate our children – it will cost us £4bn, and lead to overcrowding in state schools.”
Mr Tracey told Sky News he was still a member of the Conservative Party.
He said he was running the ads as an individual because he thought it was “offensive that anybody in politics or anywhere else” would attempt to infringe on parents’ freedom of choice over how to educate their children.
Although the group has only a few hundred followers, its advertisements criticising Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott were able to make at least 22,000 impressions and potentially as many as 33,000, according to Facebook’s ad library statistics.
The ad library shows that Mr Tracey bought four advertisements, which were identified by CrossCheck, a collaborative reporting network led by First Draft, over 3 November and 4 November.
Facebook recorded that less than £400 was spent on them. Mr Tracey told Sky News it was “probably around £50”.
Asked if he would agree with the description of the advertisements as “attack ads”, Mr Tracey said he would prefer to describe them as “defence ads” in defence of parents’ rights to send their children to private schools.
He added: “I suppose they attack the people [attacking] the rights of parents.”
Under the Radar is a Sky News project to investigate online political activity throughout the election, from targeted ads to disinformation