Labour MP's Twitter row rumbles on

Eric Pickles writes letter to David Wright over "scum-sucking pigs" comment.

Oh dear. The row over David Wright's Twitter outburst goes on. The Labour whip and MP for Telford has been on BBC Radio Shropshire to reiterate his defence -- which is that he didn't write the offensive tweet at all. Paul Waugh quotes him as saying:

I put up on Twitter a message linked to Barack Obama's comment in the presidential race last year about conservative policy, which is: You can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig. It looks like somebody, a third party, has gone into my account and made it more offensive.

I think it was a legitimate comment and, I mean, Twitter is edgy, and, you know, it provokes debate. It looks on this occasion as if it has caused a serious problem, and we need to go back and look at that.

Who exactly are these people, wandering around, hacking into Twitter accounts to make very small changes that up the offensiveness? You could be next.

It doesn't get better for Wright. (Who, in case you missed the story, tweeted -- or not -- yesterday in response to the "I've never voted Tory . . ." poster with the erudite response: "Because you can put lipstick on a scum-sucking pig, but it's still a scum-sucking pig. And cos they would ruin Britain.")

The Tory chairman, Eric Pickles, has today written an open letter to Wright:

Rather than owning up to your actions you seem to be trying to claim that your "Twitter feed" was hacked into. This explanation is simply not credible:

  • The "Tweet" was made under your name.
  • You have used similar language in the past on Twitter, including describing David Cameron as a "horrible opportunistic scumbag".
  • Immediately after the "Tweet", you posted again to say that you "must've hit a nerve", and then again that Conservatives "do get riled very easily".
  • You then decided to apologise for the "Tweet".
  • Only after all of this did you then claim that your Twitter account had been "tinkered" with.

I would be grateful if you could now stop treating people like fools.

Well, when you put it like that . . .

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.