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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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.