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 buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

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