Has Twitter ended this man’s political career?

Update: Labour candidate sacked after a series of foul-mouthed tweets.

It looks like a Labour candidate has committed political harakiri on Twitter. Stuart MacLennan, the PPC for Moray, posted a series of offensive tweets on the site and the Tories and the SNP are calling for his head.

Here's a screen shot of one of them, containing MacLennan's unfortunate reference to "slave-grown" bananas. Paul Waugh has some more.


Elsewhere, he describes pensioners as "coffin-dodgers", calls a fellow train passenger the "ugliest old boot I've ever seen" and makes liberal use of the c-word.

Given that his Twitter followers included Sarah Brown, Ed Balls and Ben Bradshaw, you might have thought that MacLennan would make more of an effort to stay on-message.

This isn't the first time that a Labour figure has fallen foul of Twitter, of course. David Wright MP was forced to apologise after he described the Tories as "scum-sucking pigs" and hasn't tweeted since.

It's a reminder that the risks of new media for political parties are sometimes as great as the opportunities. As the Labour blogger Luke Akehurst has pointed out: "One ill-considered email, tweet, blog post or Facebook status upset by a candidate or campaigner can provide a lot of ammo for the old-fashioned media to shred a party's campaign with."

At a time when all the parties are on the lookout for online (and offline) gaffes by their rivals, it's time for candidates to learn that they can't say on Twitter what they wouldn't say on Newsnight or Today.

UPDATE: I've just heard that MacLennan has been sacked as the party's candidate. Twitter has claimed its first political scalp.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

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