Why are so many parliamentary candidates embroiled in controversy?

In the era of social media, journalists are finding it easier to dig up scandals.


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At times it has felt like a race to the bottom. No sooner has a candidate been selected, than a journalist will discover some past comments, and the calls will rain in for the candidate's resignation.

Antony Calvert, Conservative PPC for Wakefield, wrote on Facebook that if Colonel Gaddafi wanted to go undercover he "should surely have fled to Bradford". Kate Ramsden, the Labour candidate for Gordon, published a blog post in which she compared Israel to a victim of paedophilia. Both have stood down.

Others have survived the scandals. Francesca O'Brien will contest Gower for the Conservatives despite a tweet calling for benefits claimants to be "put down". Ian Byrne will contest Liverpool West Derby for Labour despite sharing a post labelling Baroness Michelle Mone a "c***". And Labour's Zarah Sultana will stand in Coventry South even though she once tweeted that she would celebrate the deaths of Tony Blair and Benjamin Netanyahu.

There are a couple of reasons why so many candidates have been embroiled in controversy. Firstly, although the election came as a surprise to few political observers, many local associations were still in the midst of selecting their candidates (nowhere was this more obvious than in constituencies such as South Shields where Labour's drawn-out reselection process was abandoned almost as soon as it got under way). Vetting has fallen by the wayside as associations have hurriedly drawn up last-minute lists of potential candidates.

There is, however, a greater underlining reason. A few PPCs have had to withdraw because of comments made out in the open. Gideon Bull, who was standing for Labour in Clacton, admitted to using the word "shylock" in the presence of a Jewish councillor. Nick Conrad decided it was wise to call for women to "keep their knickers on" during a radio discussion about rape in 2014.

But the majority of scandals have arisen because of social media posts. Just as employers now stalk the Facebook profiles of potential employees, it has become much easier for journalists to root around in the unsavoury undergrowth of candidates' past lives. Open source intel (OSINT) has become a standard tool in the armoury of the contemporary journalist. Digging up dirt has become easier – and scandals more frequent. 

George Grylls is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2019.

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