Remember that Thing you did in 1982? Yes, you were young, but it was pretty bad, wasn’t it? And that really embarrassing thing you said in public in 1997 and hoped was forgotten? Or that inappropriate thing you wrote in 2009, when you were drunk, and ill-advisedly tweeted to that person? We’d like you to confess to all these transgressions (and any more else you can think of) right now or you can kiss goodbye to your dreams of becoming a Conservative MP. And speaking of kissing, who’s that in the picture with you on your Facebook page?
Conservative Central Office will soon be rattling with the noise of skeletons being dragged out of cupboards. Selection panels which consider the eligibility of men and women to stand as prospective candidates will henceforth ask their quaking interviewees: “What’s the most embarrassing thing we would find if we Googled you?”
Life used to be easier before the internet. Unless they had a criminal record, or had been registered as bankrupt, men and women could feel confident that past evidence of low morals or foolish behaviour would remain buried and unavailable to the dreaded “background checks”. Not any more. On Wikipedia, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, awkward facts and unguarded remarks stick like bugs to flypaper.
Chuka Umunna and Andy Burnham are among several MPs accused of editing their Wikipedia entries to remove awkward truths. Grant Shapps, national chairman of the Conservatives, probably wishes his Wiki-page didn’t display the fact that, under the nom de plume of Michael Green, he once published a book called How to Get Stinking Rich.
Others have been subjected to a “social media trawl”. Remember Paris Brown, the young Youth Police and Crime Commissioner who had to resign in April after “offensive, racist and homophobic posts” were found in her past Twitter feed? Any future would-be candidate can expect to be trawled just as thoroughly. But which famous politicians might have been debarred from becoming MPs if such inspections had applied in the past?
Would Churchill have been shown the door because of the alleged illegitimacy in his family? (His mother Lady Randolph was rumoured to be the Prince of Wales’s mistress.) Or because he once destroyed the headmaster of Harrow’s straw hat? Would Edward Heath’s application to become an MP have survived the discovery that he attended a cocktail party in 1937 with Hermann Göring, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels? Would Disraeli have been allowed near No 10 (or indeed No 11) if somebody had mentioned that he’d been financially ruined at 21 by investing in South American mines?
I don’t think so. But some of us like our politicians who have a touch of wildness in their past, and think they should celebrate it. As George Bernard Shaw said: “If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, best teach it to dance.”