A Labour candidate has become the first to be sacked for comments made on the stream-of-consciousness social networking site Twitter, after he was found to have made a series of rants joking about slavery, attacking the elderly and even lambasting Labour MPs.
Stuart MacLennan, who had been standing in the Moray seat, north-east Scotland, was fired after he was found to have used the site to describe old people as "coffin dodgers". In an ill-advised quip about bananas, he wrote: "God this fair-trade, organic banana is shit. Can I have a slave-grown, chemically enhanced, genetically modified one please?"
In a series of posts scattered with four-letter words, he attacked the Commons Speaker John Bercow ("tit"), David Cameron ("twat"), Nick Clegg ("a bastard") and the Labour backbencher Diane Abbot ("a fucking idiot"). The X-Factor judge Louis Walsh received the C-word treatment and the identical-twin cabaret act Jedward were dismissed as "odious little shits". His dislike for the Scottish singer/songwriter Paolo Nutini was stronger still, although there appeared to be sympathy from fellow members of the online community on this point.
Somewhat presciently, Mr MacLennan also pondered in one online posting: "Iain Dale [a Conservative blogger] reckons the biggest gaffes will be made by candidates on Twitter – what are the odds that it will be me?"
The Labour Party initially attempted to play down the comments, with a spokesman saying: "Stuart has been foolish." Mr MacLennan also issued a hastily composed statement: "I have let myself down and am really sorry." But after anger at his comments increased, including criticism from Labour members, he was fired by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Jim Murphy. Gordon Brown, in Scotland yesterday campaigning, denounced Mr MacLennan's online activity. "It's wrong. He shouldn't have said these things," he said. "He'll go as a candidate. I made a decision immediately."
All parties had feared that sites such as Twitter and Facebook, the first of which did not even exist at the 2005 election, would trip up some of their candidates during the campaign. But Labour has encouraged its MPs to use Twitter, while their Tory counterparts have been less forthcoming on the micro-blogging site.
Kerry McCarthy, Labour's official "Twitter tsar", said that, despite Mr MacLennan's downfall, most MPs were still too cautious in their tweets, rather than too forward. "There's no way that you can control it and there will always be one or two people who do not have the political judgement to use it properly," she said. "But the greater problem is getting MPs to engage and communicate with the public on the site, rather than simply tweeting that they are out campaigning."
Labour hopes that acting quickly to dismiss Mr MacLennan will heap further pressure on the Tories to reprimand the shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, who has been recorded questioning gay rights.