A Labour MP's spoof video of David Cameron's webcam, mocking the Tory leader's attempt to use the internet to reach voters, appears to be a political own goal. Sion Simon's one-minute video, in which he wears a baseball cap and T-shirt and calls himself "Dave", included an invitation to viewers to sleep with Mr Cameron's wife or help themselves to one of his children.
Mr Simon's spoof earned him a public rebuke from the Leader of the Commons, Jack Straw, who warned: "We have to ensure that political discourse is at a reasonable high level that avoids personal attacks."
The uproar generated by the video also produced a tenfold increase in the normal number of hits on the genuine WebCameron blog.
Staff at Conservative Party headquarters gleefully reported 2,246 hits on between 1 pm and 2 pm yesterday, compared with 260 during that hour the previous Thursday. Viewers' reactions to the spoof video, which was broadcast through the day by the BBC and Sky, were almost unanimously hostile.
An unrepentant Mr Simon dismissed the complaints as "po-faced and ridiculous". He shot the spoof video, with a computer in the background, as a satire on the Conservative leader's much-hyped blog.
Mr Simon is heard saying: "Yo. My name's Dave, yeah? Thing is, I'm just like you. I've got the same worries, the same troubles, the same cares, the same trouble and strife. Want to sleep with my wife? That's cool. Come down, check it out, we'll sort it out. Safe. I've got two kids, kid one, kid two. You like them? Take one; that's cool."
In the original, Mr Cameron is sitting at home in front of a computer, and he opens by looking around at a window to note that the sun is shining, a reference to his speech last week to the Conservative conference, in which he declared "let sunshine win the day". His children were shown in an earlier video diary showing Mr Cameron in the kitchen, washing up.
Officially, Mr Cameron was playing down the spoof. A spokesman said: "It's up to Sion Simon to decide whether his comments are tasteless. We regard Sion Simon as someone who has never been taken seriously." He added ironic thanks for the "free publicity" for Mr Cameron's blog.
Kenneth Clarke, the former chancellor, who ran against Mr Cameron in last year's Tory leadership race, also laughed it off. He told the BBC's Daily Politics programme that Mr Simon should "stick to his day job".
Others were less forgiving. Peter Luff, the Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, said: "When you go over the top like this, you bring all of us in politics into disrepute. I just can't believe that a fellow MP would stoop so low. It's highly offensive." The Labour MP Stephen Pound told the BBC it was "a new low in British politics" and that Mr Cameron's wife, Samantha, was likely to be "hurt and insulted" by Mr Simon's "sinister" remarks.
Mr Simon defended himself yesterday, pointing out that Mr Cameron had used his family in his original video diary. He said:"It's satire. It's funny. Anyone who thinks it's offensive is being po-faced and ridiculous." He added Mr Cameron was "almost surreal in the extent to which he'll say anything to anybody if he thinks it's what they want to hear", and of letting "the whole political class down in an incredibly tokenistic and shallow way".
Mr Simon was the second West Midlands MP to send up the Cameron blog.
Last week, the former defence minister Tom Watson posted a video called "Watsocam" in which he, too, is seen in his kitchen doing the washing up. In his video, Mr Watson demanded to know the names of businessmen who have secretly donated to the Conservative Party through an organisation called the Midlands Industrial Council.
It was also thought to be Mr Watson who posted Mr Simon's video on the YouTube site, using the name "baggy MP". The two MPs are political allies, who helped organise last month's letter to Tony Blair urging him to resign and make way for Gordon Brown. Mr Watson defended Mr Simon's as "a way of gently sending up David Cameron's attempt to market himself to a younger generation."
A breach of YouTube rules?
The video sharing site also has strict copyright policy after it fell foul of some US broadcasters for hosting clips of their shows. YouTube now sets a 10-minute limit on videos apart from on its "director" programme, which hosts exclusively original material by amateur film-makers.
It also bans violent images and has a function for reporting any such films that make it on to the site. Earlier this year the company faced claims that it was encouraging violence by hosting "happy slapping" images, videos of fighting taken on mobile phones.
About 100 million clips are viewed every day on the site, with 65,000 new videos uploaded every hour.
The site was sold earlier this week to Google for more than £1bn.Reuse content