Among all the complexity of who survives and who doesn't, one thing is clear: the parties need a better process for examining, and approving, candidatesby Chaminda Jayanetti / November 19, 2019 / Leave a comment
If 2017 was the year of the Facebook election, 2019 has been the year of Facebook cancellation. The opening stages of this election campaign have been marked by a string of controversies over past social media comments—and occasionally published articles—by major party candidates.
Not that everyone embarrassed has withdrawn. There has been no clear rhyme or reason to who has seemingly been forced to pull out as an election candidate and who has remained—not by party, nor by the level of controversy, nor by the identity of those offended.
Two Labour candidates accused, rightly or wrongly, of anti-Semitism pulled out; another remained in. A Tory candidate who referred to London as ‘Londonistan’ pulled out, despite having run in 2017; another who wrote about “HIV immigrants” remained in—possibly because those articles were published at a magazine whose editor’s name was Boris Johnson.
Arguably, most if not all of the embarrassed candidates should have withdrawn. Many of the comments are revolting. Take Francesca O’Brien, who said “these people need putting down” after watching the TV show Benefits Street in 2014—Facebook comments that came to light after she was selected as the Conservative candidate for the marginal seat of Gower (she has since apologised).
O’Brien’s was the first such case to emerge during this election campaign, as reporters scoured the Facebook and Twitter archives of those candidates not sufficiently obsessive in their pursuit of political careers to cleanse their social media footprints.
O’Brien, who went to an independent school, survived as a Tory candidate. The Conservative Party hierarchy condemned her comments—somewhat hypocritically, given that Tory welfare rhetoric was almost designed to provoke such comments for most of this decade—but said whether she was elected was a matter for the voters. Not purely a matter for the voters now, however, given that Tory central office will be pumping resources to get her elected in what is one of the key Tory targets in Britain.
But it’s worth pausing for a moment. The haphazard nature of who stays and who goes among the embarrassed candidates this time round shows there is no consensus about what is a ‘sackable’ offence and what isn’t.
Are some targets less forgivable than others? Does context matter—the difference between an ‘off the cuff’ remark on…