Election 2010: Abusive election hopeful Stuart MacLennan derails Labour

GORDON Brown tried to rally Labour's beleaguered supporters last night after his first day of campaigning in Scotland was derailed by the sacking of a candidate for posting offensive messages online.

• Stuart MacLennan

Labour faces more questions about how much senior members knew of Stuart MacLennan's foul-mouthed Twitter posts, in which he described people in the seat he was fighting as "depressed teuchters" and the elderly as "coffin-dodgers".

He also swore about opposition politicians and party colleagues.

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Initially, Scottish Labour seemed to support the 24-year-old Moray candidate, describing him as "foolish", but by midday he had been summoned to the party's Glasgow headquarters and been sacked.

The Conservatives and SNP have demanded to know who in the Labour Party was aware of Mr MacLennan's tweets, which were posted both before and after he was chosen to contest the seat.

Former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander, Schools Secretary Ed Balls, Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, former deputy PM John Prescott and the Prime Minister's wife, Sarah Brown, are all understood to be followers.

An embattled Mr Brown, who had earlier demanded Mr MacLennan be sacked, tried to sound upbeat when addressing supporters in his native Kirkcaldy.

"I've been accused of being too serious, too focused on policy and sometimes too impatient. I plead guilty," he said. "I am serious and focused and impatient – because when people's jobs and businesses and life savings are on the line, it's not a time for small talk.

"I realise I'm not slick, and the honest truth is I don't really want to be. But there is one thing you can be sure of. I will fight and fight and fight, and then fight on, fight for you and your family – and I will not let you down."

He took another swipe at the backgrounds of David Cameron and George Osborne, when he promised to "govern not for … a privileged few, but for the ordinary people who are the strength and heart of our country".

However, Labour is having to defend the way it vets potential candidates after it emerged that the party in Moray was aware of Mr MacLennan's tweets before he was selected.

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With so many MPs leaving Westminster after the expenses scandal, youthful candidates such as Mr MacLennan, who was organiser and secretary for Scottish Young Labour, were supposed to be part of a new generation of untainted politicians. He had stood unchallenged for the Labour candidacy in Moray.

Barry Jarvis, a Moray councillor and member of the local Labour party, said: "I never had any reservations about him at all. I was aware he had a Twitter account, I followed him, I assumed it was all meant in a humorous way, as all these things are.

"To be honest, some of the posts seemed quite tongue-in-cheek – that's my personal opinion."

Initially, Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy and Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray appeared to back Mr MacLennan yesterday, despite him branding Labour MP Diane Abbott a "f****** idiot".

"He still has the backing of the party, he is still the candidate," Mr Gray said yesterday morning, at the launch of a Labour poster portraying the General Election as a two-horse race ahead of the Grand National.

However, the party later said it had believed the tweets were historic. When it discovered some had been posted after he had been selected as a candidate, it took the decision to sack him.

On the campaign trail, Mr Brown said: "We cannot have people standing as candidates for the Labour Party who express these views."

Mr Murphy said: "He was keen to engage voters through Twitter, but that's no excuse for the rubbish and offensive and hurtful comments that he made."

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Asked why he had not acted sooner, Mr Murphy said: "I am not a follower of this individual's Twitter feed, so I had no idea of these comments, and no-one in the Labour Party did."

But the Tories and SNP said his comments would have appeared on the walls of several senior Labour figures who followed Mr MacLennan's tweets.

Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie said: "To describe, as Mr Murphy and Labour tried to do, foul-mouthed rants against elderly people, women, ethnic minorities and others as 'foolish' is appalling. It was repugnant, insulting and totally in character with Labour's desperate and dirty campaign.

"What staggers me is senior Labour figures, including Ed Balls, Ben Bradshaw and John Prescott, condoned this behaviour for so long by following his tweets without protest.

First Minister Alex Salmond said Labour had descended into "a total shambles".

He said: "Obviously, it is the right thing that somebody who insulted all of Scotland's old-age pensioners can't stand as a candidate.

"The problem the Labour Party now has is it is now emerging many leading Labour figures, senior politicians, Cabinet members, shadow cabinet members of Scotland, were followers on his Twitter.

"So they knew the sort of things he was saying … but did nothing about it.

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"The Labour Party have moved on from being an issue affecting one candidate to now a question of who knew what, when."

He added: "The interesting thing is, it is now emerging the followers on his Twitter were Ed Balls, Wendy Alexander.

"Leading Labour party figures knew about what he was saying and presumably thought it was all right so long as nobody knew about it."

A Scottish Labour spokesman denied that members had been aware of the nature of Mr MacLennan's tweets.

"The idea that Ed Balls would stop running the education system in England and Wales to read his tweets is just silly," he said. "There needs to be perspective. We've taken very clear, strong action."

Angus Robertson, who is defending the Moray seat for the SNP, said: "Only an hour before this announcement, Jim Murphy was saying he could stay as a candidate and trying to brush off these outrageous comments.

"However, he has been overruled and clearly has no authority. Did Gordon Brown tell his Scottish Secretary what to do?"

Liberal Democrats' Scottish spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, said: "The Labour Party has been forced to sack a candidate who was clearly young and inexperienced. This whole debacle only demonstrates the weakness of Labour in Scotland."

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A Scottish Labour spokesman said: "We expect a new candidate to be in place in the next couple of days."

• Analysis: New media claims first victim – and there will be others

Spot the difference – how party changed its tune over Twittergate

10:30am Scottish Labour spokesman: "Stuart is a young candidate and has been very foolish indeed. He now understands that this is quite unacceptable and will not be doing this kind of thing again."

10:40am Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray (below): "He's a very young guy, a first-time candidate. I guess we all make mistakes when we're young and he knows he's made a big mistake. He still has the backing of the party, he's still the candidate, he still has the backing of the local party in Moray."

11:55am It emerges from the Labour Party in London that MacLennan has been sacked.

12:30pm Scottish Labour spokesman: "On reading the comments in full, the Scottish Labour Party was outraged by their content and Scottish Labour's general-secretary took the decision to suspend his (MacLennan's] membership of the Labour Party. Stuart MacLennan is no longer a Labour Party candidate."

12:32pm Prime Minister Gordon Brown: "It is unacceptable. We cannot have people standing for the Labour Party who express these views."

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12:40pm Stuart MacLennan: "I am very sorry. I have rightly paid a high price."

12:55pm Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy: "Once we became aware of all the comment he has posted on Twitter, we were left with no option. He was a young candidate, but that's no excuse. He was keen to engage, voters but that's no excuse for the rubbish and offensive and hurtful comments. Once we were fully aware of that, we took the right action, which was to sack him as a candidate. I am not a follower of this individual's Twitter feed, so I had no idea of these comments, and no-one in the Labour Party did."

Beware the net: make a mistake and there's no way to wriggle free

THE internet could hold the key to success in the General Election – but could just as easily cause political downfall.

Experts warned of the need to take care as material posted online can "come back to bite you" after Labour candidate Stuart MacLennan was sacked over offensive posts he made on Twitter. The warning also came as commentators and bloggers continued to debate the role the web would play on the polls amid talk of an "internet election".

With communications undergoing a dramatic transformation with the growth of the internet, political parties have attempted to reach out to the millions who are online.

In the US, Barack Obama's team capitalised on the potential of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to build support and funding for his presidential bid.

But the pitfalls of web mistakes were laid bare by the emergence of Mr MacLennan's comments, with experts pointing out that everything on the internet was recorded and could be accessed even after it had been deleted.

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Media consultant Alan Stevens said: "You always have to think twice or three times before you post something online. It can be a permanent record and it can come back to bite you."

But he said if used successfully, the internet could get more people involved in politics, encourage them to vote and help give a "rounded impression" of an individual. Mr Stevens singled out the "clever" strategies used by Mr Obama and praised Gordon Brown's wife Sarah for her Twittering.

On the whole, however, political parties were "limited" in their use of social media, according to Mr Stevens, who said it was significant that the Prime Minister and David Cameron did not have personal Twitter accounts.

"There is very little engagement at leadership level, which is a real missed opportunity," he said. "People have asked 'is this going to be the social media election?' The answer is no, it's clearly not."

Graham Jones, an internet psychologist, said this was the first General Election where social networking could have an impact. "I suspect that the political parties are completely unprepared… particularly at the local level, as to the impact it's going to have."

In the past, he said, a negative comment expressed on a doorstep while canvassing for votes could have gone largely unnoticed. But with the advent of social networking such utterings could quickly become "massive".

"The potential for instant massive negativity exists," Mr Jones said. "The only thing to counter that is instantly massive positive messages. I am not sure they have got enough hands to the pumps to deal with that."

Mr Jones echoed Mr Stevens' warning, comparing politicians with students whose drunken antics feature in their Facebook photos and later discover that future employers are not impressed.

@stuartmaclennan on Twitter

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God this fairtrade, organic banana is s***. Can I have a slave-grown, chemically enhanced, genetically modified one please?

9:02 AM Jul 8th from TweetDeck

Jeezo, I'm as dry as a nun's ***** today.

5:17 AM Jan 2nd from TweetGenius

Just caused severe disquiet with my use of the word "****" in polite company.

5:03 PM Dec 25th, 2009 from TweetDeck

Louis = ****. #xfactor

12:52 PM Oct 25th from TweetDeck

You know I think I might be completely

sober for the first time in 4 days.

2:07 AM Nov 16th, 2009 from TweetDeck

@Gabi_Jones @eusapresident Better a posh d***head than an arrogant ****.

1:51 PM Sep 29th from TweetGenius in reply to Gabi_Jones

My gosh I've got a proper chav sitting opposite me this evening.

3:29 PM Sep 30th from TweetGenius

Made my connecting train. No first class it would appear. Sitting opposite the ugliest old boot I've ever seen too.

9:18 AM Dec 23rd, 2009 from TweetGenius

Holiday Inn offering catered f***s? "Christmas can be an extremely stressful period, especially for the family planning and catering for it".

6:15 AM Nov 24th, 2009 from web

Watching #pmqs in the First Class Lounge in Aberdeen train station. Felt like a really crap socialist today.

4:18 AM Jan 6th via TweetDeck

Cameron = t***.

9.15am, March 16, 2009

...that opportunist little t** Bercow.

11.16am, June 21, 2009

My God, Dianne Abbot is a f***ing idiot.

3.55pm, October 8, 2009

Barack Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize discuss. You've got to be f****** kidding me.

4.30am, October 9, 2009

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In the queue at the Post Office. Absolutely massive. Must be a pension day.

1.55am, May 26, 2009

Old duffer just tried to cut in line. Bloody coffin dodgers,

2.40am, May 26, 2009

There's no end to the transport projects the party should be opposing. The A9 doesn't need duelling, let alone the A96 and other.

2.05pm, November 8, 2009

You know Johnnie Walker red label is so f***ing awful they can't even sell it in Scotland?!

6.38am, July 26, 2009

I f***ing hate Paolo Nutini.

6.24am, January 31, 2010