General Election 2010: Labour Twitter tsar may face jail over leak

LABOUR'S new-media tsar, Kerry McCarthy, could face prison for revealing samples of postal votes on Twitter.

Ms McCarthy, who is standing in the marginal constituency of Bristol East, has admitted she is "kicking herself" after becoming the latest candidate to blunder on the web.

The city council in Bristol has called in the police and official watchdog the Electoral Commission, claiming she broke the law by tweeting the results of 300 postal votes (PVs) to her 5,700 followers. Ms McCarthy's post, which has now been deleted, said: "First PVs opened in east Bristol, our sample: UKIP **; TUSC**; BNP ** Lib Dem **; Tory **; Labour **. gameON!" The actual figures have been deleted.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The council alleged the incident was a breach of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and a "criminal matter" – it is illegal to reveal the votes cast before the end of polling day, as this may influence the outcome of the election. A six-month jail sentence can be imposed.

Ms McCarthy, 45, follows Labour's candidate in Moray, Stuart MacLennan, in being shamed by her tweeting. He was removed as the party's candidate after insulting voters and opponents via his Twitter account.

Ms McCarthy was first elected as an MP in 2005 and was made the party's Twitter tsar last August after serving as parliamentary private secretary to Labour campaign director Douglas Alexander. As such, she was also responsible for advising activists not to abuse blogs and Twitter accounts.

Last night, the Electoral Commission again reminded candidates of the rules. A spokeswoman said candidates who saw the front of a ballot paper "must maintain the secrecy of voting".

Ms McCarthy admitted she attended a "training exercise" in which staff verified personal identifiers on the postal votes. She said: "I was pretty silly to do it, it was just thoughtless, I was being over-exuberant."

In a statement released by Labour, Ms McCarthy said: "On hearing the results of a random and unscientific sample of postal votes, I posted them on Twitter. It was a thoughtless thing to do, and I very quickly realised it was not appropriate to put such information in the public domain.

"Because this was not official information, and no votes had been counted, I thought of it as being akin to canvass returns, ie telling people how well we were doing with Labour promises on the doorstep, but I appreciate now it was wrong to do so."

A police spokesman said yesterday: "Bristol City Council have contacted Avon and Somerset Police this evening about a possible alleged breach of electoral law. The matter is being looked into."

Latest on The Steamie:

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Eddie Barnes: I got the time of it - 9:49pm. That was when the camera panned away from the three leaders and onto a member of the audience; a Brummy teacher.. . .

Read more

Election - live!

Follow all the news throughout the day and have your say on the issues on the General Election live blog.

Join the debate