Friday, April 09, 2010

Stuart MacLennan: Why was a Labour candidate talking about "chavs"?

Stuart MacLennan, the Labour candidate for Moray, was obliged to stand down today after his tweets came to the attention of the media.

The observations he decided to share with the world in recent months were described in the Evening Standard by Paul Waugh:

The 24-year-old ... described Labour MP Diane Abbott as “a f**king idiot”.

He said Commons Speaker John Bercow was an “opportunist little tw*t” and tennis star Andy Murray a “d**k”.

His message about “slave-grown” fruit caused particular offence. “God this fairtrade, organic banana is sh*t. Can I have a banana is sh*t. Can I have a slave-grown, chemically enhanced, genetically modified one please?”

Mr MacLennan also attacked the elderly, bemoaning that he is “sitting opposite the ugliest old boot I've ever seen” and in another Tweet referring to pensioners as “coffin dodgers”.

He repeatedly described younger voters as “chavs” and boasted about his drinking: “I think I might be sober for the first time in four days.”

What can we say in his defence?

There is the point that many people will agree with his opinions of Dianne Abbott, John Bercow and Andy Murray.

That there is the point that he is only 24 years old and was fighting a seat he was not expected to win. So he is allowed to be naive and inexperienced.

But if you choose to go into politics at that age then you have to accept that it is bound to cramp your style to some extent. I was a district councillor at 26 and had to wear a collar and tie more often than I would otherwise have chosen.

And there is the fact, as Stephen's Linlithgow Journal reminds us, that most of us now have an online past, which in most cases will not be entirely creditable. Will this debar everyone from being a candidate?

Yes, we are going to have to learn to be more broadminded about youthful indiscretions, but MacLennan was tweeting recklessly until very recently.

As to the content of the tweets, it is fair to say that many liberal and reasonable people send tweets making jokes like these. They are the sort of thing friends used to say in letters to one another and it is easy to be seduced into thinking that Twitter is private, when it is not.

And not everything I write would look good in the newspapers in such circumstances, but then I long ago decided that I did not want to be a politician but would rather poke fun from the fringes.
But there are things about the content of his tweets that do damn MacLennan. Most attention, in a society where Not Being Racist is one of the few virtues left, has been paid to his joke about a "slave-grown ... banana", but I was more struck by a different point.

What is a Labour candidate - a Labour candidate - doing talking about "chavs"? Even in the post-Blair Labour Party, surely its candidates should have some vestigial sense of being on the side of the workers?

All you can say in MacLennan's defence is that such callousness is now so endemic that it would have taken a strong man to be immune to it. And MacLennan was clearly not strong enough.

Put him down as a victim of the frankieboyleisation of society.

1 comment:

Will said...

Another minor point: why is a Scottish Labour candidate talking about 'chavs', when Scotland has 'neds' in their place. And Scottish Labour have been happy to talk about neds for years.

Indeed, back when the SSP were one party rather than a morass of warring tribes, one of their MSPs (Rosie Kane) complained that the term was derogatory, only for a Labour MSP (Duncan McNeil) to respond, "What are we supposed to call them? Tracksuit ambassadors?".

So this sort of attitude has been in Scottish Labour for years. Even if they've decided to import a word that they already had an equivalent for.