South Essex councillors defend their use of Twitter

Tony Ball

Gavin Callaghan

Pat and Phil Rackley

First published in Local News
Last updated

AFTER a number of embarrasing political rows on social media, you might be forgiven for thinking Twitter is a dirty word among councillors.

The latest spat involved Gavin Callaghan and fellow councillors Phil and Pat Rackley, and is now being investigated by Basildon Council.

As one of the internet’s fastest-growing phenomena, Twitter has become the place to follow celebrities.

Many post warts-and-all comments on the world – and all the gaffes and meltdowns that come with it.

But despite controversy created by tweets, most of the major political movers and shakers in the country now have a Twitter account.

When you can tap into an almost unlimited number of your constituents in any one given area, why wouldn’t you?

South Basildon and East Thurrock Tory MP Stephen Metcalfe recently joined the site and already has more than 300 followers.

Would-be Labour MP Mr Callaghan has also joined the site. His rapid rise in politics has seen him selected as his party’s candidate for John Baron’s Basildon and Billericay seat in 2015.

Mr Callaghan has a chequered history on Twitter – he recentlymade an apology after being taken to a standards board for comments made about political rival Pat Rackley.

But he believes the power of social media helped him win his Pitsea North West seat back in 2012, and helps to hold the ruling Tory party to account. He said: “There is no doubt in Basildon, senior officers and councillors would have preferred it if my Twitter account never existed.

“They have been forced to answer questions on things which would have otherwise gone unnoticed – things like justifying the expense of guests invited to the mayor’s civic dinner.

“One of the biggest advantages for me as a Labour politician is Twitter is free.

“It costs me nothing to write messages, which can potentially be seen by thousands of people in Basildon.”

Mr Callaghan is unapologetic about his online conduct – something he feels should be applauded, not vilified.

He added: “Have I criticised Tory councillors on Twitter?

Yes. Will I do it again? Yes.

“What’s the problem with that? I don’t mince my words on or offline, and surely that is a breath of fresh air in modern- day politics?”

Meanwhile, Mr Metcalfe believes it has helped bring him closer to his constituents.

He said: “I joined Twitter primarily to make me more accessible as a politician.

“Twitter helps to democratise the world of Westminster by levelling the playing field and giving followers the chance to hear first hand about the opinions and activities of politicians. That is something which used to be the preserve of journalists.

“Equally, I also joined to keep up-to-date with local people, events, organisations and charities. It works both ways.”

Tony Ball, Tory leader of Basildon Council, started tweeting on the site in 2012.

He said: “I think it is a great tool for local people to find out what is going on with their council and what councillors are doing.

“I want to keep most of the stuff I post local and relevant to the area’s people. I will keep my private thoughts separate to that. You won’t see me tweeting about Tottenham Hotspur, for example.

“I think, as a politician, you have to be disciplined and careful.

“I’ve had a few people get in touch with me about issues, but I respond to them in private.”

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