CARL SHILTON on how support for the Sutton and Cheam LibDem candidate’s nasty smear campaign started to evaporate, following challenges through formal complaints and threats of libel action
It started yesterday, around noon time.
The first of the offending social media messages, which had recirculated by various leading figures, mostly from the Liberal Democrats, started being deleted, erased from the interweb one by one, like the last leaves of autumn falling from the trees.
First to go was “Sir” Ed Davey, the austerity enabler hoping not to lose his Kingston and Surbiton seat for a second time in four years in next week’s election.
The LibDems’ deputy leader deleted his re-Tweet, done about a week earlier, of something put on the internet in the name of Hina Bokhari, his party’s candidate next Thursday’s General Election in Sutton and Cheam, a seat held by the Tories.
Bokhari, or the nameless and faceless party apparatchiks are who are “managing” (in the loosest sense) her car crash of a social media campaign, had cobbled together a package of allegations against leading Conservatives from Sutton, in an effort to discredit them as some kind of racist misogynists, are claiming that the LibDem candidate had in some way been threatened.
It included a letter to Paul Scully, her Conservative rival in Sutton and Cheam, challenging him to have party colleagues suspended. Bokhari’s letter was placed in the public domain almost before Scully had even received it.
When subjected to any proper scrutiny, none of Bokhari’s claims stood up. But the nature of the internet is that the lie is three times around the world before the truth has got its boots on… Bokhari’s Twitter activity got endorsements – in the form of re-tweets – from a wide-ranging cast of mainly senior LibDem politicians and activists, none of whom had bothered to take the time to check out what their party colleague was claiming.
Even Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s only MP, was taken in by Bokhari’s baseless allegations, as was global celeb Bianca Jagger.
But on Monday, one of the victims of Bokhari’s slurs, Tim Crowley, the Sutton councillor and leader of the Tory opposition group on the council, issued her with a legal letter warning of libel action, while a local Liberal Democrat supporter, Adrian Short, lodged a formal complaint about the candidate’s social media activity with LibDem headquarters.
In Short’s lengthy and carefully worded complaint stated, “Ms Bokhari and colleagues have acted in a way that is likely to expose themselves, the local party, the national party and individual supporters and members to legal liability through actions for defamation.”
The complaint to the LibDems named Davey and London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon for having “brought the party into disrepute by retweeting these false and defamatory allegations to large followings”.
Significantly, Short’s complaint gave the LibDem party machine until noon on Wednesday, December 4, to get their smears off the internet.
And so, one by one, Bokhari’s high-profile LibDem supporters began deserting her.
Davey was followed by Pidgeon.
Then political shape-shifter Chuka Ummuna also complied with what was effectively a cease and desist order.
Lucas, too, deleted her Bokhari retweets, together with her own ever-so-virtuous message of entirely misguided support for a smear campaign.
Short underlined his challenge to the Bokhari campaign team and the LibDems to clean up their act with a pointed Twitter message of his own at lunchtime.
The pressure was clearly telling.
It was not long before Ben Andrew, a Sutton LibDem councillor and possibly one of the “masterminds” who came up with the nasty little smear campaign, had erased the messages from his own Twitter account.
Soon after, even Bokhari’s Twitter feed was wiped clean, too.
Lester Holloway, a former LibDem councillor who quit the party to join Labour, had also retweeted the now entirely discredited Bokhari tweets last week.
He wrote on Twitter yesterday, “I’ve acceded to a request to delete the first tweet in this thread because it shares Hina Bokhari’s controversial tweet, in light of others also deleting their RTs. My point was different to them; I’m actually *critical* of her tweet *but* I’m also saying there’s wider issues…
“For the record, I think Hina should delete and reframe the original tweet, withdraw the letter and apologise. I also think the Tories need to identify and call out bad behaviour in their online circles.
“If both did so we’d have less libel and more equality and respect.”
To date, there has been no such apology forthcoming. Nor has Bokhari, or the “team” which runs her social media for her, managed to respond to questions asking her to identify how she says she has been “threatened”, and whether she has reported those threats to the police.
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