Key aide to Shad Cab member criticised over tweets

The "sheer, relentless outpouring of opposition" to leading figures in the Labour Party from a senior aide in the office of a Scottish shadow cabinet member has been criticised today. Targets under attack have included Richard Leonard, Jeremy Corbyn, a parliamentary candidate and the party’s Scottish Executive Committee.

One source senior source told us it was a, "breakdown in the basic rules of politics. People who work for frontbenchers aren’t free agents - what they say and do reflects on their bosses and if they go around attacking their own party and their colleagues then they leave the impression their behaviour is licensed by those bosses."

Red Robin has reproduced some of the most striking examples of what a Labour source said is "unbelievable" from the office of a member of the Shadow Cabinet.

In one tweet, John Duncan, who is Senior Parliamentary Researcher in the Office of Anas Sarwar MSP, shadow secretary for Health, tweeted that Jeremy Corbyn is "our worst ever leader." In another retweeted a quote saying that Mr Corbyn "had his head down a toilet" when Labour won the 1997 general election.

Mr Duncan was also criticised for sharing a tweet to his followers by one of Labours opponents - the Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder - attacking Labour’s line on Brexit.

His social media content also included retweeting the Labour critic, Mail On Sunday commentator Dan Hodges, saying Jeremy Corbyn had lied, and tweets unfavourably contrasting Jeremy Corbyn to Tory MP Anna Soubry.

One tweet that has aroused concern in Labour circles is his direct attack on Mr Leonard’s leadership. Quoting columnist Euan McColm, who had written an article strongly critical of Scottish Labour’s leadership, he agreed saying: "This every day of the week. And twice on sunday [sic]," adding: "we’re going backward". He concluded: "the leadership have nobody to blame but themselves."

Mr Duncan works for the former Scottish Labour leadership candidate Anas Sarwar, who holds the strategically important health brief for Scottish Labour.

Mr Sarwar’s staffer has even tweeted his view Labour had little chance of winning with Jeremy Corbyn as leader. "The only saving grace," he tweeted on 6 July 2018,"is that under Corbyn we are nowhere near forming the next government."

Following the selection of Wendy Milne as Labour’s candidate for the key Westminster parliamentary seat of Linlithgow and East Falkirk, Mr Sarwar’s aide attacked her on social media for having once been a member of another political party, although she has been a Labour member for over a decade and was selected overwhelmingly.

In another series of tweets, Mr Sarwar’s senior researcher heavily attacked the Scottish Executive Committee decision to take action over nine Aberdeen councillors who had formed a coalition with the Tory party, having failed to secure the green light to do so. On one occasion he told Twitter followers it was "a shocking and shameful decision."

On at least one occasion Mr Duncan has been challenged about his social media. After he appeared to argue that it was no longer the case that people stand for election for the Labour Party in order to win, Scottish Labour member Ms Franchetti tweeted back, "Is this your view or that of your employer".

One Labour source said: "The sheer, relentless outpouring of opposition to Richard, Jeremy and the SEC from a senior Shadow Cabinet aide is stunning. In many instances, such as his comments about Wendy Milne, he risks being quoted all over SNP, LibDem and Tory leaflets forever and a day. It is a total liability. Likewise, whatever you think about Brexit from any perspective it isn’t right for a Scottish Labour politician’s staff to be uncritically retweeting our opponents when they attack us. It is unbelievable."

They added "While members of the Shadow Cabinet are working to oppose Tory austerity in Westminster and SNP austerity in Holyrood, you’ve got this guy sitting pretty in the Scottish Labour corridor and attacking our own, over and over and over again. It’s very hard to think of any other parliamentary grouping or other political group where this would be the case."

We spoke to one parliamentarian who told us that they told all their staff as a matter of course that their actions on social media reflected on their employer as a politician, and they expected staff to avoid doing or saying anything that detracted from agreed frontbench lines in order to avoid damaging newspaper reports.

Another Scottish Labour source said, "the party needs more unity. We need to get behind our democratically elected leaders and show people we intend to get on with the job of fighting the SNP and the Tories."

We have posted a selection of Mr Duncan’s tweets here today.

John Duncan and Anas Sarwar were both approached for comment but did not reply. 

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