Party boss faces Twitter probe

THE build-up to a crucial by-election took an extraordinary twist this week when it emerged that Waveney's main opposition leader faces a council investigation over remarks he posted on Twitter.

The Journal understands that four complaints have been lodged with Waveney District Council surrounding comments posted on the social networking site by Labour leader Julian Swainson.

These are now being assessed by the monitoring officer for Waveney, Arthur Charvonia, who will have to decide whether or not the tweets constitute a breach of the councillors' code of conduct.

If any of them are deemed to be offensive or inappropriate, Mr Swainson, who represents Harbour ward in Lowestoft, could face a hearing before the council's standards committee.

It is understood that the complaints about Mr Swainson refer to comments that he posted during October and November on his personal Twitter account –!/julianswainson – on which he refers to being a councillor and makes it clear that he leads the Labour group in Waveney.

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At least one of the complaints is believed to have been made by a member of the public and among the tweets mentioned is one that apparently refers to female council members on the opposing benches.

Mr Swainson declined to comment in detail yesterday. But, referring to the remark about opposition councillors, he said: 'I agree that taken out of context this tweet was offensive and I apologise for it and have withdrawn it.'

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Other tweets on Mr Swainson's account include swear words. However, it remains to be seen whether any of them constitutes a breach of the members' code.

The latest revelations come as councillors prepare to do battle in Worlingham ward on December 19 for the seat left vacant following the resignation of shamed councillor Andrew Draper. If Labour wins the by-election, it could trigger a potential change in overall control at the council, which is currently run by the Conservatives.

A council spokesman told The Journal yesterday: 'The council can confirm that complaints have been received and councillor Swainson has been informed. These will now be considered in the appropriate way.'

Mr Swainson, who lives in Henstead and has many years experience as a councillor, has in the past served as leader of the Labour group on Suffolk County Council. Prior to that he was a member of Norwich City Council.

At Waveney, he sits on the council's standards committee and chairs its overview and scrutiny committee.

Speaking on behalf of Waveney Conservative Group yesterday, council leader Colin Law told The Journal: 'As a group we are totally disgusted at the content of his (Julian Swainson's) Twitter site.

'One of his tweets, in particular, is degrading to women in politics and we feel his position is totally untenable.'

Standards for England, which provides support and guidance to local authorities and their members on the code of conduct, reminds members that if they are communicating online 'in their capacity as a councillor', certain standards of conduct still apply, including when they are blogging or posting on a social networking site.

On a section on its website that offers members advice on using social media, it says: 'You should think about what you say and how you say it, in just the same way as you would when making statements in person or in writing.'

In the Standards for England case review 2010, republished in October, the answer to a question about whether the code applies to blogs, social networking sites, twitter and social networking sites states: 'It is important to draw a distinction between comments on blogs about council business and comments about general political issues. The context is important and the decision as to whether the Code is engaged is fact-sensitive and case-specific.'

If Labour wins the Worlingham by-election, it could take the overall control of the council from the ruling Conservative group – providing it retains the support of Green councillor Graham Elliott. Labour currently has 23 seats and the Tories 22, although they do have the support of the council's independent chairman Peter Collecott.

•The five by-election candidates are: Sue Bergin (Green Party); Norman Brooks (Conservatives); Doug Farmer(Liberal Democrats); Stuart Foulger (UK Independence Party); and Sylvia Robbins (Labour Party).

There are two polling stations: Worlingham Primary School and Fortrey Heap Village Hall in North Cove.

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