Senior Southend councillor accuses media team of election bias over Tweet

The leader of Southend’s Conservative group has accused the council of “pushing anti-Conservative messages” by ‘liking’ a tweet about a young boy who was forced to be treated on the floor of a hospital due to a lack of beds.

The tweet ‘liked’ by the official Southend Council Twitter account was posted by ITV political correspondent Joe Pike who described how PM Boris Johnson had taken his phone when he pulled up a photograph of a four-year-old forced to lie on a pile of coats at a Leeds hospital.

Tory leader Tony Cox said it was “appalling” that the council’s official account would be used to ‘like’ what he labelled “anti-Conservative messages” during the pre-election period – commonly referred to as purdah.

He said: “It is incumbent on whoever it is to show political neutrality and that is regardless of whether the councils media department ‘liked’ a tweet that is anti-Labour, anti-Lib Dem, or whoever – it is not the role of civil service.”

In a tweet, Mr Cox added: “Political neutrality out of the window, purdah ignored. Disgrace.”

The council is expected to always be politically neutral, delivery and supporting policies from all administrations but these rules are even stricter during elections due to the danger of influencing voters.

After Cox’s concerns were highlighted, a spokesman claimed what had happened was a mistake.

He said: “On Wednesday December 11, the council was made aware that a tweet by an ITV News reporter with a link to a national news story had been ‘liked’ by the council’s official twitter account.

“The issue was looked into immediately and whilst the story had been ‘liked’ by the communications team who monitor the account, it was a genuine error as the officer was not aware they were on the council account at the time.

“The ‘like’ was removed immediately and the team reminded of the need for care and attention when on the council’s twitter account.

“Steps have also been taken to minimise the risks of switching between different accounts by ensuring the team are issued with appropriate devices for work use.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter