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Sharon O’Donnell and Jumping the Gun

Politics is a rum business. That’s why you have to make sure criticisms of your opponents are grounded in fact and take the whole view, not just the bits you find convenient. Unfortunately, occasionally something can catch you unawares. You spot a piece that sounds plausible, undermines government spin about a foolish, flagship policy and you share it with your Twitter chums. It goes viral and you bask for a minute in the smug glow of self-satisfaction. Then something starts pulling at you. You go through what looked like a good demolition when, in fact, it’s a shoddy piece of supposition. You check out what the person at the centre of the storm has to say, and the major hooks on which the critique hung are way off the mark. Unfortunately, it’s too late. Hundreds have seen it and a few idiots have started berating the “normal” person involved.

That happened tonight. A couple of days ago Dave paid a visit to a young single mum in Southampton. The occasion was some uncomplicated PR for his reckless, short-termist Help-to-Buy policy. But was there more than meets the eye? This piecesuggests there was. The anonymous author clearly thought they were doing a thorough number on the PM’s flagship policy. We were told our “single mum”, a Sharon O’Donnell (Sharon Ray on Dave’s Twitter feed) isn’t among the hard-working hard-up the scheme is spun as helping, had a direct financial interest in buying the property via her “directorship” at the estate agent’s that were marketing it, that there is no record of the property being sold at the land registry AND that she was actually married, not single.

Damning stuff if it was true. But it’s not.

Ms O’Donnell has taken to her Twitter account and set the facts straight. The new car picture taken as proof of a large disposable income was a company car. Sharon O’Donnell’s job title, ‘sales director’ is assumed to indicate that she’s in a senior management position, when in all likelihood it’s akin to a supervisory role within a branch of her employer’s. The land registry is, apparently, updated monthly so will not have recorded the change of ownership yet. And lastly, the marriage the piece “exposes” is based on out-of-date information and the relationship came to an end.

The only unexplained matter is that the PM’s press team picked someone whose firm was also selling the house. Enough to raise an eyebrow half-way, perhaps. But nothing more.

In the studied light of reflection, the digging our anonymous writer has done collapses in on itself. All it takes is 30 seconds with Ms O’Donnell’s Twitter feed for it to be comprehensively debunked. Yet me and many others took it on face value. It went viral because we wanted it to be true.

We know the Tories lie. Yesterday’s revelations only serve as a reminder. But we labour movement and socialist people have to aspire to be better than that. It means casting a critical eye at material before we pass it off as good coin. And holding our hands up when we get it wrong, just like in this case.

(For those interested, here’s the subsequent discussion of the article. While on the basis of available evidence the piece is highly inaccurate, is does draw political attention to a ridiculous scheme. And as Ian and Loz note in the comments, there remain some unanswered questions.)

One Comment

  1. eric clyne says:

    Excellent piece. The moral of the story for me is that we on the left should abandon cheap point-scoring. It achieves nothing. Are there expert advisers saying that this kind of nit-picking changes voting behaviour?

    We should focus upon developing a new radicalism with policies to suit, driven by the ethics and principles of the left.

    We damage ourselves morally by indulging in these tabloid cheap shots.

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