Peter Dowd is both Leader of Sefton Council and Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Bootle, one of the safest Labour seats in the country. As Leader of the Council, he has presided over what many see as a sham public consultation on changes to post-16 disabled school and college transport. The proposed policy change was presented as an opportunity for disabled young people to “be independent and lead fulfilling lives”. Many parents consider this to be a smokescreen for the axing of the transport service which is a lifeline to a large number of families.
A couple of weeks ago, he published his election pledges, three of which are as follows:
- Work with schools and colleges to give our young people the best start in life
- Fight to get a fairer deal for the most vulnerable
- Demand better environmental standards and protect our precious green spaces
The hypocrisy of these pledges has enraged parents. How can disabled young people have the best start in life if they can’t get to school or college? How is removing school transport from the most vulnerable a ‘fairer deal’? And what will be the impact on the environment of removing school buses and potentially putting more cars on the road?
Over the Easter weekend, SOS Transport Sefton, along with two local parents, took to Twitter to challenge Mr Dowd over his election pledges, using the hash tag #PetersPledges. The objective was to hold him to account; he is standing in an ultra safe Labour seat, and it was felt that his conduct was suggestive of complacency and arrogance, not to mention hypocrisy. A mixture of critical comment and humour–but not abuse–was employed to highlight the disparity between Mr Dowd’s actions as Leader of Sefton Council and his election pledges. These examples give a flavour of the kind of tweets that were sent:
Which are hollower, Easter eggs or PetersPledges? Clue: @Peter_Dowd plans to axe disabled school/college transport!
Q:Can election pledges be broken before you’re even voted in? A:Ask @Peter_Dowd about disabled school buses in Sefton
This is the council leader behind cuts to DISABLED TEENS’ SCHOOL BUSES. Check out his last 3 pledges!
Initially, several tweets were sent to Mr Dowd, who did not respond, and subsequently a lively discussion ensued with other Twitter users, including local politicians and their followers. Mr Dowd was, of course, copied in to this debate and every further retweet.
A couple of days later, Mr Dowd BLOCKED the accounts of SOS Transport Sefton and both parents who had taken part in the Twitter challenge. The tweets which provoked this aggressive response, though blunt and critical, were not abusive or threatening; many were, in fact, quite humorous. Mr Dowd is a public figure who will almost certainly be the next MP for Bootle. It is his job to listen and respond to the concerns of Sefton residents. By blocking Twitter accounts of Sefton parents of disabled children, what kind of message is Mr Dowd sending out? Not that he’s approachable, nor that he is capable of defending his policies, nor that he has understood that councillors and MPs work for the people and are accountable to them.
A charitable interpretation of Mr Dowd’s response might be that he found the number of Twitter notifications he received that weekend a bit overwhelming. Perhaps he doesn’t quite understand the way social media works? It is to be hoped that he’ll be up to speed by the election! It begs the question, how will he cope with the rumbustious exchanges at Westminster, let alone an interview with the likes of Jeremy Paxman, if he can’t handle a few parents barracking him? What would he do, after a ‘rude’ interview with Paxman–block him on Twitter?