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Tories Back Candidate Who Said Benefits Claimants Should Be ‘Put Down’

November 6, 2019

The work and pensions secretary has come under fire for backing a Tory candidate in a marginal seat who wrote on social media that people on the reality TV programme Benefits Street needed “putting down”.

The Conservative party has refused calls to drop Francesca O’Brien, who is standing in a key target seat in Gower, south Wales, despite anger after her Facebook comments were exposed by the Guardian.

Thérèse Coffey, the minister in charge of the country’s benefits system, said it was a “matter for the people of Gower” on whether O’Brien should be the constituency’s next MP.

In posts unearthed by the Guardian that have since been deleted, O’Brien, 32, wrote in January 2014: “Benefit Street..anyone else watching this?? Wow, these people are unreal!!!” Advertisement

In response to a friend’s comment, she wrote: “My blood is boiling, these people need putting down.” In further comments under her post, O’Brien apparently endorsed a friend’s suggestion for “twat a tramp Tuesday” to “take your batts [sic] to the streets”.

Asked whether O’Brien should be a candidate given her comments, Coffey told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What she said is clearly wrong, clearly wrong. I’m led to believe it was early in 2014. I don’t know Francesca at all.

“She has apologised I’ve been told, that is important. And I recognise that these comments are not ones with which I would associate myself in any way.”

Pressed again on whether she should be standing, Coffey added: “I think that will be a decision for the people of Gower to make the choice on who they want to be their next member of parliament.”

A spokesman for the Conservatives confirmed the party was standing by O’Brien despite her comments prompting widespread outrage.

The Labour party’s chair, Ian Lavery, said: “Removing a candidate who used such vile language about people on benefits should be a no-brainer.

“The cuts to benefits and universal credit programme that Thérèse Coffey and her party are responsible for have forced people into poverty.

“It is shameful that Boris Johnson is allowing Francesca O’Brien to stand for his party in Gower. This reveals the Conservatives’ contempt for the less well-off.”

Benefits Street, which highlighted the lives of benefits claimants on a road in Birmingham, prompted controversy when it aired in 2014. The programme attracted 4 million viewers but also more than 100 complaints to regulator Ofcom of unfair, misleading and offensive portrayals of benefits claimants, alleged criminal activity and excessive bad language.

After being approached by the Guardian, O’Brien – who was selected last month in an open primary – apologised for the comments which she said were “off the cuff”. She added: “These comments were made off the cuff, a number of years ago. However, I accept that my use of language was unacceptable and I would like to apologise for any upset I have caused.”

Gower was won by Labour by little more than 3,000 votes at the 2017 general election and is a key marginal that the Conservatives will be targeting. It was won by the Tories in 2015 by just 27 votes.

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