MICHAEL FABRICANT, MP for Barton under Needwood, has, in his own words, moved to diffuse the row that erupted following a misjudged comment on social network site Twitter.
Tony Blair, when Leader of the Opposition, berated Prime Minister John Major across the Dispatch Box: “The Tories are racists, misogynists, homophobes and xenophobes” he claimed. I shouted from the backbenches “I’m not!” and Blair agreed.
I had already voted for greater rights for women seeking an abortion, lowering the age of homosexual consent to 16, and for improving the rights of immigrants in the UK. I was, and still am, a social liberal when it was unfashionable in the Conservative Party to be so.
Yet on Friday, I tweeted something that cannot be excused and something for which I am still deeply embarrassed and ashamed. I immediately apologised as soon as I realised my mistake. In just 140 characters, I appeared to have undone over 20 years of voting record that demonstrated what I believe and how passionately I feel about these issues.
So what I tweeted cannot be excused and was simply wrong. Of course I do not and have never believed that it is acceptable for a man to hit a woman – or a man come to that (or even joke about doing so).
I have been described as being one of the most prolific tweeters out there since leaving the Government. At last count I have sent over 23,000 tweets. I use it for a number of reasons: primarily to try and prove that not all politicians are programmed robots who just espouse straplines and have their photos taken at village fetes. This is important, because so many people do not believe in politicians and they certainly do not believe in our politics. If they tweet me, I more often than not tweet them back. Quite often, that has meant being risqué and sometimes tweeting a lot of nonsense. But my 17,000 followers understand this and they retweet me sometimes reaching 2.5 million people in just one week.
Yet I have been shocked. Some of what I have read about me over the past few days is a distorted extrapolation of just one tweet and an exaggerated and misleading stereotype of what some people wish to believe a Conservative MP is like. And like Chinese whispers, I am now being quoted as tweeting comments that I have never made.
There is an instantaneousness about Twitter which means that once the button is pressed, there is no going back. I made a mistake not only in what I said last Friday, but in the fact that I naively thought people reading the tweet would know who I was and what I truly stand for. I hoped that those who read the tweet carefully would understand that, bad though it undoubtedly was to mention assault, it was totally hypothetical in circumstances that would never arise and, besides, that I am just not like that. I was wrong.
The Prime Minister once joked that too many tweets make a… and on this occasion he is most certainly right.
I won’t stop tweeting because of one mistake, but I do ask to be judged on my record and on what I actually believe. And to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, I do hope you will eventually accept my sincere apology,
One day, I hope we might debate each other, because I think it would be a lot of fun. You never know. I might surprise you. We might actually agree on rather a lot.