General election 2019: Gower Tory candidate apologises for Facebook post

Francesca O'BrienImage copyright
Welsh Conservatives

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Francesca O’Brien admitted her “use of language was unacceptable”

A Conservative general election candidate has apologised for a Facebook post in which she said people on a TV show needed “putting down”.

Francesca O’Brien, who is running for the Gower seat in December’s election, made the comments about Channel 4’s Benefits Street in January 2014.

Ms O’Brien said her comments were made “off the cuff” but admitted her “use of language was unacceptable”.

Labour called for the candidate to be dropped.

But Welsh Conservative chairman Byron Davies has stood by Ms O’Brien, who is still set to run in the general election on 12 December.

The former commissioned officer with RAF Air Cadets was selected to be the Conservative party candidate for Gower in October after an open primary in which residents were able to participate as opposed to just party members.

Having lost Gower to Labour in the 2017 election, the seat is a top Tory target in Wales.

In the posts following the broadcast of the first episode of Benefits Street five years ago, Ms O’Brien said: “Benefit Street..anyone else watching this?? Wow, these people are unreal!!!”

Responding to another user’s comment, she said: “My blood is boiling, these people need putting down.”

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Getty Images

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The Conservatives won Gower – which Labour held for more than 100 years – in 2015, but lost it in the 2017 snap election

In a statement released on Sunday, Ms O’Brien said: “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.”

Benefits Street, which featured the residents of James Turner Street in Birmingham, was a ratings hit for Channel 4 when it was broadcast.

But a total of 887 viewers complained to the broadcasting regulator, claiming the show had vilified and misrepresented benefits claimants.

Ofcom decided the programme did not breach broadcasting rules.

Ms O’Brien is due to stand against Labour’s Tonia Antoniazzi and Sam Bennett of the Liberal Democrats. Other parties are yet to confirm their candidates.

‘Clearly wrong’

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told the Today programme what Ms O’Brien said was “clearly wrong” adding it was important she had apologised.

Asked if she should stand, she said: “I think that would be a decision for the people of Gower to make the choice on who they want to be their next Member of Parliament.”

Ian Lavery, Labour Party chairman, 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 Therese Coffey and her party are responsible for have forced people into poverty.”

He said Ms O’Brien’s candidacy was “shameful”.

The chairman of the Welsh Conservatives said the party’s Gower candidate Francesca O’Brien is not subject to any internal disciplinary process.

Lord Davies, who is also a former MP for the constituency, said: “The comments were inadvisable, obviously, but made in the heat of the moment watching a television programme.

“But I don’t condone it in any shape or form. However, this is a dredging exercise on the part of the Labour Party whose candidate in the Gower doesn’t want to talk about Brexit,” he added.