So this happened. A student did an art project with a portcullis on it - and people reacted as if she'd invaded Parliament carrying a barrel of dynamite.
You may have noticed this week's furore over a Twitter account and website for 'Ana Key MP' - the work of Ellen Kenyon Peers, a socialist activist and student at Goldsmiths University, Lewisham.
For the purposes of her course project, Ms Peers created a fictitious MP 'Ana Key' - get it? - who represented the non-existent constituency of Deptford and Greenwich.
When this came to light, it was met with an entirely disproportionate response from Labour staffers in the area. Instead of contacting Goldsmiths or Ms Peers herself, they went directly to the authorities, before engaging in a bracing round of Vilify The Socialist.
Social media erupted with righteous indignation and exaggerated warnings of the dire consequences which might result from such mendacity. The website had featured a page detailing 'advice surgeries', which was posted when the project was due to be marked, and had unintentionally been left in place. Cue outrage....
In the absence of any credible evidence of a deliberate attempt to deceive, 'proof' of misdeeds began to circulate on Twitter - posted by people claiming to be concerned that harm could befall constituents who might believe Ana Key really was their MP.
Notwithstanding the fact that if an art student barely out of her teens HAD taken a seat for a minority party in the recent General Election, it would certainly have been front page news, they cracked on anyway.
Fair enough that local staffers would comment, but perhaps odd that the 'Ana Key Incident' should provoke such handwringing from ... Scotland. Two Glasgow councillors were among the first to chime in:
'Unhelpful and unfair of @AnaKeyMP to pose as an MP - hard enough to get public and politicians to engage without misleading info like this' tweeted Glasgow Victoria Park councillor Margaret McTernan.
Having thus made it abundantly clear that she knew Ana Key was not genuine, she nevertheless followed this moments later with:
'Hi @UKParliament is there anything you can do about this? There is nothing obvious about @AnaKeyMP's site that makes it clear it is not real'
She was joined by fellow Glasgow councillor Eva Murray, who seemed to be really upset about the whole business, saying:
'So awful. People in desperate situations thinking they're contacting their MP when in reality it's a fake. This isn't a game'
'Hope something is done about it soon. Horrendous that someone would go to these lengths'
John Ruddy, who seems to be a former MSP candidate and chair of a CLP in Angus, took things extremely seriously, and gave Twitter the benefit of his presumable expertise in political fakery:
'I don't think this account is trying to be funny. Serious case of impersonation' he opined.
When challenged for proof, however, he was unconcerned about the implications of posting a 'screenshot' of the Ana Key website which included a mobile number - effectively enabling anyone who felt inclined to harass Ms Peers at their leisure.
Cllr Murray also offered a 'screenshot' of the same page - at least, it's supposed to be the same page, although readers might note differences in layout - having apparently not noticed that it clearly asks people to check they are contacting their correct MP by clicking a link which leads directly to Parliament's MP register.
Being concerned not to further advertise Ms Peers' number, this blog has blacked it out in the image below. The red box around the link to Parliament and the arrows are also our additions
Back in Lewisham and Deptford, action was also afoot. William Cooper, CLP member and self styled 'Brockley branch overlord', was horrified that the website contained the sacred portcullis image. He tried three whole times to call Ms Peers mobile (perhaps understandably, having just had it publicised on Twitter, there was no answer) and then went directly to Parliament.
Though claiming his actions were motivated solely by the advertising of surgeries, his
The Prole Star found a different header on the Ana Key MP site, which also included the pictured disclaimer including a link to Parliament, but whatever...
Above: The header from the site - note portcullis is NOT the same as used by Parliament Below: The disclaimer which appears at the foot of every page
Subsequently Vicky Foxcroft, MP for Lewisham and Deptford, reported Ms Peers to police as impersonating an MP - quite how one can 'impersonate' a non-existent MP for a non-existent constituency is not clear...
This unnecessary and disproportionate nature of the response provoked numerous reactions in support of Ms Peers, many particularly angered by the CLP's decision to discuss the matter with the Sun newspaper
A spirited defence came from James Ivens, News Editor of the Socialist, which has published a number of articles written by Ms Peers. He took issue with Mr Cooper's apparent view of the local electorate as credulous fools who would be instantly taken in by the obviously fake MP
The fact that 'Ana Key' had not been contacted by one single constituent, nor had any attempted to attend her 'surgeries' appeared to make little difference to the critics, who were content to bluster on with increasingly hysterical horror at what might have been.
Even the existence of a disclaimer which clearly identified 'Ana Key MP' as an art project, cut no ice, nor the fact that the portcullis was not that used by Parliament. Responses ranged from accusations that the website had been changed after being reported, to an actual complaint that people might have had to scroll down to see the disclaimer.
Casting an eye over the 'bona fides' of the chief detractors, a certain pattern of similarities seems to arise, and guess what - they ain't Tories, security experts or confused constituents. We have a staffer to Kezia Dugdale, a Stay In Labour Twibbon, and an ex-Labour member whose bio describes him as 'core group hostile'.
And Mr Ruddy, whose leanings can best be illustrated with a selection of his tweets (below). Enough said, I think..........
It seems clear that the vituperation, far from being genuine concern over either her 'impersonation of an MP' or the 'devastating' consequences for constituents, was instead a gleeful grabbing of the chance to attack a socialist.
Ms Peers, whose Twitter account has now been suspended, said:
"I had no intention of deceiving people. If people don't know who their MPs are I'd be quite worried. People should know who their MP is, especially just after a general election"
She said the quotes on the website are real and reflect the concerns of those living, working and attending college in the area.
“This demonstrates that sitting MPs are not dealing with issues that affect residents. Why aren’t local MPs fighting against benefit cuts? Building social housing? Rejecting austerity? Defending local schools from incredibly damaging cuts? Championing our NHS and demanding more funds for it?”
In a statement, the Socialist Party said it “opposes the heavy-handed actions of Vicky Foxcroft and the Labour Party bureaucracy.” It added: “Rather than policing artistic expression, they should take up the urgent class issues their fictitious colleague champions.”
Following the exposure given to Ms Peers' project and views, she has been invited by the Socialist Party to speak at its Socialism 2017 conference.
UPDATE: It now appears that the Labour Party has expelled Ms Peers because 'she wrote for the Socialist Workers Party', despite her clear wholehearted support for Labour and Corbyn. Tony Blair, on the other hand, faces no sanction after actively encouraging voters to consider voting for other parties during the election campaign. Just saying..........
Regarding the use of images (portcullis etc): Originally Ellen had indeed used the real portcullis device on the site and in a mock letter to Lewisham Council. After a phone call from a police officer - who I am given to understand acted like he thought the complaint was a bit daffy - Ellen quickly took down the mock letter and changed the site masthead. This was to avoid a potential charge of copyright breach from Parliament. The prominent disclaimer was also a rapid addition after this nonsense blew up. Ellen never really expected anyone to come across the site, and assumed the obviously fake name would be enough of an indication if anyone did.