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Cheshire East council leader had impartial council officers send political tweets

A council leader in Cheshire is facing calls to resign after it emerged that he had council staff write personal tweets attacking political opponents.

A Freedom of Information request by BBC Radio Stoke has uncovered 50 pages of emails of “suggested” draft tweets written for Cheshire East council leader Michael Jones by the council’s media relations team.

It is claimed that Jones approved the tweets written by the media team and then they posted them on his personal Twitter account.

Several of the tweets are political in nature and critical of the Conservative councillor’s opponents. Two examples from 23 September read: “Moribound Miliband talks of a national mission. A mission to economic disaster. Back to where we were five years ago.”

And: “16 to 17 year olds to get the vote says Moribound Miliband. Labour desperate to get votes wherever they can.”

Cllr Jones said he no longer used staff to draft tweets and that he had only had their assistance early after joining Twitter.

If true the tweets constitute a breach of the Local Government Act, which prohibits authorities from publishing "any material which appears to have an effect on public support for any political party".

Cheshire East Council's constitution specifies staff, "should avoid being drawn into discussions of politically contentious matters".

It adds: "Any input should be consistent with the requirements for political impartiality."

Cllr Brian Silvester, of Willaston and Rope, said the allegations were “very serious matters” and the tweets “unacceptable” and says he has reported it to government ministers.

Responding to the allegations Cllr Jones told NantwichNews: “There has been a lot of confusion over this new form of communication and it is clear the council has put in place new procedures.

“All I will say is judge me on my record. I come from the private sector and clearly my intention to communicate is not as easy in the process world of a council.

“But I have done more for transparency than any other leader and will continue to do so.

“Radio Stoke has its agenda, but I will get on with the job of delivering, which we have. These personal attacks merely show I am doing well as they do not attack my achievements, just me personally.”

But Cllr Silvester said: “Last Easter he (Cllr Jones) issued a political press release through the council’s media team. He apologised and said it would not happen again. But last June exactly the same thing happened. Now it has happened again.

He added: “I am calling on the Chief Executive to immediately investigate this latest incident and then to take the appropriate action. It is simply unacceptable council officers have written 50 pages of emails drafting political attacks against the political opponents of Cllr Jones and then tweeted the ones that Cllr Jones chooses.

“I have also reported this latest case to the government and have asked them to act also.”

A spokesman for Cheshire East Council said that the chief executive had been made aware of the issue and staff have been advised that the practice is unacceptable.

(Image: Cllr Michael Jones. Source: Cheshire East Council)

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