What Lua Cooper did to JimmySparkle was totally unacceptable. It was also very human.
Though Lua Cooper is formally employed by an auto industry trade/lobbying group, she also works (or perhaps worked) as a significant figure in the campaign team for the Conservative Party. She even starred in this video showing people how to become an active off-site member of the campaign team for the Conservatives. Her boyfriend, Sam Coates, had just recently been appointed ‘co-ordinater’ of Tory online campaigning and until very recently she was up there in the lights, rubbing elbows with important Conservatives and sitting in the front row while David Cameron spoke inspiring words about ‘change’.
On Monday, both her boyfriend and a cause she believed in were under assault, and many people around her (including Sam) were speaking of the dark forces of Labour at work. Events also unfolded very quickly, and I think things should at least be considered from her point of view and in the context of the moment:
– I sincerely doubt she used a false name, and ‘Lua’ was probably just misheard as ‘Laura’. There appears to be very little point in changing her name so little to disguise it, especially when she was claiming to operate on behalf of CCHQ at the time.
– Any claim or implication Lua made in the heat of the moment that she was acting on behalf of CCHQ is completely understandable, and IMO easily fixed with an apology to both parties. Lua simply overstepped her bounds while overestimating her authority/importance, as campaign volunteers sometimes do.
– Any false claim that JimmySparkle had been involved in redirections to porn/shock sites can be attributable to the confusion of the moment and/or Lua’s judgment being influenced by those Conservatives around her, many of whom still cling to the delusion that his actions (and most everyone else’s) were part of a Labour conspiracy. Again, this can probably be addressed with a simple apology.
– The bullying of JimmySparkle by going through his employer and using spurious legal threats as leverage is a little harder to explain/apologise away, but sadly we’re robbed of the context of Lua Cooper’s testimony, I suspect for much the same reason we’re forced to go without any kind of apology from her;
A [Conservative] Party spokesman said:
“This person is not a member of staff and her actions were not authorised by the Party. She is a friend of a party worker and felt strongly about the way this website had been hijacked and took it upon herself to make comments on the issue. She did this without our knowledge and we do not condone her actions.”
There are several misleading elements to this statement, but there’s no question about CCHQ making visible attempts to distance themselves from Lua Cooper.
On Monday afternoon, the Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter/etc. pages for Lua Cooper (i.e. the web pages showing just how close she was to key Conservatives and editors of certain ‘unbiased’ magazines funded by Lord Ashcroft) were all quietly disappeared. I doubt this was an entirely voluntary act of self-censorship. I further suspect that Lua Cooper was issued with strict instructions to keep her mouth shut.
CCHQ may be retaining her as an informal campaign contributor or some such nonsense and using that as leverage, but it’s pretty bloody obvious that her loyalty to the Party and her boyfriend (who is still employed by the Party) are the big levers here; even if the threat of severance went unspoken, it is there.
So while I sincerely hope and trust that Lua Cooper is a good person who wants to apologise, I doubt very much if she feels free/able to.
(Sure, the possibility remains that Lua Cooper is such a highly focused Conservative that she refuses to accept reality and therefore cannot discern right from wrong, but until I see evidence of that I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she would make amends immediately if the potential personal consequences weren’t so great.)
Sam Coates, on the other hand, does not get off quite so easily as far as I’m concerned:
Even if we put the cock-up of the #cashgordon campaign to one side and accept without question the notion that Lua Cooper acted without his knowledge/approval, Sam Coates was confronted publicly with the name ‘Laura Cooper’ after the fact, pretended not to recognise it, and – acting like a child in a playground – even had the temerity to throw the question back in JimmySparkle’s face, as if any deceit were his, and not the other way around:
JimmySparkle: Apparently the woman who phoned was a Laura Cooper, no idea if she was genuine. Claimed I hacked their site. Fail fail fail #cashgordon
Niall Paterson (SKY News): Cheers @chrismou. So @samuelcoates, anyone called Laura Cooper at CCHQ?
SamuelCoates: @niallpaterson @chrismou nope! Anything like that would have come through our team as it’s our thing – and I can guarantee that it hasn’t.
Niall Paterson (SKY News): @samuelcoates Just checking – there’s absolutely nothing in @jimmysparkle’s comments?
SamuelCoates: @niallpaterson no – why would we do that?!
JimmySparkle: so do you know Laura Cooper?
SamuelCoates: @jimmysparkle no, do you?
It was not only a deceit, it was a pathetic and stupid deceit… from the head of Tory online campaigning who then went into 24-hour tweet-silence (in the middle of one online campaign and at the start of another) and still refuses to discuss the matter, despite there being dozens of valid calls for an apology from a variety of interested players/observers.
That’s one hell of an embarrassment for a man who’s supposed to be leading the charge in online engagement, but still Sam forges on like the Black Knight of comedy legend… which brings us to the heart of the matter today:
Sam Coates may have been largely blameless (if a little clueless) right up until the point the name ‘Laura Cooper’ was mentioned, but it’s primarily his conduct from that moment on that’s the issue here. To remain silent and deny error is to deny reality, and if Sam manages to hold out any longer, his delusion/collusion in favour of his beloved Conservatives will be on par with that of the Iraqi Information Minister, and I really can’t see that working for him or any other propagandist* with a job to do.
(*For example; not only will he be unable to praise the success of any campaign with any credibility from this point on, but crucial denials will be mocked, and he’s going to look like a damn fool the next time he demands an apology from someone. All of this puts to one side the difficulty of Coates looking like a bit of a powerless cad by favouring the Party’s concerns ahead of his partner’s.)
[Psst! Sam & Lua, you can count yourselves lucky; if the boot were on the other foot, you know damn well that Lua would’ve been labelled a bullying bunny-boiler within minutes of her outburst and rabid, mostly anonymous Tory bloggers would be relentlessly reinforcing this notion for days if not weeks afterwards, purely for political gain.]