Labour's Douglas Alexander deletes tweets saying Nicola Sturgeon backs Tories

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Labour’s election strategy chief, Douglas Alexander, has backtracked over his party’s heavy promotion of claims that the Scottish Nationalists secretly want David Cameron as prime minister.

Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, deleted tweets last night that highlighted a widely contested report that the SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, had told the French ambassador she would prefer a Conservative government. The allegations, apparently contained in a leaked Scottish Office memo reported in the Daily Telegraph, had been denied by both Sturgeon and a spokesman for the French ambassador. Some Labour activists had also balked at their leadership jumping on the story.

Alexander is one of Labour’s biggest hitters in the fight to avoid a heavy election defeat north of the border by the SNP. He had enthusiastically promoted the story after the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, described the “damning revelations” as evidence of SNP duplicity. Sturgeon said the story was “categorically, 100%, untrue”, but Labour’s campaign chief used his Twitter moniker, @Douglas4Paisley, to link to the story and report to his more than 39,000 followers: “Nicola Sturgeon secretly backs David Cameron.”

Another tweet read: “It turns out that @NicolaSturgeon told French Ambassador she’d prefer Tories...” and another read: “Reported tonight that @NicolaSturgeon told French Ambassador she’d prefer Tories remain in Government”. All three were deleted without explanation late on Sunday evening according to the Tweets MPs Delete Twitter account.

Asked on Monday by the Guardian why he deleted the tweets, Alexander declined to comment, but admitted: “No one will ever know for certain what went on between Nicola Sturgeon and the French ambassador. But what we do know is that the Tories are desperate for the SNP to do well, and the SNP are telling voters across Britain to vote for anyone but Labour.”

Jim Murphy, leader of Scottish Labour, denied the party was embarrassed about heavily promoting the widely disputed story.

“If Douglas has deleted his tweet, you will have to ask him,” he said, adding there had been no request sent out from Labour HQ asking for the tweets to be taken down.

The deletions came after the Labour leadership’s strategy over the claims appeared to have backfired with some of their own supporters. One, Mark Bull, said: “As a UK labour supporter I’m embarrassed by labour peddling this. Shoddy!”

Another, Shane Reynolds, said: “I’m deeply disappointed in how party & @Ed_Miliband have jumped on this apparent falacy [sic].”

On Saturday, a spokesman for the French ambassador said Sturgeon did not “touch on her personal political preferences with regards to the future prime minister’’ during a meeting in February.

In contrast with Alexander, who made no comment about the removal of the tweets, other Labour activists came clean. Duncan Hothersall, a leading Labour activist in Scotland, tweeted on Friday night: “So both @NicolaSturgeon & French ambassador have now both categorically denied Telegraph story. Apologies to the FM. Looks like I was duped.”

Several of Alexander’s Labour colleagues standing for re-election to parliament retweeted his original posts. They appeared to have been taken down automatically when Alexander deleted his post.

“I haven’t taken it down,” said Mike Gapes, who is standing for Labour in Ilford South. “There is, privately, an SNP agenda that wants Cameron to stay in office because it would speed up a second referendum on independence.”

Others whose tweets were deleted automatically were Emma Reynolds, the shadow housing minister who is running in Wolverhampton North East, Debbie Abrahams, candidate for Oldham East & Saddleworth, Iain McKenzie, standing for re-election in Inverclyde, Tom Greatrex, standing in Rutherglen & Hamilton West and Gemma Doyle, standing for West Dunbartonshire.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Robert Booth and Severin Carrell, for theguardian.com on Monday 6th April 2015 15.12 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010