Last weekend the Twitter user Lord Credo, the self-proclaimed Westminster insider, former Downing Street press officer, even right-hand man to David Cameron, deleted his Twitter account. So far, so dull.
The creator of the account had been outed as an imposter by Suffolk blogger Peter Ede in this blog post. Credo also stood accused of theft, deceit, and living under multiple false names. So far, so marginally less dull.
Credo had taken in the Huffington Post, the broadcaster Jeremy Vine, and the Speaker’s wife Sally Bercow to name but a few. Several leading journalists were among those who voted for Credo to receive a Twitter award. This gets more interesting – in the eyes of political figures, and some journalists in the mainstream media, Credo was credible.
I had my doubts. As we met for lazy lunches by the Ipswich waterfront Peter Ede and I would idly dissect this curious character over calzone.
Six years ago I was briefly a staffer in Lib Dem HQ. When Credo first joined Twitter he told me he’d met me, and knew me, but couldn’t possibly reveal his secret identity. This was the sort of intrigue he deployed to titillate and attract people in to his fantasy world – it worked on a great many, and I don’t blame them. I, on the other hand, called him a “dick” and unfollowed him. My approach to networking has always been distinctive, impatient, and given that I’m not currently Prime Minister – ineffectual.
After a few months, Credo consented to meet Peter and some of his friends. From Peter’s description of Credo, he evidently wanted to be both the envied insider as well as the anonymous maverick. So it was odd that this man, apparently the holder of a parliamentary pass which allowed him to escort visitors in to the relatively quiet bars and cafes of the Palace, only ever met in public bars and restaurants. He was never seen going in to or out of Downing Street or parliament. A show-off, who couldn’t show-off.
The existence of the press office at Downing Street is not a state secret, and the identities of those who work there are well known to those who follow politics –and even to people like me who enjoy flicking through PR Week. Based on what was in the public domain, I couldn’t reconcile the description of Credo to any of Cameron or Clegg’s team.
Then, there was the sheer volume of tweets – sometimes hundreds of messages a day. I’m sure some government press officers wish they had endless hours to dispense their finely crafted pearls of PR liberally across the web. They don’t.
It was also incredible that a self-declared member of the Downing Street press office could repeatedly libel a Conservative backbencher, behind the thinnest veil of anonymity. Credo’s tirades against Nadine Dorries took place during work hours and, if sent via the government computer network, could easily have been traced back to him.
Next came Credo’s tendency to pass off early breaking news as insider revelations. He claimed to have been the first to tweet news of Andy Coulson’s departure. In fact, by the time he put fingers to tweet, the Westminster rumour mill was so much in overdrive that even I – no longer even the lowest of algae in the Westminster pond – had picked it up.
While drinking in a Whitehall boozer, Credo was ‘called’ by Sally Bercow – of course, ensuring that Peter and friends could see the name on the phone. Credo had also, so he said, spent long hours at the weekend on the phone to the Prime Minister. He was bosom pals with the political editor of a Sunday paper. It struck me that the ‘insider’ connections were always the political backroom A-list – always Coulson, Bercow, Hilton. There was never a Bertin, Field, Oates, or Grey to be seen.
I laid out, pizza by pizza, these concerns to Peter who, to give him the credit he deserves, was never wholly taken in by the good Lord.
One day, Credo resigned after a ‘bust-up’ with the PM. A man who was supposedly one of the Prime Minister’s closest aides left his employ, after a major row, without a word appearing in any corner of the press. When I was told of this development weeks later I explained how this eventuality was patently ludicrous.
The developments became ever more fantastic, and I didn’t even know about the homelessness, the cancer, the suicides, the deaths, and the host of other stories. I didn’t know about the – very real – mislead and (allegedly) financially robbed girlfriend.
Peter took my cynicism, mixed it up with some available evidence, put in hours of effort and ultimately outed Credo, who promptly exited Twitter stage far-right.
So what is the purpose of this post? Hooray for me? Hooray, hooray, I told you so? No. Twitter has incredible potency as a hub for conversation, and as a place to coordinate action. It is a networkers dream, and has opened up corners of the Lobby to us outsiders – both to listen in, and to be heard. For all of these things, it is a blessing.
Twitter also has the power to drive mainstream news and – more insidiously – to help mainstream journalists form their angle on a story. One, poisonous, voice can be amplified to extraordinary levels. The Credo episode must remind journalists of what they already know – even in the world of 24 hour news it pays to thoroughly check out your sources. All of us who use Twitter in our professional lives would be wise to do the same.