Over the last day or so I’ve been following, with a mix of amusement and incredulity, the consequences of a single tweet that I posted last night. Though I have to admit, I did think it was going to be a good one at the time I posted it.
The subject of the photograph is Chamali Fernando, the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, and as you can see she’s standing in front of an avenue of trees. But where? Nobody could think of anywhere in Cambridge that quite looked like that. To try to answer the question, I used Google Image Search to see if I could find a copy of the photo with some location details. I didn’t find one, but I did come across something at least as interesting – a copy of the photograph at the following URL:
The “%20″s here are just replacements for spaces – but the really remarkable thing about this URL is that it includes “Non target candidates”. In political parlance, a “target” seat is one that a party is concentrating particular efforts on, because the outcome is in doubt. “Non target” seats are either those where there is no realistic chance of winning, or (in this context at least) a safe seat where victory is virtually certain. Either way, such seats attract less campaigning effort, because it is unlikely to make any difference to the outcome; parties focus their effort on a relatively small number of “battleground” seats where a strong campaign can make the difference between victory and defeat.
Cambridge is most certainly not a safe seat for the Conservatives, as the incumbent Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert would surely agree. The Ladbrokes odds are currently 10/11 on for a Lib Dem victory, evens for Labour and 20/1 against a Conservative win. The Conservatives have been rather implausibly claiming that the Cambridge Lib Dem vote is “set to self-destruct” and that the local battle is thus between Labour and the Conservatives. However, the fact that their candidate’s photograph was on the central Conservative party website with a “Non target candidates” URL does somewhat contradict this.
After I tweeted my findings, Cambridge blogger Richard Taylor took up the story, and swiftly analysed the Conservative website to see how many other candidates had their photos listed with a similar URL. You can see his results in this spreadsheet – no fewer than 102 unfortunate Conservatives had their photos listed with “Non target candidates” in the URL. It’s clear that some of these are in safe seats – for example Heidi Allen, who is set to inherit the South Cambridgeshire seat from Andrew Lansley with a comfortable majority. But others, surely including Chamali Fernando, are evidently regarded by those who built the Conservative website as being unlikely to win.
Once Richard had assembled his spreadsheet, the story was picked up by Lib Dem blogger Mark Pack, and from there spread to a number of other sites, including the Spectator and the Independent. I’m currently seeing it turning up on local news websites in places like Wrexham and Liverpool, and even in our own dear Cambridge News.
I do feel sorry for the no doubt hard-working Conservative candidates who’ve had their chances of victory denigrated by their own party’s website, and also for whichever Conservative website designer was responsible for this fairly spectacular cock-up. I’m sure he or she hasn’t enjoyed today as much as I have. The URLs were swiftly changed this morning, but by then the genie was out of the bottle.
By the way, if anyone can identify where the original photo was actually taken, please do let me know.