There have been crocodile tears a plenty from Birmingham Conservatives this week as their election campaign team scour Twitter and social media for something to take offence at.
I imagine they are trawling the Facebook feeds of rivals looking for something to whip up into a storm, in the same way that many thought the late Mary Whitehouse would scour TV schedules seeking filth and violence.
The cause of their anguish this time have been campaign tweets by Labour opponents which at worst could be described as a little edgy – but apologies have been demanded and no doubt voters are being told of the cruel Labour smears in various election leaflets.
Labour grandee Hugh McCallion, a former Kingstanding councillor, is a man who confuses Twitter with Poets’ Corner and writes everything in frequently clumsy, rhyming couplets.
One of his latest posts was: “The Tories spend a lot of time collecting plastic bags. That’s just to cover up the fact they’re David Cameron’s fags.”
Unfortunately, this has been taken as a homophobic slur against the recently elected Kingstanding Tory councillor Gary Sambrook, when it is clearly a reference to the fagging system at public schools like David Cameron’s alma mater Eton.
An unrepentant Hugh said: “I’ve called our own leader Sir Albert Bore much, much worse.”
This in Kingstanding, which has, thanks in large part to the robust and aggressive campaigning style of Coun Sambrook and his colleagues, become one of the bitterest contests in Birmingham politics.
Once a safe Labour ward, in the February by-election the seat feel to the Tories – Coun Sambrook to be precise – for the first time since 1968. He won at his fifth attempt.
There are frequent claims of foul deeds from all sides. All involved have thick skins, hardened by the years of rivalry.
Three years ago young Sambrook received an apology from Labour, after they wrote a campaign letter titled ‘who ate all the pies’ illustrated with a pig feeding at a trough in which they accused him of dining at taxpayers expense at council events.
Sambrook, who described himself as being ‘on the large side’ correctly pointed out the whole tone of the letter mocked his size and was bullying. The apology was duly delivered.
But this latest attempt to claim offence is taking things a little too far.
As is the claim from Sutton Coldfield that a tweet by Labour councillor Rob Pocock is ‘upsetting’.
Coun Pocock, while discussing ghost walks, said he wished that the Tory competition was ‘dead and buried’. He has now deleted the tweet.
Tory chairman Ewan Mackey, called for an apology and said: “Councillor Pocock’s tweet has caused genuine upset. We thought that beside the politics that there was no personal animosity.”
The trouble is that ‘dead and buried’ is a commonly used term in sport and politics – political careers, such as Maria Miller’s, are frequently described as dead and buried.
Rival football fans have taken delight that Manchester United’s season is ‘dead and buried’, but only a couple on the lunatic fringe would wish Wayne Rooney and co were six feet under.
So if they are desperate for the next Twitter storm or scandal the Birmingham Conservatives need to try a little harder.
• With three separate inquiries into allegations of hard-line Muslim school takeovers springing from the Trojan Horse letter you can’t help but conclude that different agendas are at work here.
On the one side there is a risk that a blind eye is turned to overtly religious teaching in secular schools – including the sidelining of female teachers and pupils and intolerance of homosexuality.
And on the other there is a risk that nothing is done to reform the academy schools model which provides opportunities for these and similar activities in schools.
There is a concern that the city council, in looking to keep a lid on any religious or community tensions arising from the issue, will look to downplay the more extreme claims.
The Secretary of State Michael Gove is unlikely to find fault with his flagship academy policy through which schools have been granted considerable freedom from accountability opening up opportunities for small cliques to exert undue influence.
There are claims of prejudice on all sides – that Ofsted inspections have been loaded to find evidence of extremism, that in appointing a counter-terrorism expert to lead his inquiry, Michael Gove has already made his mind up, and that the city council had already concluded the letter was a hoax before starting its inquiry.
But unless there is a clear and unified set of conclusions from the various inquiries and the authorities, there is a real risk that the issue will drag on well beyond the summer, plunging, teachers, pupils and parents into even more uncertainty and suspicion.