Twitter makes politicians sound weird

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 4 April 2011 in Diary
Why MPs would be banned from tweeting if Sadie was prime minister

Although there’s more chance of me getting a job as Keira Knightley's body-double than pursuing a career as a Member of Parliament, I occasionally dream of what the People’s Republic of Smithers would look like. I rarely get further than free sausages on the NHS, sentencing Rod Liddle to four years of picking oakum, and a Bill to punish those who use the word “pamper” in a public place to a form of ritualistic disembowelment, because, as with so many things when you’re a bag-carrier, an MP ruins it.

The “bwhirr” of Twitter shatters the joyous mental image of Rod contemplating the little tent of blue that prisoners call the sky, and a Homeric musing in 140 characters or less is shared with the world, straight from one of those responsible for steering the nation, from the cockpit of parliamentary democracy.

“Gd mtg w/ vending machine operative in Torquay community centre. Put case for more twixes!”

In the aftermath of the expenses scandal, one of the first things to be cut from MPs’ budgets was constituency report. Post duck-house-gate, publicly-funded pictures of Members looking stern and pointing at potholes were out; IPSA was in. Facebook was deemed soooooo 2007; Twitter was where it was at.

Annoying as Members using their Twitter feed as some sort of constituency annunciator is, even worse is the use of the damn thing in the chamber. The mutual backslapping from politicians of the same side (“gr8 speech from @MaryMcMemberMP!”) is only slightly less edifying than the use of the Blackberry to make snide remarks about your opposition number whilst they’re speaking (“@CoalitionMinister is victim of #factfail. LOL!”).

I’m not against Twitter per se, but to me there seems something not quite right about a MP giving a speech in the chamber whilst everyone else in the room is hunched over their iPhones posting their thoughts on his contribution on the web. Apart from being somewhat discourteous, why bother being there if you’re going to inform Twitter of your opinions before you tell the House? There’s an internet, literally full of people, already desperate to yell their views into the online ether, so I don’t understand the burning desire to join the cacophony when MPs have the privileged platform of the Commons.

Compounding the problem is the new intake of 2010. They are determined, Martin Shaw-style to show those stuffed shirts how getting down with the punters was done in the 21st century. Suddenly everyone has a Twitter account and, thanks to this, the public finally learned the truth about life as a politician.  Because Twitter makes politicians sound really very weird.

I know it’s terribly modern. I know the kids are all getting down like that. And I know that it’s awfully hip. But politicians aren’t hip. They are not down with the kids, and, however young they are, politicians by their very nature aren’t normal. Campaigning until midnight on a Friday and “looking forward” to a Young Fabians Conference at 9am the next morning is not normal. There are some things about politicians that the public are better off not knowing. Full disclosure about their expenses is imperative. Full disclosure about other aspects of a politician’s existence will do nothing to improve our political engagement problem.

So if I were ever to be prime minister, my first action would be to introduce a Bill to require members of the Commons to give up Twittering as soon as they are returned as their constituency’s representatives. To make room in the legislative timetable, Rod Liddle gets a stay of execution.


Tags: Expenses Scandal, MP communication, Twitter

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