There have been a flurry of rumours on Twitter and on the internet more generally that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has died, or is about to.
All so far have proved to be false, but have already shown that there are many – particularly within the Labour fold, that will almost literally dance for joy when she finally does pop her clogs.
I’ve despised her for many years. I won’t be dancing on her grave though – displays of joy at the demise of other human beings only serve to upset people further, and such displays will only weaken the public opinion of Labour.
Many on the left see Margaret Thatcher as possibly the most despised figure in politics in recent memory. She’s certainly the one I despise the most.
We should beware of deluding ourselves though. The real reason why so many people dislike her, is actually because so many more people thought that she was the best thing since sliced bread.
It’s also common place amongst certain Labour supporters to decry Tony Blair as some kind of demon as well.
Perhaps some people think he is. Most do not.
You’ll often hear people say that “Everybody hates Manchester United”
Why ? It’s because they’ve been the most consistently well supported, and most successful club of recent years. It’s because they’re so popular with so many, that they are so unpopular with a few. (And I’m certainly no Manchester United supporter)
The most popular, and the most significant post-war Prime Ministers have without a doubt been Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.
Whether you like them or not, it is an inescapable truth that there are many millions who did – and probably still do.
So I’m just saying !
It took a good while for me, and I guess many more people, to understand the power of the so called Web 2.0 phenomenon – which basically revolves around the notion that the internet is not a a broadcast medium – it is a medium which thrives and develops on the interactions of its users.
The potential of this idea for changing the way we think, and relate to each other is perhaps most apparent in the political ‘blogosphere’ and it’s attending social media platforms – such as for instance Facebook & Twitter.
I’ve found it a revelation that it’s possible to connect with politicians – who once seemed remote and unassailable – but are now ready to respond to questions, visit your blog, and publish and perhaps reply to your comments on their own sites. It can also lead to “real life” activity – In the past two years I’ve joined the Labour Party, visited Downing Street, met cabinet ministers, and conversed face to face with Members of Parliament. Without the interaction of the on-line communities none of this would ever have happened (a cautionary tale for some I guess !)
Some of this comes at a price though. Personally I’ve taken a decision not to pursue a mass readership for this blog – it ticks over nicely and has had 10,000 or so visitors – but if I were to receive that many every day – as some quite modest blogs do, I’d have great difficulty fitting in the management of comments, and the writing of posts with any kind of a real-life lifestyle. Imagine then how it must be for a Member of Parliament – the interest must be phenomal, and so also must be the risk of publishing something that will be picked up by the main-stream media, and used to make political mileage against you.
Certainly there are well publicised faux pas arising from Twitter – whether they be about skateboarding elderly ex-prime ministers, ill considered jibes against opponents, or hasty comments regarding ballot counts.
I’d suggest thought that although the greater scrutiny which the new media brings is difficult to negotiate, it is nevertheless a worthwhile activity for politicians – as it not only shows them to be open to communication with the electorate, but also to be confident in their convictions – and unafraid of speaking their minds.
Which is why I’m concerned that a number of politicians seem to be shutting down the channels of communication. It’s been well publicised for instance that Nadine Dorries MP has closed down her Twitter account (on which she was famous for blocking anyone who tried to respond to her), and has opened a new blog on which she opines freely – sometimes about individuals – but leaves no method of replying. Comments are switched off, and the email address on the page, results in a message (so I’m told – I’ve never tried it myself) which explains that Nadine may take several weeks to respond, and that she only replies to constituents. (Can anyone confirm this ?).
But I’m not going to dwell on Nadine Dorries – Although I do find her a little quirky I think her offensiveness has been highly exaggerated – Suffice to say that I feel it’s sad that she’s choosing not to interact with the rest of us mere mortals – in favour of turning her on-line presence into a one way channel.
Another blog site I’ve viewed a reasonable amount over the past couple of years belongs to one Steve Baker – the Member of Parliament for Wycombe. I find his blog interesting because Steve’s not like most other Tories. Most Tories in my opinion base their political beliefs on very little other than a desire to get ahead, there are no principles in their politics. Steve Baker on the other hand has principles to spare – he’s evangelic about many aspects of politics – he waxes lyrical about the “Austrian School” of economics, and his beloved Cobden Centre. He’s clearly an independent thinker as his somewhat unorthodox statement on Hunting with Hounds shows Hunting with hounds | Steve Baker MP – ( and remember he’s representing a constituency in the heart of Fox Hunting country ). So he’s very principled – I just tend to disagree vehemently with almost all of the principles he holds.
Give him his due though he’s responded to my comments, and engaged – and of course I haven’t been particularly complimentary – but he gives as good as he gets, and I even bought a book on his recommendation after reading this article - Clear thinking | Steve Baker MP ( Book available from Amazon here : Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking: Amazon.co.uk: Jamie Whyte: Books – I can also recommend it).
I don’t read his blog often but I do keep coming back to it periodically – but when I tried to leave a comment recently it appeared that the site had forgotten my password. After a bit of messing on with reminders and stuff I realised it had also forgotten my user name and email address. No problem – register again – except that “User registration is currently not allowed”. With a bit more scouting around it would appear that all of my previous comments (there aren’t that many actually) – and Steve’s replies to them, have been removed – in fact I couldn’t find any comments at all.
“Follow me on Twitter (please note that I do not reply on Twitter)”
In fact there’s very little way of contacting him directly other than by post – and the form on the website is for users with a Wycombe post code only.
Of course he has – like every other MP, or for that matter every other member of the public – every right not to respond, and not to interact.
Wouldn’t it be so much better if they all did though ? Wouldn’t give them all so much more credibility – even if they used staff members to give them a hand ?
The posts on Steve’s blog I’ve looked at over the last couple of days have been his “quotes of the day”, and I found a particular irony in this one :
“Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with each other and governments less” (attributed to Richard Cobden).
Quite ! Being a member of parliament doesn’t stop you being one of the people Steve – in fact I’d say it magnifies the fact that you are exactly that.
So if you do read this – please leave a comment and let us know if you’re going to interact with us again, and whether you’ll encourage other politicians to do the same ?
Stop Press – :
I’ve just discovered that the aforementioned Nadine Dorries MP has re-launched her Twitter account, which can be found here @Nadine_MP – so a special follow friday #ff for her. I’m following her – I hope she doesn’t block me !
UPDATE ( 2.00 PM Saturday 16th October)
Steve Baker MP has read this blog, and responded via direct message on Twitter to inform me that there is a technical issue with his website which is preventing people leaving comments, which he is looking into. He tells me that the only problem he has is lack of time and that he prioritises his constituents. Which is a reasonable enough response – Thank you Steve. He’s also clearly reading his Twitter messages – and despite what his blog says he does reply. Keep interacting Steve !
What we need now is a comment from Nadine Dorries ! – Are you out there Nadine ?
UPDATE ( 3.00 – Saturday 16th October )
Following the response above Steve Baker has posted on his blog to clarify his comments policy and explain how his recent purging of spam registrations has caused a few problems, I’ve since commented on his blog and have received a response Comments and contact – constituents first | Steve Baker MP
Never let it be said that Northernheckler doesn’t give credit where it’s due, and nor do I restrict my praise to non-Tories. Thank you Steve Baker – the blogosphere doesn’t get much more interactive than that, it’s much appreciated. Now if you could have a word with Nadine … !
- Tweeting doesn’t make you a benefit cheat, Nadine Dorries | Lucy Glennon (guardian.co.uk)
- Why Nadine Dorries is better off not blogging or Tweeting (liberalconspiracy.org)
- Don’t miss Steve Baker MP in The Freedom Zone (tfa.net)
- Dorries: report people who Tweet too much (liberalconspiracy.org)
- State of the Blogosphere Survey (onecoolsitebloggingtips.com)
UPDATE : The morning after writing this, I get David Milliband’s latest leadership email https://www.taomail.co.uk/labour-emails/web/100586/2168/2168/4/157/138869/6c9f25fffc902659faad22345e2dc0f1/ which I have to say covers a lot of the same ground as my post. He’ll be in my top two – still pondering about Ed Balls though
A bit of a rant this but I need to get it off my chest : -
Back in the days between Margaret Thatcher being elected in 1979, and Tony Blair being elected in 1997, politics wasn’t a great deal of fun for anyone who wasn’t a Tory.
The Tories to me lacked all conviction. No ideology, no guiding principles, other than make as much money as you can, protect your own people and to hell with all the rest.
They did however have a strong grasp of tactics and PR, and as unpopular as they were with me and many like me – that’s how popular they were with those who did vote for them. For every one of us that thought Maggie Thatcher was the wicked witch of the west, there were a band wagon load of Tories who thought that the Sun shone out of her proverbial.
If Labour were the main party of opposition they did a poor job of showing it. What we were treated to was a party that seemed intent on tearing itself apart – and more or less did. With the likes of Degsy Hatton and Militant, with the Campaign for Social Democracy led by Shirley Williams and the Gang of Four – which of course led to the breakaway SDP – condemning Labour (and any non-Conservatives) to years in opposition wilderness. There wasn’t much need for the Tories to rip apart Labour – the Labour party did it for them, in-fighting & factionalism were the order of the day
Wind the clock forward a few years and we find the Labour Party about to elect a new leader during it’s first year in opposition, after 13 years in power.
And what do we find. We have arguments about whether to go back to Old Labour, whether to revive New Labour, whether each leadership candidate is Brownite or Blairite, or in favour of a Core Vote Strategy. We have countless pundits slagging former Prime Minister Tony Blair off, we have supporters of Tony Blair slagging Gordon Brown off. Throw in a few nasty comments from Peter Mandelson – and the predictable backlash – and it all starts to add up to an 80′s style Labour Hara-Kiri fest.
Can we all get a bit of perspective on this please ?
New Labour – it was new for the 1997 election – well over a decade ago – it’s not new anymore. Whether you love or hate New Labour – it’s time to move on
Tony Blair isn’t the leader anymore – neither is Gordon Brown. They both did good things, they both did things that weren’t so good – Get over them ! They are quite literally – history !
I will say this though – Labour has to be the party which represents all people. Not just the poor, not just the workers, not just the under privileged. Everyone. If not, then every time someone is helped out of poverty or disadvantage, then they’ll have no choice but to abandon the party.
For me the broad church nature of the Labour Party should enable us to ensure that we can be the party that works for all people, not just some, and that we can secure votes from all sections of the public in future.
So whoever you vote for in the Leadership ballot, please remember what it says on the back of your membership card : “by the strength of our common endeavours we achieve more than we achieve alone”
For me that means fighting the Tories, and not each other.
I got into a slightly heated Twitter exchange this afternoon after responding to @conorpope’s tweet to @BevaniteEllie’s statement that she was visiting Burnley. It simply said – “You’re in Burnley ? I hope you’ve had your jabs.”
I took some offence at this – although from the very first I know full well that @Conorpope is no racist – I’ve followed him on Twitter for some time, and guessed that the likelihood was that this comment was in connection with some rivalry between Burnley and some other local town – quite possibly Blackburn, or Bolton. (and it later transpired that this was indeed a comment relating to Blackburn Rovers rivalry with Burnley)
It bothered me though that a town in Lancashire – well known for it’s Asian population, was inadvertently being compared to a country, where one would be likely to need injections before travelling to. Perhaps Pakistan or India
Was I over reacting ? – maybe – but it wasn’t by accident -
I’d just like to relate a couple of anecdotes to give you a clue as to why it bothered me – both relate to me personally, and to sporting rivalry in the North of England – so are roughly analogous to this situation :
The first is about my memories of supporting Bradford Northern Rugby League team (now Bradford Bulls) throughout the 70′s and early 80′s – Our biggest rivals were Leeds, now the Rhinos.
There was a popular “joke” amongst Leeds fans. This was that Bradford was “over run” by Asian immigrants, to the extent that it was really a foreign country, and that all or most of it’s inhabitants were Asian.
Similarly there was a “joke” amongst Northern supporters that Leeds was actually a Jewish enclave within the UK, and that all Leeds supporters were Jewish
At the games between the two teams the two sets of fans would amuse themselves by hurling racial abuse at each other despite the fact that almost all of the supporters for both teams, were white, vaguely Christian, working class people.
Many’s the time when I’ve walked through a crowd of Leeds RL supporters, wearing my Northern scarf whilst they shouted things like “You black Bastard !” or “Acky Acky Acky – I can smell a Paki !” (I’m white and English)
I’ve also been in the middle of crowds chanting “Four by, Four by, Four by two, Four by two, Four by two” at passing Leeds supporters (four by two = Rhyming Slang for “Jew”) and shouted out “hilarious” comments about them having had the ends of their penises cut off.
If anyone was going shopping to Bradford in those days, a typical response might be “Hope you’ve got your passport !”
Less commonly you’d be told to be careful in Leeds if you went to the toilet – “they’ll have you circumcised as soon as look at you !”
It was all done in friendly banter, good humoured, and actually some of it was genuinely very funny.
Make no mistake though, it was very very racist. I’m very glad it stopped as well.
But before you start accusing me of getting on my high horse – I can assure you that I was an active part of that mob yelling anti-semitic chants – my voice was as loud as anyone’s, and I didn’t need much encouragement. Nor did I see it at odds with my activity with groups like Rock Against Racism or the Anti-Nazi League
Looking back though I’m embarrassed about my behaviour then – it was childish, it was racist, and I’d prefer not to have done it. I hope I didn’t cause offence to anyone (although I WAS deliberately trying to offend Leeds supporters).
Rugby League wasn’t my main sport though – football was, and I’ve been a lifelong supporter of Huddersfield Town. Our key rivals are Leeds United. There were often racist chants in the early 70′s – I’m happy to say that I didn’t get drawn in to them – the racism was far more overt than the teasing at the rugby matches.
One of the worst went like this : (to tune of Oh when the Saints)
“The Bradford End. Is always full.
The Bradford End is always full
FULL OF WHAT ?
Full of wogs full of niggers, full of pakis !
The Bradford End is always full”
Nasty eh ? I never sang it, but lots did. It would have been a brave man that told them not to. I wasn’t that brave.
Many of those who sang it (and some of them were black) justified it on the grounds that it was making fun of Bradford, that everyone knew that most City fans were white, and it was obviously a joke. It wasn’t racist. Anyone who objected needed to get a sense of humour (Where have I heard that today ?)
But I didn’t resort to chanting it. What I did do though, like many Huddersfield supporters, was fall into another habit : That of never referring to rivals Leeds United by name. In writing it would be either L**ds or L666ds.
In spoken words it would simply be “Yids”
Why ? Well the derivation is the same as that at the rugby league games in Bradford. Leeds has a significant Jewish population, and several Jewish businessman have been involved with the club. Notably Manny Cussins.
The rest of it was just spite really. Spite and racism – not that any of us had anything against Jews – it was just a nasty name which could just as easily apply to Leeds supporters.
Several years later, long after I had thankfully grown out of all this obnoxious racist rubbish (for which I feel some guilt, but mainly acute embarrassment) I became a contributor to various on-line supporters forums for Huddersfield Town.
Now these email lists and discussion groups have evolved a code of ethics. Top of the list is this : NO RACIST COMMENTS !
And usually there are none. However it became apparent that several younger fans were still using the word “Yids” to refer to Leeds. They were quickly taken to task, and threatened with expulsion by the other members, and by list owners
Most of them were bewildered – they had no idea that “Yid” was an abusive word for Jew. They simply thought that “Yids” was a deliberate mispronunciation of “Leeds”, and whilst they had no intention of offending Jews, they had every intention of offending Leeds (which is of course within the code of conduct).
This felt uncomfortable to me. I’d never intended to offend people of any race – but I realised over the years that I’d said some really quite unacceptable things, and stood by and done nothing while others showed totally nasty racist behaviour.
As a result I’ve grown into someone who has a sharp eye for comments that could be construed as racist. Some might say I’m hypersensitive – I prefer to think that I have a highly tuned awareness. If I spot racist remarks, in whatever arena, I tend to speak up and say that I don’t like it. That’s not to say that I am particularly judgemental of the people who make the comments – very few of them are intentionally racist – and as I’ve related I’ve been as guilty as anyone of doing this in the past. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter though – I really think that it does.
So all those people who want me to stop being hypersensitive, to get a sense of humour and so on. Well I’m sorry I won’t be changing.
I have incidentally had discussions via Direct Messages with @conorpope since this afternoon, which show that he’s definitely not a racist, and that he does understand my position – it’s not a problem for either of us – despite some people who seem to be rather hoping that it was.
Sorry to disappoint.
@conorpope contributes to the excellent Political Scrap Book blog by the way – which today carries a blog on a far more interesting “race row” “Bring back slavery” row returns to haunt Conservative Future candidate Craig Cox | Political Scrapbook
Seems that the latest opinion polls are the next big thing in the election campaign.
I’m not so sure if I’m honest, We’ve seen a lot of widely different ‘exit polls’ after the “Leaders debate” – seemingly working every permutation of who came in 1st, 2nd or 3rd using apparently the same data source (You ! , the public !), and polls which have been published incorrectly then retracted and “nationalised” based on local samples. And the Mail on Sunday now seem to using someone called BPIX to do their polls – who ever they are.
It does make me wonder whether they’re going round getting lots of different polls done and just publishing the ones which make most impact. Certainly Sky News seemed to run about 4 different versions of their after debate poll on Thursday night, presumably because the real results didn’t say what they wanted.
Despite this though, I’m not dismissive of them. If these were favouring Gordon Brown rather than Nick Clegg, I’d be tweeting from the rooftops with the rest of the Labour twibe. So let’s take them at face value – even if they aren’t necessarily all that reliable.
The most sensational of these polls seems to place the Lib Dems as front runners in first place, with Labour in 3rd. As various commentators have pointed out (and sorry for the lack of links tonight – I don’t have the time !) – this could lead to the bizarre situation where Labour ended up as the largest party in parliament, with the fewest number of actual votes; and perhaps the Lib Dems with the fewest seats, and the largest share of the votes.
Will this be the turning point where the Lib Dems finally come of electoral age and seize power ? Or will it be (as Iain Dale has said on his blog) – David Cameron’s Wobbly weekend ?
Well I’m not sure – but I will say this – These polls would certainly appear to have woken the public up, and all of the parties. Last year when we had the Euro elections, the polls looked bad for Labour – not much better for the Lib Dems, and we had a frustratingly predictable low turnout bad news election.
The political geeks (like me) have done their best to liven things up since then – there’ve been better polls for Labour, and lots of games with posters and stuff. Still – until last week – none of it was really catching the wider public interest.
But now it is. Now we’ll see who can run an election campaign.
The polls don’t show what WILL happen. They show that anything CAN happen.
The turnout at the last election was 61.5 % – imagine if just half of the remaining 38.5% decided to vote this time round.
Anything really COULD happen.
So what I’m taking from these polls is this : It really is #GameOn !
UPDATE : Just came across this blog on the Sky polling after the ‘Leadership Debate’ – it’s a beauty. Respect to Loveandgarbage ! : Leadership debate – pie in the Sky
This morning I came across this image of the world, sent via Twitter. Yfrog – u6c – Uploaded by tjerubbaal
It intrigued me – it shows areas of the world scaled according to their overall Government debt, and coloured according to the debt as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product. It carried the caption from Twitter user @tjerubbaal “Truly disturbing image: are you paying attention @conservatives, @labour, @libdems? Tinkering won’t work.”
The poster is clearly not making a party political point – not between the three main parties anyway. Which is what intrigues me – because I feel quite strongly that the understanding of this issue, is at the heart of the difference between the Labour party and the Conservative party at the current time.
Forget about whether you understand the diagram or not – it’s not particularly easy to comprehend. Just know this – the debt which the country has taken on really is large – as @tjerubbaal points out – some might say disturbing. There’s no dispute amongst the political parties about that.
You could be forgiven though, if you’ve been reading the popular press, or listening to the Conservative election campaign, that this has come about from some bungling incompetence by Gordon Brown & his chancellor Alistair Darling. You would be wrong. the scale of the debt is intentional – and marks the dividing line between the philosophies of the two major UK parties.
The tradition in recent years among Conservatives has been in favour of light touch Government – ‘small government’ as it’s now being sold. The idea being that the key players in the world’s and the nation’s affairs will effectively manage things with least intervention (interference ?) from outsiders like Governments. The ‘market’ we are told will self regulate – it will have times of lean and times of plenty – in Labour-speak times of boom and of bust. The wise prepare for this, and put by in times of plenty/boom to see them through in the lean/bust years.
This approach carries a certain logical appeal. It has a simplistic fairness, but it is harsh because in lean times, the people who suffer the most are the people who are least able to put aside plenty in the boom years – not the entrepreneurs, landowners, and businessmen – but the workers who work for those people. This was the case in the early 1980′s when Margaret Thatcher argued “There is no alternative !” and allowed market forces to work through the hardship of a recession, meaning millions of people faced mid to long term unemployment.
It also has the disadvantage that, as we have seen recently, the market doesn’t always work well in regulating itself, and there are those operating within the market, who take reckless risks, which put the prosperity of whole nations at risk.
The new Labour approach, under the Blair & Brown government, embraced some aspects of the Conservative free market approach. Labour realised that the nation as whole tended to benefit from being a prosperous trader – but sought to smooth out the cyclical peaks and troughs of a totally free market approach, whilst allowing the market to benefit the economy. (It is a significant shift from a traditional socialist approach).
No return to boom and bust was Gordon Brown’s mantra as chancellor – one which is now often ridiculed.
It was however a highly successful approach – but it fell foul of a factor over which no chancellor can truly have control – the UK economy is not isolated from the World economy. We can dampen the effects of the outside world, we can ignore them for a time, but ultimately we are interdependent with the economies of every other nation, and we are prone to the booms and busts of their economies as well as our own.
As Gordon Brown yesterday acknowledged one of the errors which was made was to grant the financial institutions too much freedom, and provide too little intervention (interference ?) in their affairs. BBC News – Brown admits he made a mistake over bank regulation . The unfettered actions of those institutions then led in large part to the Global recession from which we are now slowly recovering.
For the Conservatives then to blame Gordon Brown for the recession is grossly unfair – in the first place the errors to which he admits, are ones which any Conservative chancellor would have been clamouring for – small Government, free market, and giving business the opportunity to manage its own affairs. These are actually the self same philosophies which the Conservatives wish to re-impose.
Secondly to blame Gordon Brown for the actions of banks, because he didn’t regulate them is akin to blaming householders, who didn’t have the right locks or alarm systems for having their house burgled. Sure they could have made things more difficult for the burglars – but the blame lies with the house breakers. Similarly, whether regulated or not, financial institutions in Britain and around the world, took irresponsible actions which have affected everyone.
Personally though I don’t feel it’s helpful to apportion blame – we are where we are. What is important is how we react to this. This brings us back to the debt which Gordon Brown has incurred.
Margaret Thatcher said “There is no alternative”. (There is no alternative – Wikipedia, )
She was wrong – Gordon Brown has shown this. His actions have been taken to dramatically reduce the impact of the recession, to prevent long term mass unemployment, to keep the economy active, and to put off the difficulties of repaying to a time when the nation will be more easily able to bear it.
The Conservatives still argue that this is wrong. That things should be left to take their course, and massive cuts in public spending should be imposed as soon as possible in order to hasten the economic recovery – but that this is the only way that recovery can happen. The mass unemployment and prolonged economic hard ship for many are seen as the price that has to be paid.
Whilst blaming Gordon Brown for the recession may be unfair, the Conservatives’ criticism of his borrowing to tackle the recession is not without logic. Their policy is philosophically defensible.
It is however a philosophy to which I do not subscribe, and which I feel is morally reprehensible.
So be in no doubt – that huge debt that is illustrated in the diagram in the link above is not there by accident. It’s there because there is an alternative, and that alternative has protected us from the worst ravages of the recession – which may well still come back to bite us if we are foolish enough to elect a Tory government on May 6th.
[ Just as a test I've got Labour's Eddie Izzard election video - let me know if you can't see it ]
As it appears the election will finally be called tomorrow, and the media will be overloading us all with political stories for the next month or so, I’m wondering just how engaged the general public – as opposed to the kind of people like you and me – who write and read political blogs – really ever are about politics.
Clearly some of them always are, and lots of them sometimes are. If politicians could only get their heads around why and when they are, and perhaps just as importantly – why and when they’re not, then we’d have a very different political landscape
One of the recent big events politically on television would appear on the face of it, to have been Channel 4′s “Ask the Chancellors” Televised Debate Ask the Chancellors – 4oD – Channel 4 – featuring real Chancellor Alistair Darling, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, and for the Lib Dems, the man described as the Hung Chancellor, Vince Cable.
It certainly lit up the world of Twitter, and would appear to have been judged a success in terms of people voting on the C4 website and the trending topics on Social networking sites Ask the Chancellors: a success for Channel 4 – Telegraph Blogs , but did it really capture the public imagination ?
Certainly with estimated viewing figures of just 1.7 Million it would seem that it did not. Compare this with the audience of over 8 Million for B N P leader Nick Griffin on Question Time BBC celebrates record ratings for Nick Griffin on Question Time – Times Online . What was it about that programme, which fired up the public so much more for a late night programme featuring a minority group politician, than for a peak time “Big guns” debate ?
When I went into to work the day after the Question Time with Nick Griffin, the whole place was buzzing with talk about the programme – even those who hadn’t seen it, were talking about it.
After the “chancellors”, not a murmur. This despite the economy being probably the key political issue of the day. So why aren’t people interested ?
For me these are difficult questions to answer. What makes it difficult for me peronally, is that, when all said and done I have to confess to being a bit of a political geek. The fact that you’re reading my blog probably indicates that you are too. People like us, look at politics news, and usually see every nuance of every development, and turn it over in our mind, trying to work out what effect it will have on public opinion – our moods soaring with every stirring speech from our chosen parties, and dropping into the slough of despond with each embarrassing faux pas. It’s not easy for people like us to understand the workings of the minds of people like my Mum, who at 72 reads the Daily Mail every day, but claims she only does the crossword, and never reads the articles.
As a ‘political geek’ I’m someone who is often involved in on-line claim and counter-claim regarding political minutiae, and so I wasn’t entirely surprised a couple of weeks ago to be challenged (via Twitter of course) by independent candidate for Luton, and well known purveyor of oddly shaped vegetables Esther Rantzen (Esther4Luton) to watch Channel 4′s Dispatches programme regarding allegations concerning Labour politicians involved in unsavoury activity regarding payment from parliamentary lobbyists. Allegations which I was vociferously sceptical of, prior to seeing the programme.
It was an odd time for me as I was unusually not able to indulge my usual passion for all things politically newsworthy, and spent the best part of a week not really tuning in to Twitter, or the news, or any of my normal sources of information. I didn’t actually ever get to see the programme itself fully either. Instead I just got the background chatter from people I work with, the glimpses of other peoples newspapers on the train. In short I got the man in the street’s version of politics – not the politics wonk’s version. I have to say that the revelations about Stephen Buyers, Patrica Hewitt, Geoff Hoon, and Margaret Moran didn’t register on my radar at all, and when I came to catch up with this at the end of the week, it would appear that Labour’s reaction, had been to condemn the four out of hand, and more or less say – well we wanted rid of them anyway, it’s no big deal. Simples ! as those meerkats annoyingly say.
Except, to be fair to Esther Rantzen, I think she had both me and them bang to rights (I’m talking like Gene Hunt now – I’ll have to watch out). I couldn’t see any saving graces here, and none were offered by the party as far as I can see. The actions of these MPs appear to have been despicable and dishonourable. In other circumstances this could have been very damaging indeed to the Government, and to the Labour Party, and yet – somehow – it hasn’t been.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been inch after column inch of coverage of it in all the papers Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon suspended over lobbying allegations – Telegraph . It’s not to say that the opponents of Labour out there in the blogosphere and twittersphere, haven’t gone ballistic over it. But if you ask someone who’s not a political blogger, someone perhaps who thinks Facebook is for looking at their niece’s wedding pictures, and for playing Farmville, ask them what they think about the lobbying allegations; then they’ll more than likely just look blankly at you. Geoff Hoon ? Geoff Who he ?
I don’t understand this. Sometimes the public really do get worked up about political stuff. Remember the #ILoveTheNHS hashtag ? the storm that was created when right wing Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan described the NHS as 60 year mistake ? It was huge. It was on all the newspapers, everybody heard about it, and it just grew out of nothing.
Except that it didn’t really – it had rumbled on for months with John Prescott amongst others, trying his best to make a story out of this, plugging YouTube videos of Hannan – all to no avail. The story would not run. But then it did. It ran and ran and ran.
I don’t understand it – and for once I’m not offering any answers – just asking the questions. When does politics ever really engage the public ? and Why ?
Maybe we’ll find out over the next few weeks.
A quick blog to alert people to an issue I’ve had with the E-Cadamy website
I received an invite to this site from a Twitter-friend yesterday and decided to give it a go – I signed up (or thought I did) and as is the case with a number of social networking websites, it prompted me to send invites for people I wanted to connect with – and could do this via Twitter.
Without thinking I quickly did this. Shortly afterwards realising that my “DM” was clogged up with messages from me – all of the invites had gone out via direct message. What I didn’t realise is that there’s a 200 message per day limit on Direct Messages – and as of this moment I can’t send any at all – until tomorrow no doubt. I suspect though that it might take a while longer – I deleted several dozen of the messages sent on my behalf by the site earlier today (all the ones I could find) only to find them replaced by several dozen more. It looks as if they’ve been sent in alphabetical order – and I’m only up to ‘G’ – so bearing in mind I have around 450 followers, it looks like it could be a few days before I can send any more DM’s
It also appeared to clog up the rest of my twitter feed for a while – with some messages not getting through, and others being delayed (presumably because of API limits) – all back to normal now.
The irony is I never even got to the point where I found out what the E-Cademy website offers – and guess what ? I’m not going to bother. Nor am I going to link back to them.
Hope that explains some of my odd tweeting this afternoon, and that not too many people have responded to my invitations (if you haven’t – don’t ! – and if you have – Sorry !”
UPDATE : A lot of responses to the list published by Iain Dale since I did this. Not least the one at Political Scrapbook which takes a different way of assessing the ‘top’ twitterers (I prefer ‘tweeters’ by the way) – which is to use Tweetlevel which is a service which works out a score based on followers, RT’s, replies – etc, etc.
Clearly a little more sensible than Iain Dale’s approach, but what @PSbook didn’t fully take into account was who was Labour and who wasn’t – and so rapidly updated the chart when Tweeters like myself sent their scores in.
According to the list I’m now 13th = (in actuality 23rd) – ahead of notable Labour tweeters, Like Will Straw, Sunder Katwala, Sally Bercow, Sion Simon – to name but a few.
Well – it’s flattering – but it’s not true ! – and I think underlines the pointlessness of Twitter “charts” – but thanks anyway !
I read on the celebrated tory Iain Dale’s Diary blog this morning, his list of the Top 20 Conservative and Labour tweeters, (with a link to the Lib Dems’ top 20 – mustn’t give them a place on the top table now must we ?)
Now Iain of all people surely knows his way around the internet / blogosphere / twittersphere – call it what you will – so why is he with bothering with such a silly list ?
To put tweeters in rank order, based on number of followers seems to totally miss the point of the interactivity of both Twitter and blogging.
The influence that a particular tweeter – or even an individual tweet – exerts on the masses is related to how many people follow them – but is not wholly dependent on it. Neither do most “grass roots” Labour tweeters – and to be honest Tory, Lib Dem, & whoever else – really give a monkey’s about who has the most followers – the influence which Twitter wields is in the mass interaction – the Re-Tweets, the replies – the sense of community, and the propagation of ideas quickly among large numbers of people. It’s about bringing to attention the small individual blogs, on a par with the large institutional blogs on an equal footing – it’s just not about numbers. The total is so much greater than the sum of the parts.
Iain has for example clearly missed out one important parliamentary tweeter with over 40,000 followers – which would make them the third “top” political tweeter after Sarah Brown and Boris Johnson – but in my ever so humble (I only have 400 followers) opinion, not especially relevant in terms of influence (although I’m open to persuasion).
Iain in the same article also opines that Labour’s Twitter presence is more ‘party machine’ than ‘grass roots’ activists, in comparison with the Tories, by virtue of the fact that “Twelve out of the Top 20 Labour tweeters are in the party machine, compared with 11 Tories.”
Yes. Right. Well that’s the whole point – that’s how they are connecting with the grass roots.
Some people just don’t get Twitter !
Yesterday I attended the Fabians’ New Year Conference at Imperial College London. Pretty good stuff it was too, with an opening key note speech, screened live on both BBC and Sky News, by none other than the man himself Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Although sitting in the third row whilst Gordon effectively kicked off Labour’s General Election campaign was a pretty impressive experience for a political geek like me, if I thought that the close encounters with political celebrities were over for the day, I was very wrong.
A few minutes later I was seated in the same auditorium for my choice of the first group sessions of the day – which my followers on Twitter will not be surprised to learn was “Twittered out – will the new media really change the election ?” – a lively debate chaired by Twitter Tsarina & MP for Bristol East Kerry McCarthy (aka @KerryMP) , and a panel consisting of President of YouGov Peter Kellner, Ellie Gellard – better known as The Stillettoed Socialist or @BevaniteEllie, Nick Anstead of the University of East Anglia – (and co-editor of “The change we need” with Will Straw ), and finally James Forsyth, Deputy Editor of The Spectator‘s online edition.
High spot of the debate itself was when Peter Kellner was giving the predictable whine about how it’s impossible to say anything worth reading in just 140 characters – whilst he was speaking many of the audience were tweeting away, iPhone’s and Blackberries in hand, and received the message “Next to a Twitter hater on platform #fab10″ from @BevaniteEllie seated a couple of feet to his right. She smiled knowingly to the audience, and the audience tweeted back. There are those who know and there are non-Twitterers !
Which brings me to the point of this blog. As James Forsyth was winding up (and I’m sorry James but you were anything but riveting) my attention wandered to a small group of people who’d just come in to the auditorium and sat down just in front of me.
I did a double take, and realised that one of them was none other than the Dark Lord himself, Peter Mandelson. Kerry McCarthy had clearly noticed as well and attempted to engage him in the debate, pointing out to him that one of the most common questions she is asked by twitter users is “Can I follow Peter Mandelson ? – Is he on Twitter ?” Well I think this was one of those rare occasions where Lord Mandelson couldn’t really decide what to say next – yes I was surprised as well ! (@KerryMP: tells us “I asked Peter Mandelson at #fab10 if he’d start tweeting. He said “they” aka “the dark side” won’t let him!”)
So we reached the end of the session – which was followed by Peter’s session with the Young Fabians – people got up to leave, lots of people started arriving. I made a move towards the other side of the auditorium to ensure a good view of events on stage.
In doing so I came across a man blocking the way -
” Excuse me !” I interjected politely
- he moved to let me past just as politely – and I realised that it was Lord Mandelson once again.
Well I wasn’t going to be denied this time – “Pleased to meet you !” I said, offering my hand, which he shook with political aplomb.
I introduced myself, told him that my on line persona was “Northern Heckler”, and then … well didn’t know what to say really !
So I said – “I think I follow you on Twitter !” (I thought I did !)
“You don’t follow me, I’m afraid” he said.
“Someone who pretends he’s you ?”
- “I’m afraid so”
- “Well I’ll look forward to when I do follow you,” I said, ” nice to meet you !”
- and with a smile he trotted on to the stage and addressed around 600 Young Fabians – not failing to point out from the platform that some of them (like me) – were perhaps not all that young !
So – I think the time has come to launch the campaign – Lord Peter Mandelson needs to be on Twitter. We need him – He needs us. Twitter is full of people who, unlike the general public, actually find politics interesting. Peter Mandelson is one of those people who actually makes politics interesting for the rest of the population as well. So if he becomes a Tweeter, he’ll square the circle as it were.
Plus it would be lot’s of fun.
Mandelson’s one of the few genuine stars of British politics – some people love him – some people hate him, others merely throw custard at him – but it would take a very disaffected voter to hand on heart say that they were bored by him.
So my message to Peter – “Come on Lord Mandelson – there’s a tweeting mob out there who need some soundbites throwing at them (just ask Guido Fawkes !) – Your public need you !”
To all the people out there on Twitter, I say – Let the world know we want #Mandy4Twitter – doesn’t matter which party you support (if any), like him or loathe him, – you know you’ll follow him – tweet it, & re-tweet it : #Mandy4Twitter !