Empty vessels make the most noise and in Twitter they have the perfect communication tool says Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price in her latest blog in the on-line newspaper, The Huffington Post.
“I have lost count of the number of people who tell me I should be using Twitter. 140 characters and you can announce your thoughts to the world – or rather who you have as an audience.
Twitter has been enthusiastically embraced by politicians. We are always looking for ways of making contact with an electorate which has grown increasingly cynical about the motives and abilities of their politicians.
But I believe it is having a malign influence on political debate. It is dumbing debate down with political discourse becoming an exchange of clichés. 140 characters leaves room for a statement of view with nothing to substantiate it. Unqualified assertions are the stuff of propaganda, not the stuff of mature political debate.
Of course the fact that the statements are put out there does give the opportunity for challenge and engagement. To Diane Abbott’s credit she regularly engages in such online debate. It was perhaps only a matter of time when she would be caught out by ill-chosen words because she was determined to have the last one.
Of course for journalists the Twittersphere is a gift. Tweets are proving as fertile a ground as expense claims as a way of humiliating politicians. Each time a politician puts a foot wrong through poor or provocative choice of language we end up with the spectacle of a news media chasing around after them when there are big issues which should be the focus of political debate.
It is also encouraging politicians to dash around trying to be the first to capture the current zeitgeist. Anyone who grew up in the 80s remembers Bob Holness with fondness – do we really need to know that Ed Miliband does too? Is that what we really expect the Leader of her Majesty’s Opposition to be thinking about. I expect to be hearing about his plans to tackle the financial deficit. On the other hand – I suppose if you have nothing to say a bit of bit of popular culture is always a winner with the voters – unless it has a typo.
I do have a Twitter account. I have yet to use it. I am not sure that many of my constituents would sign up to hear my latest missive, though I can imagine many politicos would. As the audience is self-selecting I am not sure that it even reaches out to the people the messages are intended for. If anything it is reinforcing the tendency of the political class to talk among itself and may perversely increase the gulf between politicians and their public. If we just look at last week’s row over Diane Abbott. Most people in this country were glad that some of the thugs had been banged up for murder at last. They weren’t really too interested in debating the nuances of what might or might not be racist.
Ultimately what the people want from their politicians is leadership. They dont want crass politicking. They dont want meaningless clichés. They want to be confident that the issues which their politicians are looking at are the ones they are worried about.
“I find other channels of communication far more effective in engaging with the electorate and making a constructive contribution to debate. Online? I think I will park the Tweets and stick with The Huffington Post.”