Politicians and Social Media; or How Not to Use Twitter

Whatever Dr Phillip Lee MP’s future Twitter-tomfoolery, it will have an audience of at least one fewer after today.

I have today unfollowed Dr Phillip Lee, Conservative member of Parliament for Bracknell, on Twitter.

Some of you may be surprised to find that I follow Dr Lee, but even though I don’t live in his constituency and am an avowed opponent of his Party and his politics, I still like to follow such figures because that way I get the full picture of both the political debate and of what is going on in my local area. I follow a variety of figures from across the political spectrum.

And I didn’t unfollow Dr Lee because I took exception to his political position. Indeed, I can’t actually tell you any of his positions because I don’t know of any time it has substantially deviated from the Conservative Party line. No, the reason I unfollowed him was because this evening he tweeted almost 50 of these:

Almost fifty. I think there are forty nine, but it was quite hard to count them on my laptop screen. It wouldn’t be a problem, but they were tweeted near-simultaneously, and clogged up my Twitter feed, taking attention away from other tweets which might have, I don’t know, actually had merit?

I don’t really know what’s going on here. Maybe he’s been fielding some criticism that he hasn’t been doing enough work. If so, I’m not sure that annoying all 646 of his followers (is it churlish of me to point out that I have more, and I’m just some annoying guy who likes to mouth off?) is the way to go. The videos seem to be all of his speeches in the House of Commons and select committees, and even if people do care, show me the person who sat and watched forty nine of the damn things.

I really don’t understand how MPs can still not be getting Twitter, and social media in general. Dr Lee is far from the only one, either. His constituency neighbour, Wokingham’s John Redwood, uses his own as a glorified alert feed for his blog. On the one hand, he doesn’t use it to actually engage with anyone, but at least he doesn’t generally post fifty blogs at once. Which is nice.

(I should also point out that John’s online engagement is better in other ways. He responds to comments on his blog, and even to comments on the Wokingham Times website. So whilst everyone’s favourite Vulcan’s politics may be both wrong and distasteful, at least he’ll acknowledge my disagreement.)

It’s even more annoying that there are MPs who get it right. There are a growing number who actually communicate with the community and the people following them. On the Labour side of the house, Bristol East’s Kerry McCarthy does a sterling job, and whilst she has questionable ideas how it should be run, at least Louise Mensch talks about issues and responds to her followers.

But my personal favourite tweeting MP has to be Jamie Reed (Copeland), who doesn’t let his shadow minister’s brief get in the way of a) sounding human, b) being interesting and c) being funny:

UPDATE: It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one bemoaning Dr Lee’s terrible use of social media: journalist Ian Dunt has included the good Doctor on his list of the ten worst MPs on Twitter, in at number three.

Thames Valley Police Commissioner – Labour Nomination Hustings

Tim Starkey and Jon Harvey- the two shortlisted candidates for the Labour nomination for Thames Valley police & crime commissioner.

Last night, Wokingham Labour Party held a hustings for the two shortlisted candidates for the Labour nomination in November’s elections for the Police & Crime Commissioner of the Thames Valley region. The two candidates are Tim Starkey and Jon Harvey, who not only have satisfactorily near-rhyming names, but who both have shiny websites so you can read up on their policies.

It was a fairly well attended affair, with party members present from Reading East, Bracknell and my own Maidenhead as well as Wokingham, and the questioning was lively. It was, I thought, an excellent hustings.

Both candidates were well qualified for the job, and were brimming with ideas of how to improve policing in the Thames Valley. Tim is a barrister, who has worked in prosecution and defence, and a former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate who defected to Ed Miliband’s Labour in protest against the coalition policy. Jon is a lifelong Labour man with experience working as an adviser to police forces and politicians, and a town councillor in Buckingham.

One of the most positive things to come out of the hustings, I feel, is a very genuine belief from both Tim and Jon that a Labour candidate can win this. I think the local elections two weeks ago were something of a game-changer. Whilst Labour progress in Wokingham was a little stalled, elsewhere across the Thames Valley area we made big gains. And here we have something to offer.

One of the most interesting ideas I heard was from Tim. It’s number one on his list of five pledges:

To restore officer numbers in the Thames Valley to 2010 levels could be paid for by a rise in the police precept of £4 a year for band D properties. I believe this is a price worth paying.

I reckon he’s onto something. I believe that people are quite happy to pay taxes, if they can see where those taxes are going. And £4 per year is a small price to pay for a full-strength police force, and the piece of mind that would provide residents.

Jon touched upon another policing matter, of equal importance I would say to the drastic cuts in numbers: police privatisation. Back in March it emerged shockingly that two police forces had already offered major contracts to private security firms, and that others were considering following suit.

He also showed this worrying image:

Police privatisation is a serious threat. It also seems to be Conservative Party policy. Like Jon, I think that a great many ordinary residents of the Thames Valley area would find the idea of a private security guard patrolling their streets very worrying.

Like I said before, Labour do have a real shot at this. And though I haven’t made up my mind yet whether I’ll vote for Tim or Jon, I know whichever of them wins the selection, they would both make an excellent candidate and an excellent Police and Crime Commissioner.