Sunday, 11 October 2009

Twitter: the political tool greater than the party political broadcast? But by God it can bite

For followers of UK politics the past three weeks has been what the world cup finals are for football fanatics.

Although the party conference season is over, politics isn't - in fact it's alive and kicking (hard) on Twitter.

The parties have wholeheartedly embraced social media in all its forms.  Each has Facebook pages and all are veterans of YouTube - in varying degrees of success.

But this year has been the year of the Twitterisation of British politics.

Undoubtedly inspired by the success of the Obama social media campaign who managed to turn tweets to votes, so the Brits have arrived.

One of the big Twitters to lead the way has been John Prescott who tweets day and night about various aspects of his Go Fourth Campaign.  And despite early rumours that Prezza had a staffer to Twitter, it turns out the 71 year old is in actual fact the thumb behind the tweets.

And while it was said that it was like watching the blind lead the blind when Alastair Campbell once showed Tony Blair how to send a text message, the spin doctor has become one of the foremost political voices on Twitter.

Over on the blue side of the fence, the Conservative big hitters have been a little slower to take to Twitter with party chairman Eric Pickles being the most high profile name signing up admitting with his first Tweet on Oct 2: "Greeting chums welcome to my first twitter entry. I was due to start during the Conference but my Observer chum Gaby Hinsliff told you 1st."

To see which parties are using Twitter most (effectively?), here's a few stats at the time of writing blog:

Labour: following 7,029 - followers 6,866 - Tweets: 855*
Conservatives: following 13,941 - followers 14,270 - Tweets: 1,447
Liberal Democrats: following 2,346 - followers 5,486 - Tweets: 802

[*Labour figures updated as per comment - see below]

As for the leaders ...

  • Well Gordon Brown's official Twitter account sits under the Downing Street banner (bit official and boring).
  • Nick Clegg is right there and campaigning.
  • While David Cameron made his views clear on Christian O'Connell's Absolute Radio breakfast show when he said: "The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it - too many twits might make a twat." Seems you don't need Twitter for that, as Ofcom ruled.

    But Dave isn't the only one to cause waves when it comes to Twitter.  Just days after criticising the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme for a "feeble and biased" interview with George Osborne and adding: "Another wholly feeble and biased Today programme rounded off with a fawning interview with a Tory pundit!!"

    Bradshaw capped the week off with another Twitter 'controversy' when responding to the segment of Cameron's conference speech in which he talked about the excellent care his son received at the hands of the NHS, the Culture Secretary tweeted: “The Camerons got good NHS care thanks to Labour's investment and reform. Is this the ‘big government’ he derides.”

    As you'd expect, Bradshaw took a barracking from the opposition and its supporters, but isn't this exactly what Twitter is about? It allows politicians to air their views and for those views to be immediately debated by other Twitter users.  The danger is, the more the politicians get burnt for airing views, the more Twitter is in danger of becoming (even more) politically stage managed. The parties already have Twitter tzars, let's hope their job is not to spin the tweets.

    There's no doubt Twitter has become a political force in British politics.  Every day the social networking site is feeding the news agenda - many days it's leading the news agenda.

    Never more so than with the summer's very British revolution - the #welovetheNHS coup. No blood was spilt, but it was as big a revolution as we've seen on these shores since ... well the Poll Tax.    Sparked by Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan's US television-backing of Sarah Palin's argument that the NHS is evil.

    Hannan felt the full force of Twitter and David Cameron went out of his way to say that Hannan was so off message with the rest of the party he may as well sit with the Polish right wingers.

    But last week the #welovetheNHS campaign was briefly over-shadowed when another flood of hashtag tweets brought down the site when Bono appeared via video message at the Conservative Party conference. What was the hashtag used this time? #Bonoisatwat of course. Perhaps Dave is right!


    labourparty said...

    Labour is actually following 7,029. The one with no followers is a bot to post news. Perhaps you might like to correct your error?

    Kevin Matthews said...

    Thanks for the error flag-up labourparty. has one new follower!

    Louise Bolotin said...

    In the last week, I've found myself being followed by both Labour HQ and the Tories on Twitter, no doubt because I'm a journalist even though I don't write on party political issues. And despite my public announcement on Twitter that my political affiliations lie beyond traditional political party organisation. I'm quite amused that there seems to be a sudden scurry on Twitter to "converse" with anyone who might have any influence, no matter how puny, in the run-up to the next general elections.

    I followed the Downing Street Twitter feed for while then unfollowed it because it was a one-way conversation. No change there, then! If the parties are genuine about embracing platforms such as Twitter, they must conduct a two-way dialogue - Obama pulled in the vote using Twitter but then his feed went deadly silent after he won his election, demonstrating how cynical his campaign use of the medium was. It'll be interesting to see if any of the UK parties will learn from that error.