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The tweets of power

“IvenevervotedTory because you can put lipstick on a scum-sucking pig but it is still a scum-sucking pig, and ‘cos they would ruin Britain” [sic]That was the frank message that was sent from the Twitter account of a Labour Party whip and MP for Telford, David Wright, in recent days. He has come out with an apology claiming that his account was tampered with and that the “scum-sucking” part had been inserted without his knowledge. What mischievous gremlin managed to carry out the action has not yet been made public and I’m not holding my breath in the hope that it will.
The message on the wildly popular social networking site was in response to a new Tory campaign along similar lines. In this campaign, the conservatives are trying to lure disaffected voters into their net with the phrase “I’ve never voted Tory before but…” 
The posting by the Labour MP sparked quite furious debate on the website, with some berating him for the use of uncouth language unbecoming a politician. I dread to think what they would make of Paul Gogarty over here if the man unleashed the kind of tongue-lashing he administered to Emmet Stagg on the British public. Shock and awe in the style of American military campaigns is the only reasonable comparison that springs to mind.
The offending tweet was removed and a much more demure message put in its place. “I’venevervotedTory because you can put lipstick on a pig but it will still be a pig. With apologies.” [Sic] This was, inevitably, described as disingenuous by Tory bloggers but in fairness to Wright, grovelling apologies can be difficult to get out in 140 characters.
There is a very interesting aspect to the explosion of new media use in modern politics and that is the fact that, in some small way, it is undermining the effects of the intense spin we have seen dominate the landscape in recent years.
Given how gaff-prone politicians can be, there are some who would question the sense in giving them access to a site where they can vent and post within seconds of a thought entering their head. No running to the press office to have a statement released, no level-headed press officers with an intimate understanding of the nature of the press involved, just think, tweet and post.
Despite this obvious pitfall, politicians of all persuasions have jumped on the bandwagon in recent years. Most of this rush to get on the new media helter-skelter is down to the exquisite use of Internet marketing by the team behind Barrack Obama when he won his place in the White House.
During that campaign, all the latest fads and Internet trends were employed to win votes. It is easy to be friends with Barrack on Facebook but I am yet to meet somebody who has received any personal messages. Still, it is a badge of honour on the site and people like to show their support for the big man in a public way, so more power to them. 
Fianna Fáil were so impressed with the success of Barrack’s campaign that they employed the services of his former director of new media, Joe Rospars, to boost their online presence ahead of the local and European elections. His effect I can’t really comment on, but Fianna Fáil’s chances in that poll were never going to be anything approaching landslide victories, whatever types of media were employed.
Another vocal exponent of new media at that point was a certain Deirdre De Burca, former Green Party member and senator. She told the Irish Times that it would be an impossible thing for her to get to the doorstep of every potential voter and that the Internet, blogging and tweeting allowed a “more intimate” look at the candidate for the voter. She hasn’t tweeted anything since November 27 last year and her bio still describes her as a senator but she can be forgiven this as in her blog she says she is “disorientated and uncertain” following her decision.
She has had six responses to her blog posting and they are generally positive but for such a big political story, could she not have expected more? Does this show a lack of public engagement or merely apathy?
Certainly, one issue that could be impacting heavily on the general public’s lack of chummy internet engagement with their representatives could be the fact that vast numbers of them cannot get broadband in their homes. For many people in Ireland even checking an e-mail remains a torturous task. Check first that the phone is not in use then log on and make several cups of tea while the page loads inch by inch. The time it takes to check mail means that many people will be too exasperated, exhausted and enraged to ever make it to a politician’s website.
New media is of course here to stay and politicians will continue in ever-larger numbers to use it as a platform to get their message out in an increasingly personal way. As a result, they will, being human, slip from time to time, revealing their real feelings for the world to see with one click of a button, undoing all the carefully constructed spin in the process.
In response to the “scum-sucking pig” tweet, Eric Pickles, the Tory chairman, said, “This is exactly the sort of politics that voters are so sick of.” He said that with regard to Tory policy, “All one of Gordon Brown’s ministers can provide in response is gutter language. This sort of language falls way short of what you’d expect of a minister of the crown.”
Perhaps it is not what one would hear from the carefully crafted caricature of a human, without flaws, that political parties would have us believe we are electing but it is not unlikely that one would hear a normal human being speaking in this way.
If this is the most shocking language Eric Pickles has ever heard he can’t have been in politics for very long. Keep tweeting I say and let’s see the real face of our politicians in all their scum-sucking glory.

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