Sunday, 8 January 2012

MPs and Social Networking Nationally and Locally.

In the news this week Dianne Abbott and Ed Miliband caused a stir with ill thought out tweets and a typo.
Dianne Abbott and Ed Miliband

Dianne Abbott, in a conversation with a Journalist stated words to the effect that White people like to Divide and rule. I can't comment on the context or say what I think she may have been trying to say or whether or not I thought she made a racist remark or not.
All I can say with certainty is there were grounds for offence and offence was taken whether real, false or hype. She claims the tweet was taken out of context and that she was talking about Colonialist attitudes to race in the 18th and 19th century.

Fair enough. However it wasn't clear and someone has blown a 142 character tweet out of all proportion and there were even attempts to get her to resign! 142 characters did all of that.

Ed Miliband then dropped a clanger the following day when he was talking about the passing of Bob Holness and he accidentally typed Blackbuster instead of blockbuster. This in the wake of Abbottgate led to another burst of furor. I am struggling to see why though as it was clearly a typo but yet again demonstrates the dangers of using such a tool and one should be used very carefully.

Tracey Crouch MP
Twitter gives the constituents access to their MPs in a way that could never have been dreamt of a decade ago and is used with quite some success by MPs such as Tim Farron to talk about constituency work and to interact with his party members in his role as Party President. Other MPs such as Mark Reckless post links to news stories on his blog and short comments. Tracey Crouch is a bit more engaging but lies between Tim Farron and Mark Reckless in chattiness but that is not a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with being guarded about things especially in todays digital age.

However Tracey Crouch has been slated for not stating her position on the selling off and out sourcing of four elderly Care homes (something I have written about here and here)

As Nelson Court lies in her Constituency it was decided by the Save Nelson Court Campaign group run bu former Lib Dem Councillor Maureen Ruparel (whose husband uses Nelson Court) and her son to write to to Miss Crouch.

The Campaign is not a Liberal Democrat run campaign but apolitical as it was feared that it would be come a politicised struggle and detract from the actual plight and concerns of residents and the welfare of patients. The campaign is, however, supported by the Lib Dems, Labour, trade Union groups and Welfare groups.

As I understand it, Tracey wrote back to Maureen's first communication saying she was looking into the Council's proposals very carefully. Since then Maureen's mentioned there has been further communication between the Campaign group and Miss Crouch. Unfortunately due to a pressing family commitment, Christmas, my involvement in a pressing and purely Liberal Democrat project has led me to neglect my involvement in the campaign and I have not been as involved as maybe I should have. My knowledge of the campaign at the moment comes only from the local press. However I do intend to catch up as soon as possible.

I should quickly state what my role in the local party is so as not to garner any further confusion. I have been a member for under three years, an active member for exactly one year, group secretary for exactly one week. I've no involvement with what our Councillors do in Chambers at this moment nor can I dictate Where the party stands. At best I am nought more than a citizen of Gillingham with political interests who writes opinions on stories and issues.

Right back to topic.

Local Labour Councillor for Luton and Wayfield Tristan Osborne tweeted Tracey Crouch and Mark Reckless (MP for Rochester and Strood) for their stance as the story broke in the press in December. (blogged here)
Tracey's response was straight forward. She wouldn't comment on issues on a Social Networking site. All correspondences should be directed to her office or email address and she would respond that way.
She has then come under fire for refusing to state her position openly. ( blogged here) There has also been mounting pressure on Twitter by Medway Labour and Cllr Osborne for her to publicise her stand point.
Has a letter or email be sent to her by the Labour group?

To a degree I agree that in an ideal world it would be super for all MPs to publicise their opinions on everything but it is sadly very impractical!

In today's modern age anything said or written can come back to haunt you at a later time, also with the fluidic nature of politics etc information would need to be updated regularly to avoid mistakes or old opinions being quoted as current opinion. Also MPs would be under constant criticism for U-turning on previous positions by opposition parties - you can shake your heads but you know you would. A good past quote can be dug up and;

MP for Marden and Staplehurst Chris Sams once said that the Marden bypass would be wholly damaging to the local environment when just six months ago he was right behind it. Lib Dem U turn!!!!

May be I'm just a traditionalist but I can't imagine Asquith, Churchill or Wilson releasing their opinions regularly. If anything I could see Churchill quoting the Duke of Wellington;
If I thought my hair knew what my brain was thinking - I'd shave it off and wear a wig.

The key point is that Tracey is in consultation with the Campaign and is undoubtedly paying interest to the situation especially as her stated Parliamentary interests are:

If anything these facts alone would show that she would take the Nelson Court issue very seriously and may not want to jeopardise the campaign by making rash statements or worse further politicise it detracting it even further from what it is actually about - the plight of the patients and their families.

Yes the public should be let know but at the moment the Council is still going through the Consultation stage and nothing has been decided (although Cllr Osborne told me yesterday the Council has pre-budgeted for their closure) so at the moment Tracey's dealings with the Council are not a concrete outcome UNTIL a final position has been stated by the council. Hopefully, as I've warned before, the Council haven't gone into the consultations with an outcome already in mind.

Also as a relatively new MP she is right to be cautious with her words and tweets, something that Dianne Abbott and other MPs should take note of the perils of Twitter and heed the words that discretion is the better part of valour and one day you may say something casual and a month, a year later it bites you on the bottom.
Even in this case, I've read the drafts of this blog very carefully several times to make sure that it isn't worded badly or could be misconstrued as anything but observations.


  1. Chris - as a Lib Dem apologising for the MP is baffling. You are supposed to be the opposition group on the Council and you should be standing up for the resident interest and not the establishment and MP interest.

    This is a major local campaign with implications on hundreds of vulnerable adults, residents and the future of care homes in Medway - with these four being the final four in Council ownership.

    You are effectively saying she wont give a position because it will embarass her; well yes, perhaps it would, but then if she believes in Conservative values and if she stands by them that should be exposed to the public.

    I am not asking MPs to tweet a position in a few characters. I am asking her to put a post on her website which can go into detail about her position. The consultation (sham that it is ) is in public; where does she stand?

    We will pursue MPs to the end of the consultation on this issue because they can not be allowed to just absolve themselves of what their campaigners (remember the Tory Councillors leaflet for them both) are doing to Care Homes in Medway.

    People have been nice thus far politely asking for them to make public statements. My hunch is they will be accused of shirking responsibilities as MPs from all opposition parties and groups very shortly unless they make clear where they stand on the consultation, the manner in which it has been conducted and most importantly what they are going to do about representing their constituents on it. That is their job and responsibility...

    Labour are not interested in having closed discourses on an issue such as this with Conservative MPs. Let sunshine and public scrutiny win through...

    Lets get a public position and let them debate it in full public view; they promised that as candidates and quite frankly they need to step up to the campaign pledges they made on openness and accountability.

  2. Firstly I'm not appologising for Tracey Crouch's actions I'm merely stating that I understand why she wouldn't want to tweet it.

    I also suggested that as it is a sensitive subject cards are being played close to their chests so as not to cause panic and alarm.
    As was seen by Abbotgate media can whip up a frenzy as can opposition parties media/spindoctors and when it is the elderly and their families who are concerned you have to be careful. After all there have been complaints about usage of the word "closed" by some parties with reference to Nelson Court.

    The same thing is happening at my place of work, a full review with the fear of redundancies is under way but its all kept hushed up within the department for fear of giving unnecessary stress as statements are read and re read and re analysed ...

    Also, I don't get what you mean about being against the Tory establishment. Yes I'm in an opposition party but we're not at war with them. If the Conservatives have a measure that is a good idea I'll back it. (not the closure of care homes I hasten to add - that's awful as I've blogged before) After all they were democratically voted in by the people of Medway to run Medway.

    I do stand up for people's interests, I have done and always will do, afterall I am a resident and have resident issues at my heart including education, youth services etc that my family and others like me use. I am just confused by this attack on Tracey when afterall it is the Council who came up with the policy and who are pushing it. We are fighting it, you are fighting it, the people are fighting it.

  3. I have a strong feeling that the reason MPs choose not to respond on Twitter to what are often complex questions needing detailed responses is that it is physically impossible in 140 characters.

    It would rightly be seen as too casual, bordering on the flippant, an approach toward an issue that deserves a proper in-depth (or at least reasonably detailed) response. I sometimes find myself in a similar position, so I then post a link on Twitter to a 'blog post I have written, as you might have noticed a few times.

    Thus the MPs' approach seems to be the right one, and as long as they actually do provide an appropriately complete and detailed reply, in the most appropriate form and place, then that I think is the right way to conduct such matters.

    As is so often the case in this life, just my mentally placing ourselves in their shoes we can readily see the sense in how these things are being handled. I think the words I am looking for here are "competently" and "professionally".