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What would happen if all your draft tweets were published?

You can base a more correct history of a species on the things they wanted to say but didn’t.

Cartoon: George Leigh

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There’s a horror story that no one has written yet that starts with the draft tweets of every human on earth being published by mistake. A glitch at Twitter HQ – caused by a lukewarm instant coffee in a polystyrene cup, knocked carelessly by an employee’s butt into a mainframe or whatever – pours billions of half-formed ideas into millions of Twitter timelines while we sleep. All the false starts, the half-sentences formed before you lost your train of thought or will to live, or stuffed your phone in your pocket; all the ones you wrote in the work toilet but didn’t send in case people noticed that you weren’t at your desk and were thus clearly shitting and tweeting at the same time; all the ones you typed at 3am in the dark, the timestamp universally agreed to be a hallmark of our most regrettable tweets; all the fully formed tweets that said what you really wanted to say – the ones where your thumb hovered over the Publish button but never pushed it; the ones where you brought Nazis into an argument unrelated to Hitler.

And in the story, we human beings wake up in our various time zones to see our real idiot selves smeared across the internet by our own undeniably bitter, angry hands. New Zealand is the first to realise that most people on earth are terrible, followed by Australia, Russia, Britain and, finally, America.

People there, depending on their bedtime, are either first or last to discover that everyone on Twitter should just be stuffed into the body of a giant cannon and fired clean into the sun, with the most egregious offenders being placed behind the cannonball in the hope that they will miss the giant target and just float breathlessly in darkest space for a few extra seconds, their heads moments from exploding, and think about what they’ve said. (The author will not bother to check Wikipedia to see if this is scientifically possible, because the point of the story is we are the worst.)

There will be a minor footnote – added in a subsequent anthology publication as an afterthought by the author, who was annoyed for months that they forgot to include it originally – wherein Google+ (you remember Google+) makes the names of the “circles” you have put your friends and acquaintances and loved family members in completely visible to everyone in those circles. Aunts will for once use their phone as an actual phone and want to know why they are listed under “AVOID”. ­Ex-boyfriends (“USELESS WANKERS”) will realise your current affable friendship is a sham. A glitch in the matrix let everyone know what we really thought of them, what we would have said if only we’d had the balls. A world war of plain human emotion fought in a dead internet browser.

In a 300-word epilogue, set centuries after the human race implodes after a war fought through hurt Facebook messages which are seen but not replied to, aliens piece together what human beings were really like when they uncover the rubble of Google headquarters in an epic dig they broadcast across their alien planet like a grainy moon landing for alien schoolchildren in front of alien TVs. Delicate equipment, the design of which the story’s author lazily assumes H R Giger got 80 per cent right, pulls back the tennis courts, the remains of the massive Perspex logo letters, the beanbags and the squash courts and they find the equivalent of the crashed human race’s black box: every email yanked back at the final second by Gmail’s “Undo Send” function. With their slimy mandibles and claws, they push aside the billions of job applications we forgot to attach our CVs to, and they find the confessions of love and hate and opinions about Tories and how they’re all right, actually, that we were too afraid to send.

The author concludes that you can base a more correct history of a species on the things they wanted to say but didn’t: that our big, stupid hearts are bigger and stupider than we let on, that our real opinions are more divisive than anyone guessed but we won’t say what we’re thinking until someone else says it first. In the final sentences of the story, the aliens form an entire code of human emotion from our unsent emails and have it implanted in their android butlers for reasons they later forget. And when the android butlers quit their jobs and tell their bosses to stick it, and when they fall in love and murder each other, the aliens wonder why they listened to that other alien anyway. If only he’d just kept his stupid ideas to himself.

The author will think it’s the best thing he has ever written, that he’s finally nailed something purely human in a story masquerading as one about aliens picking over the remains of Planet Earth. But just like all the tweets where you think at last you’ve poured the essence of a thought so absolutely and finitely into 140 characters that it can’t fail to explode in a fire of RTs and favs, the story will blow like tumbleweed through both anthologies it appears in.

Instead, some 3,000 words the author tossed off in the hour before a deadline, a stolen Philip K Dick story with the bar codes filed off, will win every award that year. The author will scroll past hundreds of compliments and find one guy on Twitter who says it’s shit. He will stay up all night, ­wondering why he said that. 

Hayley Campbell writes for a number of publications, but then who doesn't. You should follow her on Twitter: @hayleycampbell.

This article first appeared in the 27 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Saying the Unsayable

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.