Politicians and Twitter

Boris and Sarah Brown need to refine their "twattergy"

It has often been predicted that our political class's engagement with new media will end in tears, and Sarah Brown and Boris Johnson will both be refining their "twattergy" (a composite of Twitter and strategy) after this week.

Brown's son hijacked her Twitter account in order to the post the following:

fvdfzsrsazxzzxcvbnmadgfhjjkqwrtyuuuiop

The rogue tweet came just days before Gordon Brown launched an initiative on children and internet safety. Speaking yesterday at the launch, Brown said the "message of gobbledegook" had taught him a "big lesson" about the need for supervision.

Over at the Media Blog, Malcolm Coles scents a conspiracy:

[D]id Gordon Brown get his wife to send a deliberately gibberish tweet so he could tell a funny story a week later about their son hitting the keys while they weren't watching?

Meanwhile, Boris has been formally reprimanded after using his official mayoral Twitter account for party political purposes. On the day the Sun defected to the Tories, he tweeted: "The sun has got his hat on, hip hip hip hip hooray".

By continuing to tweet and winning nearly 59,000 followers, Boris is stealing a march on David Cameron, who, despite embracing new media with WebCameron, has persistently refused to join Twitter.

It's likely that Twitterphobic politicians will be further discouraged by the experience of Labour's "Twitter tsar" Kerry McCarthy, who was bombarded with more than 100 questions at the request of the comedian Ross Noble. We now breathlessly await McCarthy's appearance at parliament in a gorilla suit.

Asked by one user if she would wear the costume, she replied: "I don't think it's expressly forbidden. I could give it a try?"

 

You can, of course, follow the New Statesman team on Twitter

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.