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:


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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Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.