What Nick Griffin and Stella Creasy's tweets taught me

From the BNP leader's praise for Dark Side of the Moon to the Labour MP's Twitter spat with Frankie Boyle, we're being reminded that our politicians are humans.

Over the last couple of days a few things have happened which have made me think about the relationship between politicians and the public. They are:

1) Nick Griffin telling his Twitter followers that "today is the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd's brlliant (sic) Dark Side of the Moon. One of first albums I ever bought."

2) Blue eyed Tory miscreant Bernard Jenkin going on the Today programme to complain, in the wake of a low turn-out in the Eastleigh by-election, about the inability of a "managerial class" in Westminster politics to engage with the electorate.

3) Loan shark-hunting Labour promoter of dubious musical tastes Stella Creasy "calling out" (ugh) James Arthur abuser/lookalike Frankie Boyle for tweeting that Tory head girl smug machine Claire Perry must "Have a clitoris like a toddler's leg hanging out of a pram" during her appearance on Question Time.

Are they connected? I don't know. Let's deal with the three in turn:

1) First reaction: fuck me. Second reaction: I wonder if he got stoned while listening to "Us and Them" and got the wrong end of the stick. Third: That album came out when he was 14, allegedly the same year he read Mein Kampf. Other albums out that year: Innervisions. Let's Get It On (I'm guessing he didn't like those). Aladdin Sane. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Quadrophenia. There's one hell of a Venn diagram you could draw there.

Anyway, this is all part of something the format of Twitter offers. In a weird way, we're seeing a little bit more of our politicians than we used to - in this case, perhaps more than we want. We're being reminded they're humans, and that humans can hold political views that are independent of an otherwise mundane existence. As we've seen, Gerry Adams tweets about baking, flowers and his Bichon Frise. It's an interesting correlative to the football crowd-style political discourse we see on the internet whereby people with conservative views are soulless Emperor Palpatine types and anyone on the left is basically Neil from The Young Ones. It makes us remember that politicians hold the views they do because they want to do good (even if they end up achieving the opposite), and that's a good starting point for debate. It makes it more civilised, and thereby more productive.

And what do you know? This leads us to Bernard Jenkin.

2) I was watching Twitter while listening to this: the commentariat were lapping it up. And I felt there was something slightly unedifying about middle class white guys getting excited about another middle class white guy's complaints that the middle class white guys with whom he primarily works don't appeal to the wider electorate. Especially - and this is the big thing - when you consider the reasons he was actually citing: he had a good point that Westminster had been unimpressive in its response to the Mid Staffs report, but otherwise he was yammering on about "red tape", health and safety, and European financial regulation. In other words, all those core Tory voter issues that failed for the likes of IDS. It was just another backbench Tory jab at the coalition, disguised as something else entirely. I found it trite.

3) This (sort of) leads us to the Creasy/Boyle debate. Which was genuinely fascinating.

I'll try to distil it as it was all rather muddled by various threads. Creasy asked Boyle "Do you agree there is any damage to be done in casualising such graphic aggression about women in public arena?" Boyle responded: "The real danger is from people in politics towards the public, not the other way round...I'm saying politicians in general are often hostile to their society & yet fear ridicule."

Creasy disagreed: "As the great freddie mercury (sic) taught us all ridicule is nothing to be scared of....a society scarred by misogyny though..." Boyle accepted this was a problem, but claimed it wasn't relevant to the joke because "The idea that sexual imagery related to women is sexist is inherently conservative." So Creasy responded: "As a feminist do you think you are promoting equality & tackling objectification of women describing someone in that way?"

And this lead us to the germane bit. Boyle asked: "That's the intention. Do you think belonging to a party that seems suspect on immigration/asylum that you can promote equality?" Creasy said there was "a disjuncture between [the] intent and the impact," of Boyle's initial comment. Boyle concluded: "I think your assessment of the impact might be wrong. Politicians can live in a bit of a bubble."

Some thoughts:

First, in terms of who's right and wrong, no one: they both make interesting arguments. That said, throughout the debate, Creasy kept retweeting the responses she was getting from Boyle's followers. A couple of them seemed to prove her point: "Looking at her on [Question Time] I can see she may suffer from Camel Toe"; "so sexism is pointing out that women have a clitoris? Or are you bitter that no one has ever found yours?" I was inclined to take her side on the whole wider impact thing.

Second, I found Boyle's claim that politicians "can live in a bit of a bubble" bloody hilarious. Full disclosure: I used to work with him for a bit. He seemed nice enough. But if you asked him who I was, he wouldn't have a clue. And this is because I worked behind the scenes on a TV show he was on and he was The Talent. That's: The Talent. And I will tell you that the culture behind the cameras is to treat The Talent like a Maharajah, right up until the moment they fall out of favour. I'm not saying he doesn't know anything about ordinary people's lives - after all, stand ups have to engage with the public all the time, especially on the way up. I'm just saying he's making this point to the wrong MP, and he's probably the wrong person to be making it.

But the fact he can argue this without being called out (ugh, again) tells us a lot about how we see our politicians. In terms of her relationship with the voting public, Creasy's a great MP: constantly on social media, tweeting out pictures of this or that Walthamstow event and, though she won't thank me for leading us back to Mr Griffin, talking about music. It might get a bit cloying, but it gives a sense of transparency and engagement that's a million miles away from moaning about issues close to your heart in the early hours of a Saturday morning when Radio 4 can find a slot for you. Journalists these days are expected to build their profile through social media: it's basically a work requirement. Today, it should be the same for politicians.

I'm not going to pretend we'll solve the problem of a disengaged electorate at a stroke with a few tweets - but it's time our politicians got the message and followed Creasy's lead in how they engage with us. We care about what's going on on our doorstep. We want to engage with human beings. Yet what do we get? We get this, or variants of it, every day on our rolling news channels and radio stations. Still, I suppose we do all know the strikes are wrong now.

It's a sad truth, but a far-right winger with a liking for prog rock is almost easier to understand than a man standing in front of a camera and repeating himself, over and over again.

Labour MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy.

Alan White's work has appeared in the Observer, Times, Private Eye, The National and the TLS. As John Heale, he is the author of One Blood: Inside Britain's Gang Culture.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.