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.

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
Show Hide image

Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.