#Cameronmustgo must go. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The seven deadly sins of tweeting about politics

140 characters, 0 meaning.

As #CameronMustGo hashtaggers are tweeting their fury about the fact that mainstream news outlets haven't picked up their online campaign, it's time to look at the worst sins committed by those who take their political insights to Twitter.
 

Accusing the BBC of bias for not reporting things that... aren't stories.

Although this particular sin has been heightened today by #CameronMustGo tweeters attacking the BBC for refusing to pick up on their hashtag campaign, it is a time-old, enduring trope of angry political tweets. If the Beeb doesn't mention Some People Being Angry at the Prime Minister, whether it's stated in a hashtag or via a handful of people protesting somewhere, it is accused of rightwing bias. If it does anything else, it's accused of leftwing bias.


Failing to understand the point of the House of Commons chamber.

This is a particularly popular genre of political tweetery: taking a screenshot of MPs debating in the Commons, and commenting on how heartless and detached they are because not all 650 of our representatives are present for whichever debate the tweeter has seized upon. Even if it's a late afternoon adjournment debate about the capacity of the West Anglia Rail Line. This lack of a fundamental understanding of how the Commons is supposed to work is nicely parodied here:

And here are some real ones:


Saying "this keeps being removed" when it really doesn't.

A nefarious internet conspiracy is inevitably pointed out whenever someone makes a meme of a politician of the ruling party being ripped apart, usually by a civilian wide-eyed with sincerity, on television. For some reason, many users decide that Twitter's staff can be bothered to rake through its billions of tweets to delete a minor skirmish from the Daily Politics on a Tuesday in order to protect the reputation of a little-known UK government minister. And they beg you for a retweet.


Tweeting a picture of a politician you admire/Owen Jones beside a big block of text.

A particularly offensive Twitter sin, mainly due to the fact that the font is always terrible on these things. Someone somewhere sits and transcribes a favourite quote from a respected heavyweight politician, or a junior shadow minister, or Owen Jones, highlights it all and hits Tempus Sans, pastes it over a picture of their fave public figure and then watches their treasured work take flight among fellow Twitter sinners.


PMQs verdict/review/in short – and then just listing your party's attack lines.

If watching Prime Minister's Questions with Twitter by your side, it is common practice to give your snap "verdict" on the exchange. This means politicians and supporters of both Cameron and Miliband's parties give us the same review each week: summing up their party's attack lines. Sometimes "privatising the NHS" is exchanged for "tax-cuts for millionaires", but each week is pretty constant.


Nazi/Communist references.

This is the GCSE school of politics tweets: linking rightwing parties with Hitler, and leftwing parties with Marx.


Orwell references.

Well, really it's just the one reference: They "looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again... ". A favourite accompanying picture for this one is the Prime Minister with a pig for a face, but, as seen below by one inventive tweeter, it can equally be used to say something cynical about the Labour party:

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.