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The seven deadly sins of tweeting about politics

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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:

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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