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Do Tory MPs belong at the Bingo?

by on March 24, 2014

Following the budget last week Grant Shapps, Tory MP and party chairman, tweeted a fake bingo advert. The advert claimed that the decrease of tax on bingo and the penny off beer duty was ‘To help hardworking people do more of the things they enjoy’. Whether this act was supposed to be a genuine attempt at connecting with the voting public, or a crass joke from a toff poking fun at working class people, the result demonstrates how the ever growing beast of social media has big teeth and can bite. From the Conservatives position this is, at best, a failed attempt at engaging with public diplomacy with an unfortunate choice of words bowing up into a public relations disaster. At worst however the tweet can be understood as exposing an out of touch member of the upper classes as a patronising snob. Either way it is clear that Twitter and other social media can be powerful tools and politicians should tread carefully when engaging themselves in these spheres; just because an MP can handle the press or happens to be an effective public speaker, there is no guarantee these skills will transfer to social media. Even the most skilled operatives in these arenas are subject to changing favour from a fickle public and have discovered good fortune can turn on a sixpence.

Commentators from the left and the right have both rightly condemned the tweet of Shapps and the aftermath has left his party facing awkward questions regarding class and austerity only a little over a year before an election. Owen Jones took advantage of the gaff and wrote an article on the ‘Death of working class Toryism’ in the Guardian, while in the Telegraph Ian Martin reported that it was considered a ‘condescending public relations disaster’ and exposed the fact that George Osborn had signed off the controversial poster originally but had left Shapps to take the blame when it went sour. Nick Clegg took a break from bolstering Conservative agendas (elections only round the corner) and described the tweet as ‘silly’ during his public diplomacy crusade on LBC radio. Even the bastion of Conservative rhetoric the Express described the advert as Patronising and disrespectful in a column.

The question remains however. Should politicians be engaging with these new forms of media in the first place? Although the information technology revolution is now in full swing, do these new forms of media transfer to all walks of life? David Cameron and George Osborn both have twitter accounts. With the exception of a few swivel eyed loons defending tweets on austerity, the response they get is mainly vitriolic abuse. Although the response is quite funny, it reads like an embarrassing parent trying to be ‘hip and groovy’ while the kids smash the house up during a drunken rampage. For sure, the untapped well of votes residing in the eighteen to twenty year old population must be like a golden chalice to politicians but they wouldn’t canvass a buss shelter late on a Friday night. Converting cool, popular, left wing comedians to Conservative thought is the thing of Tory wet dreams, but self preservation keeps proponents of right wing policy tight lipped or absent altogether from late night comedy clubs. This is reflected on twitter with people like Mark Steal and Frankie Boyle utilising the twitter accounts of Osborn and Cameron to publicly abuse Conservatives. These comedians thrive on this opportunity and without being able to properly defend themselves the politicians involved just look weak and increasingly ridiculous. There must be part of the ICT revolution that stuffy, disconnected, humourless, pompous, condescending, toff politicians can use to develop their agenda: it’s not on twitter.


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  1. alip2013 permalink

    Great piece on what seems the latest in a string of totally avoidable social media furores. Agree that Twitter isn’t the best forum (that’s the extent of my Latin unlike some in Parliament) for a lot of politicians or indeed other ‘celebrities’, #libel.

  2. As the first commentator has noted, this piece raises an interesting question about the real value of Twitter (capital T because it is the name of a company and social media platform). However, please give VERY SERIOUS THOUGHT to the following before considering including this entry in your portfolio:

    – What is the relevance of this case study for the main themes of the module? The latter is concerned with public DIPLOMACY and GLOBAL communication, but this is an entirely domestic affair. Are there implications for the module?

    – Terminology: Is an MP upsetting the British electorate a PUBLIC DIPLOMACY disaster? Is it not better defined as a PUBLIC RELATIONS problem? What is the diplomatic element at work? You need to do a lot of work to define this as a PD thing.

    – Links to the literature: As I have noted in previous comments, this is ACADEMIC BLOGGING. We want you to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the key academic texts and set you case study up so as to illuminate some of the central debates in the literature.

    – Typographical errors: a few corrections required (e.g., Steal/Steel, bowing/blowing, etc.)

    Please excuse the use of block capitals. It is the only way I can demonstrate emphasis in comments on WordPress.

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