The virtual illusion & the ugly reality
There are 174 Labour MPs on Twitter, 171 Conservatives, 44 LibDems, and 20 others. That is 409 out of 650. Are there detailed studies of how politics is made better or worse with MP’s new virtual presence? What questions might we ask to find this out? One interesting measure is: Who follows only one person or slightly more than one person. Here are some figures based on the Tweetminster site, the numbers are the amount of people the MP follows, those whose views they can see:
@AdamAfriyie — 1
@AMcDonnellMP — 1
@crispinbluntmp — 1
@TonyBaldry — 2
@SMcPartlandMP — 8
@stevewebb1 — 11
@murrisonMP — 1
@NickSmith4BG — 14
@RichardBenyonMP — 5
@SimonHughesMP — 4
@markdurkan — 4
@MarkFieldMP — 0
@MaryMacleod4MP — 1
@HendonMP (aka Matthew Offord MP) — 4
@HazelBlearsMP — 20
@helengrant1 — 2
@johnhemmingmp — 5
@johnredwood — 1
@LindsayHoyle_MP — 0
@edwardleighac — 4
@eddaveykands — 12
@gregknightmp — 7
@GutoBebb — 1
Sometimes these are utterly meaningless: @murrisonMP follows one person i.e. David Cameron’s ‘official’ site. But it might be these people are being honest and that all John Redwood reads is CNN as his account ‘tells’ us. Or this may be an indication of apathy towards the potential of electronic media or a deception and they cannot even work a computer. But what of the reverse—those who claim they follow lots and lots and lots of people.
Nick Clegg’s (@nick_clegg) account says that he follows almost 30,000 people, Grant Shapps follows 24,167. Let me focus on Clegg. Now did he click on all those people himself because he takes an interest in them personally? My hypothesis would be no here. We all know Nick Clegg has very little to do, but taking an interest in all those people would be too much like hard work for him, and its impossible isn’t it —OK there are no cameras present to film him doing it for publicity purposes and no money in it, so the chances are practically zero. But isn’t this supposedly what he does in reality—represent thousands? So what can these numbers tell us if we think about them for a moment?
That number of 30,000 is also roughly how many votes you need to win a seat in Parliament (about 25,000 or more, Clegg got 27,324 out of a turnout of 51,135). So the amount of people (they need not be people of course) Clegg’s Twitter account says he follows is roughly the same as those who voted for him (although many were turned away at the polls because of poor organisation). That puts the number into a certain perspective as regards representative democracy.
Everyone would have to agree that the chances of Clegg listening to these Twitter voices are fairly slim, the chances of him responding to them even less. The chances of Nick Clegg listening to the real people of his constituency of Sheffield Hallam are probably less still. Now he is not under any obligation to respond or even be on Twitter—but why this illusion of all these people when as we all know MPs hate meeting ordinary people because they are poor? Its a basic political lie.
Lets assume there are 50,000 people in the Sheffield Hallam constituency (the actual figure is much higher). Even if Clegg wanted anything to do with the people he technically represents, he would have a tough time. There are 8,760 hours in a year, he could devote 2,920 hours to them if he worked an 8 hour day doing nothing else. If we assume an MPs ‘Surgery’ lasts for 4 hours a week during half the year that means a potential 208 hours a year for those 50,000 people to have their problems solved by their elected representative—if anything like that has ever taken place in the Surgery. Now this is not counting the days Nick does not make the Surgery because he is too rushed off his feet, or ill, or decided to make money on the side, or appear on TV or laboriously input all those Twitter names into his account and then keep abreast of the things people say.
So who does he follow? Well there’s @Zonkos_JokeShop (that one’s locked); @pmhorler who is into “UFO’s and extraterrestrial phenomena research and investigation” (that one’s thankfully locked too) and so on.
Now it would be ridiculous to suggest that Nick has the time to listen to both all these people on Twitter and his constituents. But that is the illusion we are supposed to go along with even although it is preposterous. Interestingly if you go online and try to find out when his Surgery times are you will be directed to this site:
If you try to book a surgery appointment with a web based contact form you will find the link goes nowhere (pictured below): http://www.nickclegg.org.uk/ncorguk_contact.aspx
Why bother fixing it? The image presented (even here) is that Nick comes to people’s house, he does not— except when there is an election. His web site says he holds regular advice Surgeries, but the times of these seem a mystery.
Assuming you have a computer you can however look further afield, such as this site of other Sheffield MPs:
This tells us that David Blunkett has his Surgeries on the “Second Saturday in the month 10.30 am – 12.00 noon” a massive hour and a half there not counting tea and biscuits. Let’s assume they actually took place and lasted an hour. So Nick’s are probably much the same: a maximum of one hour a month; so probably the equivalent of half a day a year, probably half that or less given the inordinate amount of holidays MPs get and the rate of canceling ‘Surgeries’ due to the stress of over (outside) work. So probably roughly the equivalent of one day a year if we are generous. This site says: “They are held regularly at the Constituency Office and around the Constituency.” Halley’s Comet is regular technically speaking, but I doubt that much happens with the Surgeries, for a start there is all the expenses involved in traveling up, lunch etc. all that filling in (or not) of claim forms to arrive at a disproportionate maximum; there is the fact that if he is in attendance in the constituency lots of people will want to see him (his Agent etc.) who are involved in the, shall we say, business end of Nick Clegg, the people who work for him or give him money—and there is whatever deals he might have going and much else.
We do not really have figures on how many people come to the Surgeries (it seems you have to make an appointment online so the data will be there) nor do we know if people are turned away, leave out of boredom or have given up on the process as a charade. No money is spent on the people here: only £456 was suggested in some sites as a figure for his Surgery costs—probably less than his gardening costs—surely the enterprising MP can bump these up if that is any motivation. The ‘Surgeries’ are held in libraries and so on. Much more money was spent on his Sheffield home, £84,000 in four years than these libraries probably.
Now something funny might happen here, there is about 4,000 or so libraries left in the UK, 201 were shut down as I write, but some of these have been successfully occupied by the people who want to use them. It could be that by happenstance Clegg turns up to bang out a quick surgery and OMG as people say on Twitter: the place is full of his constituents—direct democracy rather than the virtual illusion of representative democracy. Why not just occupy your MPs surgery? But then it is the last place you will find them.
Clegg’s constituency office is publicly advertised as having the number 0114 230 9002. It’s an answer machine that directs you to that web site above, which takes you nowhere—still you can send a Tweet, but it might be that will also get to no one as far as Nick is concerned. His account was set up and manufactured by @CatTurner (who I happened to mention in a Tweet after looking through ‘Simon Hughes’ list of followers, Cat said this:
@williamdclark ha! Yes, @DavidAngell & I set that account up when we worked at the @LibDems — really hoped he’d start tweeting. He didn’t.