Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Is Twitter a TWOT (Total Waste of Time?)

Someone - a young lad by the look of it - has tweeted me (and yes, I still feel silly saying that), complaining that MPs should be working instead of using Twitter and in my case suggesting that I should be fighting to lower the cost of public transport, as I have apparently never done so. He also said 'bus fares have gone up again, but at least we'll soon have a Tory government' (who would of course in their very first Budget introduce swingeing taxes on car ownership, bring in a nationwide congestion charge, and put it all into subsidising the buses).

I've suggested he looks at this blog and my website for ample evidence of what others might deem an unhealthy obsession with First Bus, and also tried to explain insofar as one can do so in a few tweets that (a) Tories deregulated the buses, (b) local Tories and Lib Dems across the four councils have been less than helpful in our efforts at joint working, e.g. on the need for a Strategic Transport Authority, or on the location of park and ride schemes, (c) the Conservatives in Parliament voted against the Local Transport Bill, which gives councils more powers to introduce Quality Bus Contracts - i.e. taking back control of the buses - as well as more support for STAs; (d) the Government has given £43 million for the Greater Bristol Bus Network, and (e) I'm spending most of tomorrow in Brislington, talking to local people about plans for the A4 Showcase Bus Route. I didn't mention the fact I'm currently in correspondence with the First Bus boss and indeed the First Group boss about fares, but that too... And yes, fares are still going up; I have influence, not control in such matters.

But apart from all that - and also leaving aside the fact that it is 11pm and one might think I'm entitled to some 'me time' - I wanted to just deal with the suggestion that MPs are wasting their time on Twitter. Yes - some of it is a bit silly (though fun). Some of it is about bonding with people who share a similar sense of humour or a similar political outlook. Some of it is about getting into arguments with political opponents, and there's a fair bit of political point-scoring. Sometimes it's about passing on information, publicising things, bringing them to wider attention.

But basically what Twitter comes down to, is this: It's about communicating. It's about engaging with people. It's a conversation, a dialogue, and anyone can join in. And don't we politicians get criticised all the time for not doing that? So far today I've exchanged tweets with people about the Family Intervention Project in Bristol and the Daily Express' hugely misleading frontpage story today (and Ed Balls has too). Yesterday I was tweeting with someone about the new rules on acquiring British citizenship. I've also been DM-ing someone about various Conference related stuff; someone I've never met, actually, but we exchange ideas on Twitter regularly. I've also been tweeting about the SATS results in Bristol; publicising the fact Mike Foster (DFID Minister) and Ed Miliband are now on Twitter; and, I confess, indulging in some rather silly banter about Michael Gove's bizarre comments about Spandau Ballet. (I spent much of today on hold, making various phone calls; it passes the time and takes your mind off the 'your call is important to us' messages).

And yes, I've also been into my constituency office today, although no actual appointments. Tomorrow I'll be at the annual Bristol Play Day (fingers crossed that the rain stops by then), then joining police and council officers for a walkabout in Broomhill, then visiting various shopowners who have raised concerns about the A4 Showcase Bus Route, then joining Councillor Simon Crew for a drop-in surgery in Brislington, and then going to Brislington Labour Party's branch meeting. And then I'll get back home, having been out and about for nearly ten hours, and if I decide I want to go on Twitter, I will!


Ian R McAllister said...

Kerry - wonderful response! One of the things I love as a politics watcher is the amount of interaction and input Social Media must give you as an MP, but also how much it gives us as voters to assess our representatives.

I have always believed from the thoughts of my father - who used to be a bank manager in Brislington until they shut it down - is that you vote for the representative over the party. That doesn't mean I would vote BNP if they put up a candidate, but really for most voters what we want is good representation from a listening and working MP.

In these times of questionable expenses and pre-election nervousness, that feedback as an additional input to the local and national media should enable a more balanced choice. As a good working MP yourself, I think Social Media and use of such tools can only add to the overall positive impression with your local voters, hopefully in part at least detaching what many may feel are national parties problems.

Good Luck in 2010, and keep twittering!

dreamingspire said...

With Greater Bristol being the largest non-metropolitan-county metropolitan area in the country, its a huge shame that the Councils do not get together and create an ITA (that's the title of it in last year's legislation: I for Integrated, expanding on the former P for Passenger). But the Wesofenglun Partnership, with its many wins in the latest public transport funding round, is set fair to become the core administration of an ITA, so let's get a move on.

Kerry said...

Yes, you're right - we went from PTA to STA and now ITA, although it has probably changed again since then.

Anonymous said...

So who gets an invite to Brislington, to talk to an MP about plans for the A4 Showcase Bus Route then?

Kerry said...

We leafleted hundreds of homes - but not in Bedminster! Will be doing another before end of August, methinks. Have had mixed reports so far - some people say they've had good response from staff in Council 'shop', others say no real information given. Not going to succeed in reducing congestion unless park and ride is beefed up, IMHO (i.e. expanded, cheaper, etc). Big queues heading out of town up towards Lidl roundabout from mid-afternoon onwards, possibly earlier, despite no school run and people on holiday. Par for the course, but there's a bus lane already, so need more to get people out of cars. And certainly not the LGA suggestion of means-testing free bus travel for pensioners!