Monday, 26 October 2009

Tweeting gibberish


Who says you can't say anything meaningful in 140 characters? I think the above tweet perfectly summed up my feelings at being rudely awakened at 6.30am and whisked off to Whiteladies Road to talk about Twitter for Five Live. (The boring explanation is, was about to tweet then realised taxi driver didn't have a clue where he was going and got distracted).

Anyway... was on Five Live to discuss with Lib Dem MP John Pugh his Early Day Motion on the use of smartphones by MPs in Parliament. (See below for full text). To be fair, it was one of those pieces where the media was only interested in it because they thought he was talking about MPs tweeting during PMQs and I'm not sure he actually was (although I'm pretty sure that the only reason my neighbour, Mr Williams, co-sponsored it was because of my known proclivities in the tweeting arena). I think Mr Pugh is more upset about MPs checking their emails or texting their offices while he's speaking... although having been on a Bill Committee with him fairly recently, I can perhaps understand why.

Before anyone gets too excited about this, have a look at the EDM number - yes, there are more than 2000 of them this parliamentary session. Some have hundreds of signatures. This one, so far, has five. An EDM - accurately described by someone as 'parliamentary grafitti' - doesn't mean anything in itself, except as a public nailing your colours to the mast, or in this case, as the parliamentary equivalent of appearing on Grumpy Old Men.

An MP can get up at business questions on a Thursday and ask for a debate in the Chamber on an EDM, but it's highly unlikely to be granted. At best, Harriet Harman, as Leader of the House, might say Mr Pugh has a point and she will look into it... but we've already had and won the debate over whether electronic devices can be used in the Chamber.

Of course it's not polite to be tweeting when someone next to you is speaking. I didn't tweet during this week's PMQs for example because I was on bench duty and only about five or six Ministers removed from Gordon Brown. It wouldn't have looked good. And it would also have been entirely wrong to have tweeted as he was reading out the names of the 37 soldiers who had died in Afghanistan during the parliamentary recess. (Pete Wishart, the SNP MP, got into trouble for saying something like 'I expected a more exciting PMQs first week back - yawn!). Yes, some of us did tweet later on during that session of PMQs, but not in the yah-boo way that might characterise other Wednesdays. But it is perfectly possible to, as Nicky Campbell said this morning, to walk and chew gum - or listen and tweet - at the same time. For some of us, at least!

EDM 2113
That this House while recognising the enormous benefits of the modern smartphone and the interest it generates, regrets the growing tendency of hon. Members to interact with these devices during select committee meetings and short debates when active engagement with the topic under consideration might be assumed, and the seeming, if at times quite understandable, greater interest shown in e-mails and messages than in the contribution of parliamentary colleagues; and encourages all hon. Members to limit their use of smartphones during proceedings of the House as part of the evolving courtesies and traditions of the House, helping to keep the proceedings of the House as genuinely interactive as the devices themselves.

Five signatories to date: John Pugh, Stephen Williams, Iris Robinson, Ann Cryer, Dai Davies.


Terence said...

Mr Pugh appeared to be a little confused, and rather too keen to try and talk over you.
I thought the other signatories would be Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub.

SteveL said...

My cousin was killed last month during an operation to retrieve a NYTimes reporter:

As such, having gordon brown list out the names of John and his fellow soldiers was just a mere hint of acknowledgement of the price that some people have to pay for the government's decisions. Using that list to avoid answering any hard questions in PMQ does not increase the value of their sacrifice, it just makes it look like a tactic for avoiding answering. Sorry.

What would be good would be some real discussion on what our our goals there and are they being achieved, not dodging eye contact with the country.

Kerry said...

Nice one Sir Terence!

Sorry to hear about your cousin, Steve. The reading out of names of soldiers who have died, is a customary tribute and I think it's only fitting that parliament should pause for a moment to reflect on the sacrifice soldiers have made. It's not an avoidance tactic, in fact the questions and answers that followed were probably more serious and measured than they usually are at PMQs. Gordon also gave a full statement on Afghanistan after PMQs, so I don't think you can accuse him of - in your unfortunate choice of words - 'dodging eye contact'.

dreamingspire said...

And then you were further disturbed by being asked to nip down to @Bristol to join the South West Select Committee's meeting about transport 'cos Alison Seebeck's transport didn't get her there... Its all go being an MP (although not this morning, alas, for Ms S).

Bristol Dave said...

I have to admit I thought the reading of the names might be a delay tactic on Brown's part in order to reduce the number of questions he could be asked, but in fairness to John Bercow, he allowed PMQs to go on by a few minutes to compensate for it.