Sunday, 13 December 2009

It's so funny, how we don't talk anymore

Rather cross with myself tonight.... and cross that I'm having to resort to blogging about it too.

I'm naturally quite argumentative, not in that I like to provoke confrontation but in that all too often I can't resist rising to the bait. (OK, and sometimes kicking things off too). This is sometimes a good thing, in that it means I engage more and debate more with all sorts of people whereas other MPs might well say 'well, they're obviously a Tory' or 'what do you expect from a Lib Dem' and ignore them. Or especially 'but there's no votes in it'. But it's sometimes a bad thing in that it's easy - particularly on Twitter - to get drawn into online spats.

Such a situation arose tonight when the blogger (sorry, "the UK's most influential political blogger") Iain Dale 'overheard' a conversation between me and someone else, when I was a little disparaging about his magazine, Total Politics. I get sent a free copy as an MP, but don't get round to reading it often. It seems to me a bit lightweight, a bit gossipy, and I don't like the fact that it gives Iain Dale and his sidekick, Shane Greer, a platform on which to appear on various news outlets as supposedly impartial political observers. I accept the magazine is politically balanced, more or less, but that doesn't mean that they are.

Anyway, Iain Dale got upset, as he often does, and bandied around words like 'petty' and 'pathetic', at which point I blocked him. For non-Twitter people that means he can't see my tweets and can't send tweets to me. In other words, in the words of his idol, Cliff Richard, "we don't talk anymore". (And no, that's not a feeble attempt to smear; he loves Cliff, which is his prerogative, if a little weird.)

Some might think this rather an overreaction. Cue all the usual stuff about 'MPs are supposed to be thick-skinned' and 'you're obviously not willing to engage' or 'you only want to talk to people who agree with you', which is patent nonsense, if you look at the number of people I do follow on Twitter and the amount of to-ing and fro-ing I do in conversation with them.

So why did I block him? Partly it's just because he caught me at the wrong time. But also because it seems clear to me that the Tory strategy on Twitter is to try to provoke me into spats, so that I end up spending all night arguing with them rather than engaging with 'real' people. This has the dual purpose of drawing attention to themselves (and most of them are rampant self-publicists), and of making me look like I'm someone who spends all her spare time in undignified online squabbling. It looks especially bad if people come to the argument late, and wonder what on earth is going on.

I therefore have two choices - try to ignore them, which means they're still there as an irritant, or block them so that I can use Twitter for enjoyment and engagement, which is how it should be used. In the case of Iain Dale (and Shane Greer and Tory Bear before him) I've decided to block because, frankly, I'm fed up with them. That's allowed, isn't it?

Also, today, I blocked a young Tory activist who has been going on and on and on at me for months, and I've been very tolerant and patient with her but my patience is now exhausted. (And yes, Einy, you're welcome to comment on here if you want to). Apart from that I've blocked a few libertarians, the BNP and a few people who were being plain nasty. And people offering me Britney Spears videos, which really aren't my sort of thing.

I simply don't agree with those who say that as an elected politician I'm under a 'duty' to engage with absolutely everyone, no matter how unpleasant they are.

Let's get a few things straight: I'm not under any obligation to use Twitter in the first place, or to blog, or to use Facebook, or whatever. I'm not under any obligation to engage with anyone who isn't a constituent. (And even that has its limits: The guy who threatens physical violence against me and my staff? The guy who phones up every Monday for a racist rant?) I do it - the social media stuff - out of choice, and I don't therefore think anyone is in a position to dictate to me how I do it. Criticise by all means, but when Louise Bagshawe (a Tory PPC and chick-lit author) tells me that she 'expects' me to engage with 'the UK's most influential political blogger', well sorry Louise, you have no right to tell me what you 'expect' from me, anymore than I have the right to tell you I 'expect' a sequel to "Sparkles" by year end.

Even the fact I have a Party position, as so-called Twitter Tsar (which isn't what it's called at all but never mind), doesn't bring with it an obligation to put up with insults if I don't feel like it. Judge me if you want for not being able to handle the heat of the kitchen, but it's still my prerogative if I choose to spend what is after all my spare time with people whose company and conversation I enjoy.

Second thing: I accept it was a clumsy move to talk in terms of Iain Dale as not being 'my political equivalent', and that people who don't see the wider picture of Labour/ Tory use of new media would perhaps think I was being rather up myself (to use an even less elegant phrase). Anyone who is in the slightest bit au fait with my activities on Twitter will know that I'm certainly not precious about who I talk to. I talk to Bristol people and Labour activists and teenage Tories, and Esther Rantzen, and people who ask me very silly questions at the behest of a Geordie comedian. The point I was trying to make, in response to Louise Bagshawe saying she 'expects' me to talk to Iain Dale because he's 'the most important' blogger, was that I'm fed up with the Tories sending unelected and unaccountable troops out of the trenches whilst the real politicians hide in their bunkers. How often do you see Dale, Greer, Tory Bear, Guido, Tim Montgomerie, Fraser Nelson, etc, etc as pundits on TV programmes? Where are all the Tory MPs? And it's exactly the same in the blogosphere and on Twitter. This isn't accidental, this isn't because Tory MPs just happen to be busier or less sociable or less able to handle an iPhone. It's because - and I've had this from several reliable sources now - Tory HQ doesn't want their MPs talking online. Everything is being incredibly tightly controlled, so that no-one strays off message, which is why you only see the mavericks like Douglas Carswell and Nadine Dorries and the glorious Ian Liddell-Grainger sticking their necks out.

So the point I was trying to make, albeit clumsily, is that it's easy for the likes of Dale, who is unelected and unaccountable and answerable to no-one (except Andy Coulson (?)) to try to stir things up on Twitter, and provoke a spat. They very rarely do it over politics; they do it over silly little things, usually when their egos have been bruised. People expect a certain standard from me, but not from them, because, frankly, who cares really what the likes of Tory Bear does or says? What they gain from it, at my expense, is publicity, and I'm simply not willing to give it to them. And that includes going on Channel 4 news to discuss head to head with Iain Dale this latest spat. (I thought it was a joke when I first saw the tweet from C4 asking me if I was up for it. The Prime Minister has been in Afghanistan, world leaders are gathering in Copenhagen, and they want to devote part of their airtime to me and Iain Dale talking about why I find him annoying?!)

So - to summarise... I tweet because I want to, when I want to and with whom I want to. And I won't miss Iain Dale, even if he misses me...

32 comments:

splinteredsunrise said...

Oh dear me. You're right of course, you're under no obligation to "engage" with The Man Who Invented Blogging. It may be worth answering him if he asks a sensible question... but if he's just being snarky, it's a matter of what you feel like tolerating.

It's sort of analogous to having a comments policy on your blog. It's not a requirement of free speech that you give house room to trolls, especially when they have other outlets. We wouldn't tolerate people coming into our houses and behaving like they do on the blogs. Thankfully I have a fairly well behaved commentariat and don't need to use the blue pencil very often, but I've seen plenty of well-written blogs go downhill because they allowed their comments boxes to become bearpits. I keep complaining about the left blogosphere, but some of the feminist blogs are really shocking.

That's an interesting point about how few elected Tories you have on social media. They seem to like having their semi-detached attack dogs, while keeping actual MPs on the leash. Not sure it's as smart a strategy as they think...

Btw, still chuckling at Total Politics making me 27th most influential Labour blog. Since I'm a paid up member and all...

John said...

"it seems clear to me that the Tory strategy on Twitter is to try to provoke me into spats, so that I end up spending all night arguing with them rather than engaging with 'real' people."

You're not that stupid, but thanks for thinking everyone else is.

This will probably be dismissed as "oh lets ignore him because he's clearly [insert party here]" and this comment will probably not even get approved, but seriously, grow up.

This is the internet. There are people of all persuasions, and deviations even.

There are people who will shout at you, whine at you, adore you, and disappear so far up your backside that for a second there you'll think yourself some kind of deity.

This is the internet, this kind of thing happens.

You however, unfortunately for yourself, mishandle the situation every single time it happens.

1) Shane Greer is a lad from Northern Ireland, which you didn't realise at the time, and you went on to accuse him of knowing nothing about Northern Ireland. D'oh, mea culpa, and move on. Oh wait, you didn't do that, you turned your back on the situation and ran away with no further comment. That made you look pathetic.

2) Slagging off Iain Dale's magazine. I actually agree with you on this, but of course you were going to get flack for it. The best response would be to ignore it entirelly. You however bickered about it then blocked him. That was stupid, and I think you know this.

Overall you really don't know how to handle yourself online. There is a time for disagreement, and there is a time for letting the irritants have their say without rising to it. Reacting the way you do is only going to paint a bigger target on your backside and have people wondering what on earth you're playing at.

Well there's some well intentioned and unsolicited advice. Feel free to delete/ignore at your will. This is your blog after all.

Kerry said...

Condescending to the nth degree, John, well done.

Hughes Views said...

Possibly my greatest on-line triumph (I've never harboured great ambitions) was to be branded by Mr Dale as the most irritating commenter on his site (which I've long since stopped reading).

I can't remember why, perhaps it was my observation that reading his stuff and the comments from his fans was rather like being trapped by grade A bores at the bar of a suburban golf club. Or maybe it was my suggestion that he'd had a massive sense of humour failure. He does take himself awfully seriously doesn't he?

The Boiling Frog said...

I think you have a point, although slightly undermined by your self-justification running to nearly 1400 words.

I first read about this on Dale's blog and my reaction was along the lines of 'so what', as your penultimate sentence makes clear, there are surely more important things to get worked up about.

Shane Greer said...

I seem to remember my disagreement with you starting because you suggested I knew nothing about Northern Ireland.

An apology would have been the simple way to resolve it (as a couple of your colleagues have already pointed out).

Kerry said...

Shane, it started with me not realising you were from Northern Ireland, which provoked you into a 'don't you know who I am' tantrum, and me refusing to play along with your clearly manufactured outrage at this supposed 'smear'. It's a clear Tory tactic, so that you can then run a 'forced to apologise' type piece. Anyway, my initial comment stands. You couldn't bring yourself to say which side of the political divide in Northern Ireland you originate from, and forgive me if I'm making assumptions about a Unionist background, but if you are, then I still find it somewhat anomalous that you like Stiff Little Fingers. Which is what the whole silly row started with.

Kerry said...

Shane, it started with me not realising you were from Northern Ireland, which provoked you into a 'don't you know who I am' tantrum, and me refusing to play along with your clearly manufactured outrage at this supposed 'smear'. It's a clear Tory tactic, so that you can then run a 'forced to apologise' type piece. Anyway, my initial comment stands. You couldn't bring yourself to say which side of the political divide in Northern Ireland you originate from, and forgive me if I'm making assumptions about a Unionist background, but if you are, then I still find it somewhat anomalous that you like Stiff Little Fingers. Which is what the whole silly row started with.

Phil North said...

You blocked me and I wasn't at all offensive, you obviously just didn't agree with my views. On the other hand I follow activists of all political parties and converse with them wheather I agree with them or not.

Kerry said...

On Twitter? I have no idea who you are, what's your Twitter name?

Shane Greer said...

Kerry, first of all, thanks for publishing my comment. I must admit I wasn't expecting you to.

However, as you will remember, I wasn't throwing a 'don't you know who I am' tantrum. As I pointed out at the time, I didn't expect that you would know who I am. What annoyed me was that you chose to make an assumption (rather than make the effort to find out whether I was from Northern Ireland).

And as for 'manufactured outrage', there was nothing manufactured about it (just ask my wife who was with me when I first read your Tweet). I was genuinely offended that you had suggested I knew nothing about the place I grew up. There was no intent, and there remains no intent, to write any kind of 'forced to apologise' piece. All I was asking for, and all I continue to ask for is a personal apology. Party politics simply don't come into it (there was no Labour vs Tory issue at play).

As for my background. Again you make an assumption; on this occassion that I must by virtue of my birth come from one of two sides in Northern Ireland. For the record, my mother is on balance a nationalist, my father remains indifferent, I was brought up in a loyalist area and I went to an integrated school. As for my own view, I am indeed a unionist. But I fail to see how that should prevent me from enjoying SLF. Just take 'Wasted Life' for example, can you honestly say that's a song that a unionist can't enjoy and indeed agree with? For sure there may be some of their lyrics that I disagree with, but does that preclude me from enjoying their music?

Kerry said...

Fine Shane, you've had your say and in the process answered the only thing I was ever interested in. Case closed.

Shane Greer said...

So the only thing you were interested in was whether I was a unionist?

Joking aside though, do you genuinely believe a unionist can't like SLF?

dizzy said...

Kerry, you said "For non-Twitter people that means he can't see my tweets" - err that's not correct. He can see your profile page if it is public just fine, he won;t be able to view the tweets as individual pages, unless he logs out in which he will. Blocking someone on Twitter does not stop them reading what you are saying.

The Boiling Frog said...

...forgive me if I'm making assumptions about a Unionist background, but if you are, then I still find it somewhat anomalous that you like Stiff Little Fingers.

Er... what has someone's music taste got to do with anything?

Kerry said...

I was interested in why you liked SLF. They're a very political band, and obviously nationalists. Ditto re Boris Johnson professing to like the Clash. I find that totally bizarre, given all that the Clash stood for. But then again, lots of people don't pay much attention to the lyrics, though to my mind that was the best thing about the Clash and SLF.

Einy Shah said...

I don't know why you find a little debate as "rude". I disagree with you, I disagree with a lot of what the Left say, does not mean I am being nasty.

Surely when you signed up to Twitter, you knew it was not going to be a highway to be re-elected. If that is how you want it, then why don't you protect your tweets and only allow loonies like Ellie Gellard follow you?

You accuse Iain Dale of provoking you for publicity? He is one of the most influential bloggers around, the editor of a top-selling political magazine and his popularity is growing on Twitter, Facebook etc. I think this is a ploy from yourself, to boost your creditability and get easy recognition, may be appear in the Standard and what not.

Fail.

Kerry said...

So Einy, you don't remember the little private conversation we had when you first joined Twitter when you apologised for being so rude to me, and I said not to worry, but to stick to robust political debate rather than personal insults in future, and you thanked me for my advice? I've actually been very tolerant and patient with you, (and far nicer to you than many of your Tory colleagues!) but you've been relentless in sending tweet after tweet in my direction, all with petty little jibes and sneers. I gave you plenty of chances but, sorry, frankly you're now a distraction and an annoyance I don't need.

Leroy said...

As a punter watching this enlightening political debate from the sidelines, I would just like to say 'as you were'. Keep your eyes on the game. Perhaps turn the computers off for a couple of days and give it a rest!

The problem with twitter and the rest of it is that people's normal social inhibitions are drastically reduced and everyone starts behaving like a tantrum-engrossed toddler. It's claustrophobic and not good for obsessive personalities; sometimes you have to press block and walk away for a good old bit of old fashioned not being on a social forum type of thing.

Quite entertaining though - thanks!

Kerry said...

That's the most sensible comment so far! Though of course, as a politician you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

Roger Thornhill said...

@Kerry "Apart from that I've blocked a few libertarians, the BNP and a few people who were being plain nasty. "

Your statement might be taken to mean that Libertarians were being nasty. It is at best disingenuous, including an odd lumping of Libertarians with their politically direct opposite - the BNP.

Well you blocked me, a Libertarian, and I was not being nasty, unless you count "nasty" as pointing out logical errors, spin, untruths, pomposity ("we took ACTION!" yeh, right) and other things in your tweets.

Whatever, you come out of this looking bad. For shame, Kerry, for shame.

Einy Shah said...

Yes, ofcourse I remember. I still have the records. When I started following you, I apologised and in a different message I asked you about sending letters to MPs whilst their on recess. I love it how you are bringing up private DM's. Just last week you warmed me to stay out the conversation between you and Nadine Dorries because "you wee very close to suing that woman".

I don't know why you always being up the guys I work with. I'll tell you this, all the Tories I've met whilst working in City Hall are incredibly nice. Especially, James Cleverly & Boris Johnson who you speak to or about quite a lot.

You blocked me after I asked you about the speculation about a March election, it was a routine 'throwing your toys out the pram' incident.

And yes, I'm always asking you questions that are not agreeing with everything you say. I thought you would be no stranger to debate?

FX Man said...

You're an MP, right? So how the hell do you get the time to write all this, read the comments, reply to them and remember what it's all about and come back for more? The phrase "better things to do" comes to mind. Or am I just a deluded fool who bleives in better politics and, dare I say it, better politicians...?

http://www.fxbites.blogspot.com/

Simon said...

Kerry,

I thought you were Labours Twitter Tsar? *shocked face*

It's all very silly TBH and does nothing for wider politics. I find it ironic though that I have been blocked by 3 people on Twitter - you, ellie and my local Labour MP. Now if I was a tory plant or being an offensive so and so I could understand why. My crime though was not accepting spin as a reply to a genuine question.

Before you ask - floating voter who has voted for Labour since 1997.

Kerry said...

OK, I think we've done this one to death now. But in response to FX - perhaps because I started work at 9am today and I'm still in Parliament now, with no imminent prospect of being allowed home?

Alan Douglas said...

Kerry : "I'm fed up with the Tories sending unelected and unaccountable troops out of the trenches."

Whereas Gordon Brown, Lady Scotland, "Lord" Mandelson, Lord Myners, etc etc etc are unelected troops whom you are NOT fed up with ?

Impartiality is obviously your strong point. (Something I would not accuse Iain Dale of - I have seen him responding in very fair ways to many political opponents.)

Alan Douglas

dizzy said...

Kerry, when you talk about "The Clash" and "what they stood for" what I think you actually mean is Joe Strummer and not The Clash as a package or punk as a movement. You're also making the classic mistake of thinking it was all about politics because of Joe's lyrics. The Clash, like the Pistols, was pure unadulterated commercial capitalism at its very best. Bernie Rhodes, and Malcolm McClaren were doing Simon Cowell long before Cowell was even thinking of doing it himself.

Throw into the mix the fashion and art of Sebastian Conran, Alex Michon, Krystyna Kolowska and Vivienne Westwood, and what you actually have is not some homogenous left wing radical movement but in fact a much wider radical individualist and libertarian reaction to the managed decline of the Keynesian consensus. Whilst you say lots of people don't pay attention to the lyrics, it is far more true, as your rose-tinted misplaced view of punk shows, that lots of people don't pay attention to the whole package of a band abnd cultural movement.

The rampant individualism of the 1980s has its roots in the radical reaction to the decline of Britain in the 1970s. The punk movement was the forerunner of the Thatcherite attitudes of the 1980s. The Clash's lyrics may have been left wing, but the clothes and style of the band thanks to Michon, Kolowska and Rhodes was the complete antithesis of radical collectivist extreme Left. Hilariously many of those Clash fans of that angle never realised it.

As Johnny said in Frisco, ever feel like you've been cheated?

Miller 2.0 said...

"then I still find it somewhat anomalous that you like Stiff Little Fingers."

Why do other MPs have such rubbish taste in music? Kerry, please get re-elected. Ta.

Miller 2.0 said...

"The Clash, like the Pistols, was pure unadulterated commercial capitalism at its very best. Bernie Rhodes, and Malcolm McClaren were doing Simon Cowell long before Cowell was even thinking of doing it himself."

Oh dear, the old 'sellout' conundrum. Dizzy, are you one of these annoying Casualties fans or something?

Even Marx himself praised the network that capitalism provides for leftist propaganda. It's actually a large part of why he thought the left was destined to win (not sure about that bit quite yet though). Proles have to learn to print newspapers and run websites. They have to learn to distribute records and market them, etc...

Paulie said...

Kerry,

In deleting Roger Thornhill, you didn't avoid some sage who was pointing out your "logical errors, spin, untruths, pomposity" etc.

You instead deleted one of the most weird obsessive bloggertarians around. You'll never miss an ounce of wisdom by blocking him - FFS, look at the title and the image he uses on his blog:

http://neuearbeitmachtfrei.blogspot.com/

I've often wondered if there is a more unpleasant misanthropic take on politics that Rogers and I've not really come up with one yet.

That's bloggertarians for ya...

dizzy said...

Tom I couldn't care less about the idea of "selling out", there was nothing unsold out about the whole thing from the start. Let's not be under any illussions now, The Clash were signed to CBS when London Calling was released. Now you might think that because the lyrics of that album were all about urban political rage the point you have to remember is, to quote one of your favourites no doubt, that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. Politics was merely a tiny blip within a wider cultural shift around individualism, fashion and rampant market fundamentalism.

James Dey said...

Kerry, most probably you think I'm a Tory stormtrooper. I actually equally despise Labour, Lib Dems and Tories with equal measure. One of the reasons why I despise the political class is their unwillingess to engage with the voters and the labelling of anybody who disagrees with them as a disguised member of the opposition political party. There aren't many members of political parties left, love. You need to wake up and realise that most of the electorate disagree with you most of the time. Your job is to persuade us that you're right and we're wrong. If you can't be bothered do another job.