Earlier this week, Ed Miliband took to twitter for a Q&A session under the hashtag #askEdM.
So did a number of activists who were certainly not EdMili supporters. The Mail in particular highlighted this claiming Ed’s session had ‘backfired’. They were part of the camp that thought somehow the questions put to Ed would damage him. They included whether he felt “bad about stabbing your brother in the back?” “Why don’t you buy some Vicks?” “Was Brutus an Honourable Man? Discuss.”
The result? Lots of folk proclaiming success (on both sides) and lots of Westminster bubble noise about how brilliant the idea was. It’s seemed to me that the anti-Ed brigade has managed to drum up more media coverage and (in a rather self-congratulatory way) mocked the people who had the idea in the first place.
My view? I’ve better things to do with my time than send inane questions to the leader of the opposition on Twitter. (This to me definitely falls into the ‘twatter’ category) More to the point, it’s entirely laudable and as US politics (and more recently Mumsnet politics) has shown, reaching out online (if done like a normal, coherent human and not Gordon Brown) can actually improve political dialogue and win new support.
Not one of the ‘funny’ questions will win the tories a single vote. Moreso, if Labour’s comms team wasn’t totally incompetent, they’d have been hailing Ed’s resolve in sticking with it in spite of the ‘nasty’ and ‘juvenile’ efforts of others to disrupt a genuinely open minded coversation that Ed was reaching out with. (as evidenced, however weakly, by Ed responding to some of the negative questions.)
Social media is an opportunity to re-engage people who have been forgotten or neglected by recent political events. It’s also an opportunity to behave like petty schoolchildren infront of a worldwide audience. On one side of that line you can shape the future, while on the other you can complain you don’t like what’s happening.
This is a classic case of the Westminster bubble being very excitable about not very much, and the rest of the country watching on asking what on earth everyone is babbling on about and when they’ll start talking about things that really matter.