A couple of months ago, I was persuaded by my friend to give up my Luddite tendencies and join the Twitterverse. I decided to join Twitter to promote my writings and have greater access to British politics than I was currently getting from Facebook, email and the web page browsing variety. The results of my Twitter experience are largely mixed and definitely below the quality of experience I have enjoyed on Facebook. However, my experiences on Facebook and Twitter did give me an idea for the perpetually soul-searching Conservative Party.
First, let me premise by saying Twitter does have some positives. Personally, I have been able to accumulate a small “following”, which I am very grateful for, and have been able to access interesting thoughts and articles from influential thinkers and other political commenters I would have never run across were it not for Twitter. However, Twitter has a lot of negatives that disturb me.
Twitter is an odd world where almost everybody comes across as either angry or a loon or both (and that includes even non-loony brilliant Conservative writers). In Twitter you are limited by 140 characters, so everything you say has to be strong, direct, and pointed, with no qualifiers. It is nearly impossible to have a rational discussion where everybody lobs “zingers” at each other. There are some people, like former Conservative MP Louise Mensch, who have mastered the art of political twitter communication, but most people are rather ineffective at 140 character argument.
The other problem I see with Twitter is the anonymity of it and the “Twitter image”. On the right, there is “EU-Smasher Jim the Lionheart UKIP”, and on the Left there is “Bedroom-Tax Smashing Trotsky Steve”, but the two smashers look as though they are cartoon characters who spew sentence fragments. When I first started Twitter, I got in a day long argument with some oddball Labour supporter whose picture was a man in a bowler hat and spirals on his glasses. I wasted an entire day debating with this person, trying to convince him something that most people know; that Labour wrecked the economy in the 1970s and that the Brown-led Labour had a similarly abysmal economic record. It was the biggest waste of time in my entire life. This person simply launched into conspiratorial statements and then would say constantly I “had no facts”. I tried to show him articles, but of course, that was fruitless. Reading the conservation again, it looks like the ramblings of mad men with the abbreviated words, the zinger statements, and if my articles are not considered, (he is of course did not provide any articles) it looks like two ships passing in the night. Who talks in 140 character statements? Nobody, at least not anybody interested in a good discussion and in molding policy and finding solutions. In law school they teach us the best answer for most legal issues is “it depends”. There is no “it depends” on Twitter. For proof of the misunderstanding and utter stupidity that can come from twitter posts, look at the recent Grant Shapps “Bingo” controversy, the David Cameron “selfie” PR disaster or the recent #cancelcolbert movement. All were non-controversies blown up by the social media, American fake news reporter Stephen Colbert’s response to all of it is worth watching if one has the attention span beyond 140 characters.
Facebook, in contrast, is a more holistic social media vehicle. You can share your political thoughts, but you can do it with room to explain your views. When I post an article on Facebook, I try to explain the many angles I see worth gleaning from it that makes me have a certain political opinion. When my friends comment, whether I agree or disagree with them, they are usually in complete sentences and are a well thought out responses. Yes, Facebook has their trolls, but the arguments of Facebook trolls are usually A) by a person not a personality and B) complete thoughts. What is most important about Facebook, however, is that there is always a “face” to a life “book”. On Facebook, there are less socialists with profile pictures of men in Bowler Hats and spiral glasses, because generally people with Facebooks presumably have friends and family and a life beyond being a “Bedroom Tax Smasher.”
So what in the world does this social media talk have to do with politics? Well, there has been a lot of hand ringing among conservative journalists lately about how the Conservatives need to broaden their appeal. There is of course, the “women problem” which Ed Miliband so cheaply tried to exploit during Prime Minister’s questions a few months ago. Then there is the “northern problem” and the problem with minority voters and then there was Lord Ashcroft’s article in Conservative Home stating that the reason the Conservatives usually hover around 33% in the polls is because they attract too few of everybody. Now, I’m not here to suggest that I know more than Lord Ashcroft or Tim Montgomerie or whoever about attracting British voters (of course I do not), but rather I propose a way of spreading the party’s message, inspired by social media, to keep the party succeeding and thriving on into 2030.
The Conservative party will succeed if they are the party of Facebook and not of Twitter. Am I suggesting the party boycott Twitter? Of course not. Rather I am saying the party should be more like a person than a Twitter personality. People should know the Conservative Party, not be following it. The Conservative party should befriend the British people and the British people should want to befriend them. The Conservatives should not be in the business of spewing political soundbites and slogans like Tweets, but of presenting their arguments with a broader explanation for the voters, just like a Facebook status or post.
Furthermore, the Conservative party should use their “timeline” i.e. their history and current position, to their advantage. No party has a prouder history of righting the economy and ensuring people’s freedoms. People should go the Conservative party and see the proud legacy of the party of Pitt, Disraeli, Salisbury, Churchill and Thatcher, right on their timeline for everybody to see. Further, the Conservatives must be keen to keep their timeline up to date to remind their friends of their current great accomplishments on the economy, on welfare reform, on offering Britons a choice on Europe (unlike UKIP), and especially highlight Osborne’s latest fantastic budget. They should encourage other people to voice their support or concerns on their timeline, with the Conservatives being always willing to answer them back in a comment that everyone can see. Conservatives should also always be approachable to be “messaged” in private if people have any further questions or concerns.
By being the “Facebook” party, and not the “Twitter” party, Conservatives would become the “un-nasty” and friendly party. By being the Facebook party, rather than the Twitter party, you reach people of all walks of life, young and old, not just trendy and social media image obsessed people who live in the moment of “hashtagging”. The Conservative should be like Facebook: friendly, informative, historical yet futuristic, a combination of fun and seriousness, and last of all and most importantly, the Conservatives should be the party of the 21st century.