MPs on Twitter

Claire Trevett writes about MP tweeting.

It has been just over two years since National MP Tau Henare was anointed Minister of Twitter for his alacrity with the medium.

There has been a significant reshuffle in the portfolio area since then. That was a time when relatively few MPs were on Twitter and most were too scared to take the new toy out of its box, let alone play with it with any vigour.

Henare is still there and still covers a wide area of topics. He recently managed 135kg in the deadlift. “Am I happy? Damn Skippy I am.”

My advice to most MPs about Twitter…is don’t go there. You will not be engaging with swinging voters, only sycophants or stalkers, so a pointless waste of time unless you can foot it in the sledging stakes.

But the landscape now is a lot more like the Wild West and some surprising gunslingers have emerged in the likes of Act leader John Banks and United Future’s Peter Dunne, who tweeted through his journey from common-sense Peter to the beleaguered martyr in his very own spy melodrama, facing allegations he leaked a GCSB report.  

Dunne is pathetic…it was Twitter that alerted everyone to his professional infatuation with Andrea Vance. If he thought planking was going to make him cool then being on Twitter and whining endlessly made him uncool fast.

Justice Minister Judith Collins is the biggest surprise in this regard. While many MPs delegate tweetery to their staff, Collins runs her own with a steel fist. And with what unbridled glee does she deploy that fist. She alternates between Agony Aunt and Iron Lady, dispensing kindly advice to some, but getting others with a swift upper cut.

I haven;t seen much agony aunt, unless it is out of concern for failing Labour MPs showing their life’s disappointments to all.

So an exchange with Clare Curran over Family Court reforms somehow ended up being a critique of Green co-leader Metiria Turei and her jacket, both of which Collins decreed were “vile, wrong and ugly”.

She revelled in Labour’s man ban, telling Trevor Mallard she could see why Labour wanted a man-ban “if you’re anything to go by”. She reserves her best patronising tones for Chris Hipkins: after finding out he was calling her “Cruella” she replied “Chris is a dear boy. Probably stayed up all night thinking of that one.”

Collins revelled even more in the coup rumours swirling through Labour, especially after Labour MPs took to Twitter themselves to deny it.

If political parties have codes of conduct for social media, they are apparently flexible depending on how senior the MP is. Collins is senior enough to get away with more than a little backbencher, but not so senior that her sledging is completely inappropriate. Steven Joyce is in a similar position, and he too enjoys a good Twitter sledge but lacks Collins’ bloodlust for it.

I don’t know of any one game enough to tell Judith to stop it…nor should she.

MPs on Twitter play to a relatively small audience. It is mainly beltway or enthusiasts of politics, rather than undecided voters who might be swayed by the persuasiveness of an MP’s tweeting skills. It can be useful for making announcements though – one of the more astonishing moments in recent times was last week when Labour MPs turned to Twitter to reject reported rumours that a coup was under way. Grant Robertson, Annette King and Chris Hipkins led the charge, getting their message out but also turning it from a virtual non-story to a story about their vigorous denials on Twitter.

Exactly what I say… sycophants or stalkers…that’s all.



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