The way many of us refer to MPs and Parliament as a whole can vary enormously from treating them as the leaders of our nation to pointing out that they are our public servants. This must place anyone who is elected to work on behalf of any community in a very challenging place. Whilst these two concepts appear to be at opposite ends of certain spectrums, on the other hand many other communities would use the same terms for people who they look up to and who at the same time should be accountable to them. Some religious communities do so and the work of teachers and lecturers has a similar feel along with the Police and Fire Brigades and also the NHS. The same can also be true of people who work for private or charitable agencies that are funded from so called public funds. There are many areas of behaviour that get scrutinised using such contrasts.
One very clear one relates to how people communicate in public which can bring their use of social media into a very bright spotlight. Last Tuesday Yvette Cooper was chairing the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee and she began the meeting by admitting that on the previous occasion a week earlier where the Committee had criticised a high profile Home Office civil servant that they had subsequently discovered that their criticism was unjustified. She explained that she and one of her colleagues had written to the person concerned to apologise for their incorrect comments. The next matter was to welcome the Home Secretary to the Committee which is set up to achieve a number of outcomes including holding the Minister to account for their work on behalf of the Nation. As she attempted to then introduce the first witness for that session, Sajid Javid the current Home Secretary and boss of the person criticised the week before interrupted Yvette and asked if she would be willing to delete a tweet she had made after the committee. He pointed out it had gone to her 175,000 followers including a video of the session and he then called on her to tweet an apology for her comments with a copy of the letter attached to it. He stated “it would really help to draw a line under the affair”. Yvette responded by pointing out some of the current significant failings of the Home Office and how Javid’s attempt to turn the meeting into a debate about their use of twitter “was not appropriate, not dignified and taking up the time of the committee which was intended to be used to deal with much more important matters”.
Outside of their committee however all of us can take up opportunities to consider if Sajid Javid and Yvette Cooper and many of their colleagues who do use twitter to engage with wide audiences should take Mr Javid’s demand seriously. After all when you have so much influence and indeed power there must be some sense of responsibility taken for the words and statements you use. If such people are incorrect in what they publish and critical of people who are less powerful than they are, it is perfectly reasonable for some meaningful response to be made by the person with power. There are of course other examples of tweets and facebook statements made by Ministers, MPs and indeed Peers and even Councillors. It is clear that the demand from Sajid Javid needs to be presented to his colleagues and peers and indeed he also needs to lead by example. There was a tweet he made in 2013 which criticised Yvette for the number of immigrants that had entered the UK during the time of the Labour Government. It would now make sense for him to delete that tweet and tweet an apology to Yvette admitting that such actions have been taking place ever since 2010. There is also the much more recent tweet he made about the failure of statutory bodies to pay attention to the victims of sexual abuse crimes and stating that under his watch “There will be no no-go areas” which is clearly deeply concerning in terms of what Amber Rudd and Theresa May did on their watch which he believes is wrong, what these no go areas are and who else is responsible for their creation? There are also elected people who like Caroline Nokes MP have blocked people from following them on twitter because they have had the tenacity to ask questions, in the case of Caroline regarding immigration status issues. There are a number of Sussex MPs, Councillors and MEPs who have also blocked people for raising questions! These include Maria Caulfield, Nicholas Soames and Henry Smith, Warren Morgan and Daniel Hannan.