Some thoughts on new Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner’s way of working.
Mr Zeichner posted the following tweets:
If you want to get in touch with him on constituency issues, he’s at firstname.lastname@example.org
This will inevitably be a different way from how his predecessor Julian Huppert used Twitter – as others have noted.
I’m not going to make a judgement call on which is the best way for him to use social media as an individual. This will be different from person to person, and will depend on each one’s disposition. This is more about ‘The Office that is Daniel Zeichner MP’.
MPs and ministers have private offices – ie paid staff whose job it is to help assist the holder of the public office discharge their constitutional duties. Public funds are available to pay for people to work in MPs’ offices. Ministers have their own teams of civil servants – the latter being constitutionally apolitical and helping ministers deliver the policies of the government. This is different from giving opposition politicians a verbal bashing. Hence researching opposition policies is normally out of bounds for civil servants.
“What’s the difference between Mr Zeichner and Dr Huppert?”
People used to the sort of access via Twitter they had with the latter are going to have a bit of a shock when it comes to the former. Dr Huppert would often respond directly to tweets during Parliamentary debates or commuting to/from Cambridge. For whatever reason, Mr Zeichner has indicated he wants a more formal method of communication. (Remember email is a form of social media). This also means using Twitter as a means of broadcasting what he’s doing rather than using it as a means of conversation. That’s not to say it’s set in stone. It might be that as he becomes more used to the role of being an MP, he becomes more comfortable responding to tweets directly. The way I use Twitter isn’t identical to early 2011. My approach to social media has evolved over time.
“Doesn’t that mean there will be people who will throw online brickbats at Mr Zeichner?”
In one sense you can’t win. Some will say politicians spend too much time on Twitter and not enough scrutinising the government. Others will say not using social media for conversations is no way for a holder of elected public office to behave.
What is important however is how Mr Zeichner and his advisers monitor social media and the discussions being had that involve Cambridge. Unfortunately the presence of Cambridge on the East Coast of America and the media circus around William and Kate means that you can’t do a simple Twitter search for all of the things happening here. This is what I relied on in my pre-Twitter days after the 2010 election doing research on Big Society policy. It was only in the autumn that I realised there were a whole host of conversations on lots of topics I wanted to take part in – ones where I didn’t have to worry about being stung by newspapers, which led to me setting up Puffles.
Setting up Twitter & Facebook pages for ‘The Office of Daniel Zeichner’?
It’s an option – I’ve seen other politicians experiment with similar with mixed degrees of success. Much depends on how comfortable an MP’s staff are with the medium concerned. The other one is how much autonomy and guidance the MP concerned is prepared to give to the staff running the accounts.
A good example of how these sorts of accounts are run are train companies – for all the complaints that they get. At the start of each shift, they announce the name of the person who is staffing the account. That then allows conversations to take place. Furthermore, there are a strict set of rules (sort of similar to Puffles’ house rules here) that they abide by. For such an MP-office account, it might include something around: “If you don’t know the answer immediately, say so and given an indication of when you will get back.”
“Why did you say that Cambridge’s Labour councillors have a role to play?”
Because if you look at a number of conversations that have cropped up over the years, many of them could have been dealt with by elected councillors rather than the MP. In Dr Huppert’s case, he was such a prolific tweeter and at the same time did not have this huge wealth of councillors who were using Twitter or Facebook regularly. Mr Zeichner has a critical mass of councillors who can take up the slack.
The most important thing is that:
- Councillors regularly update Mr Zeichner on issues being raised
- Mr Zeichner finds a suitable means of updating residents & constituents of what he is doing. A once-a-week blogpost or website update that can be cross-posted/tweeted might be really useful for those that want to remain informed, even if they don’t want to engage in conversation. (These people are likely to be in the majority – even if they don’t shout the loudest!)
“Which councillors are these that can help?”
Let’s take Cambridge City Council and their responsibilities. Going by the council’s constitution and directorates, these are as follows:
- Planning policy and control of development,
- Economic Development,
- Waste Services,
- [Limited] Transport Services
- Managing the Council’s housing stock and role as
social housing landlord,
- strategic issues on
homelessness and housing provision in the City,
- arts and entertainments,
- parks & recreational
- community development,
- grants to
- community safety.
Executive councillors on Twitter responsible for these are:
- Lewis Herbert, @Lewis_Herbert (leader of the council)
- Carina O’Reilly, @CarinaOReilly deputy leader of the council / city centre & public places)
- Kevin Price, @nivekder (housing)
- Richard Johnson, @CllrRJohnson (community, arts & recreation)
- Peter Roberts, @Peter_J_Roberts (Environment)
Other councillors for Labour on Twitter include:
They can point you to others – the above three are the ones I have fairly frequent Twitter chats with, or see out & about.
The Green Party has a councillor in Cambridge too:
Liberal Democrats on Cambridge City Council include:
Cambridge Conservatives have one councillor – Shapour Meftah, but I don’t think he’s on Twitter. Hence I refer interested parties to recent election candidates Andy & Tim
Cambridge is also represented on Cambridgeshire County Council – which covers the following (according to its website:
(See here for the sub-categories in the ‘residents’ tab (that it should land on))
The leader of the Labour group (and the only one I see frequently in tweets) is:
The Liberal Democrats group have the following on Twitter in Cambridge
At a county council level, The Greens, Conservatives & UKIP are not represented in the city divisions.
On Facebook you can find the following:
They also have student groups too:
- Cambridge University Conservative Association
- Cambridge Young Greens
- Cambridge Universities Labour Club
- Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats
So if you want to tweet politics to politicians in Cambridge, you now have ****lots**** of alternatives!