Is Twitter a TWOT (Total Waste of Time?)

Someone – a young lad by the look of it – has tweeted me (and yes, I still feel silly saying that), complaining that MPs should be working instead of using Twitter and in my case suggesting that I should be fighting to lower the cost of public transport, as I have apparently never done so. He also said ‘bus fares have gone up again, but at least we’ll soon have a Tory government’ (who would of course in their very first Budget introduce swingeing taxes on car ownership, bring in a nationwide congestion charge, and put it all into subsidising the buses).

I’ve suggested he looks at this blog and my website for ample evidence of what others might deem an unhealthy obsession with First Bus, and also tried to explain insofar as one can do so in a few tweets that (a) Tories deregulated the buses, (b) local Tories and Lib Dems across the four councils have been less than helpful in our efforts at joint working, e.g. on the need for a Strategic Transport Authority, or on the location of park and ride schemes, (c) the Conservatives in Parliament voted against the Local Transport Bill, which gives councils more powers to introduce Quality Bus Contracts – i.e. taking back control of the buses – as well as more support for STAs; (d) the Government has given £43 million for the Greater Bristol Bus Network, and (e) I’m spending most of tomorrow in Brislington, talking to local people about plans for the A4 Showcase Bus Route. I didn’t mention the fact I’m currently in correspondence with the First Bus boss and indeed the First Group boss about fares, but that too… And yes, fares are still going up; I have influence, not control in such matters.

But apart from all that – and also leaving aside the fact that it is 11pm and one might think I’m entitled to some ‘me time’ – I wanted to just deal with the suggestion that MPs are wasting their time on Twitter. Yes – some of it is a bit silly (though fun). Some of it is about bonding with people who share a similar sense of humour or a similar political outlook. Some of it is about getting into arguments with political opponents, and there’s a fair bit of political point-scoring. Sometimes it’s about passing on information, publicising things, bringing them to wider attention.

But basically what Twitter comes down to, is this: It’s about communicating. It’s about engaging with people. It’s a conversation, a dialogue, and anyone can join in. And don’t we politicians get criticised all the time for not doing that? So far today I’ve exchanged tweets with people about the Family Intervention Project in Bristol and the Daily Express’ hugely misleading frontpage story today (and Ed Balls has too). Yesterday I was tweeting with someone about the new rules on acquiring British citizenship. I’ve also been DM-ing someone about various Conference related stuff; someone I’ve never met, actually, but we exchange ideas on Twitter regularly. I’ve also been tweeting about the SATS results in Bristol; publicising the fact Mike Foster (DFID Minister) and Ed Miliband are now on Twitter; and, I confess, indulging in some rather silly banter about Michael Gove’s bizarre comments about Spandau Ballet. (I spent much of today on hold, making various phone calls; it passes the time and takes your mind off the ‘your call is important to us’ messages).

And yes, I’ve also been into my constituency office today, although no actual appointments. Tomorrow I’ll be at the annual Bristol Play Day (fingers crossed that the rain stops by then), then joining police and council officers for a walkabout in Broomhill, then visiting various shopowners who have raised concerns about the A4 Showcase Bus Route, then joining Councillor Simon Crew for a drop-in surgery in Brislington, and then going to Brislington Labour Party’s branch meeting. And then I’ll get back home, having been out and about for nearly ten hours, and if I decide I want to go on Twitter, I will!

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