Prescott: not so much a Twitterer, more a political Twit
As politicians return to Westminster after the summer holiday, a recent Oxford graduate begs them: please, no more tweeting!
Everyone onto the nu-media bandwagon! John Prescott last week became the latest in a line of politicians to express his enthusiasm for the baffling new social-networking tool Twitter. "You have to capture young people who are turning away from politics," the former deputy prime minister told the Guardian. Simply talking to the apathetic youth is no good, apparently: "There's no point in sending them to boring meetings."
But in the desire to be 'down with the kids' at all costs, Prezza seems to have missed a fairly important point: quite aside from the fact that the only people on Twitter are politicians and trendy dads, if you want to inspire and engage the younger generation you need to tackle the issues that they find inspiring and engaging.
You won’t appeal to the politicians of tomorrow with updates on what you’re watching on telly this evening ("Why are lots of people asking me whether I watched #xfactor?" chirrups Prescott on his hip, up-to-the-minute feed). And, to be quite frank, anyone drawn in through these means probably isn't worth recruiting anyway.
Some think student activism died in the Eighties, but it is enjoying a revival
What people don't seem to understand is that we are not the Generation Apathy everyone is so keen to cast us as. Look to the environmental movement for all the evidence you need of the existence of thousands of politically pro-active teens and students. The student-led group People & Planet, for example, campaigns on a wide range of environment and human rights issues. Campaigns manager Emily Cantrell told me that they have around 1,500 members from a network of around 20,000 devoting hours to the project each week.
Another campaign group, Pro-Test, was set up by 16-year-old Laurie Pycroft in response to the dominance of the anti-vivisectionist movement in medical research. Pycroft and his committee, a mix of academics and students, organise regular marches of 500-plus through Oxford in support of the construction of the university animal lab in response to a lengthy campaign from animal rights group SPEAK.
Indeed while the nostalgic older generation presume student activism died with their ideals in the Eighties, it has enjoyed something of a revival recently. Students at London's School of Oriental and African Studies staged a sit-in in protest over Israel's bombing of Gaza in January, which quickly spread to more than 20 other institutions across the country. Some protests, like that at the LSE, lasted nearly a week.
New media - used badly - is not a good way to inspire tomorrow’s leaders
The problem doesn't lie in the indifference of the teenaged masses, then, but in convincing us to bring our passions to mainstream politics. If politicians think that Twitter-literacy is an easy solution they are much mistaken.
The 15-year-old Morgan Stanley intern Matthew Robson became an overnight 'media sensation' this summer when he reported the simple and obvious truth – that none of his friends could afford to spend expensive hours on their mobiles telling people about the inanities of their lives: in short Twitter was not for them.
But even if Robson had not come up with this insight, and young people were tweeting (which, of course, some of them are), it doesn't mean cool new communication media - used badly - are a good way to inspire tomorrow's leaders.
Using social-networking sites to appeal to these future activists and politicians is the equivalent of conducting a job interview via MSN Messenger: inventive, but out of place. I don't want to be David Cameron's Facebook friend, nor John '2.0' Prescott's. I can't imagine anything worse. Facebook is for posting pictures of your friends doing tequila shots and sleeping in bins.
If those in their teens and 20s aren't getting involved in mainstream politics, it is because they don't see it as relevant to the issues they care about; it is certainly not for want of a Labour Party Myspace profile. ·
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