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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Tweets unlimited

With one Welsh Assembly member abandoning Twitter after walking into controversy over her comments about Martin McGuinness meeting the Queen, I was interested in this report in today's Telegraph, in which Housing Minister Grant Shapps, who has notched up 50,000 followers on Twitter, says the social network has given him the edge over civil servants.

Mr. Shapps says that Civil Servants, most of whom are excellent, really do care that the Minister doesn't screw up and that they genuinely worry about the way their charges use language. However, Twitter has changed the rules of the game in Whitehall:

Ministers are no longer entirely reliant on the Departmental Press Office. And as a result Ministers have become ever so slightly harder to control.

I joined Twitter back in March 2008 and have sent Tweets most days since. In Opposition, where Shadow Spokesmen typically struggle to get their views across, Twitter provided me with direct access to the outside world. In Government, where the problem isn't getting coverage but ensuring that it's actually in your own words, Twitter enables me to bypass some of the excessive bureaucracy that goes with the Whitehall Government machine.

You see, even if I don't actually send that Tweet in my own words, Officials know that I could. So the balance of power is subtly shifted in favour of the Minister. No bad thing, given that we're the ones who are democratically elected and answerable to the public.

Yet the social media driven shift in Whitehall relationships isn't just confined to Ministers. The Civil Service itself has taken to it. Our Permanent Secretary, who is also the head of the Home Civil Service, can be found providing an insight into the formerly closed world of the mandarin on Twitter most days.

So one thing is for sure. The rules of the game in Whitehall have changed. And in my view, it's for the better.

That is the positive side to Twitter and why I, at least, am persisting with it.

I am not intending to leave for good peter. I was the first AM on twitter I believe and remember that certain AMs at the time were not keen on joining...
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