Monday, March 29, 2010

I bumped into David Cameron in Starbucks - and talked Twitter

I bumped into David Cameron this morning - Tory Party leader and the man who would become Prime Minister in the UK should his party win the general election in May.

Actually, he slipped past me in the queue at Starbucks at St Pancras railway station. He went straight to a table without buying anything - and that set my sense of fair play twitching.

Turns out a colleague/assistant was doing the queueing for him, which I guess is fair enough?
I sat at the table next to him. At this point I thought he was just some young exec who looked a bit like David Cameron (I'd not met him before).

But when he opened his mouth to talk with said assistant the voice and content of their conversation was a heavy hint.

So I turned to him and asked: "You look familiar. Should I know you?"

He smiled. "Perhaps"

I raised an eyebrow, inviting clarification.

"I'm David Cameron, leader of The Conservative Party."

So. I shook his hand. Wished him luck. But told him I wouldn't be supporting him all the way.

I asked if I could take a snap (to tweet) and also whether he was using Twitter himself.

I told him I'd heard what he'd said about Twitter while being interview by Absolute Radio.
And he explained he didn't use it.

Politicians, he said, needed to think about what they said, before they said it.

He worried that those who tweeted all the time were sharing a stream of consciousness.

I said politicians ought not think too hard before they speak, they should tweet their stream of consciousness. I'd prefer the direct honesty.

And I cited John Prescott (@johnprescott) - and how for years the media had painted him as a bumbling fool - but Twitter enabled him to go direct to the public - to disintermediate the media - revealing the passionate and intelligent man Prescott actually is, rather than the charicature you see in the press.

Cameron did concede that Prescott is a very clever man - but also pointed out that the 140characters of Twitter were a blessed limitation on Prescott's tendency to verbosity. A fair point.

I don't suppose Cameron will start tweeting any time soon. Which is a shame.

Because I prefer my politicians to tell me what they honestly think and as directly as possibly. I want them to admit their human face, warts and all - rather than a mediated, bland/sanitised version of themselves.

Twitter enables that way better than any amount of 'press' ever can.

I only wish more politicians of all parties would give it a go. We may end up knowing who and what we're expected to vote for. And that would be a pleasant first.

UPDATE: Jonathan Macdonald shared an image that captures me sat on the next table to Cameron - just before I was sure who he was and started bending his ear. Watchers watching the watchers :-) View it larger here.

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  1. Nicely put.
    I prefer the real person, sadly though people soon equate real to dull. Give me Brown's realism over Blair's bullshit anyday though.

  2. How do you know some clever assistant isn't there to tweet on their behalf?

  3. oh, we're pretty good at spottind the difference. It's a very human thing to be able to identify the faker

  4. I agree with you in principle, regarding wanting honesty from politicians, but I fear you're confusing some things. Just because it has their name on the tin, and they claim to be typing it (notwithstanding derloos point), you're assuming that this means it is what they really think. Not wishing to name names, but you do get the impression on twitter that some PPCs or private people who support parties are just going through the motions, as it is another form of campaigning. Doesn't do much for apathy really.

  5. Sure: there's no point engaging in an half-hearted way. There's every point in properly engaging. PPC's etc are surely just another form of managed mediation. Direct by the politician is far superior on every level. Knowing who you are voting for is a huge motivator. I did once vote tory. It was in a European election. Not because I particularly agreed with the parties policies on Europe at the time or on anything else (this was back in Thatcher's day). I voted for them because I had got to know and like the kindly local MEP, Sir Fred Catherwood. I had the luxury of developing a one-to-one relationship with him because I was a local journalist at the time. Today we have the tools for politicians to signficantly increase the number of direct relationships they have. Failing to use them, personally, is costing them votes.

  6. great post! Much agreed. Would be great to see politicians communicate more openly, and not simply expand of everybody else's rhetoric.

    Any politician however that gets caught in a photograph with their secretary slung over their shoulder is going to be labeled an idiot, and I'm not sure John Prescott should ever get removed from that category!

  7. Always makes me laugh this whole 'got to be what people I think want me to be' style of politician.

    Bit like those politicians who never smoked cannabis at university, or said "they may have had a tug but, of course, didn't inhale." WTF!

    Doesn't impress me, just makes me think you are a saddo, square or EVEN worse ya lying! The latter is not a good example for a leader of people.

    I would vote the truth teller with the odd flaw...hell we all make mistakes...I would not vote for the liar or spin politician who spends inordinate amounts of his (and they are , mainly 'his') time ticking the right boxes.

  8. "I want them to admit their human face, warts and all - rather than a mediated, bland/sanitised version of themselves."

    Would the word you are looking for be "airbrushed"? ;)

    Considering his views of Twitter (that people don't think before they post!!!) and his Blair-like will to control his image, I think you are right: he ain't going to start tweeting any time soon.

  9. "I prefer my politicians to tell me what they honestly think and as directly as possibly. I want them to admit their human face, warts and all - rather than a mediated, bland/sanitised version of themselves."

    Agreed, but Tweeting does not necessarily mean more honesty. More chance of being honest, certainly. But anyone from politician to pop star can still hide behind a Twitter account and hold opinions utterly divorced from what they actually believe.

    As with clicking reply to an email, how many times does anyone occasionally hold back to give a safer, more moderate and considered version of what they think?

  10. David, on the converse, have you ever considered how many otherwise apathetic voters you could acquire on a politician's behalf given a free hand with their viral campaigning?

  11. I can't believe how old-fashioned all three parties' campaigns are proving. Despite the hype, the Tories are using the same tired old techniques and (surprise) people aren't buying it.


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