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SHAPPS GRANT Grant Shapps is the most followed Conservative MP on Twitter, having tweeted most days since March 2008 @grantshapps

On March 28th 1992 the then Prime Minister John Major hit the campaign trail in Luton.

Walking through a pedestrianised shopping centre he was jostled by a hostile left-wing crowd. Progress was slow until he spotted a soapbox and he decided to clamber on board. Grabbing a megaphone he retorted:

"No mob ever taking to the streets is going to stop us coming out and talking to the ordinary decent people of this country.”

That was a moment I particularly remember thanks to a completely new innovation in British TV. Three years earlier Sky had launched its News channel and this was the first general election to be covered around the clock. From then on the 24-hour news channels have been on hand to instantly capture moments of impromptu voter interaction; like the time when John Prescott throw a punch on an abusive voter in 2001.

Wind forward to the 2005 election and the speed of election coverage had taken yet another leap forward.

Blogs were all the rage and with commentary no longer restricted to the newspapers, every twist and turn in the 2005 campaign was reported online. Finding out what the commentariat thought of the campaign was no longer a question of waiting for the morning papers to report on an event from the day before. Now blogs became hourly accounts of the day's key election events.

And in this 2010 general election, technology has once again powered ahead. For better or worse, this is Britain's first ever twitter election.

Now the coverage is quite literally second by second. A misused phrase in an interview on some remote local radio station will be instantly tweeted (and then re-tweeted) to thousands of others including mainstream media journalists who are increasingly relying on this source of first hand election coverage.

The smallest trip or stumble twittered or worse still tweetpic'd (a photograph or video on twitter) and a leading politician's polite hello in a coffee bar whilst waiting for a train, will more than likely be instantly twittered all over the internet and beyond.

No British election campaign has ever been so open, so transparent or so public. One twitter feed even invites members of the public to email tweet@eyespy.mp to create crowd sourced gossip about their actual or wannabe representatives.

But is everyone benefiting from this real-time online revolution?

Definitely not. For one thing, plenty of people have no idea how to make twitter actually work for them.

"I really don't care what someone just had for their lunch," is a common complaint from those who have casually signed up for twitter and then left in despair at the sheer volume of what they regard as pointless tweets made each day.

So how can you use twitter to gain highly relevant and up to the minute campaign news?

These are the simple steps I've found have worked for me:

  1. Sign up to twitter at twitter.com
  2. Follow relevant people or organisations, aligned with your interests. 
  3. In order to build your own following on twitter – useful if you plan to post tweets – you'll usually want to follow back those who have followed you. It's only polite, yet at the same time it will also cause twitter feed mayhem.At this point you'll quickly discover that the trouble is that you've no way of knowing whether the people you end up following back are the ones most likely to tweet about what they've just had for lunch. That's because although their passing interest may have been you or politics, they might actually spend most of their own online time discussing other stuff, like which movie they've just watched. Pretty soon your own twitter home page will be filled with anything but up to the minute news on the general election.
  4. The trick is to take advantage of a relatively new twitter feature called "Lists". A list enables you to view filtered twitter feeds only from those individuals that you've added to your own "list". It's completely separate from who you happen to follow or your followers and so it is an uncluttered real-time news feed exclusively centred around the subjects you're most interested in.

Now if you've gone ahead and 'Listed' the 50 twitter feeds that I've provided below then you'll be receiving a real-time news feed covering a slightly centre-right view of this general election campaign. You can tweak my "list" to suit your own personalised election news needs. And whilst you're at it, you can set up other lists to satisfy your personal passion for fly fishing or anything else.

Soon you'll discover all manner of fast moving election news with updates minute by minute. Plenty of it will be gossip and some even groundless, but I can tell you that nearly every big political story in the past year has appeared on twitter first.

When Hewitt and Hoon challenged Brown's leadership, I'd read about it during PMQs nearly an hour before Nick Robinson actually 'broke' the story on the BBC.

So if you want your election news in real-time and much faster than the news channels or even the blogs, then your own personal twitter 'list' is the answer.

As promised, here is my "list":

Shapps-twitter-list1
Shapps-twitter-list2
Shapps-twitter-list3

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