ConservativeHome can reveal today that Labour MPs have out-tweeted Conservative MPs every single day since the 2017 General Election, despite the widespread discussion in Conservative circles of the need for Tories to regain the front foot on social media.
My analysis of data compiled from the website MPsOnTwitter shows that Labour MPs posted more times on Twitter than Conservative MPs on every one of the 202 days from 15th June 2017 (the earliest full day post-election for which data was available) to 3rd January 2018.
In total during that period, Conservative MPs posted 44,017 tweets while their Labour opponents posted 89,085 times – more than twice as much. The average day saw 218 tweets from Tory MPs, compared to 441 tweets from members of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
In the full context of tweets posted by Members of Parliament of all parties, the picture looks no better. As a daily average, 28 per cent of tweets posted by MPs came from Conservatives, and almost 58 per cent from Labour.
The contrast is even more stark when one considers that there are, of course, 57 more Conservative MPs than Labour MPs, so the Parliamentary Conservative Party really ought to have a natural head start. But altogether, Conservative MPs rarely manage to post the daily equivalent of one tweet per MP: only 23 times since 15th June have Tory MPs posted more than 316 tweets in a single day. By comparison, in the same period Labour MPs routinely posted the daily equivalent of more than one tweet per Labour MP: there were only 20 days on which Labour MPs posted fewer than 259 tweets in total .
The lower proportion of Conservative MPs who are on Twitter – 79 per cent, compared to Labour’s 92 per cent – is a contributing factor to this deficit. But it does not explain it entirely; those percentages conceal that each party has very similar numbers of MPs on the social platform: 249 Conservative, and 242 Labour. So the depressing fact is that Conservative MPs are simply less active tweeters than their Labour opponents.
Some possible explanations present themselves. Perhaps age is a reason for fewer Tory MPs tweeting, or for their lower activity rate on the site? This excuse is based on an outdated stereotype – the average age of Conservative MPs is now lower than that of Labour MPs. For those who are of an older vintage, MPs like Nicholas Soames have taken to Twitter with aplomb, and there are plenty of active tweeters from every generation, so there’s no age bar to understanding how it works, or doing it well.
Might the fact that the Conservatives are in government be a limiting factor? The strictures of departmental communication policies could, it is argued, prevent ministers from tweeting easily. That might be so to a degree, but it has not prevented Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove or David Gauke, for example, from engaging in active debate on Twitter recently. And the communications policies governing ministers can be changed by the government itself – if they are restricting ministers’ ability to communicate about their work, then they ought to be altered.
Perhaps Tory MPs have simply got sick of being bombarded with relentlessly negative and often deeply unpleasant tweets by nutty Corbynites, and have slacked off or given up as a result. If so, that isn’t good enough – we need to fight for our cause in every setting, not grant our opponents free run of a major platform by giving up when they turn nasty.
More persuasive is the caveat that the measure of Twitter success cannot purely be quantity of tweets. That’s self-evidently true; simply tweeting a lot does not guarantee that what an MP tweets is any good, or that the content is reaching the desired audience. Perhaps Conservative MPs feel that there are better things to do than to post on Twitter, ad that David Cameron had it right about what “too many tweets” make back in 2009.
They might well believe so – and it would be absurd to insist MPs just tweet all day to the detriment of other work (leave that to the journalists, please). But the fact that Labour, despite being fewer in number, appear to dominate the Parliamentary debate on Twitter does still matter.
Twitter isn’t everything, but a lot of people do use it, and what is said there by politicians helps to drive the agenda of the mainstream print and broadcast media in particular. When bogus stories on issues like animal sentience grow unchallenged online and then burst out to reach the wider electorate, Conservatives are rightly concerned and reasonably ask why they weren’t nipped in the bud earlier. One answer is that too many Conservative MPs either aren’t there to take part in the debate at all, or are there and are insufficiently active and engaged.
Since the election we’ve all heard senior people publicly acknowledge that there needs to be a concerted effort to do better online generally. A growing number of Conservative MPs are doing social media more, and doing it well. But get back to parity, never mind to seize a lead, more of their colleagues need to join them.