New Media and Brighton and Hove City Councillors: Welcome to the 21st Century

Brighton and Hove City Council have finally arrived into the age of new media. Ignoring the debate about the new head of media relations, councillors are now allowed to tweet and send emails from the Council chamber as a way of encouraging greater interaction between politicians and the public.

(Incidently, my recent post on the proposed media relations post was criticised by Labour councillor Craig Turton who was quite right when he said “Frankly, BPB this is a lazy posting not worthy of your usual insight.”)

Central Services cabinet member Jason Kitcat has said that this innovation will bring the Council into the 21st century. He said: “Despite the current guidelines, there are members from all parties who are catching up on emails in the Chamber. At the moment live feedback is limited to the small number of people in the public gallery.”

Conservative councillor Mary Mears has long opposed the change. She was quoted by the Argus as saying: “I still do not support it. I believe we are there to represent the city and should be concentrating on what is going on rather than political backstabbing while the meeting is going on.”

Labour and Co-op councillor, active Twitter-user Warren Morgan responded by saying: “Councillors should be focused on the debate but most are quite capable of listening and at the same time tweeting or researching the issue under discussion via the web on their mobile.”

Warren’s statement begs the question: “If most councillors are capable of multi-tasking, who are those who are not capable …?”

So we can all expect more interaction from our politicians which is something I welcome. I personally may not need to attend future council meetings … !

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13 Responses

  1. If anyone thinks tweeting is not a distraction then they are a fool.

    It may well be for individuals to decide if that distraction is worthwhile while supposedly participating in a meeting – but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a major distraction.

    Or are we to allow tweeting while driving now?

  2. I look at this from a purely pragmatic point of view. If studies are to be believed then you can’t do two things at once and dedicate proper resources to both. In fact, in a 1992 paper, testing suggested that multi-tasking can reduce your mental faculties to that of an 8 year old. Do we really want a bunch of 8 year old brains making decisions about our city?

    The idea that this helps to engage with the residents doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Members of the public can watch an unbiased live stream of council meetings, can watch previous “episodes” after meetings via the council’s website, or can even turn up to watch the proceedings themselves. After the event individual councillors or political parties can give their own spin on events via blogs or even Twitter itself. If the public want a more active role in the events of our city they can ask public questions of the council in those meetings.

    It looks to me like nothing more than an opportunity for political point scoring when councillors are meant to be – and indeed paid for – paying attention to proceedings and making their views known in meetings.

    Tony Davenport

  3. If councillors (specifically one that I have in mind 😉 ) kept to the discipline of 140 characters for all their speeches, we would all be a lot better for it with significant cost savings to the council tax payer… Agree with Tony, councillors should stick to decision making, not tweeting, during official meetings and leave it for press and public to tweet ‘live’.

  4. I am not sure that the 21st century hasanything to do with it. This is equally one of the eighteeth… That is to say, if tweets are banned, thenso should the Argus reporting. After all, a reporter has to take down notes of one breath while listening to the next.

    And to be expected to hang on a Councillor’s every word is surely to elevate such things into the higher orbits of oratory: and, talking of those last four letters, I treasure the time when Geoffrey Theobald stood up and quoted, at length, from some earlier speech he had given; Jack Hazlegrove got up and replied, “it is bad enough to hear Geoffrey’s speeches once but to be expected to do so twice is a cruel and unnatural punishment.”

  5. Twitter was used very effectively at the health debate facilitated by healthhotel.org.uk at the Lib, Lab and Con conferences (shameless plug). People not present in the audience or at any of the conferences could watch the live debate streamed on the web and Tweet comments or questions to the panel which were relayed on a screen including several from Queens Park’s own Sussex Square. Whilst I think Twitter has a place in a style of debate such as this, I don’t think it would work at Council. Personally, I don’t Tweet and try and listen to all views expressed. Simple point: if we don’t listen to each other how will we really learn?

    • Thanks for the Twitter plug Craig. At the http://www.healthhotel.org.uk debate I found it easy to tweet because I was listening and not intending to speak. In essence I and others were providing a running commentary for a wider audience beyond the Trafford room of Manchester’s Midland Hotel. This is what journalists do all the time covering Parliament or proceedings in council chambers across the land.

      I am in agreement with your take on this. I would find it impossible to multi-task if I knew I was expected to speak in a debate and respond to specific points when it came to my turn to rise to my feet. While every political party will have worked out a position on issues scheduled for debate, if you approach it like an automaton without showing any acknowledgement to the points made across the chamber, the result will be a sterile meaningless exchange, which advances nothing. It requires careful concentration and that means paying your opponents the respect of listening, before opening one’s mouth.

  6. Another vital issue comes under intense scrutiny (planning reforms, housing, jobs, building on urban fringe, new Core Strategy.. anyone?)

    Most other councils/parliaments allow it. I will probably only tweet three or four times at most during the course of a six hour meeting, whilst listening intently to the largely well rehearsed lines of my Tory and Green colleagues, all the time bearing in mind that most decisions are made at Cabinet, not full Council. I doubt that I will lose track of things.

    • Well-rehearsed? In which sense? When I got up and said something about the Committee System at the Full Council the other month, I did so after jotting down a few headings on the agenda paper a minute or two after signalling that I should like to speak. That can, perhaps, be the best way of doing it. Depends upon the circumstances.

  7. Does anyone know why when I access this site oftentimes I cannot read or post comments as I get play or download boxes instead of comments after the main blog?

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