For my final year dissertation I chose to look at what use MPs’ are making of social media. Focussing on their use of Twitter, I set out to answer two questions; which MPs are tweeting and what are they using it for? Something that emerged when carrying out the research was the differences between MPs from the three main parties.
Who tweets? By party (% of total MPs)
As of January this year, 54.8% of Conservative MPs were tweeting. This is significantly less than the 69.1% of Labour MPs and 75.4% of Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives certainly look to be lagging behind the two other parties, but this difference in numbers is largely down to the number of tweeting frontbenchers.
The majority of Labour and Liberal Democrat frontbenchers do tweet, with over 80% of each party’s frontbenchers on Twitter. This is in contrast to the Conservative party, with only half of its frontbenchers using Twitter as of January this year. If there is one party that is behind in using Twitter it is the Conservatives, with proportionately less of their MPs on it and significantly fewer frontbenchers. It seems to be viewed with suspicion amongst the party’s leadership, with David Cameron once infamously claiming ‘too many tweets make a twat’ and reported attempts to restrict their MPs’ use of it. On Labour’s side, with 85.7% of their frontbenchers on Twitter this suggests more of an effort to get their frontbench to make the most of Twitter.
If they are making this effort, it hasn’t filtered through to their backbenchers. Whilst there is a large difference between the number of Labour and Conservative frontbenchers who tweet, there is little difference between the backbenchers with 56.3% of Labour backbenchers and 59.8% of Conservative backbenchers tweeting. With fewer MPs, proportionately there are more tweeting Liberal Democrat backbenchers at 71.8%. The Liberal Democrats are the only one of the three parties with a high proportion of both front and backbenchers tweeting, meaning overall they have the highest proportion of MPs on Twitter. Only 13 of their MPs do not tweet. Given their position as the third party, this is not massively surprising. Twitter is perhaps seen by them as a means to promote their party, whereas they might struggle for coverage in the media compared to the other two, larger parties.
In the run up to the 2005 general election a number of MPs set up blogs, and in 2010 they signed up to Twitter. They realised the benefits of blogging and tweeting for their campaigns, but as things stand the Conservatives lag behind in terms of their presence on Twitter (particularly amongst its ministers, being the only party with its backbenchers more likely to tweet than its frontbenchers). It will be interesting to see whether they feel the need to change this as we head towards 2015, or whether they will remain behind the other two parties.
James Donald recently graduated from the University of Nottingham with a BA in Politics.