Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Cornwall Council's twitter ban

Today the Conservative leader of Cornwall Council took the bizarre step of banning councillors from communicating on the internet during meetings. A few councillors (lamentably none from MK) tweet during meetings, understandably some tweets criticise the regime and these have caught the attention of Cllr Robertson.

I am all in favour of people tweeting from such meetings, it provides an insight into the democratic process. It is interesting for a wide range of people, voters, organisations, political activists and journalists can quickly get the opinions of councillors. Their reactions and thoughts without spin as issues in the chamber are discussed. It also invites users of twitter to challenge the views of councillors and ask for clarification on their views in the chamber or in tweets. The real beauty therefore is that it invites people to witness the democratic process and engage with it, this is a great thing for democracy.

Also the ban is rather pointless, meetings are webcast anyway so people can hear and see proceedings anyway. (That is of course if the Conservatives don't push to alienate people from democracy further by banning those broadcasts as well.) Councillors can't be controlled in such a manner as the twitter/ blogging ban outside of the council, so they can criticise the Tories then anyway. Obviously the more instant communication during meetings is preferable as the majority of people can't watch the webcasts live.

I am appalled by the behaviour of the council on this issue it is a retrograde step for democracy. We already face a situation whereby a handful of select councillors make all the decisions and the full council is given little input on that process. Government across this isle and indeed this continent is opening up and becoming more open and democratic, I dearly hope Cornwall isn't allowed to buck this trend

As a footnote, I actually joined twitter after the Tax Payers Alliance criticised Cornwall Councillors for tweeting in meetings. That was a while ago and I haven't looked back since.


  1. Trouble is Rob, the initial cause of the shenanigans today has been lost in the subsequent clamour for political capital. Some of the tweets this morning were quite frankly childish and petty mudslinging. The Leader lost the plot a bit under the pressure of trying to maintain some semblance of dignity in the proceedings and the usual suspects swooped on his badly advised pronouncement. If the tweeting Councillors were a little more mature and considered in their output then the Leader would not have been goaded into this pathetic and ultimately pointless stand off. Lets get back to sensible debate, with twitter giving an imediacy and honesty to that debate in support rather than acting as a pantomime in the wings.

  2. Thanks for the comments Blogwall Bugle and I have no fundamental disagreement with your opinions. The right to tweet or blog in the chamber should be in the public interest and it's hard to argue that silly tweets, such as jokes are in any way in the public interest. However with believe it's not clear which tweets Alec Robertson took exception too (this was after all an unprecedented and spur of the moment decision ), I personally saw one tweet questioning why the leader and a senior cabinet member were in the building receiving an award rather than in the chamber attending the meeting. I have no idea whether this is true, but if it is, it does look embarrassing and doesn't reflect well on those Tory councillors or their ability to schedule meetings and set priorities properly.

    That aside silly tweets, are silly they don't add anything to debate and we might question whether it's befitting of a councillor and the responsibility that incurs to be acting in such a manner. Politics is a serious business, there's nothing amusing about the administration of a large and important body such as Cornwall Council. However the conduct of councillors is their own choice if they wish to poke fun at the administration it is their right to do so. Just as much as it's the right of other tweeters to send sensible academic critique if they want. And why should these latter tweeters be bound by the blanket ban they did nothing to provoke?

  3. So if they don't want to attract a blanket ban, it is in the interests of all Councillors to show a little corporate maturity and, at least during the meeting on which they purport to be commenting, refrain from the temptation to score cheap points, make silly asides and generally contribute very little to the debate. The whole meeting was covered by an excellent webcast available to all. Comment on the comings and goings of individuals were cast in unecessarily disparaging tones and I can understand why the Leader was rattled by that and felt the need to restore some decorum to the proceedings. The fact that he did so in a heavy-handed and proceedurally incorrect manner may be a matter perhaps of poor guidance from his officers as much as anything. He did in fact read out a number of tweets with the names of the authors and one can only assume these are the ones he took exception to.

    The Leader (who's politics I do not subscribe to) handled it badly, but the hue and cry of the mob baying that this has detracted from the very important business of the day carries little weight as it is they who were, and are, fuelling the distraction. A quiet word with the procedural powers that be to clarify the position at an appropriate point would have been a more statesmanlike position. This was just a game of political capital gains and it didn't play well.

    I very much respect and subscribe to your view that this sort of nonsense, from whatever party, does little to improve the image of a council which has huge responsibilites in difficult times.

    I feel sorry for the Councillors who had obviously put a lot of effort into the business of the day (German, Burden and Biscoe to name but three); their work has come second to a comedy sideshow.

    Regards NB

  4. I'm no lover of this one Cornwall council but as far as twittering in the meetings, I'd rather have my counciller concentrating on what is been said and paying attention. So I'm pleased no MK counciller is twittering so that there full attention is given to any discussion, reminding many that their duty is to the people of Cornwall and not Westminster.

  5. Thanks for the comment Nick. I can't fault your logic, councillors should definitely be concentrating on the job in hand and representing their constituents, rather than posting views online. That said I can't see the harm in the occasional tweet during a meeting although I do recognise there is a fine line between losing sight of the point of being there and interacting with people on twitter.

  6. Undecided really. As long as the person tweeting is actually tweeting about the meeting rather than ordering someone to pick them up a pasty for lunch, I can't see any harm in it!

  7. Well no one one is going to twitter me as it's all above me....but a pasty lunch sounds nice!

  8. I agree with Nick. So many people these days seem obsessed with technology - how can anyone be concentrating on the job at hand when they are fiddling with their phone?!

  9. Good comments and all good points. It raises the question of who should moderate councillor's behaviour, should they be allowed to talk amongst themselves during meetings or communicate on the internet? To my mind it should be up to the councillors if they believe they can engage with the business of the day whilst sending tweets I can't see the harm in letting them choose.