At Yatterbox we are always investigating and researching the way into with social media is changing politics. This article takes a brief look at the power plays between the Mandarins of Whitehall and the Ministers of Government.
For many years, members of parliament have had every word scripted and audited by the more permanent inhabitants of Whitehall – the army of private secretaries and other civil servants. Politicians have had their speeches gone through with a fine tooth comb, while their ‘Mentors’ debate the use of certain phrases, or whether ‘can’ or ‘may’ would be more appropriate in showing the level of intent the party is willing to show.
But the rise of Social Media has caused a shift in who now holds the power in these situations. Politicians know that, if they aren’t happy with what the official statement says, they can turn around and express themselves in a way they find more appropriate on Facebook or Twitter.
However, just because they have that power, it doesn’t mean that they will actually go against their ‘Mentors’. Most politicians are perfectly happy to have their speeches edited, just so long as they can have more of a say in it. The editing of speeches, press releases, etc. is for many politicians, a safety net, a precaution against errors that could come back to haunt them.
Another reason that this change has been welcomed is that it allows the ‘lesser profile’ politicians to get their say in. The Back benchers and the shadow cabinet are often seen by the press as being of less importance to current events, and are therefore not given much coverage. With the rise of Social Media, they have also seen a rise in their ability to have their voices heard.
This can be seen as recently as the government reshuffle which saw Baroness Warsi use her official Tory chairman Twitter account to confirm that she was “signing off”, saying it had been “a privilege and honour to serve my party as co-chairman”. Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan removed references to her role on her biographical details on Twitter. In previous years these actions would have been portrayed by official press releases.
The world is changing, and Whitehall is changing with it.