Tweeting the Election


To set the context: I’m normally a dedicated ballot-spoiler. I think that voting is the least important of our democratic rights and responsibilities in this country (though not in every country), and certainly the most misleading; I’m irritated by the way voting is used as an excuse by individuals not to be more engaged, and by institutions not to foster and empower direct democracy. I also loathe the self-aggrandising guilt-tripping that goes on every year about voting, especially in the era of social networking. It’s important to know exactly how your vote does not count, and I have a lot of sympathy with those who see no real choice between candidates: whoever you vote for, the government always gets in. Some years ago I wrote a rather brash and naive article in the New Statesman about it, which is still, irritatingly, the second Google result for my name (this site is third — damn that radical Canadian pedagogist!).

But not this election. This election mattered. This election, we might be facing a Tory government. Look, I’m in the arts; my mother and sister are in social service; my Dad’s in education. The three sectors that get the most brutalised under the Tories. I had the memory of Thatcher drilled into me throughout childhood; visceral hatred of the Tories is in every blood cell and synapse. They had to be kept out at all costs. Including, in this case, sacrificing my democratic dignity and voting.

And that meant that something else surprising happened. I became an obsessive election geek, watching the coverage, refreshing the news sites every few seconds, and Tweeting like mad. Normally I adopt an air of detached superiority — but not this time. This time I got swept up by that gigantic broadcast and networked media echo chamber into the election furure. I tweeted a lot. This is a review:

It’s the first year I haven’t spoiled my ballot, and that’s really something: sacrificing my democratic dignity to help keep the Tories out 2:11 PM May 6th

That was all I intended to Tweet. Then I would go to bed, and then wake up under the horror of a Tory government. It began by innocuously retweeting amusing comments.

Semi-naked models quote John Locke in support of Tories: (NSFW). Sun, scraping, barrel. (via @scroobiuspipyo) 7:49 PM May 6th

But that got me reading all my feeds, and before I knew it I was echoing the sardonic, detached, and cynical tone of the Twitter commentariat, responding minute-by-minute to the coverage:

RHETORIC FIGHT! “A clear rejection of Gordon Brown” faces up against “the need for a strong and stable government”. WHO DECIDES? PM May 6th

Theresa May faces off against Peter Mandelson. An unfortunate analogy in my head: rather like Prof. Umbridge squabbling with Lord Voldemort. 10:24 PM May 6th

Jeremy Paxman is a posturing twat whose journalistic aggressiveness actively obstructs public understanding. Just sayin. 11:35 PM May 6th

Really enjoying listening to the catalogue of injuries to Nigel Farage, and the reporters trying not to grin while describing the crash. 11:52 PM May 6th

That chap just said “The Queen is rather like Heineken lager in this constitution”? Yes, he did. Wow. 12:07 AM May 7th

JOAN COLLINS’ FACE IS MADE OF SHINY PLASTIC. Has she been drinking virgins’ blood? 12:15 AM May 7th

Rereading these now, they seem rather oafish, not as funny as they felt at the time, and also utterly ephemeral. I usually treat Twitter as a document to be written on rather than a process to participate in, seeing my Tweets as precious memories, not passing comments. But these Tweets make little sense to anyone not watching the coverage and reading them as they appear; they each refer to a few seconds of film, a momentary webpage, an instant of election-time. After a few hours of this, I realised the sheer pointlessness of the coverage: the votes were all cast, and the results would come in eventually — I would have nothing to act on for hours. I could do nothing — I was just becoming a passive media receptor, swept up by the improvised inconsequential narrative narrative. So:

And with that note, I have realised that all this election coverage is entirely pointless. I am going to go to bed instead. ‘night.  12:16 AM May 7th

Looking at my Twitter feed in the morning, I could see the Twittertariat following suit: hour by hour, people would tweet their disillusioned exhaustion and collapse into bed. But something in my mind was still nervous, excited, ticking furiously, because:

Woke up. Damnit. Turned on coverage straight away. So no chance of a Con majority, and a much smaller swing than feared. Phew. 6:31 AM May 7th

And for the rest of Friday I fired up my laptop and grabbed the news whenever and wherever possible, anxiously waiting to see what would happen. Con-Lib? Lib-Lab? Con minority? And what little victories would there be?

ECO-SOCIALISTS IN DA HOUSE! #firstGreenMP BIG UP DA CAROLINE LUCAS! BNP have been trounced as well. So there is good news. 6:33 AM May 7th

No majority party. Massively unproportional representation. Polar opposite swings in Scot and Eng. I smell a constitutional crisis! YUMMY. 9:28 AM May 7th

But then came the dire news of Clegg’s decision to speak to the Tories first. I was beside myself:

FUCK YOU CLEGG, YOU SLAAAAAG. Go on, bend over for Dave, bend over. Ooh yeah, you like that, don’t you? ME = NOT HAPPY. NOT HAPPY 12:32 PM May 7th

I was actually shouting in public, as well as on Twitter. We thought if we voted Clegg we’d keep Cameron out, not help him get in. We felt duped. We felt angry. And as one Facebook commenter rightly said “way to bust out the heteronormative/ misogynistic language”. Response: “What can I say? When angry and terrified, one has a tendency to revert to early conditioning. How deep can the linguistic retrofitting of consciosuness ever go, really?” That’s when I started reflecting on what all this Tweeting actually meant. But just then, my emotions were swinging all over the place. Rereading the next few hours, I can remember being led on this bizarre emotional journey, veering from defeat to hope and back again, always believing that either salvation or apocalypse was just around the corner.

Transitioning from fury to vague and vain hope that Clegg isn’t just going to bend over and let the Tories in. Emotions as fickle as he is. 2:16 PM May 7th

I just got the scoop on the content of Cameron’s upcoming speech: 2:20 PM May 7th

Clegg to follow up Cameron’s statement with one of his own. Oh God, is this the end? #ge2010 2:32 PM May 7th

Cameron offering utterly incosequential and v ague concessions to Lib Dems in “comprehensive offer”. DON’T TAKE IT, NICK. PLEASE. #ge2010 2:41 PM May 7th

RT @DanRebellato: Wow, he wants a coalition with the Lib Dems. One in which they both agree to compromise by adopting all the Tory policies. 2:44 PM May 7th

Having to tear myself away from coverage for a class. Checking again in an hour or two . . . what world will I be in? 2:49 PM May 7th

Right. Now what? Twiddle our thumbs and wait to get screwed, I suppose. Sigh. #ge2010 4:10 PM May 7th

I was pretty knackered by that point, and starting to realise that nothing was going to happen soon. Again this dichotomy between becoming a passive media receptor, the false sense of participation of being an echo chamber node, and wanting to be active. Fortunately, celebrity offered an alternative:

@billybragg‘s answer about what to do next: RT Don’t leave reform to politicians. Mass demo tomorrow Traf Sq 2pm” 4:16 PM May 7th

And the two dominant themes of the day

What an extraordinary day. Decided to feel good: BNP thrashed, one Green MP, and no Tory majority. Could be a helluva lot worse. #geoptimism 10:54 PM May 7th

So, before sleeping a message: that THIS, Nick, is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass: #dontdoitnick 10:57 PM May 7th

The next day I was able to think about it all more clearly. What did I actually want? What did I care about? How had my principles been elided by the excitement of the moment?

I hate all the possible governments we’re faced with, but I hate the Tories most of all. So what’s the best option? #ge2010 about 22 hours ago

Let the Tories form a minority gov and let the tide turn against em, or form a progressive maj. and get screwed utterly in 6 months? #ge2010 about 22 hours ago

I had a dialogue about this on Facebook (!) with a bunch of old politics geek friends that I thin summarises the anti-Tory position right now, as we remain nervously awaiting the future:

Georgina Rannard If Nick Clegg does anything other than turn down the conservative offer (including coalition, and confidence and supply), it will be very difficult to ever vote lib dem/encourage lib dem votes in the future. Britain has voted for a progressive majority, the government should reflect that. Friday at 23:33

Owen Wilton I have been trying, for the last fifteen minutes, to articulate a fb rant to that effect. It usually ends in “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh.” I am trying.
Friday at 23:48

Will Watson It’s like we have a host of potential governments in front of us, each more dreadful than the last. I immensely dislike the idea of Lib Dems helping the Tories in – but at the same time I question whether a lab-lib minority coalition will be able to govern effectively…
Friday at 23:48

Alastair Cooper Perhaps. Alternatively a government of the “losers” will be so unpopular with the voters that it actually makes the Tories stronger – not everyone realises they actually voted as a majority for a “progressive philosophy” – they’d just see the “winner” being kept out. It might be better for the Lib Dems to extract as much progressive policy as they … See morecan out of an alliance with the Conservatives if they can also gain credibility as a party of government.

If Labour regroup or the Lib Dems gain enough support to get the balance of power we might then get our progressive allliance in future.
I say coalesce with the Tories without PR in this parliament but ONLY if there are major concessions elsewhere. If not sit it out in constructive opposition.
I should say I seriously dislike the Tories and would much rather a Labour-LibDem coalition were more plausible.
Yesterday at 01:57

Tom Cahn I hate the idea of giving any help to the Tories to. however what is the alternative? the progressive coalition idea would almost certainly not last more than 12 months after which the Tories would destroy us and probably get a comfortable majority. if Labour or us had won 15-20 more seats then absolutely it would work. but that hasn’t happened. so… See more it looks like confidence and supply is what will end up happening. maybe the other parties could join us in a private members bill for a PR referendum?
Yesterday at 13:54

Harry Giles I hate all the possible governments we’re faced with, but I hate the Tories most of all. So what’s the best option? Let the Tories form a minority government and let the tide turn against em, or form a progressive majority, and get screwed utterly in 6 months? One thing’s for sure: the worst *possible* scenario is Clegg capitaluting and propping up the blue scum.
Yesterday at 15:46

Georgina Rannard If the decision is reached that a progressive coalition is unworkable, then the best thing would be for a Tory minority government – however this wouldn’t deliver electoral reform. I can’t see a tory-lib dem coalition being supported by the majority of lib dem members or voters, or being workable due to disagreement on key things like economy, … See moredefence, Europe, immigration, and crucially I just don’t think the Tories would allow PR. Promising a ‘review’ is the most pathetic response to the mess we have now. It you had a labour-lib dem coalition, supported by the nationalists, the lib dems would retain moral legitimacy, it would reflect the progressive majority, and lib dems would be able to extract PR. For me, the deal breaker is electoral reform.
Yesterday at 16:04

Tom Cahn you are right on the difficulty/impossibility of a Tory-Lib deal. besides Tory activists hate the idea about as much as we do.

but the cause for a progressive coalition is not helped by Labour dismissing Salmond’s suggestion of the SNP working in it. it just shows why such an arrangement would probably not work. I think we are headed for a Tory minority government by Monday/Tuesday.
Yesterday at 16:11

Georgina Rannard You’re right – I do find the idea of traditional tories on the right up in arms at the idea of allying with the dirty left very amusing.
Yesterday at 16:28

Harry Giles

So, optimism: Tory minority government during an economic crisis = 6 months of hell followed by the swift realisation that they need to be booted out again?
Yesterday at 16:42

Tom Cahn

So, pessimism: Tory minority government = 6 months of hell followed by irate public desiring stable leadership punishing Labour and Liberal Democrats in snap election (in this scenario Caroline Lucas could easily lose her seat) giving us 5 years of Tory rule. Labour plunge into vicious civil war and become unelectable and my party is cut down to 20 MPs or less.

Harry I sincerely hope you are right!

So I was feeling back to square one. My foray into electoral politics had resulted in a redisillusionment, and I wasn’t feeling particularly enamoured with street politics in Britain either:
Oh Britain. America has rappers at conservative rallies; Greece has riots thousands. UK? A few hundred calling for electoral reform. #ge2010 about 22 hours ago
Yes, this is what passes for an angry nation and countrywide political debate here. A purple protest and a sardonic Twittersphere. #ge2010 about 22 hours ago
But there was something else there, yet another switch in feeling, another performance of another part of my personality:
And yet, and yet. I’ve been genuinely excited for two days, passing thru hope and cynicism and fear and wonder. Summat’s happening. #ge2010 about 21 hours ago
This is what, today, in the post-election haze, feeeling like I desperately need a cigarette, I’ve been thinking about. The way spontaneous, ephemeral and processual tweeting brings out a fractured personality in the exact way blogging and planned tweeting does not. That it helped me get carried away, brought out my latent misogynistic language and my cheesy optimism, connected me distractedly with everyone else experiencing the same things. So I finished this binge, today, with a short essay, in 140 character bursts:
Now that my spontaneous election Tweet-binge is over, I’m thinking about its contrast with my usual measured and pre-planned Tweeting.
The Brechtian self is made up of a sequence of performed contradictions, as opposed to Stanislavski’s coherent psychological through-line.
This is a theory of human consciousness as much as it is a theory of performance. (As if the two were really any different.)
Our internet personae risk tediousness as they are so rationally managed and put together, even in the exciting gaps between performances.
Tweeting spontaneously, without *actively* managing output, authoring UNconsciously, the contradictions of my self become more apparent.
Performing in such discrete chunks, as opposed to meatspace’s problematic continuum, allows the dialectics of the self to appear
But pre-planning, to which I now (clearly) return, creates the mere appearance of a dialectic. Still, I’ll appear less obnoxious, thankfully.
Our personal brands demand that we remain consistent lest our “Followers” and “Friends” and other demi-associate members of our target demographics start to view us as impulsive, inconstant or — heaven forbid — complicated. @hhavrilesky

2 thoughts on “Tweeting the Election

  1. You forgot to quote the most perceptive (not to mention concise) internet response to any of your tweets:

    Harry Giles I hate all the possible governments we’re faced with, but I hate the Tories most of all. So what’s the best option? Let the Tories form a minority government and let the tide turn against em, or form a progressive majority, and get screwed utterly in 6 months? One thing’s for sure: the worst *possible* scenario is Clegg capitaluting and propping up the blue scum.
    Yesterday at 15:46

    Rasim Valdes Laribi
    Yesterday at 17:46

  2. …and I say that as someone who acknowledges that it makes a difference who gets in (I get almost physically sick thinking of the prospect of a Tory government). I also think that it is important for lefties to get involved with elections – I cheered when Lucas got in as much as I cheered with Griffin failed.

    I even spent the last 3 weeks campaigning for a Left candidate in my constituency (a campaign that was as inspiring as it was unsuccessful).

    It’s just that I’ve almost never felt as politically impotent as when I sat and watched the results rolling in, the three main parties having successfully monopolised the debate on a ridiculously narrow range of disagreements (I mean, bloody hell, the Lib Dems actually managed to carve out a niche for themselves as a “fresh” progressive voice!). Within that framework, there’s not really a lot of scope for any real “change”; which is why the anger and disillusionment most people have felt is being channeled into reforming the system we use to choose which near-identical party/coalition will rule us.

    As far as I’m concerned, the effects were going to be much the same regardless of who got in, just slightly more apocalyptically terrible under the Tories.

    Ultimately, Rasim’s got the right idea.

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