Naturally, MPs of all parties are part of the bedlam, even if they are just sharing their passion for Love Island, and Twitter’s unrelenting eagerness to push retweets and likes into my feed no matter what settings I change means politicians I’ve never heard of before crop up periodically. MPs with names like Peter Heaton-Jones and Bambos Charalambous, serving quaintly titled constituencies such as Upper Bann, Ogmore and The Wrekin.
And I’ve noticed a pattern emerging.
MPs from Labour and the other parties loudly proclaim their party membership, but Conservative MPs tend to be, well, Shy Tories. They will list their favourite bands, the number of children they have and even their enthusiasm for rugby, but many Conservative MPs, including Boris Johnson, do not declare they are a member of the party that gave us Disraeli, Thatcher and the insurance-selling talking dog.
Is this a genuine phenomenon or am I just another millennial victim of confirmation bias?
I decided to put it to the test. 579 MPs are on Twitter*: 262 Conservatives, 246 Labour, 35 SNP and the rest who either belong to the smaller parties or sit as independents. I trawled through each and every one of their accounts to see which MPs declare their party allegiance either in their bio, their profile photo or header image. Pinned tweets did not count as they do not show up on all Twitter apps (even Twitter’s own Tweetdeck) and government job titles were also excluded, although I decided to allow the blue rosette on a dog in Chris Philp’s low-res header photo.
After an afternoon scanning empty feeds, out-of-focus group shots and vaguely phallic boasts about majorities, I had the results. And given we are talking about MPs, here’s how it breaks down in a bar chart. Politicians love a bar chart.
That’s right. While around 90% of MPs from all the other parties declare their allegiance, only 42% of Conservative MPs are happy to admit they are Tories in their Twitter profile.
And it’s not entirely clear why there’s such a large discrepancy.
The answer probably differs from one MP to the next, with some, such as Mark Garnier, emphasising on their profile they represent all their constituents, not just those who voted for them, while other Conservatives might be wary of attracting attention from trolls, especially as a study found male Tory candidates were hit with the highest percentage of abuse on Twitter in the run up to last year’s election. Of course, trolls do not exclusively target right-wing candidates or men, as Labour MP Jess Phillips highlighted in June, and the government, in response to a 2017 select committee report, has recently announced proposals to ban online trolls from standing for office.
So maybe there’s another factor at play. The Tories are, let’s face it, not known for their social media game, but this failure to declare their party could be a savvy communications trick. If people who are normally unsympathetic to the Conservatives are not aware of an MP’s allegiance, they are likelier to share their tweets, helping the Tories spread their message to those who might not otherwise see it.
Or maybe the discrepancy is a complete fluke and I have learnt nothing of any consequence at all. Other than that Alan Duncan loves his dog.
*The website MPs on Twitter claims it is 582, but MPs Adam Holloway, Ronnie Campbell and Andrew Griffiths have deactivated their accounts.