The Twitter effect on tragedy

Amid the universal approval for cancelling Prime Minister’s Questions over the sad death of Ivan Cameron, the odd dissident. Notably, Times columnist and former Tory MP Matthew Parris was worried about setting a precedent and contrasting the tributes for Ivan with the short formula for week’s tally of soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. Times Comment editor Danny Finkelstein demurred. But Terence Blacker in the Independent works on the theme of the new public “chumminess” encouraged by “the twitterati” and relates this to the need of politicians to show a human face. Incidentally, might Sluggerties extend that chumminess to their own back yard? Chance would be a fine thing, unfortunately! Blacker
Instant, chatty communication conveys a sense of chumminess; it makes the world of politics somehow warmer, more approachable. That may seem like a harmless development – why shouldn’t politicians want to seem more normal and human? – but the events of this week have shown where it can lead. On Wednesday, three soldiers were killed by an explosion in Afghanistan; a fourth died of injuries sustained on Monday. On the evening television news, these deaths were reported briefly, and well down the running order.

Of course, the death of this little boy was an unspeakable family tragedy for the Camerons, but there was something faintly suspect about this open emoting in the mother of parliaments.

The case for full-blown statements from William Hague, the Prime Minister, Vince Cable and the Speaker was not evident to me; a single sentence from each would have been enough. And there was no case at all for suspending Prime Minister’s Questions.

When the House gets going on anything touching human tragedy, it can work itself up into something disturbingly close to relish. I’m sorry to say that; but I’ve seen it too often over the years not to recognise the habit. Magnanimity in another’s loss flows easily.”

Me It would have been impossible to stage the usual Punch and Judy show featuring, in Cameron’s absence, the understudies Harman and Hague. Gordon Brown could not then have made his moving statement of condolence and the omission would have been glaring. MPs had no stomach for knockabout.. But that may be as much a comment on the PMQs ritual, as it is on the human tragedy.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London