Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

'Sensitive' George Osborne makes a right tweet out of himself

George Osborne
George Osborne

George Osborne is an interesting person. Wait, don't turn the page.

 In person, he is more self-deprecating, humorous and charming than his image as the nasty benefit-cutting, bedroom-stealing chancellor suggests. He even – bear with me on this – has a sensitive side.

This is what his friends say. And we have evidence, of a sort, now that Mr Osborne has joined Twitter.

Among the 42 accounts the chancellor is following, alongside the IOD, CBI, FSB and BCC, Christine Lagarde and Bill Gates, is @globe_pics, which tweets 'the most beautiful, crazy, stunning pictures of this earth'.

On Budget day last week, @globe_pics tweeted a picture of a fat squirrel. How odd Mr Osborne's timeline must have looked that day – all those desiccated tweets commenting on his Budget measures, suddenly interrupted by a picture of a fat squirrel.

I wondered whether he had made a mistake, or whether one of his aides had followed @globe_pics for a laugh. But then, on Saturday, Mr Osborne tweeted a picture of Freya, the No 11 cat, climbing out of the chancellor's red Budget box.

And it's not just Mr Osborne. His opposite number, Ed Balls, tweeted during The X Factor and regularly updates us on his latest culinary achievements.

And, although it later emerged that it had been written by an aide, Ed Miliband's infamous 'Blackbusters' tweet (when Bob Holness died last year) showed the perils of politicians trying to be down with the kids.

There are also the Twitter accounts run from Government departments. Education Secretary Michael Gove's special advisers have never denied contributing to the controversial @toryeducation account, which dishes out ad hominem attacks to anyone who questions the education secretary, or his policies.

His much-heralded enthusiasm for an unfettered, free Press appears to stop at the door of any journalist who dares to criticise him. Shouldn't he have sufficient confidence in his policies without needing his personal attack dogs to go after any critics?

The language, from people who are supposed to care about good education, is infantile. @toryeducation acts like an abusive teenager, who really needs to be put in detention.

It is no wonder that Lynton Crosby, Mr Cameron's hard-nosed election mastermind, is trying to get Conservative MPs to restrict their tweets to sensible policy or constituency-related content. But it has so far had little effect.

Contrast the behaviour of British politicians with those in the US. Barack Obama and his team tweet only serious messages.

The quality over quantity method is effective: Obama's 'Four more years' tweet, accompanied by a picture of him hugging Michelle, was the most retweeted message ever – 811,000 times.

Mr Cameron belatedly joined Twitter last year. He and Mr Osborne have worked out how useful social media can be to broadening their appeal. Perhaps they see how easily Boris Johnson can engage with young people.

For Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne, the medium is right, but the message is wrong. We don't want banter and lolz, we want clear tweets about what they are going to do about the economy.

But, as we all know, Twitter can be addictive. It is surely only a matter of time before Mr Osborne tweets an off-duty photo of himself – a 'selfie', in Twitter parlance.

And then, I'm afraid, I will have to block him.

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