(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
For journalists like me, Twitter is both a godsend and a nightmare. Every now and then, I’ll unearth a gem of a thread which makes me think differently about an issue and suddenly feel inspired. All too often, though, I’ll spend an hour following every twist and turn of a huge Twitter controversy, get myself into a flap about it, write a long rant – and then it’ll suddenly dawn on me that outside my tiny Westminster Twitter bubble, no one would have a clue what I’m on about.
On Twitter, niche stories are everywhere – and it’s all too easy to mistake them for big news. When Chris Grayling was mistakenly announced as the new Conservative Party chairman after a CCHQ employee misfired a tweet, I thought it was an absolute hoot. When I made a passing remark about it at a party and was greeted with an awkward silence and a lot of non-plussed faces, I realised that I’m a weird anomaly who probably should get out more. In a country where 41% of people don’t know who the Prime Minister is, Twitter in-jokes about an obscure cabinet minister go down like a lead balloon.
This week, it is Anna Soubry who has fallen into the Twitter bubble trap. In a blistering interview with BBC Newsnight, the Broxtowe MP dramatically announced that she is willing to leave the Conservative Party if the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg take over. She is peeved her suggestions, to remain in the single market and customs union or to negotiate membership of the European Free Trade Association, have all been dismissed by No 10 – and blames the influence of Tory Brexiteers, who she accused of not being real Tories.
Presumably – since her comments will only antagonise her colleagues and can do no possible good for her cause – she is after publicity and attention. If that’s the case, she’s nailing it on Twitter. J.K Rowling herself (the queen of Twitter) has offered to buy her a drink, and she’s gained nearly 2,000 new followers in 24 hours.
Offline, she is not nailing it. For the simple reason that almost no one has heard of Anna Soubry. Busy people don’t much contemplate politics, and most of those who do only think about it for long enough to figure out that the Conservative party in 2018 is pro-Brexit, the Liberal Democrats are anti-Brexit, and Labour don’t have a clue. Anyone who has the time to distinguish between the stances of individual MPs is almost definitely sitting firmly inside the Westminster bubble. And tweeting their niche opinions to their fellow bubble dwellers.
Even an attack in the Daily Mail won’t register with most people. Andrew Pierce’s monstering of Soubry in the Daily Mail this week was nasty and, by common consent, woefully unfair. But if Soubry and her followers think that pointing it out will shame him, or change her reputation in the eyes of the public, they are sorely mistaken. When Ms Soubry rants about her love for the EU and lays into her parliamentary colleagues the public sees a generic Tory MP who, for reasons they don’t have time to fathom, has gone rogue.
If Anna Soubry means what she says about her party, it’s time for her to leave. She may think that she is garnering herself a devoted and influential following that will eventually stop Brexit, but as soon as she surfaces from Twitter, she’ll realise that she is a tiny drop in a very large ocean. Brexit is happening.