A few years back I was attending a local government seminar at which one particular Council Leader was receiving congratulations from her peers for a “thoughtful and insightful” article which had been published under her bi-line in one of the trade mags. The only problem was that she hadn’t written a single word of it. I, in my role as the Council’s Communications Lead, had penned the piece.
I was reminded of this when I read in the current issue of PR Week that 47 per cent of Westminster MPs admit that their Tweets are written by someone else. I suspect that the true figure may be even higher as many politicians are likely to be too embarrassed to admit that their social media work is not their own. Interestingly, the survey shows that the younger an MP is the more likely he or she is to tweet the party line.
In many ways there is nothing new about this. In the late 1990s I was living in the Home Counties and my constituency MP had a regular column in the local paper which in which he boasted of the achievements of New Labour. A friend of mine who lived in the North of England also had a Blairite MP who also wrote for the local rag. Often the columns were, with the exception of a few locally inserted statistics, identical.
Nor is there anything too surprising about all of this. It’s common knowledge among journalists that politicians rarely write the words that come out of their mouths. However, I do often wonder how many members of the general public realise that their elected representatives are often the dummy rather than the ventriloquist.
When politicians have to appear personally in front of the cameras they often look lost without a press officer to feed them their lines. Witness the embarrassing performance earlier this week by Treasury Minister Sajid Javid on Newsnight when he was unable to answer the most basic of questions about the latest plans to cut the welfare budget.
The message seems to be that most politicians cannot function without extensive PR support. That is good news for those of us who work in public sector communications, but is it good news for democracy?