It’s Sex and the Committee...

PUBLISHED: 14:53 23 January 2008 | UPDATED: 11:28 01 July 2010

IT has more than 30 million members worldwide and now MPs are getting to grips with the Facebook phenomenon. Some are more proficient at it than others while some get themselves into a serious cyberspace mess. Marina Soteriou investigates…

IT has more than 30 million members worldwide and now MPs are getting to grips with the Facebook phenomenon. Some are more

proficient at it than others while some get themselves into a serious cyberspace mess.

Marina Soteriou investigates...

More than two-thirds of London companies have now banned social networking site Facebook.

This comes after research from the law firm Peninsula revealed that employees waste a total of 233 million hours every month surfing social networking sites.

Now, more and more politicians are signing up, so should the people in the halls of power waste taxpayers' money surfing on these sites?

Is it in a bid to win power and votes and more importantly does it work?

A recent study showed Liberal Democrat MPs use Facebook the most, followed by Labour and then the Conservatives.

Yet in south-east London and Kent it looks like the Tories are top of the game in the battle for cyberspace.

Especially those who have yet to gain power.

Media savvy Tory candidate for Bexley and Bromley London Assembly member, James Cleverly, can boast a mind-boggling 589 friends.

He even offers you the chance to post him a question and watch him answer it on video.

He said: "Facebook profiles are a good way of letting people find out about you and what you believe in.

"Increasingly people expect politicians to be open and communicative; the web is a great way to achieve that.

"I suppose that I am part of the first generation that grew up with computers so digital communication is second nature to me.

"The various elements all tend to merge and overlap. Social networking tends to make it harder to 'hide' your real self, it is one of the things that I like, people will see me as I am and they make their choices accordingly."

Facebook allows people to view your favourite books, films, music and quotes.

So if Babette's Feast - a film set in the 1870s, about a Parisienne chef working for a pittance on a remote Danish coast, is one of your favourite films too, you may just warm to Cleverly and choose him as your candidate.

The Official Monster Raving Loony Party parliamentary candidate for Gravesham, Lord Toby Jug, said: "I have a myspace page but not Facebook. I have had lots of contact from people on myspace, on how they can join the party, saying they are going to vote for you. It is useful. I have got lots of pictures on there."

He thinks politicians should not worry about having embarrassing profiles.

He said: "I think [politicians] should lighten up a lot. They should all be dressed in Monster Raving Loony, to brighten up the House of Commons. They should be allowed to be a little more light-hearted.

"[The three main parties] need the help more than we do because obviously we are going to win." continued on page 11

David McBride a Bromley Liberal Democrat councillor and Parliamentary Candidate for Orpington, also believes profiles will help communicate with the now-generation.

He said: "It is true that traditionally the younger voters are the age group that vote the least often. The ability to set up groups and communicate with colleagues and residents is of huge benefit. I set this up for personal reasons but also a way to communicate with colleagues and residents."

A number of politicians with Facebook pages have yet to utilise them for political purposes.

And others claim that having a Facebook page will not help attract young and apathetic voters.

Greenwich Tory councillor Nigel Fletcher said: "I don't think it's a case of younger voters being attracted to politicians just because they have a Facebook page - that would be extremely naive, but I think politicians should recognise that the way younger people communicate with each other has changed.

"I am a bit of a Facebook addict.

"It is noticeable that most of the contacts I get from voters are now by email, which means I can reply very quickly. I set up my Facebook page as a personal tool, although I do also have a blog which includes posts on my council work."

Some politicians are not even aware of the social networking phenomenon.

Sevenoaks district council chairman James Gaywood does not have a Facebook profile and has not even heard of it.

The Conservative councillor said: "Politicians need to go with young people if that is what they are doing."

He said he will think about setting up his own profile.

The Labour lot are a bit old fashioned. Although some of them such as Eltham MP Clive Efford have an account, there is nothing fancy on there and they do not have many friends.

I suppose you have don't have to try as hard when you are in power.

Although the irony of repeating party-line spin about New Labour spin is lost on David Evennett, the MP for Bexleyheath and Crayford, who believes technology is an important way of re-engaging the public.

He said: "Over the last ten years we have seen so much spin, deception and propaganda from this government which has disengaged voters from the democratic process. It is therefore up to politicians to re-engage with the public through any available medium.

"I think that the increasing accessibility of the internet will make it a more important campaigning and contact tool in the future, in conjunction with other traditional approaches.

"It has been a great success to date and has engaged many people."

The accusations of apathy hurled at today's generation may hold some validity. Some do not even attempt to hide it.

Take Samiha Chatum, 23, from Hackney, ironically studying for her BA Politics degree at Greenwich University.

She said: "I won't vote. I just can't be bothered to go to the polling station. I'm not really bothered [if politicians have Facebook pages]. If they want to do something like that, go ahead."

Some wannabe politicians have not even set up profiles.

More suprisingly one of these is from the Liberal Democrats - the most Facebook-savy party.

Bruce Parmenter, their Gravesham spokesperson, who is hoping to be voted as their parliamentary candidate, has not set up a profile as he said he is not computer literate.

At just 43, he has yet to learn how to utilise the internet to his political advantage.

He said: "It probably would help me if I knew how to set one up. Apart from email, I only use the internet to look up my family tree or play games. I will get my daughter to [set one up]. I better join the bandwagon."

Dartford council Leader Jeremy Kite embraces these new technological methods - but only if they are honest and not manufactured by a team of employees. He said: "I have a Facebook page but it is more for personal use. I am not a great internet social networker, I prefer face to face.

"Blogs are better. I'm thinking of putting one together, but I would not just want to put the good stuff on. The honest ones are the best. I remember reading James Cleverly's blog about a day he went out canvassing and going home to find out his mother died. I nearly cried. It is a genuine blog.

"Howard Stoate's website is appalling. I like the man but he would be better off not doing it. It is not updated."

In my murky search through cyber-space, one Conservative councillor Gordon Jenkins has proven to be the most entertaining.

Just to give you an idea last Thursday (17) he added an application called 'What Serial Killer Are You?'

Sandwiched between his 'Conservative Party News' and 'Back Boris' applications are 'My Sexy Friends', 'Are you a Great Lover', 'How good a Lover Are You?', 'Naughty vs Nice', 'Naughty Gifts', 'Massage Me', 'Kiss Me', 'Spank Me', 'Naughty Poke', 'Kinky Poke', 'Orgasmic!', 'Panty Raid', 'Flirty vs Frigid', 'Sexy poke', 'Sexy Gifts' and finally 'Shower Me'.

Some would say that these applications are a little too frisky for a married and 'very Conservative' councillor to put out in the public domain.

He admits that some of his application may be a little 'risque'.

He said: "Some of the [applications] are very risqué. In fact, I have cleared a lot of them out. People on there keep sending these damn things and you don't realise. It is a lot of fun."

He added getting a different page for constituents 'hadn't even crossed his mind'.

He added: "You have planted a seed that has grown quite quickly. I shall now have to have a think about it. It is not the sort of thing you think about. Having said that, perhaps it does need a bit of rethinking. It could be embarrassing."

Not only could the more frisky profiles prove embarrassing, it could put young voters off.

Gemma Brusadelli, 22, a third year law student at Greenwich University said: "I didn't vote in the last general election but I did in the local elections. I think [MPs having a facebook page] is fine. I don't think it is appropriate for them to send you a round of drinks on Facebook though! I think they can try and I think they should try. They shouldn't make it into a joke. They should be serious."

Old Bexley and Sidcup Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate, Duncan Borrowman said: "I think that young voters will be attracted to look at politicians who use Facebook, myspace and blogs. But, and it is a big but, they will only then support them if they talk about issues that are important to them.

"I initially set up my Facebook because I wanted to see what it was all about.

"I have then used it extensively to communicate internally in the Lib Dems - I have over 500 friends of which about 80 per cent are Liberal Democrats.

"I have not looked to use it for campaigning yet, but will probably set up a group on Facebook very soon for that purpose."

Young people do seem to appreciate middle-aged politicians adapting to their methods of communicating.

Criminology student Gurvinder Singh, 21, from Brockley said: "They have got to change with the world otherwise they are not going to attract young people. Some people may say it is sucking up and changing style but at least it shows they are diverse."

Call me and the rest of the population 'old fashioned' but I rather like policies in helping me to decide who to vote for.

As one 19-year-old student, who did not want to be named, put it: "If they go round schools and colleges it is a better way than Facebook.

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