The pleb, the whip, his bike and some bother

It’s more than three weeks since Plebgate. For once I feel ok about using the ‘gate’ suffix, as there was actually a gate involved in the story.
First, a quick recap… Andrew Mitchell (millionaire MP and government Chief Whip) was stopped at the gates of Downing Street and asked by a police officer to dismount from his bicycle, whereupon Mr Mitchell may or may not have called the police officer a “fucking pleb”.
This happened less than two days after two police officers were shot dead in the line of duty, prompting a nationwide out-pouring of sympathy and respect for the police.
Initial claims that Mr Mitchell had had a particularly “long and frustrating” day were subsequently found lacking in credibility, when it was revealed he’d had lunch at the Cinnamon Club, which is a very nice and fairly expensive restaurant in Westminster. He’d also spent part of his day at another (even more) exclusive establishment, the Carlton Club in St James’s – one of the oldest and most elite of Conservative clubs, is how it likes to be known.
Three weeks have passed and Mr Mitchell has failed to exorcise the Ghost of Insults Past. His apologies have only gone so far and his steadfast refusal to accept he used the word “pleb” have angered the police force in general, and the Police Federation in particular. Having said that, I think we all know how difficult it is to untangle one of those “he said / she said” arguments. Although it’s a “he said / he said” on this occasion.
On the BBC Radio 4 current affairs discussion programme Any Questions (aired on 12 October and repeated the following day), the government’s Defence Minister, Philip Hammond, described how no one other than those people directly involved actually know the truth over what was said.
This point of view was offered as an explanation as to why Mr Mitchell’s attempts at apology, which have been rejected by many in the police service as inadequate, ought to have been enough and that everyone (IE the media and the police) should now forget the whole thing and move on.
I witnessed something similar only a few days ago. I was on a train going into London that had been held between stations for over an hour. There was a very heated exchange between two male passengers – one accused the other of having upset one of the train staff. Several people saw their heated exchange, which almost came to blows, yet the only people who actually knew what had been said to cause the train employee to become upset, were the people involved.
There are some significant points of difference with Plebgate though, not just that there was a bike involved rather than a train.
Chief among those differences, in my opinion, is that one of the parties involved here is a serving police officer who was on duty at the time.
A police officer’s notes are generally deemed to be admissible in a court of law as evidence. As, indeed, would anyone’s eye-witness account. Yet Mr Mitchell has called on the whole country to ignore the police officer, their account and their notes, and instead to believe him, a man who’d had a long and frustrating day spending time at a nice restaurant and in a swanky club.
Of course, Mr Mitchell is not the first person to claim that a police officer is misrepresenting the truth in their account of an incident. But it’s not often we hear a member of the government claiming the police are playing fast and loose with the facts, being economical with the actualité, being less than trustworthy, making shit up… lying.
What sort of example is he setting? I don’t mean that to sound shrill or hysterical – it is (and ought to be) a genuine consideration. After all, his is the party of law and order, the party that announced very recently that it wanted a change in the law so that householders could, if the circumstances presented themselves, batter intruders to death. OK, maybe now I’m being economical with the actualité, but hey… it’s what the cool kids (by which I mean government ministers not actual cool kids) are doing these days.
This man is in government, by most people’s reckoning he enjoys a privileged position in life, a position of authority and responsibility, and yet his view is that the account of the police officer is not to be trusted.
Setting aside any opportunistic jibes I may have made, there are some very serious points here.
Only those with poor memories will have already forgotten the MPs’ expenses scandal, where our lords and masters were caught with their collective fingers in the till, trousering great handfuls of cash; sometimes out of greed and ignorance, sometimes out of a premeditated willingness to lie about where they lived or who owned the homes they paid rent on.
They were, en masse, deemed to have been acting as though they were above the law. Our Prime Minister pledged it was time for MPs to clean up their collective act.
Yet here we have the government Chief Whip and the Defence Minister both espousing the point of view that one ought not to trust the police. Their belief, one might come to believe, is that Mr Mitchell is not subject to the same laws as the rest of us.
Not every millionaire former public schoolboy is arrogant, obnoxious and self-important. But we seem to have a few of them currently ruining running the country.
So much for David Cameron’s hollow notion that we are somehow all in this together, and that we must all adopt a big society mentality.
Of course the police aren’t perfect. But they do a job that, by and large, most of us would not and could not cope with.
I wrote last year that we get the press we deserve. I think we get the police we deserve too. Accepting the fallibilities and frailties that are part of the human package, if we want a police force we can trust we surely – at some point – have to stop regarding them as untrustworthy. And if our politicians want to be believed and trusted surely it’s about time they started acting like they want to earn that trust.
Footnote: a big thank you to Brent Martin, aka @ZeitgeistLondon (“Be-wigged defence Counsel, working in the City of London in criminal law”) who, despite being on holiday, was kind enough to answer a quick legal question for me when I was writing this piece.
Today’s Independent carries this piece
The Guardian produced a handy timeline to the first few days of Plebgate
Alternatively, stick ‘plebgate’ in your preferred search engine and read what has been said elsewhere.

You can click here for more on
 Sean Fleming.

Tweeting while naked

Not literally naked. Good lord, no.
But figuratively speaking – as in the Emperor’s new clothes.
There was a story circulating last week about how few CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are active on twitter – 19 of the 500 have accounts and only nice actually tweet regularly.  This low take-up of twitter can be linked to $1.3 trillion of missed revenue opportunities, apparently.
Unlike one member of my family, I am not a mathematician. But even I know a trillion of anything is a lot. So, when someone starts talking about $1.3 trillion and links that with tweeting, you can be certain lots of publicity will follow.
Wow. Only 19 of the Fortune 500 have a CEO on twitter, and only nine of those are active.
Wow. $1.3 trillion in missing revenues.
Wow. What a bunch of bozos those CEOs must be. It’s a wonder they haven’t all gone to the wall, isn’t it..?
It’s all nonsense. Furthermore, its misleading, dangerous and self-serving.
What I see from this report is that 491 of the Fortune 500 are getting along nicely without their CEO being paraded around like some superannuated Aunt Sally.
I can’t think – off the top of my head – of any other genre or sector where research can be so blithely turned on its head in an attempt to convince us all that black is white. Nor a sector where so many seemingly bright and capable people are duped so easily – and so frequently – into believing social media will save us all… that if we tweet a bit more, like a bit more somehow businesses will gain a financial reward.
Maybe… if they’re in the business of charging simpletons for wafer-thin research and hokey advice on social media. Otherwise, nah.. there’s no direct causal link between tweets, likes and sales.
There’s more to social media than Twitter and Facebook, I hear some of you cry. Well, of course there is. But we all know where the concentration of traffic, investment and attention lie.
I saw something else recently that said the ‘marketing function’ within businesses was now redundant because of social media. I can only presume that was written by someone who once had marketing explained to them briefly and promptly forgot most of what they’d heard.
Which brings me back to the naked thing.
There are so many flaws in these kinds of report they remind me of sixth form magazine journalism. All posture and opinion, no facts and bugger all evidence.
If you recall the childhood fable, the reason you can see the Emperor’s bum because he’s not wearing any trousers. Not because you aren’t special enough to be able to see the magic cloth.
The continued insistence by some in the comms world that social media (note, ‘social media’ not ‘digital communications’) and in particular the use of twitter is one of the great business transformers of our age is misguided.
Social, in all it’s multi-platformed glory, might be relatively new, but it’s not so new that there hasn’t been time to try it out, use it and see what it’s good for.
It’s good for chatting to people, sharing stuff, issuing vouchers or running competitions. It’s amazing for cat videos going viral, and for giving customers a variety of ways with which to broadcast how much they hate your shitty products and crappy customer service.
It’s good for off-piste online dating activities, and for pretending to be something you’re not.  (hello bored married people wherever you may be).
Not so good at helping any kind of business-to-business transaction though.
Otherwise it wouldn’t be so hard to find actual case studies of businesses (that you’ve heard of) deriving actual ROI from their use of Facebook, twitter and gawd knows what else.
Before you say anything, yes… I know it works better for businesses selling to consumers. But even then, it’s generally acting as an adjunct to existing marcomms tactics and the extent to which it is used well depends on the creativity of those responsible for its use.
The more of us that push back on the nonsense and deploy a little critical thinking, the better.

Why my kids don’t need a Twitter account

I dislike personal attacks on people and I really hope the following doesn’t read like one. But I’ve had an “enough is enough” moment.

I recently read an interesting article on the Marketing Donut (a site/blog I have contributed a couple of articles to – just to declare my interests properly). Written by Kate Horstead and entitled “Can Twitter help your business?” it might not break any new ground but it’s a decent little exploration of the topic and appears to be based mainly on an interview with Nikki Pilkington.

I’m following both Kate & Nikki on Twitter – if you’re not already maybe you should too.

So what put the stick up my backside? Well… there was a comment from Penny Power, the founder of Ecademy, which I found so misguided and misleading that I had to blog about it just to get it out of my system.

As I already said, I dislike personal attacks, but Penny is the head of a business networking association which has been around since 1998, so I figure she can cope with someone disagreeing with her.

The thing I took issue with is the following statement from the comment Penny left: “I certainly tell everyone I meet to create their Twitter name before thier real name goes. I have registered my children for the future too.”

And in case you’re wondering the spelling mistake (thier) is copied from the original – not created by yours truly for effect or done out of sloppiness. There are other typos there too if you want to go looking for them, and maybe you should – she’s writing a book after all, so presumably wants readers.

Cutting to the chase, this advice misses the point of Twitter and everything else in the social media oeuvre. So much so, that at first I thought it had to be a joke.

Who will benefit if we all do as Penny recommends and register our children’s names as Twitter accounts? And why stop with your existing children, why not register a few spares covering all the names you might pick for the kids you haven’t had yet.

Now, here’s a thing. Any account not updated for six months is classed by Twitter as inactive (I have learned from a quick squint at the Ts&Cs).

So if I register @corneliusfleming today (in case I have a son in the future I hate so much I name him after my father) the account could be gone before Badly Named Boy can even say Twitter. Thereby making the whole exercise a complete waste of time.

Maybe I’ll have to ghost Tweet for him, to ensure that doesn’t happen. Great! Just what we all need on Twitter, an army of parents ghost Tweeting on behalf of their kids. Can’t wait!

As far as I can see, no one benefits from such behaviour. Maybe as a parent one gets a warm satisfied feeling that no one else can use the name they happen to share with your three-year old. But that’s about it.

Who loses? We all do. Twitter is a community; its value is in the networks that develop within the community – individuals and organisations interacting, sharing knowledge and insight. Twitter may one day be nothing more than a footnote in the pages of online history. But there will be connections made today on Twitter that become sustainable and mutually beneficial.

The more it is jumped on as an opportunistic bandwagon by people with little to contribute the sooner Twitter’s demise will be brought about; the cool kids will leave once the dorks arrive en masse – we’ve seen it all before, I’m sure.

I’ve got kids (two sons I’m tremendously proud of) but I don’t see much business benefit to me or anyone else in them having Twitter accounts that they may or may not use in the future. I also fail to see how my sandbagging accounts like this assists me or anyone else in terms of networking. It’s not social (if it’s anything it’s anti-social) and it’s as far from community-minded as it gets.

I’m sorry Penny, but as someone who until recently ran a small business, I expect more awareness and better advice from the head of a business networking association. I can forgive Business Link for being full of windbags, civil service dead wood and the general walking wounded that comprise the sub-genre of retired banking execs, but Ecademy has to aim higher.

There’s more I could say, and in fact did say in a response I wrote to her comment on the Marketing Donut but at the time of writing this, that response hadn’t appeared.