Comment | Can politicians be Twitter-proof?
Back in November, everybody was talking about one thing. No, not the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who, the launch of the new Xbox console or the word ‘selfie’ taking the OED one step closer to oblivion. No, it was Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, whose wacky antics included buying crack, smoking crack and being videoed buying and smoking crack. The Mayor was quick to jump to his own defence, though, washing the whole episode away as ‘one of his drunken stupors.’
Ford predictably took the Internet by storm, with social media sites like Twitter abuzz with parody videos and to-the-minute updates of Ford’s endless public gaffs, which included murderous threats and knocking an elderly councilwoman to the ground. The most shocking thing about this particular story not the volatile reaction or the volume of people on Twitter comparing Ford to the Boomer from Left 4 Dead (Google it, kids). That, by now, is pretty much business as usual. No, the remarkable thing was the complete and utterly unashamed lack of PR damage control on Ford’s side. Indeed, far from trying to restore some semblance of respectability, the Torontonian mayor instead took it upon himself to fan the flames at his own roasting, refusing to step down from office and revelling in his own eccentricities like a pig rolling around in its own faeces. The Toronto City Council were quick to distance themselves from Ford, stripping him of almost all his Mayoral powers. But that didn’t stop his approval rating rising to 42 per cent, which as The Independent reported, is higher than that of both Barack Obama and David Cameron.
The question here is: ‘Is Rob Ford a bad politician?’ The answer to that question is undeniably, yes. But he’s more than that. He’s so dreadful, that he may in fact be a perversely brilliant one. Ford seems to have twigged on to the same unstoppable force that was the secret of Boris Johnson’s success: the voting populous’ voracious appetite for all things novelty. Enchant people with excessive theatricalities and you might just inspire them to get behind you. It’s a philosophy also shared by such prolific public figures as Silvio Berlusconi, Rasputin, Jesus and Batman. And my god, what a series of Come Dine With Me that line-up would make.
They say that no publicity is bad publicity, but of course it would be impossible to argue that novelty always equals success in politics. More often, it equals ridicule, and contributes to the end of a career. You only have to look in the direction of former Co-Op chairman and Labour councillor, the Reverend Paul Flowers, for a perfect example. But in this age of social media, where everyone is given a public platform, figures like Ford and Johnson may be models of the perfect politician to survive the Twitter age: the satire-proof model. When David Cameron follows a high-class escort agency on Twitter it’s a public embarrassment, but when a political figure turns themselves into a clown, any serious criticism levelled at them simply gets drowned out by all the other noise. Instead of laughing at them, the Twitter masses (who have to be laughing, otherwise what would be the point of going on Twitter?) – have no choice but to cackle along with them.