Westminster’s anonymous twitters bring a mixture of gossip, intrigue, humour and scandal to the online world. But what makes an anonymous twitterer? And have any of them been close to being found out? The Huffington Post UK meets four people whose opinions are strictly nothing to do with their employers.
UPDATE: On 20th August 2011 A blogger who was apparently friends with the person tweeting as Lord_Credo alleged in this blogpost that Lord_Credo had been lying to a large number of people about his background. A few hours later, the Lord_Credo Twitter account was deleted. Clearly everything that follows here from our original piece should be viewed in that context.
"I still sleep with the same people."
He described himself as a ‘Government Comms Guy’ and ‘A Conservative’ but that was about all most knew about @Lord_Credo. Recently he left his job in Whitehall, but remains just as plugged-in to what’s going on there. What’s on Credo’s mind?
You were involved in government at a high level until fairly recently. Did you worry that someone would blow your cover as being Credo or was it a badly-kept secret?
It wasn't an ongoing worry, no. A number of people did go on fishing expeditions, but carefully managed someone can remain anonymous indefinitely. Anonymity was a must when I first started the account, but it's become less and less important of late, so I'm not terribly concerned about it any more. Besides, most of my friends are hacks. I guess you could say I'm anonymous in the same way that - say - @fleetstreetfox is.
When you were working in Whitehall, people used to watch your Twitter account because you'd drop hints that something was about to happen - like the resignation of Andy Coulson for example. Presumably you didn't have Tweetdeck running on your government PC....
No, I didn't. I had a 3G netbook that I ran in my office for TweetDeck. There's a wonderful episode of Yes, Minister where the Foreign Secretary asks Jim Hacker to call him if there are any developments because Hacker had a TV and the Foreign Secretary didn't. Having Twitter running on my desk was a bit like having that television. I'd often get news before "official channels" did.
Twitter was an invaluable resource for gauging public opinion, the general mood of the electorate, and informal polling. Some in Downing Street may be tech-shy, but that's pretty foolish in the 21st century, particularly when you're trying to bring a human "everyman" face to government.
There's a general sense around Westminster that for all his faults and liabilities, people in Number 10 liked working with Andy Coulson and they've been a bit lost without him. Do you agree?
What I would say is that Andy was a good foil for Steve Hilton.
Looking at the Cabinet 14 months into the government, which ministers have surprised you by either over-performing or under-performing? And might people be surprised at how some Lib Dem and Tory ministers are working together in government?
That's a difficult question to answer. There are cases where cabinet ministers have had the support of the PM withdrawn when a government policy becomes wildly unpopular. That said, I would have expected old hands like IDS to have been a fairly high profile appointment. But, the DWP has been relatively quiet in the press, which - given the goals of the Big Society - is a bit disappointing.
As for the second part of your question, I guess it would depend on what you mean by "working together", and to what end. Generally though, there is a spirit of cooperation in the Cabinet that shouldn't be all that surprising in a coalition.
Can you describe what it's like to look at the government from the outside, as you are now, and compare that to when you were inside the bubble? Are the media doing a good job of reflecting what's going on behind the scenes?
It's certainly quieter. Some people describe it as being a football star stuck on the sidelines because of an injury. For me, it's more like moving house. Different location, but I still sleep with the same people.
I think the media are doing their job as best they can with the limited amount of information they can use about what happens behind the scenes. Though that can also lead to conspiracy theories. It's one reason government needs to be more transparent. Unfortunately, this government isn't really living up to the promise of transparency.
"This must be how Mystic Meg feels"
Felicity Parkes is, in her own words, fuelled by a constant flow of double G&Ts and a desire to be the last one standing. The anonymous MP’s staffer blogs at Diary of a Westminster bag carrier and tweets at @felicityparkes (sample update: Whose idea was it for Danny Alexander to be interviewed in direct sunlight?!).
You work for an MP. Ever worry you've blown your cover?
All the time. It's like an ongoing game of cat and mouse. I'll tweet or post something then several people in or around the Westminster Village pour over it, searching for clues. This must be how Mystic Meg feels.
Why did you decide to start tweeting anonymously?
It was the only choice and the only way to be free to write what I want to write. This way I don't get angry researchers coming up to me on the Westminster Estate shouting about my poor spelling.
Do some people know who you are?
No. Trust no one, I say. There have been other tweeters who have been very nice, complimented the blog and asked me out for a drink with the magic words "I won't tell anyone who you are." That's the advantage to being anonymous because you find out that most of these people will out you if they get a chance and a lot of the time they have, unknowingly, said so to your face.
Do you ever meet up with other anonymous tweeters?
I may well do but who's to say that either anonymous party is aware of it!
What's the closest you've ever come to being found out?
There was the time I sent a cheeky birthday card to the Chancellor by the internal post or when I left my phone in the Speaker's State Rooms. Both situations could have ended terribly. I’m still waiting for my thank you email from the Treasury...
Will you one day reveal your identity?
My anonymity is now half the story so I wouldn’t reveal it intentionally. I think if or when it ever happens it will be by someone else's actions. Why those pesky kids...!
"There are few truly intellectually-sound Tory MPs left"
ToryTattler promises a glimpse into life working in Westminster for the Conservatives. Just don't compare her to Felicity Parkes.
How long have you been working at Westminster and at what point did ToryTattler come into being?
I've been involved in Westminster politics from a very young age (well at least younger than my still comparatively young age...) But as far as "gainful employment" within the SW1 village goes I've been around for fewer than 5 years but more than 1.
ToryTattler came in to being in 2009, Twitter was really only starting to make a large impact in Westminster at the time. I joined because I find it not only faster but more informative than having a rolling 24HR news channel on in the background of the office.
You're not the only one to be doing this - Felicity Parkes is also on Twitter. What's the motivation for tweeting anonymously?
Anonymity on Twitter began for me not out of necessity but because it was very a la mode at the time to use an online persona. This was the era of Tory Bear, remember, and he really set a trend amongst us Young Conservatives.
I have subsequently found that since I now actually work in the Village, it's useful to remain anonymous for the purpose of protecting the good name of my employer. There are several people in Westminster who know who I am in real life, but they (mostly!) don't refer my real name on Twitter.
Unlike Felicity Parkes I don't have a blog to promote, and because my handle is so quite obviously made up I'm not attempting to be a whole other person. S/He has done a good job of keeping themselves anonymous though, and for seemingly good reasons. If her blog is not entirely made up then there are some seriously questionable practices taking place in the office in which she is apparently employed. I am, however, inclined to believe it's purely a work of fiction.
What are the real Tory grumblings behind the scenes? Who's in your bad books at the moment?
Well since I'm currently on my hols in the south of France, sun on my face, glass of chilled vino in my hand and ploughing my way through "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand you'll hear no grumblings from this happy Tory at the moment!
In general, however, the coalition has presented a unique set of circumstances that means the backbenches are obviously (and, arguably, justifiably) a little put out. I am inclined to believe, however, that this is mostly because the Coalition hampers the chances for rapid promotion whilst in Government. Sadly there are few truly intellectually-sound Tory MPs left, who would be disgruntled by the direction of our policy (although they do exist...), most of the resentment comes from the lack of professional opportunities that arise in coalition.
As for who is in my bad books, public enemy number one for me is and always has been Philip Blond. I hold him and his ill-thought out theories responsible for our electoral struggle in the 2010 election.
Which Tory MPs should we be watching? Who are the rising stars?
Rising stars, as I have previously intimated, are going to be hard to spot and encourage in this Parliament because of the nature of this coalition. Louise Mensch (formerly Bagshawe) has certainly been making waves, and Conor Burns is doing a fantastic job flying the flag for the right of the party. Priti Patel is also doing rather well.
Are you getting on better with Lib Dems at a similar level to you than previously - or is the coalition really only sewn-up at the top?
It is some sort of Lobby-generated myth that people of my level in all parties won't sit down together and have a pint. I have certainly made some new Lib Dem friends, but not because we're all having enforced "cross party coalition bag carrier playtime". I think I probably would have met them anyway! Naturally though we are all still cautious of members of other political parties, because to be perfectly honest good friends can be hard to come by in Westminster at the best of times, unless you buy a dog...
"This way I can direct my fire in all directions"
‘Peter Mannion MP’ took his name from the world weary Tory MP portrayed in the BBC’s political comedy ‘The Thick Of It’. He says tweeting anonymously means he’s free to say anything. Sample update: I have spent time with Speak-Your-Weight machines with more personality than the MP for Bury North David Nuttall.
Why the name Peter Mannion?
I identify with the person, Peter Mannion, the MP from the Thick of It, quite closely and in a way you could say everything I tweet you should read in the voice of Peter Mannion.
I have a normal twitter account, some of the things I tweet I wouldn't be able to quite so cutting and caustic if it was me. I feel restrained. Because some of the people I tear a strip off, I know. I don't feel guilty because I feel everything I say or do may be harsh but fair.
Why did you start?
I suppose I felt that some things I wanted to say I was stopped from saying, partly because of my job and it's partly more because of the circles I move in. Politically I am a conservative, I am a reasonably loyal Conservative but I still get exasperated with some of the things that we say or do, the way we manage or don't manage a u-turn or the individual personalities within the party. I don't think it's probably appropriate for me necessarily to spout off on a public forum. This way I can direct my fire in all directions.
Do you think you're really funny?
I don't aspire to the greatness of the people who write The Thick of It. It's a combination between a vehicle for my own personal opinions and a tribute act.
A lot of people who follow me seem to enjoy it. I get lots of retweets and things. I don't purport to be anything but, in a way it's a cheeky misappropriation of the name Peter Mannion. It seemed appropriate because the kind of things I wanted to tweet were things he would tweet if he could use a mobile phone.
Has anyone every worked out it’s you?
I have revealed who I am to some people. Occasionally somebody has said 'that Peter Mannion, is that you, because he has the same kind of sense of humour' I have told some people or totally denied knowledge of the account to other people. It gives me plausible deniability.
I’m not particularly worried about work. I mean there are people who tweet more opinionated stuff than me as themselves.
I don't think anything I do conflicts with my daytime life. I'm not a civil servant. There are civil servants who have tweeted anonymously to undermine their boss at every turn and I don't tweet about things I'm working on or people I'm working with.
Have you ever upset anyone?
Some tweets I would never say as me because they're probably just too harsh and occasionally possibly slightly unfair.
Most people take it in the manner which it's meant which is just a rather sort of dry critique on what I see going on or watch on TV.