THE BLOG
26/07/2011 09:21 BST | Updated 24/09/2011 06:12 BST

Hackgate, Parliament and the Tweeting MPs

The potential is for politics to become a more potent force for change. Miliband was quick to latch onto this theme in a recent speech linking the banking crisis, the expenses scandal and Hackgate together through a culture of 'irresponsibility'.

As the Hackgate storm slowly dies down, onlookers are left bewildered. From the likely decline of the Murdoch empire in Britain, to the revelations about the corrupt MET to Ed Miliband's new-found confidence as Labour party leader, there is a sense that something remarkable has happened. But whilst the consequences of the scandal are still emerging, how the event came about offers a greater insight into the future political landscape. More fundamental than any immediate polling, or even the popularity of certain institutions and political figures, is the way this story was born and developed.

There are many figures and characters that represent the changing political times in Hackgate. Funnily enough, one of them is the resurgence of one of the oldest political settings - Parliament. In a recent article for the Financial Times, George Parker wrote about the 'revitalisation' of Parliament. With over 200 enthusiastic new MPs elected in 2010, the Commons has a youthful energy about it, with enthusiastic MPs eager to make an impact and have their say. Speaker Bercow is also an influential reformer who must take some credit. His loose tongue can all too often get in the way of the important changes he has made to the workings of the House of Commons. Bercow's frequent use of Urgent Questions, hauling Ministers in front of the baying green benches, has finally allowed those within the Palace of Westminster, to sometimes keep up with the 24-hour newsrooms outside. More symbolically, he has been proactive in his support for gay MPs coming out and has forsaken the ridiculous pomposity of the Speaker's traditional wig. The fact no party commands a majority also leads to a heated atmosphere within the chamber and each party leader understands the need to tread carefully with impatient backbenchers. The drama of Murdoch's recent visit to the DCMS Select committee is the most vivid culmination of parliament's new-found confidence. There was a sense of disbelief watching a humbled Murdoch take aggressive questioning from, until then, rather anonymous backbenchers.

Yet, the crusading backbencher has been a constant motif in this Parliament. Tom Watson and Chris Bryant have been pivotal to the progression of this story, regularly calling for a judicial inquiry in the House of Commons, enthusing Guardian investigative journalists. But away from this story, the impressive Stella Creasy has been energetic in her campaign against Wonga, the so-called 'legal loan shark' company. Mark Pritchard caused havoc within the government's whip office with his motion about circus animals. George Eustace, the intelligent newly-elected Conservative has eloquently put the case for statutory regulation of the media in the light of Hackgate. These are politicians who recognise that Parliamentary patronage is not always necessary anymore in order to have an impact. The Observer's double page story on backbench concerns about Cameron's leadership is a firm and blunt warning from uneasy backbenchers briefing against their leader. It is certain to send a shiver throughout Number 10.

A common link that many of these MPs have is their addiction to Twitter. Creasy and Watson have together tweeted around 25,000 times. The power of social media to build momentum around a political story is becoming necessary to chart and analyse. Quite simply, social media is beginning to change our politics. The political equivalent of the butterfly effect, with one tweet a career can be ruined. A single tweet noting a few journalistic misdemeanors by Johann Hari has led to his suspension and a wider debate about plagiarism. Within hours of a cameraman having his parliamentary pass taken away, his nickname was trending on Twitter with disgust at his treatment. The next day he walked straight past security. More importantly, Twitter and social media played a large role in the fall of the News of the World, putting inexorable pressure on advertisers who one by one deserted the paper. Indeed, Louise Mensch has embarked on a remarkable twitter debate with Piers Morgan about his time as Editor of the Daily Mirror. Far from Twitter being a platform of inane drivel, Mensch's accusations have the potential to incriminate Morgan. The power of celebrity cannot stop the tweeting newly-elected MP. Terrifying as it seems, Twitter has the potential to be a real-time, constant Select Committee performed in front of the whole world.

In terms of the narrow political narrative, this mood offers great opportunities to Ed Miliband. Specific details of Hackgate seem to be confined to the Westminster bubble, with polls showing the Cameron's popularity taking only a slight hit. The wider lessons from this story will have a greater bearing on the next few years. The developments of social media and the availability of information and political engagement allows for greater scrutiny, but also a huge audience for politicians who in the past would be confined to climbing the greasy parliamentary ladder before being heard.

The potential is for politics to become a more potent force for change. Miliband was quick to latch onto this theme in a recent speech linking the banking crisis, the expenses scandal and Hackgate together through a culture of 'irresponsibility'. During his leadership campaign, Miliband called for a more open style of leadership in comparison to his predecessors. It is no coincidence that he gained the votes of many new MPs, who felt that they would have a say under his leadership. There is a long way to go, and traditional political challenges for Miliband to overcome, but these new political times offer him an opportunity that he must take.