Facebook has become boring lately – too many adverts, too much censorship – so this morning I thought I’d check in on Twitter. It has this feature now where it puts ‘tweets you might have missed’ in your notifications.
This was in mine:
I have no idea who Mary or Dom are, and frankly I don’t care.
Alistair Campbell was the Downing Street Press Secretary in the Blair era, and is therefore one of the country’s most powerful men. Andrew Neil is the country’s most respected t.v. journalist, another of the country’s most powerful men.
And yet here they are, bickering like little girls on the playground over who said mean things about whom.
Maybe it was always this way. Maybe Fox and Gladstone would have bickered on Twitter if it had been around in their day, but somehow I feel that, in removing the requirement to dress up insults in Parliamentary language, something has been lost.
There was something to be said for the insults of old. They were practically a spectator sport. Disraeli once said of Gladstone that “he had not one redeeming defect.” In turn, John Bright said of Disraeli that he was a “self-made man who worships his creator.”
Churchill was infamous for his rapier wit, my personal favourite being his quick comeback to Lady Astor when she informed him “If you were my husband I’d poison your tea.” He replied, “Madam, if you were my wife I’d drink it.” He also said of Clement Attlee: “An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street, and when the door was opened, Attlee got out.”
You don’t have to go back 100 years to find this sort of repartee. Harold Wilson once said of Ted Heath that he was “a shiver looking for a spine to run up.” Denis Healey said that being attacked by rival Geoffrey Howe “was like being savaged by a dead sheep.” Thatcher tended to go for the collective insult, such as her observation: “If my critics saw me walking over the Thames they would say it was because I couldn’t swim.”
But all of these involve brilliance: intelligence, quick-mindedness, an insight into human affairs and the wider world. There is no wit in ‘poor wee Mary’ or ‘I’ll block you,’ just ugly bickering.
I can’t help but think that it’s Twitter that’s done this. It’s turned what was once an appreciative audience who championed their heroes according to how sharp they could be, into a baying mob who rewards those willing to stoop the lowest.
It’s a cancer in our society, eating away at all that was once bright and good and replacing it with decay and misery. A land of hope and glory has been turned into a barren hellscape in the virtual world.
Well, not for me. It turns out that the flowers and fields are still out there, the glades and gullies of old England still exist. Lay aside Windows 10 and its glimpse into a virtual world, look instead through your real windows made of glass and wood and see the truth and beauty just waiting to be reclaimed.