I like Twitter. It is a useful way or keeping in touch with local and national issues. I have around 12,400 followers. It is hard to imagine any other platform that would allow me the chance to communicate with a crowd of that size.
There is a big “but” here.
Twitter is not the voice of the people. It too often becomes the favoured home of the obsessed and often the extreme. Because any post is no more than 140 characters, complex issues get condensed into banal sound bites. I have realised that the way to be happy in life is, at all costs, to avoid having a Twitter spat. They waste time, excite the slightly dotty and just fill some virulent echo chamber with more needless noise.
I broke this rule recently. I took on a Guardian journalist (with whom I sometimes agree) who has 176,500 followers. He made a silly comment dredged from the pit of right-on kneejerkism, which simplified the whole Syrian tragedy down to the argument that the UK and USA just spend billions of dollars bombing when they should be looking after refugees. Silly of me perhaps to get irritated by such simplistic nonsense but I had just seen in my own neighbourhood the huge investment the Government is making for Syrian refugees. Furthermore, the UK has pledged £2.3 billion in aid to support refugees displaced by the civil war. This is second only to the USA and is more than most of the rest of the EU put together.
Anyway, my tweet resulted in a tsunami of responses (about 10% of which I managed to read) which reminded me that there are people out there who far from being proud of the fact that the UK is one of the few countries in the world to live up to its UN commitment to spend 0.7% of its Gross National Product on aid, are appalled that it is so little. Tell them the truth that the UK is the third biggest donor in the world and they really believe you are telling them “fake news”. There really are people who believe that all defence spending is wrong (one of them leads the Labour Party). Arguing with them is as pointless as talking about climate change to someone who believes that the world is flat. So, note to self, don’t bother to try.
We spend about the right amount on both aid and defence and we are spending big sums of your money to protect, house, educate and heal refugees. Whilst I am pleased that aid spending is more focussed now than it was I think some defence spending could be better directed (those two massive aircraft carriers are an indulgence we could redirect).
I get plenty of letters and emails from those who would prefer we spent nothing on aid and double our defence spend. Perhaps I should just put one lot of ultras in touch with the other and I can get on with having a sensible discussion with the majority. Most people believe Britain should be spending up to its UN commitment on aid and up to its NATO commitment on defence. I am proud that we are doing both.