Cameron’s First Law of Twitter Personified

By DeusExMacintosh

Too many tweets make a tw@t

Shadow Health Minister Diane Abbott has apologised for any offence caused by comments she made on Twitter, after claims they were racist.

She said she had not meant to generalise when she wrote: ”White people love playing ‘divide & rule'” …

In a statement, Ms Abbott said: “I apologise for any offence caused. I understand people have interpreted my comments as making generalisations about white people. I do not believe in doing that.”…

The original remark from Ms Abbott was a reaction to a conversation on Twitter about media coverage in the wake of the Stephen Lawrence murder trial. It was a response to journalist Bim Adewunmi, who complained about the use of the terms “the black community” and “black community leaders” in the media.

Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Ms Abbott, who stood for Labour leader in the 2010 contest, remarked: “White people love playing ‘divide & rule’. We should not play their game” followed by “#tacticasoldascolonialism” – a way Twitter users flag up keywords and topics…

She added: “Ethnic communities that show more public solidarity & unity than black people do much better.”

BBC News

Proof positive that all you can do effectively in 140 characters or less is humiliate yourself, which is a great pity because Ms Abbott is a usually insightful politician probably best known for her discerning commentary spot on the BBC’s Daily Politics program.

It must be particularly galling that she’s managed to find a way to prove David Cameron right.


  1. Posted January 6, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    The difference being, of course, that Santorum is a known numpty while Diane Abbott actually has a decent head on her shoulders. When she isn’t tweeting, of course. There really is something about twitter that makes people’s brains drain out of their ears, or something.

  2. kvd
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Echos of Larissa Behrendt? That’s brilliant DEM; needed a laugh to reduce the tension building over LE’s ‘will she, won’t she?’ musings on publishing her revised Layman’s Guide To Stupid.

  3. Posted January 6, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I live a Twitter free existence. I intend to keep it that way 🙂

  4. Posted January 6, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    A racist remark is only held accountable when utterred by persons with a pale countenance.

  5. kvd
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    [email protected] bullsh*t

  6. Posted January 6, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    So it’s the kind of thing you might say to like-minded friends in the pub, but not the kind of thing you might say to strangers you’d never met.

    Which raises the question: Is it our use of technology that needs to be refined to be in line with social standards, or is it our social standards that need to change to meet the new social reality created by technology?

  7. Patrick
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Our standards already have changed, D, and are changing further. ‘Modern’ work (at least the highly paid professional bits of it) is far more flexible, invasive and pervasive, and one part of this has been the intrusion of people’s social persona into their work persona.

    Also, in at least some workplaces,typically those employing highly paid professionals, tolerance of individual quirks is a lot greater than it used to be.

    As I see it the whole idea of a ‘work’ persona or a ‘public’ persona is breaking down (ask John Edwards or KRudd if they agree!).

  8. Posted January 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Patrick, yes I agree with that. But what I was more trying to get at was that as technology increases the blur between personal and work spheres and in particular our ability to dynamically interact with public figures in a more human way, that we should consider lowering the standards we expect of public figures from the standards of highly polished publication to that of everyday human interaction.

  9. kvd
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    we should consider lowering the standards we expect of public figures from the standards of highly polished publication to that of everyday human interaction

    Does this mean when a politician has to explain his falsified expense claims he can just say “get stuffed” or as Obama put it “I won” and you will be happy? Or are you saying we should recognise reality, and introduce a negative axis to any graph of acceptable behaviour?

  10. kvd
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    Or, in genuine but belated respect for Vest’s service, do we equate “lowering of the standards” to a Naval surrender? I sincerely hope not.

  11. Posted January 6, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    If everyday people are getting away with falsifying expense claims, I’m clearly missing out on a way to supplement my income. For the most part though, I’m suggesting we start graphing politicians’ behaviour against a standard that exists on the real axis rather than the imaginary one.

  12. kvd
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    Graph however you will. Just don’t countenance lower standards. Public life seems to be the wrong place for this thought that ‘the standards’ are too high. Can’t think of another endeavour where lowering the bar is the aim – apart from that old limbo dance thing 😉

  13. Posted January 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    If your standards are such that no one can meet them, then they offer no means to discern the quality of the candidates, at which point they’re aspirations not standards. This is basically the same as having no standards at all, which is more or less where we are now. I’m not going to countenance lower standards per se, because I’m not sure you can lower something that doesn’t exist 😉

  14. kvd
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    desipis you’re tying yourself up in knots. First you suggest ‘lowering standards’, now you suggest ‘we more or less have no standards’. Can we discuss where you now actually stand, as opposed to where you stood @8 or @10?

    And please bear in mind that of the 200 million tweets per day maybe 2000 are noteworthy, with some leading to retraction, some to apology. Which is what happened in this instance from an apparently otherwise respected public figure.

    I mean, it’s not as if she accidentally started WWIII, or unleashed the ebola virus – is it?

  15. Posted January 6, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink


    A slip of the fingers should be the same as a slip of the tongue, and a quick apology/correction should make it non-newsworthy issue regardless of who said what. (Although feel free to still make fun of politicians in such respects; I just don’t consider it a serious news item as the BBC appears to do).

    It’s by applying impossible standards to even trivial events (e.g. twitter incidents) to politicians that we end up with no effective standards at all, which results in more serious issues (e.g. expenses fraud) occurring. Thus, it’s only in the context of twitter and word/phrase slips that I suggest we lower standards, not in the overall quality of politicians or in how we judge the meaning or impact of political statements.

    I’m not sure my wording of ‘lower’ standards is the best way to phrase it. Perhaps apply existing standards to the context, rather than abnormally lofty ones simply because it’s a public figure.

  16. Posted January 6, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Rather than lowering standards, it might be a case of adjusting expectations.

    I must admit I’m with Lorenzo on this; tweet not lest you be twatted. Technology has a habit of conferring some ambiguous ‘benefits’ at the same time as all the good stuff, while the people using that technology haven’t changed very much, hence the problems with foot in mouth disease.

  17. Posted January 7, 2012 at 2:58 am | Permalink

    Oh this ‘race row’ is as much of a UK press beat-up as Tony Abbot’s ‘shit happens’ was in Australia. There’s no legs in it.

  18. kvd
    Posted January 7, 2012 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    [email protected] I really don’t care if people feel they get benefit from Twitter, or Facebook for that matter. Very few people can provide profound insight within 120 characters (honourable exception might be Einstein, and he only needed 6) so that leaves you with the ability to beclown yourself, then have to explain yourself endlessly. I suppose I just value ‘standards’ and ‘friends’ more than seems to be the case today.

    And I don’t think there is any ‘impossible standard’ excuse leading to the need to drop standards in this case. Twitter is what it is – use carefully, and accept the consequences. Just as this person quite correctly did.

  19. kvd
    Posted January 7, 2012 at 3:16 am | Permalink

    Update: seems Ms Abbott has had another whack at it, with similar results. Something about taxis?

    Maybe it’s something to do with her surname, as DEM points out.

  20. Adrien
    Posted January 7, 2012 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    It is racist. Not all white people like playing divide and rule. Only the ones that have been exposed thru education or historical conquest to Roman culture.

    The history of premodern Anglo-Scots relations attests to this trusim.

  21. Adrien
    Posted January 7, 2012 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    Ethnic communities that show more public solidarity & unity than black people do much better

    Another well known racial stereotype. Mr Pink in Reservoir Dogs expresses the same opinion in somewhat less diplomatic terms:

    You guys act like a bunch of fuckin’ n*gg*rs. You wanna be n*gg*rs, huh? They’re just like you two – always fightin’ and always sayin’ their gonna kill each other

    Try tweeting that in public life and see if you’ve still got your desk by the end of the week. Just like the necessity of putting strategic asterixes (asterii?) when spelling out one of them word jail words. And all the while the same games get played and no-one learns.

    Well that’s progress innit? 🙂

  22. thefrollickingmole
    Posted January 7, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I may be wrong (mostly reading Guildo for my UK politics) but my impression of Mrs Abbott is a deeply unwise and at times shows a great deal of resentment towards the “whites” in general.

    Miss Abbott, the MP for Hackney and Stoke Newington, tweeted: “Dubious of black people claiming they’ve never experienced racism. Ever tried hailing a taxi I always wonder?”
    (So no black cab drivers in London?)

    A Black “Alf Garret” is still an “Alf Garret”.

    Thats not to say she should be shut up, merely let her speak and make a bigoted fool of herself.
    But the other part says “run it hard, let the greivance mongers be hung on their own petard for a while”..
    At least until the worst of PC stupidity collapses undr its own weight.

    Another Abbotism
    “She was all over the place on her taxi claims and she got into a total tangle on whether she had meant to imply with her comment that ‘West Indian mothers will go to the wall for their children’ that West Indian mothers were better than mothers of other ethnicities.”

    A black racist is no better than a white one, both should be free to speak, both should be shunned and argued against for what they say.

  23. kvd
    Posted January 7, 2012 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    [email protected]: “Try tweeting that in public life”.

    Can’t – 2 long. Therefore lacking in profundity, or something 😉

    frollick, perhaps it’s coz she’s blank?

  24. Posted January 7, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    It might just be me, but I can readily see what Ms Abbott is getting at in each of the statements listed above, and no where do I see racist intent or resentment. Of course given the game of racial gotcha people seem to play whenever anyone makes a comment regarding race (the ambiguities of the English language ensuring they succeed), it’s not surprising there’s such a problem when people discuss race. What’s unclear to me is whether people are engaging in uncharitable interpretation consciously, or whether its possibly also a matter of contextual ignorance.

    Very few people can provide profound insight within 120 characters…

    Then perhaps we should stop expecting profound insight. Also more generally (re my first paragraph), perhaps people should develop a sense of humility and if they have an objection or disagree with something somebody writes, first consider the potential for the problem to lie in their own interpretation, understanding or values rather than with the author.

    * This blog post is my sole source of knowledge about Ms Abbott.

  25. Posted January 7, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    But in the mean time, while society is the way it is, I’ll have to agree with [email protected] and concede that politicians who use twitter have a questionable political strategy.

  26. kvd
    Posted January 7, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    desipis: I can readily see what Ms Abbott is getting at

    Diane Abbott: Well I was actually referring to the nature of 19th century European colonialism, but that’s a bit much to go into 140 characters

    Admire you desipis; that slipped right by me.

  27. Posted January 7, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    There is no doubt that the ‘downtrodden’ are given a free kick by the chattering classes when they slip up. Im sorry KVD, but if you disagrre with VEST you really should provide an example of where he is mistaken. I have a sister-in-law who is both racist and sexist. I have never seen her taken to account for this.
    Andrew Bolt is held up to be a racist, and yet I have heard him described in extremely unflattering ways by Aboriginal people who are never questioned.

  28. Posted January 7, 2012 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    There is no construction of Ms Abbott’s original Tweet that makes it even a little bit sensible.

    White folk on welfare in the depths of a public housing estate are not dividing and ruling anyone. But they are still white. While plenty of black dictators engage in “divide and rule” tactics.

    Divide-and-rule is as old as rulership and has no inherent racial characteristics. Tagging the fuzzy realities of race on to things which are simply not racial is just diseased social thinking.

    Her comment is particularly silly given she, a black woman, is in line to be in the next Labour cabinet. That racial prejudice exists in UK society is obvious. But a whole lot of other social factors are more important.

  29. Posted January 7, 2012 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    Adrien is right about the English version being borrowed from the Romans, and first used on white people; ‘diuide et impera’ is the Latin phrase; sound every letter, like Italian, make the ‘u’ sound like ‘w’.

    Racism based on skin colour is a relatively recent invention (ie, late medieval). Anti-semitism (everyone involved being white) is far older, starting with the early Christians and developing into something we would recognise as Jim Crow by the time of Justinian (who, among other things, banned marriages between Christians and Jews).

    It would not have occurred to a Roman to base diuide et impera on something as crude as skin colour; that was far too unsubtle.

  30. Posted January 7, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Guido Fawkes aka Paul Staines is the right-wing-death-beast of UK political blogging Moley, you’d be better off picking one of the papers (neither Guardian nor Telegraph have paywalls). He had to be issued a written invite to appear before Leveson because he felt that all this stuff about journalistic standards didn’t apply to him as a blogger, even though he’d just released details of some private papers belonging to Alastair Campbell, the former press enforcer for Tony Blair.

  31. kvd
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:57 am | Permalink

    [email protected] to answer your polite request for an example refuting vest’s statement I’d politely point you to the top of the page. There were two things wrong with the comment @6 – it was a sweeping generalisation; it was itself quite racist.

    And regarding Andrew Bolt, I don’t consider him to be a racist, but there is no question that some of his opinion pieces have been interpreted as such by people far more knowledgeable than me.

  32. Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I’ll just second DEM’s point about the quality of the Telegraph (UK), if you want good right leaning/conservative commentary. Although I often disagree with it violently (it is short of classical liberal voices, who tend to turn up in the paywalled FT), it is the only British paper wholly unimplicated in the phone-hacking scandal (even the crusading Guardian has engaged in the practice from time to time), and yet still managed to break the MPs’ expenses scandal.

  33. Adrien
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    There is no construction of Ms Abbott’s original Tweet that makes it even a little bit sensible.

    It’s not sensible old bean it’s called Twitter for a reason. A global delivery service for the brain farts of the notable and everyone else too.

    Ever get the feeling that this planet is preordained as one of God’s tragic comedies?

  34. Adrien
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Any kind of generalisation about a racial group runs the risk of racism. You’re not taking people as they come, you’re taking them as a monolithic bloc without individual characteristics which they may or may not possess.

    This is very true and the solution is a matter of etiquette and empirical rigour. When meeting someone you assess them by observation and not prejudice. Stereotypes are usually indicative of an historical lie, a general tendency or perhaps both. But every Scotsman you meet isn’t necessarily a miserable, miserly misanthrop.

    There’s a form of humour based on the notion that all Germans are humourless, over-authoritarian dolts and madmen. This is a leftover from WWII and Arnold Schwarzanegger impersonations are probably the last of it as the stereotype no longer applies. Everyone knows that Germans these days are softly spoken, well-organized hippie layabouts.

    I ztill enjoy ze hoomah.

  35. kvd
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    In a sort of wistful way, I wish that Cameron had followed DEM’s script to the letter.

    Those first two panels DEM produced: an obvious ‘mis-speak’ followed up by an opposing politician having the guts to match it, but with good humour. I think that would work in Australia; not so sure about the U.K. ..?

    Nah, it’ll never happen – but that’s why DEM’s work is quite brilliant imo.

  36. Adrien
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Anti-semitism (everyone involved being white) is far older, starting with the early Christians

    Didn’t Cicero say things about them that, whilst not indicative of hatred. did correspond to certain stereotypes. And there was the propaganda campaign at the start of the Flavian dynasty.

    It would not have occurred to a Roman to base diuide et impera on something as crude as skin colour; that was far too unsubtle.

    Counter-intuitive too. The Ethiopians inferior to the Irish? No-one’s inferior to the Irish. 🙂

    (it is short of classical liberal voices, who tend to turn up in the paywalled FT)

  37. Adrien
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    (it is short of classical liberal voices, who tend to turn up in the paywalled FT)

    Funny that. Said voices are only welcome when discussing the money go round.

  38. Posted January 8, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    Yes, but the Roman stereotype of Jews was so hilariously at odds with the modern version it shows you the extent to which the modern version depends on an entire group of people being denied access to land ownership. The Roman stereotype of Jews:

    1. Lazy. After all, they took one day a week off, which Romans didn’t. Romans only stopped for their festivals/carnival. One of the more humorous instances of this one is an enlisted man’s letter to his mother weighing up two women he fancies as concubines. He finishes opting for the Helvetian girl he knows from the army field brothel over the Jewish girl on the basis that the former will be harder working and cannier with money (Roman men handed their income over to their wives/cohabitants, much like the Japanese sarariman). The Jewish girl was not an ex-hooker, btw.

    2. Humourless, homophobic prudes with a colossal fun allergy (there’s a rich collection of these in the satirists, as well as Tacitus, who also says the same thing about Christians).

    3. Lousy with money, not commercially minded. We also have Jewish sources on this; Roman ‘sharp’ commercial practice was a constant source of complaint.

    Whereas the Christian stereotype of Jews was as deicides and Jesus rejectors who should be allowed to survive, but not thrive (that last quip is from St Augustine, btw, who comes across as one of the most repellently nasty individuals whose ideas are taken seriously).

  39. Posted January 8, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Augustine was an interesting character. Former pagan, former keeper of mistresses, dabbler in other religions. Clearly highly sexed, clearly hated himself for that. Had some positive ideas; had some profoundly negative ideas.

  40. Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    [email protected] 🙂

    On the origins of Jew-hatred, there was also a Hellenic anti-Semitism based on Jews being violent, unsociable superstitious hicks. (It is possibly significant that one of the Emperors most oppressive of the Jews was Hadrian, denigrated as “the Greekling” in posh Roman circles, and whose tragic passion for Antinous was one of the great same-sex romances: there are more surviving statues of Antinous than any other classical figure.)

  41. Posted January 9, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

    That piece by Delingpole catches all the issues very nicely. I hope one day to be courageous enough to join the ‘never apologise, never explain’ club, but these days, it’s rather difficult. The default does seem to be this hilarious notpology caper.

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