Social media is increasingly being used by our MPs as a delivery tool for PR and puff messages, designed to imply that constituents’ concerns are being addressed. But, more often than not, what the feeds really reveal is the dark art of stage management and glaring contradictions at the heart of government policy, and a failure of leadership. Social Feed pricks the bubble of naked self-interest masquerading as a three-course meal, to show it for what it really is – a re-constituted turkey twizzler served up via Twitter and Facebook.
Anthony Mangnall, MP for Totnes and South Devon, loves social media. Through its use he seems to be rapidly morphing into the role of arch-salesman for dodgy government policy. His favoured products to shift in his feeds are the Emperor’s new clothes – buzzword-infested social posts with little fresh content; a dodgy pair of ill-fitting secondhand trousers, washed in the laundrette of Tory HQ and presented as new.
Last week, as if trying to prove he has another job alongside jobbing fisherman on a beam trawler, Mr Mangnall has posted two video clips of his attendance in the House of Commons. So far so good – it’s proof he actually turned up for work. But on closer inspection these clips only serve to cause disquiet and raise eyebrows. This week’s social feed bilge raises more questions than answers.
First, Mr Mangnall shared a clip of himself leading a debate on something termed ‘Regenerative Agriculture’. It’s the current buzz term for a process that used to be called ‘good land management’ or ‘organic farming’. It’s a catch-all term for the natural use of cow manure, the refraining from use of pesticides with their depleting effect on the soil, and the supporting of flora, fauna and the soil microbiome – thus improving the fertility of the land and enabling a reduction in carbon emissions and improved carbon sequestration.
But in the world of a government grasping desperately for something new to feed the people (no pun intended), whilst in effect doing very little, regenerative agriculture is being presented by Mangnall as a fabulous new way of fighting climate change.
What regenerative agriculture does not do is address failure of government policy and the glaring holes in the proposed Environment Bill. In fact, Mangnall’s nebulous delivery, as recorded in full-length horror on Twitter, only succeeds in bringing the distinct whiff of bullsh*t. As one constituent posted on Mr Mangnall’s thread, ‘How do trade deals with Australia and New Zealand – importing mutton all the way from the other side of the world – reduce GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions, much less help British farmers?’
What’s really clear is how much Mangnall is enjoying this new wheeze. Talking at length, and incomprehensibly, on regenerative agriculture offers a fabulous way of avoiding stating the obvious fact that we are all going to have to eat less meat in order to combat climate change. And yet again, instead of honesty, we get spin. Instead of plain talk, we get a gabbled, garbled tour of regenerative agriculture to a largely empty room. There is one hopeful moment, when Mangnall is interrupted by someone resembling a public school fifth former. Sadly, hope is quickly dashed by this member of the debating society offering a convenient planted comment to Mangnall, delivered with the back slapping good humour of two boys about to hit the bar.
Regenerative agriculture? I expect the poor souls having to listen to this bovine speech wished it a speedy journey to the abattoir, to be despatched swiftly at the hands of an Eastern European slaughterhouse worker (low paid, of course).
Next in Mr Mangnall’s Facebook feed is a fabulous clip, shot through with irony, and headlined by Mangnall: “Following my recent time at sea, I took the opportunity, during today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, to ask Boris Johnson when the next two pillars of the Fisheries and Seafood Scheme will be launched.” Again, this felt as ‘improvised’ as a state funeral. The carefully planted question was of course welcomed by Boris Johnson, who ran with it with the usual airy words that promised everything and delivered nothing.
My favourite part of this utter pig-swill was the incredible feat of conceit at the heart of this tiresome banter. Mr Mangnall managed to congratulate Brixham Fish market on £1.4m pound turnover a week whilst, in the same sentence, declaring how much they are looking forward to their share of money from the levelling up fund. Extraordinary. No doubt those working at crisis levels in healthcare, social care, education, children’s services, transport and housing are also looking forward to their share of the levelling up money, but will now have to wait in the queue, behind an industry in Brixham turning over £1.4m a week!
Instead of rhetoric, perhaps issues for the fishing industry should be resolved by action. Action from Mr Johnson and Mr Mangnall on ensuring sustainability of fish stocks and issues around Brexit, such as those being tackled by MPs in other constituencies. The reality is that the Fisheries and Seafood scheme is a ‘levelling up fund’ of its own – uniquely for the fishing industry. The £100m fund has been divided into three pillars:
- The science and innovation pillar, intended to boost innovation around sustainability.
- An infrastructure pillar, to be announced later this autumn. Potential projects include funding for the modernisation of ports, logistic hubs, freezing facilities, improvements to processing plants and new fish markets. This begs the question yet again – why is the UK’s general levelling up fund being used for an extension to Brixham’s fish quay when the Fisheries and Seafood scheme is intended to do just that?
- A further skills and training pillar to support career opportunities and upskilling in the sector.
The large players in the fishing industry are notorious for their lobbying power. Across the industry multiple websites give the impression they offer independent information around stocks and sustainability. Any push for ‘sustainability’ is met with the classic ‘we’re farmers of the sea’ and the lobby had a disproportionate voice in Brexit. The industry certainly usually gets what it wants even if, like Brexit, what they want is a cock-up.
‘Levelling up’ seems important to Mr Mangnall – as long as it benefits the right people, in a way that might prove beneficial in the next election. And of course he’s right: why waste levelling up funding on those who work in crisis-hit areas such as education, social care, children’s services and food banks. Passionate people who work in such sectors, seeing the terrible consequences of ten years of failed policies, damaging privatisations, and public services being bled dry, are those least likely to vote conservative at the next election.
With his social media feed overflowing with such bilge, I cannot wait to see what is fed to Mr Mangnall’s constituents next week.
Feed’s up! Tuck in! Enjoy.