James Acheson-Gray is managing director of APCO Worldwide’s London office. Follow him on Twitter @achgray.
Twitter acquired a new user in London this morning, one @George_Osborne. The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer had chosen today, the date of his annual budget statement to parliament, to join the world’s fastest growing social network. By the time he stood up to deliver his speech in the House of Commons a few hours later he had nearly 30,000 followers (his first being @David_Cameron) and had sent two tweets.
But the second major Twitter story of the day was a lot less positive for the Chancellor. As, minutes before he began his speech, London’s widely read evening newspaper the Evening Standard had accidentally tweeted out its embargoed front page – which clearly highlighted all the major announcements he was due to make. Photocopies of the tweeted front page were passed along the benches opposite as he began speaking. Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, commented in his response “he almost need not have bothered coming to the House because the whole budget, including the market-sensitive fiscal forecast, was in the Standard before he rose to his feet.”
I’d made a similar comment as I joined members of APCO’s London team gathering in our “Budget War Room” (appropriately enough held in our “Churchill” meeting room) to watch the speech and analyse its policy implications for our clients. Rather than actually listen to the speech, would it not be quicker to simply read what the Evening Standard had just tweeted?
As budget leaks go, this is a pretty big one. The late editions of the Evening Standard carried the editor’s “heartfelt apologies” for this mistake and assurances that “an investigation is underway… and the individual who tweeted the page has been suspended”. This is yet another cautionary tale demonstrating not only the power of Twitter as a communication channel, but also how it can backfire if an organisation does not have proper procedures and checks in place. Reputations can be shattered by one careless tweet; by an accidental tap on a computer keyboard or on a smart phone screen.
If you look at the Tory Twitter feeds tonight this was the budget of an #AspirationNation. APCO’s word cloud analysis of Osborne’s speech shows that he referred to aspiration 17 times (compared to just once in his budget speech last year). Osborne mentioned “jobs” 20 times (twice as often as in his 2012 budget statement) and “employment” 13 times, whereas Miliband used “jobs” just once (to point to a fall in jobs in the construction sector). Instead, the Leader of the Opposition focused on the lack of economic growth – as growth forecasts for this year were downgraded from 2% to just 0.6% – and on the recent downgrading of the UK’s triple A rating by Moody’s. Osborne had tax cuts to announce; corporation tax will fall to 20% by 2015, the income tax personal allowance will rise to £10,000 by 2014 and small firms will benefit from a employers’ national insurance break. But Milliband focused on the previously announced cut for those paying the highest rate of tax, down from 50% to 45%. According to @Ed_Miliband’s tweet today this is a budget from a #downgradedchancellor, with “growth down, borrowing up, families hit, and millionaires laughing all the way to the bank.”
Will today’s budget announcement be enough to kick-start the UK’s economy? Or will voters heed Miliband’s message that “Britain deserves better”? What is for certain is that Twitter’s role in the UK’s political landscape has never been more powerful.