It’s a quick, off-the-cuff sketch / cartoon done last year in response to events here in Plymouth – just over a year ago.
If it hadn’t been for Mrs. Strong and Stable – it might not have seen the light of day again. But the Prime Minister decided to call a General Election – and the events of a year ago seem worth dusting off, as people decide how to vote.
So - it's back to May 2016 and the local elections delivered a situation where no political party was in charge of Plymouth City Council. After what seemed liked ages we had an unholy alliance as the local Tories snuggled up to UKIP and formed some sort of local coalition – known as #BLUKIP on social media, and took control of the city council.It was around this time that there was a lot of heated debate around what deals had been done – what the future would bring.
It was at this point that word started going around that local Tory politicians were getting increasingly exercised by the online criticism and that some – and most notably, local Tory poster boy Johnny Mercer MP ( Johnny for Plymouth / #PlymouthDeservesBetter ) had started blocking people on social media.
Then I discovered that Mercer had blocked one of our local political journalists. As that went live locally – more and more people decided to come out. They too had been blocked by Mercer. The numbers appeared to be rising.
I’ve been part of the Plymouth twitter community since it first got up and running, I was an early adopter. I was intrigued by this blanket gagging of the community by a community representative; especially by one who was so keen to show how much he listened to the people…
So – I went on twitter – and I asked Mercer something along the lines of
“Why do you keep blocking people? How many people have you blocked?”
Polite – but to the point. I left it and came back to my account, clicked on Johnny Mercer’s twitter profile.
As if by magic – I had been blocked. For asking a question. Simple and as straightforward as that. I also found myself blocked by a variety of other Tory councillors and Plymouth UKIP.
So the bizarre approach to dealing with the public continued – I emailed Mercer – twice, as he did not respond the first time – here’s a summary – I’ve still got the original emails.
Me : Please can you advise why I have been blocked from following your twitter account and commenting and posting on your facebook page?
Him : Are you a constituent of mine?
I inform him that Gary Streeter is my MP.
Him : I would encourage you to contact him. Parliamentary protocol means I cannot act for those who are not my Constituents.
( As an aside - in some circles that might be seen as taking no personal responsibility – but I will let others judge. Strangely I have corresponded with MPs in the past who have not been my local representative, without it being an issue )
Me : So to clarify - I need to contact Gary Streeter to find out why you have blocked me on social media?
No response…at all. But he’s an ex-military man as he often reminds people. Man of action not words. So I comply with his wishes.
I then head off to ask Gary Streeter why Johnny Mercer has taken the actions he has. The response is predictable and I immediately report back to Mercer HQ a day or so later...
Me : Dear Mr Mercer,I have contacted Mr. Streeter as you encouraged me to do. His exact response was
"Nothing to do with me"
Therefore my only recourse is to ask you the question again - why did you feel it necessary to block me ( and others ) from your social media outlets?
A year later I am still waiting for the response.
So in response I produced the cartoon to reflect the mass gagging of debate on social media that was happening in Plymouth a year ago. It's been shared and seen many thousands of times.
Then the election came – and thought it was time to resurrect it with an additional caption.
In some ways – yes it’s trivial - something about nothing.
However – when politicians (as we have seen across the Atlantic) use social media as a one sided channel – it’s just propaganda. It allows no dissent or argument. It doesn't even allow questioning.
It's certainly not social.
So – the cartoon simply addresses that, in an open and direct way. Which is more than Johnny Mercer seems capable of.
And he wants your vote...
By way of a footnote - the irony is that as a result of my email correspondence I now get his newsletter which exhorts me to follow him on social media.