Page last updated at 12:10 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 13:10 UK

MP is named Labour 'Twitter tsar'

Kerry McCarthy
Kerry McCarthy wants to boost Labour's online campaigning

Labour MP Kerry McCarthy has been given the job of improving the party's use of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook ahead of the next election.

The Bristol East MP, recently named the most influential MP on Twitter, was appointed by Labour's general election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander.

She will train MPs and candidates in the best use of the internet.

It comes after last week's welovetheNHS campaign on Twitter, which was joined by Labour MPs including Gordon Brown.

Ms McCarthy said she will be building on the "preparatory work" carried out by Derek Draper, who was forced to quit as Labour's unpaid adviser on internet campaigning after he was accused by Tory blogger Guido Fawkes of being involved in an e-mail plot to smear senior Conservatives.

But she said her role would be "quite different" to Mr Draper "in that I'm a politician and I'm not seeking to be an alternative to the Tory-supporting celebrity bloggers".

And she added: "I'm much less keen on picking fights in the blogosphere!"

Tory dominance

In an interview with LabourList, the website founded by Mr Draper, Ms McCarthy said her role would be to support Labour bloggers and spread "best practice" among Labour candidates and supporters.

She denied politicians were jumping on the bandwagon by using sites like Facebook and Twitter, arguing they were merely an extension of traditional campaigning.

It is a reminder - if one were needed - of how proud we in Britain are of the NHS
David Cameron on welovetheNHS

"I think those politicians that are bandwagon-jumping quickly get found out online, which is why it's so powerful, as it rewards authenticity," she told LabourList.

She added: "Rather than being something completely new, campaigning using new media is simply doing what we've always done in a new setting - and rather than replacing traditional ways of doing things, it is about making traditional campaigning methods even more effective."

She described John Prescott, who blogs on the Gofourth website as "one of the best communicators - no soundbites, no pretensions - just very natural" - as a "great example" of how to use the internet to get a political message across.

Labour List was set up to counter the perceived Conservative dominance of the blogosphere through sites such as Iain Dale and Conservative Home, the independent blog for Tory supporters.

'Pointless babble'

But Ms McCarthy, who was named the most influential MP on Twitter by The Independent newspaper, claimed Labour had now caught up and was using micro-blogging more effectively than the Tories.

Thousands of people, including Gordon Brown and wife Sarah, sent messages to welovetheNHS campaign on Twitter, set up by users of the micro-blogging site to defend the health service, which has been under attack in America from critics of Barack Obama's health reforms.

On Sunday, the prime minister posted a message on the Labour Party website saying: "I want to say a huge thank you to all of you who have supported the welovethenhs campaign.

"I have been profoundly moved by the enormous groundswell of support for the NHS in the last few days."

Conservative leader David Cameron, who was forced to reiterate his own backing for the NHS after one of his MEPs, Daniel Hannan, criticised it on US TV, also praised the Twitter campaign, saying in a posting on the party's website: "It is a reminder - if one were needed - of how proud we in Britain are of the NHS."

The Conservatives have devoted much time and money to building up their internet presence, with a full time team of web developers working on projects for the general election.

The party is also well represented on social media sites, although Mr Cameron himself is sceptical about Twitter's value to politicians.

And a recent survey by the Hansard Society suggested Liberal Democrat MPs were the most likely to be on Facebook.

The think tank found 51% of Lib Dem MPs had a Facebook profile, compared with 15% of Labour MPs and 9% of Conservatives.

It comes as a study of Twitter found 40% of the messages sent via the site are "pointless babble."

The research, US market research firm Pear Analytics, found that only 8.7% of messages could be said to have "value" as they passed along news of interest.

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