Gary Streeter is the Conservative MP for South West Devon. He is a committed Christian who helped found the Conservative Christian Fellowship. He now chairs the cross-party group Christians in Parliament, and is very keen to give public testimony to his faith, both in his constituency and to the nation. He has been on Twitter since January 2016. He has tweeted 430 times and (at the time of writing) has 984 followers. He obviously isn’t a great fan Twitter, or, indeed, of social media generally. “It gives a voice to people who don’t deserve one,” he says.
Who doesn’t deserve a voice?
The Babylonians captive in Assyria? Socrates, Solon, or the founding democrats of Athens? The peasants of the Great Rising? The slaves of Saint Domingue? The 13 separatist colonies in North America? The Roman Catholics of the Easter Rising? Gandhi and his Non-cooperation movement? Emmeline Pankhurst and any other women who want equality? The poor who visit foodbanks? The Protestants who loathe popery? The nonconformists who reject Anglican oligarchy? The socialist agitators who rile Tory MPs?
History is full of dissenters, protesters, rebels, renegades, freethinkers, apostates, heretics, schismatics, recusants, seceders, individualists, mavericks, eccentrics, misfits, hippies, dropouts and weirdos, whom the orthodox elite would rather not be heard. Social media is the bane of the oligarch’s life: its proliferation offends anyone who holds power by a notion of divine right, or who thinks their judgment is best, if not infallible.
Social media is an affront to the mainstream. It has given a voice to the voiceless; a pulpit to anyone who would preach. With access to the Internet, the poor man at his gate can rail against the rich man in his castle. God might have made them high and lowly, but He did not order their estates in perpetuity. There is accountability. There is justice, righteousness, mercy and peace. Why should these voices not be heard?
Through social media, the power and motivating ideology of the Establishment may be fundamentally challenged and held to account. The news narratives necessarily become diverse and democratised. You may despair and the fracturing and fragmentation of ‘truth’, or, rather, the emergence of a cacophony of competing truths each vying for supremacy. But this is the revolution of our postmodern time. Ignore it (or, if you prefer, hate it), and you neglect (or disdain) the most important communication revolution since the invention of the printing press.
The capacity of social media to bring reformation and enlightenment to our culture should not be despised simply because it gives voice to people like Paul Mason. Challenge and rebuke him; pity his pettiness and bitter politics of envy. But don’t seek to deny him his voice, for even an ass can speak a word from God.
As Lord Justice Sedley said in his 1999: “Free speech includes not only the offensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative, providing it does not tend to provoke violence.” That should be the Conservative social-media maxim.
Gary Streeter, a Christian, should welcome the right of all voices to be heard. He doesn’t have to agree with them all, of course, but who is he to determine who deserves a voice and who does not?
“We hate social media,” said the Pharisees when they read Jesus’s blasphemous tweet about the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. “It gives a voice to people who don’t deserve one.”