Meet Gemma Worrall, the latest unlikely worldwide star produced by social media. She is a 20-year-old beautician from Blackpool, now famous for tweeting ‘Why is our president Barraco Barner getting involved with Russia, scary.’ Cue 7,000 retweets, publicity from Australia to Brazil, and the inevitable vicious attacks. Haters have come thick and fast, she says, describing her as an ‘oxygen thief’ and worse. This morning’s press gets stuck in too. ‘Tweet about the Ukraine/Russia crisis is branded a new low for “dumb Britain”‘ sneers the Daily Mirror.
Really? It can be argued that this is a new high. I’d like to cite, in my defence, Ed Miliband. The sole redeeming feature of his confused Hugo Young lecture was his quoting a lesser-known Walt Whitman poem, The Prairie Grass Dividing:
‘Whitman talks about what makes for a successful democracy and says it is about a country where people can “look carelessly in the faces of Presidents and Governors, as to say, Who are you?”‘
Or, to put it another way, a successful democracy is one where a socially-engaged beautician in Blackpool can refer to “Barraco Barner” as “our president”. In his poem, Whitman was arguing that politicians should, ideally, be as unimportant as possible. That, ideally, people would not have cause to know who they are. That he who governs least governs best.
In that poem, Whitman saluted:-
Those that go their own gait,
Erect, stepping with freedom and command
Leading, not following,
Those with a never-quell’d audacity
Those with sweet and lusty flesh, clear of taint…
Those that look carelessly in the faces of Presidents and Governors, as to say, Who are you?
Those of earth-born passion, simple, never-constrain’d, never obedient,
Those of inland America.
Had Whitman been in Britain today, these words might well have been written not for inland America but for coastal England – and the likes of Ms Worrall.
She felt obliged, in later comments, to refer to her ‘stupidity’, which I’d dispute. In the Spectator’s Portrait of the Week column, we always refer to “David Cameron, the Prime Minister”. You might wonder: why add the job title? Surely anyone who buys our magazine would know who was in No.10? But there are many perfectly intelligent Brits who could not give a hoot about current affairs.
The Spectator’s great coalition of readers include those who think poetry is more important than politics. Those who buy us just for Jeremy Clarke and cartoons are certainly getting their money’s worth (just £1 a week, by the way, sign up here).
If you decide that life’s too short to follow the Westminster tragicomedy, it emphatically does not make you stupid. The societies which tend to make a fuss about the bloke in power tend to be the societies in which you don’t want like to live. The freer the country, the less the need to know who is running the government. That’s why Ms Worrall’s tweet can be seen a sign of something going right, rather than wrong, in Britain today.