Jeremy Hunt’s week on Twitter: 10 tweets and a few blocked replies?

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has run a Twitter account, @jeremy_hunt, for more than two years – the oldest tweet dates from May 2010, but that refers to older ones being deleted. As culture secretary, he was an enthusiastic tweeter, but stopped with his new appointment. Last Tuesday, he returned.

@jeremy_hunt has the feel of an account written by someone busy, who taps out quick  messages on a smartphone or tablet. It has the odd typo, abbreviations and a mix of announcements, replies, thoughts and acknowledgements. If the tweets are being written by a special adviser (brave soul), he or she is doing a very good impersonation. It’s not like @David_Cameron, which is so far filled with announcements (this one got a few reactions):

But back to the health secretary. Jeremy Hunt using Twitter in an apparently unguarded way seems like a good thing. He is a public servant, so it’s good for him to share with the public what he is doing, and to be open to responses. But what happens when the responses get a bit tasty?

On Thursday, Hunt (or faithful spad) tweeted his visit to University College Hospital London:

As well as acknowledgement from UCLH, this produced a spot of ribbing for his double use of ‘inspirational’ and spelling of Macmillan:

However, it also produced some more pointed responses. One included the hashtag #toryscum, another asked if he had hidden behind a tree (referencing a bizarre incident in the BSkyB affair) and another said that what was truly inspirational was to have an NHS that is free at the point of use. All vanished as replies about half an hour after Hunt’s tweet. Calling someone scum is offensive – but an NHS free at the point of use is government policy.

According to Twitter’s help pages: “Blocked users cannot: …Have their @replies or mentions show in your mentions tab (although these Tweets may still appear in search).” There may be another explanation, but it seems quite possible that they vanished as replies to Hunt’s tweet because someone with access to @jeremy_hunt blocked them.

It’s true that there is not much value to responses like these. Jeremy Hunt is unlikely to change his mind about anything because of hostile tweets – although he might react to a positive tweeted suggestion – and it’s likely to take an alternative argument, rather than just opposition, to win over those looking at replies on his account.

But Hunt could use them to his own advantage. Leaving aside whether he or a colleague blocked some replies, he could engage next time. Next time someone tells him it’s inspirational to have an NHS free at the point of use, why not agree and point out that this government is spending more than any before to maintain it – perhaps adding #welovethenhs for good measure?

NHS bosses on Twitter