Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The party's choice?

It seems that the real contest within the Labour Party is not who will replace Blair, but who will will replace Prescott. With those the media call the 'credible candidates' stepping aside to crown Brown, it seems we know who the next PM will be. The Deputy however is highly contested with many of the candidates creating second lives on MySpace and Facebook and setting up campaign centres reminiscent of candidates for the US presidency (but of course on a small scale).

There is a front runner however. Polls indicate Hilary Benn has a lead of anything between 9 and 20 percentage points from his closest rival Alan Johnson. Why might this be. Hilary is the son of perhaps the most famous Labour politician never to become leader, and a man who commands respect within the movement; however Hilary is not the ideological descendant of Tony, he represents a far more pragmatic, modern and dare we say Blairite approach to left wing politics. But that does not mean he is the slavish follower of all things Blairite, he has criticised the war and the government's record on Third World Poverty during his time raising the profile of the Department for International Development; he also claims to be in touch with the grass roots of his Leeds constituency and the party itself. Perhaps this positions him as the right man for the job among party members.

Hilary Benn has also made use of e-communications. He has a blog format website, a campaign website full of credible endorsements, a Facebook profile, though his MySpace page seems to have never quite seemed worth the effort. However the important aspect to the web presence seems his underlying philosophy, he states:

"I want to be your voice as Deputy Leader because I believe we need a more open and more straightforward kind of politics that really listens. Over the coming weeks, I'll be adding lots of interactive features to this site to help you as members and activists say what you think. I hope you will find it makes getting in touch directly with me, and with other supporters in your community and local party to debate our future, that little bit easier"

Rhetoric many may cry, and perhaps it can appear this way and may be proven to be empty long term. However, in the run up to the contest he is being interactive. This creates a pull factor to his sites and may be partially responsible for building and maintaining the momentum behind his campaign. Possibly, however, the fact that he is using the site to interact, something that could be described as best practice for e-political communication, reflects his personal philosophy. Many of those whose votes he is fighting for may well have had contact with him, recognise that the desire to listen is not empty rhetoric and hence the sites become an extension of the man rather than purely a vote winning tool. Yes, there are a lot of 'perhaps' here; but at present it seems to be having an effect.

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