Sunday, December 30, 2007

Celebrities and Politics: a dilemma of image

BBC political reporter Justin Parkinson asks an interesting question: "Is taking advice from celebrities a cynical voter-pleasing ploy, with politicians merely pretending to listen? Or is it a genuine attempt to engage with the world outside politics?" Parkinson lists a variety of examples: Feargal Sharkey heading a government taskforce on promoting live music; Kirstie Allsopp advising the Conservatives making buying and selling houses less stressful; Sir Alan Sugar advising Gordon Brown on business; I can see a logic so far! Then there are some other examples: avant garde musician Brian Eno briefing Nick Clegg on "youth" issues (Eno is 60 and lives abroad, huh?); Gordon Brown discussing global education with Angelina Jolie (obviously she's an expert); and there was that Fiona Phillips offer!; logical, not really. Surely these politicians are, at some points, trying to appear cool and basking in the limelight of the rich, famous and popular.

Parkinson poses the question in light of Italian prime minister Romano Prodi's refusal to speak to the aforementioned Jolie on the basis that: "I've never heard of a politician getting in trouble by not meeting an actress"; and why should they? If a celebrity offers something of value, such as Jamie Oliver, fine; but it suggests more attempts to be part of Cool Britannia than actually learning anything useful. The real problem is when politicians try to suggest that celebrities are a bridge between them and the public. While people may view some celebrities as being representative in some symbolic way (Geldof on poverty perhaps), they are not really as authentic as is suggested. How can they be, they are even more remote from ordinary life than politicians. The value of the celebrity, they are popular and newsworthy so, except when they do offer expertise (on live music for example), there seems only one reason to get them involved: to look cool surely? Celebrities like Jolie, Bono et al are enormously valuable for getting political issues onto the news agenda and getting messages across to hard to reach audiences (the young and gossip hungry politically apathetics for example) but whether they are good at, or should be used for, getting attention for politicians is more questionable!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Importance of being.... A Wonk! has published its list of the top fifty most influential openly LGB (lesbian, gay and bisexual) people in British politics: First place is not Deputy Chief Whip Nick Brown (He is No 2), or No 3 Peter Mandelson (open??? well outed by the media maybe).
In first place is a man called Spencer Livermore, someone few may have heard of. He is, however, Director of Political Strategy at No 10. I find it very interesting that a strategist, special advisor, is deemed more important that those who are supposed to actually design and set policy: perhaps a sign of the times and our politics. The worry is if the advisor has more power and influence than those we elect, all we are actually doing when voting is electing the person that selects whose advice to take. I guess that getting the right advice is important, and no MP in any position, can have expertise over everything but it makes you wonder who really has the power?

But who are the forces opposing democracy?

Benazir Bhutto 1953-2007

It has been described by senior British politicians as "an appalling act of terrorism" perpetrated by "cowards afraid of democracy". In the US Bush mirrored those words talking of a "cowardly act by murderous extremists". The question is, who are those who are afraid of power, are they extremists or those who hold power?

Gordon Brown: As I remembered it

No Gordon has not written an autobiography just yet, well not really, but if he had it may be titled something like this, or maybe 'As I saw it'; well he does like authoring his own history. For the past six months he has been writing himself out of Labour's history, separating himself from Blair's mistakes or the government's misdeeds or anything really he doesn't like about the last thirteen years. His review of the year on the Downing Street website is priceless, it is the good news only a spun version that is designed to communicate a sense of well-being among the UK public, and visitors to the website, and promote the government as good managers, achievers, even progressives.

But what is the point? It is a little the same as denying a problem exists - I do sadly remember the Conservative 'Crisis? What Crisis?' campaign. Brown seems to be completely in denial! But does his lack of reference to any problems present the image he wants, perhaps not. Most visitors are likely to be students and/or politically savvy, so aware of all the negative news attached to the government, and so are unlikely not to wonder about this airbrushed version of Brown's year. At least the Queen admitted she had an annus horribilis, but of course politicians are afraid to admit to mistakes as this strikes of failure. But should anyone trust anyone who does not admit to having made a mistake when it is patently obvious to all around them?

Monday, December 24, 2007

It's official, our government are annoying!

For bizarre reasons i watched (endured) BBC3's countdown of the top 5o most annoying people of 2007. For those who avoid such programmes, this is an opportunity for annoying journalists and comedians to slag off the equally annoying celebrities on whose career said journalists depend; yes high-brow entertainment. But it was interesting to see politicians appearing in the list, and the reasons for their entry.

I am not sure if any Conservatives were in the list, if they were they were 49 or 50 as I missed the start, only government front benchers made it above that. The first was Gordon Brown at No 39. To the tune of The Stranglers' golden brown the voice over talked of the events of the summer that were beyond his control but then the bit that really annoys us: his attempt to write himself out of Labour's history for the last 12 years. So no disagreement there then?

Next we find at No 25 Patricia Hewitt for the smoking ban, and at No 14 Alan Johnson for equating obesity to global warming. The message here is clearly that politicians should not try to interfere with personal freedom.

But the most annoying politician, who would have guessed it, well probably all of us, it was of course Tony Blair in the top ten at No 8. Why, for his long looonnnngggg goodbye. Sandwiched between Britney Spears and Paris Hilton (which is no place for a good catholic boy to be [sorry couldn't resist]) he was roundly mocked for attempting to build himself a 'legacy'.

The programme perfectly showed how politicians are, or at least seem to be treated by the media and public as, essentially just celebrities that talk about politics. There are boundaries of behaviour set for them and as long as they confine themselves beyond those boundaries they are safe from too much approbation. Perhaps these four have all been too high profile for annoying the public, Brown and Blair I expected to be there, Hewitt and Johnson I didn't; but there is perhaps something of a logic about it in terms of the opinions of those who would construct and those who watch these programmes.

The great moment for me, a sour faced Gordon Brown coinciding with the lyric 'never a frown with golden brown'; perhaps someone should do some new lyrics and put it out as Brown's campaign song!!!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


The Queen's PR department have launched the 'The Royal Channel' on Youtube so that her messages are "more accessible to younger people and those in other countries". Will it be successful, well her first broadcast which is posted has over 2,000 views and there are currently 1,169 subscribers and its not even Xmas day yet. Who says Youtube is only for happy slappers and silly videos of cats?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Fight to be Progressive

It seems that often the fight over the ownership of an idea in politics can be as vigorous as any election contest. The idea of being progressive has lain dormant, often used by Labour, but never particularly contested never mind defined. Former Labour MP, peer and Professor Emeritus David Marquand attached the moniker to Blair back in 2000, though recognising this as a problem for the party in terms of what being progressive means. The Conservatives may have invoked a similar problem!

MPs Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark have produced a pamphlet asking the question 'Who's Progressive Now?' The answer is unsurprisingly the Conservatives, they argue that Brown's use of the phrase 'Progressive Consensus' shows the term to be empty of meaning; it is the fact that they see Brown as standing still, not progressing or achieving anything, that leads to this claim. The Conservatives may not be historically associated with the phrase but, Hunt and Clark argue, the party has been the one of progress throughout its history.

They also lay out an alternative definition of the term building six key planks of being 'progressive'. They are: making progress; being hostile to uniformity and embracing diversity; being actively concerned about the less fortunate; an antipathy to unmerited hierarchies; a concern for social, as well as economic, goals; and a sense of responsibility for the future. Reading these one would think they should be central to the goals of any democratic party.

However the pamphlet critiques Labour under Brown (Blair being mentioned 13 times, mostly alongside Brown, Brown is named 28 times) before setting out how Cameron's leadership has stuck closest to the tenets of being progressive as set out by the authors. They map fairly closely to US ideas of progressivism from the turn of the century.

Big questions, are such ideas more of a risk than an advantage. Due to the abstract nature of terms such as progressive politics, can any failure in making progress be called unprogressive? Equally, and perhaps alternatively, can any party claim to own ideas that should underpin the policies of every democratic aspirant. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, do such phrases and ideas have any resonance with the public and will they be translated into ideas that do have relevance to the lives of the voter?

Perhaps as a set of ideas and tenets the pamphlet is useful in setting down democratic benchmarks for a party; however making such ideas as undermining unmerited hierarchies a point of principle in a nation and world full of such hierarchies means there could be a problem in practice and it is the practice that can be the problem for any progressive party.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Congratulations Nick Clegg

Closer than polls suggested but 511 is sufficient majority for Nick Clegg to win over Chris Huhne despite the 'calamity' episode from which neither emerged unscathed but only one with a nickname. It has been a busy 24 hours, becoming leader and organising a cabinet; also he has gained very little bad coverage. The BBC News Have Your Say section demonstrates two general points: Clegg seems a popular winner, but due to the electoral system it doesn't really matter. In the words of one contributor, Clegg is "as relevant as a soldier in a battle using a toy pop-gun!" Of course electoral reform is high on the LibDem agenda, but sadly it is true that there is a huge disadvantage in first past the post winner takes all systems for all but the top contenders which forces other parties to be pressure groups with the occasional chance of being power brokers if there is a hung parliament.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ready, Steady..... Cook?

Camden Liberal Democrats' have produced a cookbook, Serve a Liberal Helping, has been available since September but made headlines (well Have I Got New For You). Their website describes it as a "best-selling collection of recipes by Lib Dem luminaries and members" which "captures the essence of the party's energy and joie-de-vivre". It is claimed that it is "the ideal cookbook for those who love to share great food in the midst of busy lives". Well I guess MPs should be best placed to judge on both counts. Highlights are:

  • Learn from assorted members of parliament and councillors how to cook great food in a hurry
  • Enjoy Charles Kennedy's recipe for a breakfast smoothie
  • Discover the festive secret Lord Navnit Dholakia has not told his friends to this day
  • Read an old family recipe contributed by Lord Bill Rodgers, never before written down
  • Find out what Lembit Opik MP likes to nibble while watching Question Time

Err interesting, not sure how widely this is beng publicised but it is something that seems to have gone by the wayside in British politics - a party doing more than simply being obsessed with happenings in Westminster. Though I have to admit being a little nervous about what Lembit nibbles on during Question Time

The Election-vision song contest

A funny thought! Given that there seems to be a lot of 'campaign' songs for candidates in the US (spoof and supportive) who should sing the song for the UK parties or their leaders?
Obvious answers could be The Cheeky Girls for the Liberal Democrats (though as Lembit Opik is not in the running to be leader it could be unlikely), or Geri Halliwell for Labour after her appearance in a 2001 election broadcast; any suggestions? If I get any I will compile a chart sometime nearer to Christmas!

A hot contest?

While the primaries are getting more intense and increasingly negative between Clinton and Obama, Youtube video makers are thinking of the eventual contest and seem to believe that it will between Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani. If that is an accurate prediction they already have the presidential contest theme song - well I suppose it will encourage some interest and get attention. Do you think turnout could increase?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The happiness of the pedant

I enjoy being pedantic now and again. Not necessarily with student assignments, they are learning, but when professional communicators produce communication that is vague, can be misinterpreted or makes no sense it is a pleasure to pick the holes or read a pedantic stripping away of the sense of an official document. John Redwood provided just that in his comments on Ed Ball's 'Children's Plan'.

I was emailed by 'Ed', well it was a Labour circular asking me to comment on the document, I clicked on the link provided, it was wrong. After scouring the web for the Department of Children, Schools and Families I located a copy, I was now wondering if they really wanted to consult me on this, or anybody for that matter. I think the normal rule is make it easy if you really want feedback, if you don't make it look like you do but make it hard: now what do you think was the case?

One of Redwood's points in particular interested me however, a reference to co-location: "that new primary schools should be co-located with the “police, social care, advice and welfare services…”. When I asked him if he really thought a police station on the same site as a primary school would make the school more attractive to parents he looked puzzled as he did not seem to realise co-locating police with children at school could mean siting the police station at the school". I thought surely this was not being suggested!

There are only three references to co-location in the full report: the one closest to a definition is "staff in co-located services are more likely to talk to each other and provide joined-up support. For example, co-location of health visitors and midwives helps smooth transition between antenatal and postnatal periods"; so we are talking a one-stop shop idea where several things can be provided in a 'joined-up' way under a single roof (so lots of management speak). Chapter 7 of the report sets out Labour's ambition in more detail (ahah!!)

Well err maybe. There is the phrase "locating services under one roof in the places people visit frequently"; so schools in supermarkets perhaps? The opening part suggests joining up health care and education, so this is teaching that the wrong food, alcohol, cigarettes are bad? That's new! There is box 7.2 which is a list of vague aims and managerial buzz-words (see below) if it makes any sense or informs of the practical detail please let me know, maybe it is me being slow. The chapter then tails off talking about so many different issues that it is hard to tell what is happening and where. Now to be fair to Mr Balls it does not suggest housing schools in police stations or vice versa, but then again it is so vague it could mean just that. Once again government provides a document that is virtually meaningless in the specifics that anything could be seen as meeting the appropriate target, offers consultation but makes it difficult, and sets aspirations few can disagree with. But what does it mean?
The first law of producing communication that stimulates intelligent thought and debate is to make it comprehensible and encourage the audience to actually read/listen etc. This is none of that, given the prevalence of professional communicators in government is this the design I wonder. Is the detail wrung out of it to ensure that it offers an appearance of activity? Whatever it reads to me as meeting standards of bad communication only: any views?

The role of a Prime Minister

Much capital is being made of the fact that a historic treaty is being signed by European Union members today, with elected heads of state all being present at the ceremony: all that is except Gordon Brown. While he has agreed Britain's commitment to the treaty, and refused a referendum on the basis that it does not impact on the British constitution, it is David Miliband as Foreign Secretary who is the signatory. The media, bloggers and Conservative opponents (the latter calling him "gutless" and "indecisive") ask the question of whether this demonstrates an uncertainty in relation to the treaty and some abrogation of responsibility.

What was Brown doing instead, he agreed to appear before the House of Commons liaison committee (the role of which is to consider general matters relating to the work of select committees) discussing all areas of policy before senior British MPs. Topics ranged from public services to police pay to whether Brown was enjoying his new job. My soundbite of the day was that he is "reading newspapers more but enjoying them less", though one does wonder why he reads them more as PM than as Chancellor of the Exchequer or if he enjoyed them more when his colleague and close friend Tony Blair was under a highly critical microscope - but I digress.

It makes me wonder what we expect a PM to do. Should he be signing a treaty or should he be answering the questions of the representatives of the people; given that he was a key figure in negotiations from which the treaty emerged perhaps his signature does not matter as much anymore. Or perhaps as Head of State he should demonstrate his commitment on behalf of the British people and suggest that the liaison committee reschedule of send a delegate to that instead. Its a tricky one, and one that has problems in terms of selling the idea.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Panto Season (weekly)

So it is the last PMQs before Christmas, and amid the great debate on world issues was an interesting (well perhaps) exchange that says a great deal about the nature of political debate in Britian. It was instigated by Vince Cable, perhaps his last action as Liberal Democrat leader:

Cable: "which of the "disasters" would "haunt" Mr Brown the most when he had his "one day off" at Christmas - the election that never was, Northern Rock or the "gross incompetence" of losing 25 million people's personal data"

Brown: "it was "nice" to have had Mr Cable appearing as his party's leader - and "given the history of the Liberal party it might not be long before he is back in that place... the government had made the "right long-term decisions in the interests of the country"

Cable ""Given his own position, the prime minister might not be wise to speculate on leadership elections"

Not verbatim obviously, as Hansard online is not updated that quickly, but pulled from the BBC News report. Amusing and entertaining yes, informative well maybe, engaging - up to you? For me it just needed a squeeky voice in the background shouting "That's the way to do it!"

Merry Christmas from Westminster

I recall last year I did a comparison of the Tory/Labour leader's Christmas cards, this year I was so stunned by the similarity with last year, as well as the similar approaches taken by the leaders that i forgot to include Mr Cameron's. It is, like last year, drawn by a child within his constituency of Witney. It is, like last year, and like Gordon's, not personalised and not party political, unless there are messages within the transport theme or the inclusion of tomatoes is symbolic of errr... something. But what a vast change from the traditional party leader card (as below)

Very regal. My favourite, the one I would most prefer to be sent is that of Vince Cable (below), it just has the right aesthetics for me personally. Though he wont be leader of the Liberal Democrats on Christmas day he had the privilege of choosing the party card, it is quite traditional while also being inclusive (i.e. non-religious) as most of the cards are culturally christmassy as opposed to being religious.

Happy Christmas!!!!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Happy Xmas from Gordon Brown

Blair favoured self promotion on his cards, Brown favours the more subtle and charitable approach. As when he was Chancellor his Christmas card supports a charity, this year Booktrust benefits, and features a group of multi-cultural children. One Labour MP is quoted as commenting: "Good on Gordon for ending the Christmas card cult of personality... Mind you, with the best will in the world, Gordon's brooding image is not necessarily ideal for a season's greetings card." Perhaps this is a careful attempt at image building or just a reflection of Brown's personality, I'm feeling charitable myself so go for the latter!

Cultural Christianity

Conservative MP for The Wrekin, Mark Pritchard, raised fears that Christianity was being marginalised due to political correctness, a trend that was allowing Christian symbols to be appropriated by the British National Party. In response scientist and atheist Professor Richard Dawkins stated he was a "cultural Christian", I wondered really what that meant in modern society.

Well here we are a couple of weeks away from Christmas and what is that event all about? Culturally the modern spirit of Christmas seems better summed up by 1960s satirist Tom Lehrer in his Christmas Carol:
Hark the herald tribune sings,
Advertising wondrous things.
God rest ye merry, merchants,
May you make the yuletide pay.
Angels we have heard on high
Tell us to go out and buy!

There seems to be a greater sense of what Christmas means in our culture within these lyrics that nativity plays or the Bible; that may be wrong but it is the norm. So perhaps Mr Pritchard missed the point when considering it is other religions that undermine the role of religious festivals, more the fact that such festivals have been appropriated by the market.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Is religion unconstitutional?

A debate is ensuing in Germany over whether Scientology, the religion made famous by Tom Cruise, and popularised via Youtube following a somewhat heated exchange between Panorama reporter and a leader of the sect, should be banned. Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble claimed in an article in Bild am Sonntag that the sect is "is an unconstitutional organization... [that] seeks to limit or rescind basic and human rights, such as the right to develop one's personality and the right to be treated equally". As such, according to Schaeuble, it is dangerous. The response has been an intense anti-German propaganda campaign which likens the suggestion of a ban to the treatment of Jews by Nazis, hence it may be unlikely that such a ban will occur. Despite that fact, the debate raises some very interesting questions.

The first is whether this makes all religions unconstitutional in that religion by its nature restricts the individual's responsibility and becomes part of the personality of a believer. While many who are religious may not recognise that description, consider the level of control exerted over followers of Catholicism. Is Christian abstinence associated with Lent, or Ramadan's fasting, restricting individualism? The second is whether a state, by banning any organisation, even restricting their freedom of speech, give that organisation more power due to the perceived state persecution.

But there is also the other side of the argument. Should any organisation, religious, political or otherwise, undermine any aspect of an elected government's position. While there seems to be a paranoic fascination with Scientology within Germany, there are questions about the way that the religion manages to gain influence and support, particularly using Tom Cruise as an advocate and celebrity endorser. It is an interesting issue and the debate reflects that, few national governments may follow the German example, and perhaps it is indicative (as well as perhaps ironic) that it is under a Chancellor of a party with Christian in its title. Is it right or wrong?

Why Politics Matters!

Not that you would know it if you follow the British media but there has been a political crisis in Belgium for almost exactly six months. There is no Belgian government, parties from the French and Flemish regions need to form a coalition but they cannot form an agreement. Stalemate is now the status quo! I was in Belgium on Friday, comments among academics there indicate that there is are questions being asked about why a government is needed at all when the country seems to be running the same as ever.

The problem is that, theoretically, there is no-one in Belgium who is working on behalf of the Belgian people. While the bureaucracy may do what they feel to be best, they have no reason whatsoever to follow public opinion; this does not mean the civil service will not manage the country effectively just that there is the danger that they will do what they think best.

While it may be the case that no-one desires a government driven by opinion polls or focus groups, it may also be the case that we would prefer a government that does worry about what the people think to one that does not have to listen. It would be incredible to imagine not having a government in Britain, there is maybe a belief that everything would stop but it would not, there may be no change at all as many believe governments rarely ever do what the public want. But just taking the inheritance tax as one issue, governments and opposition parties do now and again listen, hence it does matter that we do have a government that represents the people.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

If we keep quiet it will go away - fat chance!

Glancing around the Labour blogging community such as Bloggers4Labour, or the sites of various luminaries, a lot are fairly dead. In fact the 'B4L' site was last updated during the Labour Conference (23rd Sept), Harriet Harman's blog was last used in October, but even the keenest of bloggers, such as Tom Watson, is saying very little about the problems Labour are facing or the potential solutions.

You would kind of think that some would make some form of comment. Perhaps in support of the idea of reforming party funding, making a statement on what could or should be done; perhaps even making comments in support of those implicated and attesting to their honesty. At the very least they could be talking about what is, fundamentally, a flaw at the heart of the democratic process: that parties need cash to fund an election campaign but they cannot always be principled in accepting or rejecting cash and maybe there are unavoidable strings.

But the silence is deathly. Is it too hot a potato? Are they waiting to see which side up the toast falls? Is there an edict 'blog thee not on matters of donations'? Or, perhaps more importantly, should there be more said from within the parties all of whom face a very real problem? It wont go away I feel, so is commenting more damaging than saying nothing, and instead blogging on the 'professional pilot's rumour network', just a thought: some things are better met head on! If you dont talk about it everyone else will and then they have control of the agenda.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Whose popular in the political blogosphere?

Iain Dale did a popularity poll, or actually more of an efficiency poll, asking who out of a list 100 prominent politicians was doing a good job (scores are out of 10). There were 1,256 respondents, among them me, not representative but a healthy number. Here are the top ten, the predominance of Conservatives is not unexpected given Dale's open allegiance, but Vincent Cable as winner???
1. 7.78 Vince Cable
2. 7.44 David Cameron
3. 6.69 George Osborne
4. 6.66 Alex Salmond
5. 6.26 William Hague
6. 6.22 Michael Gove
7. 6.11 David Davis
8. 5.74 Chris Grayling
9. 5.30 Alan Duncan
10. 5.18 Chris Huhne

Given that Cable beats Huhne, while Nick Clegg is in 21st place, is the wrong person the favourite and the best candidate not standing. Maybe he was sticking the boot in effectively given the range of open goals Labour have left for balls to be kicked into.

The bottom five are perhaps expected given the week Labour have had:
92. 2.53 Alistair Darling
93. 2.45 Des Browne
94. 2.41 Gordon Brown
95. 2.25 Douglas Alexander
96. 1.76 Harriet Harman
It would be wonderful to see a similar study rolled out across the nation (Ipsos MORI, YouGov, hint, hint!!!) but unlikely I guess (I'm waiting!!!) fascinating stuff though and one does wonder how closely it maps onto the general mood in the nations.

A new commons?

Following a session on the potential and pitfalls of an online political communication strategy, and in particular encouraging participatory interaction, on of my group forwarded an interesting Facebook message from Mike Rouse. The whole thing is reproduced below, but the idea is a WebCommons, a virtual space where citizens and politicians can interact from which feeds will be transmitted around the subscribing online community. The question is whether this is about connecting politics and the public or about promoting the Conservatives given Mike Rouse's allegiances (which he is quite open about): I note reference to Donorgate and Discgate (but think that can be excused). 18 Doughty Street, a project Rouse has worked on, has a definite air of partiallity at times, will the WebCommons? A question that's all. But it looks interesting, not quite sure why CVs are needed but see the email and sign up if interested. Clearly there is an attempt to get a momentum behing it (see the Youtube vid).

Early Slurge

From WebCommons

Hello WebCommoners!

I thought you might appreciate a little more information about what we are going to do. If you're too busy right now - either poking people or playing Scrabulus - please do come back when you're feeling fighting fit and ready to digest the below...You're going to be a part of something very special - a revolution in how people access information about their elected members throughout the UK.

But, more than just information we're about establishing a two-way process between the elected and the electors, but we're not going to call it "a conversation". Part of the problem with other sites is that they tap into useful information and news, but then have to add their own twist to it, spoon feed it to you, or make you jump through party poltiical hoops to get at it. Then, they wrap it all up in a "conversation" and pretend that they're sewing democracy a new suit.

But, do elected members really have time to sit down and have a two-way "conversation" with somebody over the internet that probably isn't in their constituency? No, they've got better things to be doing with their time, and rightly so. So, what we're going to do is give them a platform that they'll like because it's going to increase their profiles without them having to trawl through masses of comments and data.

For the most part it'll gather the data automagically. For you, the dear old WebCommoner, it's going to provide you with more information and access to your elected member than you could shake a stick at. You'll be able to hear directly from them with our blogging platform and blog aggregator, which will update every five minutes of the day - Imagine the old teleprinter they use on the telly for the football results - It'll be like that. Short. Snappy and too the point. Like a newswire for politics, but open to everybody.

What's more, you'll be able to see all the rising political issues as they develop. Remember "Donorgate" and "Discgate"? For the first time, you will be able to track these issues from the first time they rear their ugly heads until their conclusion - whatever it may be. Well, we hope that none of them result in the collapse of British democracy as that would kinda make us all redundant.

And if that wasn't enough, and oh how we like to spoil you, we're going to develop a daily podcasting service that will be available on the site at an amazing 6am every morning. We'll call it WebCommons Today or something like that and it'll basically tell you what's been happening the day before and forecast the day ahead. It's a bit like the Shipping Forecast for politics. BBC Radio 4 hold on to your hat!

Finally, and this has to be the icing on the cake, we're going to provide an indepth performance tracker in the site, which is going to let you see how the public at large perceive the performance of an elected member. Bit like a stock price for politicians... How much is your MP worth?

The site is not going to work unless we make some pretty hefty relationships with commentators and elected members. We're not just restricting it to Commons Members either. If you're an elected member in any public body in the UK you can bet you'll be on WebCommons. We should have called it WebElectedMembers, but that hasn't really got the same ring to it, has it?

Thanks for tuning in to this rather looooooooong update. Hopefully, you're still concious enough to make the decision as to how involved you'd like to get. If you're really keen, just drop Mike Rouse your CV on and let him know what interests you about politics and what you're up for.

Thanks a gozillion!

WebCommons"Bringing order to chaos"

PS: Share the Page with a friend!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The end of the road

It is notable that an election seems to be creeping back onto the agenda and into the media and public consciousness again and with that the sense that Brown has not got long, or cannot survive too long, and that the next prime minister is to be David Cameron. Even Ian Hislop made that comment on Have I Got News For You. But this talk, particularly if it increases in speculating on the performance of a Cameron led Conservative government, could benefit Brown and Labour.
In 1992 Labour won the campaign but lost the election. One reason was that there was a nervousness about the extent to which Neil Kinnock would perform as prime minister. In other while the opposition leader may be well liked he (or she) may not be perceived as a national leader and their team may not be fully trusted. Thus as we move into next year and if speculation continues, the questions for both Brown and Cameron are:
  1. what do popularity ratings mean, and can they convert to votes?
  2. has Labour lost public confidence completely or is it the economy that determines victory or defeat?
  3. is Cameron perceived as a prime minister, and does the public have confidence in his front bench team?
The answers to these questions should shape the permanent campaign and the election campaign whenever it is held for both the contenders for government.

Who should pay for party campaigns?

Brown said yesterday that trust is eroded very easily, personally I am not sure there is much trust in him left; his solution reform party funding. While it is a move to distract the agenda, it is also clear that something needs to be done to clean up party funding. The problem currently is that individuals are not meant to gain from donating, so why donate? The long history of donations from Ecclestone to Abrahams suggest that there has been a correlation between making a donation and gaining something in return; despite protestations of coincidence, it all seems too convenient for anyone with a cynical (or realist) perspective. The problem then is how to reform funding.

Discussion on capping donations from individuals is not popular. All the parties have big donors, why who knows we can assume only, but without them the party would be in trouble. So it comes down to the idea that public funds should replace private donations; this is not a vote winner! The electorate may expect a glossy and professional election campaign, but deciding to pay for it at the expense of other services or an increase in taxation is a little like turkeys voting for Christmas. As Keith Ewing argues, there is currently an arms race taking place between the parties over who has the best campaign, but this is unsustainable and it is this that needs rethinking as it is the cause of the funding problem.

But there may be another way. Parties have a problem due to the lack of mass membership. Campaigns can be efficient on the ground if there are local activists to work on the behalf of the party and they are willing to produce their own material. Equally a range of direct communication can be utilised to get messages across to the people. The reliance on television and the glossy centralised campaign, while also focusing on the floating voter and not the party loyalist is damaging the link between party and members and reducing the likelihood of activism. While membership funds may not pay for flashy HQs a simpler model of campaign communication, with more control in the hands of local parties and activists, may just make politics more about people than about winning power. Or am I just a little too idealistic?

Bottom line; is professional flashy, glossy or just what will work best for the money available?