Monday, July 30, 2007

deeply profound or deeply wacky?

There has been much said about the direction political advertising is going, on the whole negativity seems to have been favourite over recent campaigns with one estimate suggesting 48% of all advertising in the UK 2005 general election was an attack. The US has of course led the way with negativity, and it is argued to work though the effects can be negative on the creator, the political system as well as on the candidate under attack.

However it seems one candidate is taking an alternative route. Mike Gravel, a left-wing Democrat appears to be trying to say a great deal by saying nothing (in the below ad named 'Rock')

and almost purely using symbolism in the Youtube video 'Fire' (below). Too clever by half or a refreshingly alertnative way of getting a message across?

He is not seen as a serious contender, perhaps the ad style is symbolic of this alone or his standing is symptomatic of his rather wacky approach. It may be interesting to see this replicated.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Too Liberal

Three Bideford Liberal Democrat Councillors have become Independents in a protest over their colleague Myrna Bushell being allowed to continue as a party member and councillor while also working as a stripper and kissogram. The result is that they have come under fire for being illiberal and small minded. Ms Bushell, who performs under the pseudonym Jessica (pictured left), says her work is "not incompatible with working as a Councillor"; of course the media have focused on her offers as a stripper not a representative of the people: The Daily Mail has extensive coverage and reports

"beneath several saucy photographs a price list says a kissogram is £85, stripogram (lingerie and strip) £95, topless strip stripogram £110, stripogram (full or g-string strip £125 or Strip Show (2x strips with a change of costume) £160."

One does wonder what the voters think, do they share the view of many who have posted comments on various news sites that it does not matter and there is at least a sense of honesty about 'Jessica'? Or do they feel that someone who works in the sex trade, if only on the periphery, cannot represent anyone else? Independent of her own party politics, this does suggest she is not privileged, is in touch with the ordinary person, and perhaps has a better understanding of ordinary life than many politicians are perceived to have.

Friday, July 27, 2007

You are who you eat [with]!

Barack Obama's latest way of connecting with ordinary voters is to have dinner with them. In promoting the events, which are for anyone who donates $5 or more to the Obama campaign fund, and those who wish for the chance to attend just need to sign up for the opportunity, Obama's email argues: "At a time when Washington lobbyists and special interests are poisoning our politics with their influence, Barack Obama wants to sit down with you and hear what’s on your mind".

The response to the release of the first video of the event is said to be highly positive. Tim of Chehalis, one of the guests at the first 'dinner', is reported as saying "This is one of the coolest events I've ever witnessed. Ordinary citizens are never afforded this kind of opportunity -- to sit down with someone who might be the leader of the free world and have the opportunity to discuss policies and issues". While only a few may have the opportunity, such effects can start a ripple across voters, building a highly positive perception of the type of leader Obama may be. His position in the polls may also well have a strong influence on his party when they select their nominee, so doubly effective.

There is a striking contrast. While perhaps a little irrelevant now, Blair's dinner guests present a less positive image of politics and politicians in the UK. After several demands for the guest list to be published by Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, it is revealed that guests included singer and gossip column star Charlotte Church and her boyfriend, rugby player Gavin Henson. Also we have TV presenters Vernon Kaye, June Sarpong, Lorraine Kelly and Richard Madeley; journalists David Aaronovitch, Adrian Chiles and Jane Garvey.

Why this was kept secret is perhaps because of the cost of all of this schmoozing, particularly as it suggests the UK Prime Minister was fairly starstruck and after being knocked for entertaining celebrities during the 'Cool Britannia' phase in the late 1990s, carried on with a circle of celebrities. Maybe he was picking up tips for his performances. Perhaps if Blair had, and Brown or Cameron in the future, picks up a few tips from Obama there may be less of a sense of politicians living in their own little world and not understanding the real people.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The real winner?

By-elections are usually fairly well hyped, by the parties as endorsements and by the media as indicative of trends. The two recent UK by-elections were largely unsurprising in their results but worthy of some comment.

The first point to make is that the votes in actual numbers for virtually all the parties fell, as did the turnout, as compared to the 2005 General Election. In percentage terms the Liberal Democrats could claim some comfort, but their votes did not increase substantially; thus the question is do they have around 4,000 loyal supporters that will always turn out and vote or did they gain a raft of new voters? The Conservatives similarly lost out, but not badly, but equally it is a question whether they have a hard core of voters that turnout come rain or shine or if Cameron, or Robb and Lit the candidates gained new supporters.

Labour seriously lost out. But is this a feature of vote switching or the low turnout? As both are deemed safe Labour seats there must be a sense of 'low self-efficacy' or powerlessness when voting. Equally why bother turning out to vote if the result is predictable. In Sedgefield there is also the non-Blair effect. Whether he is nationally hated or not, the media could always find people in Sedgefield that would speak positively about him; his successor could not offer the same prominence.

And there are worrying features. In Sedgefield the British National Party came a respectable fourth with 2,492 votes, 9% of the turnout.

But can these offer any indications in reality. The answer is probably not. If turnout increases for a General Election then normal service in these seats will probably resume. Safe seats will show some variations, but nothing that will effect the overall result. If we have a marginal by-election that may be a little more indicative, but still by-elections are a strange and unrepresentative beast that are given a lot of attention by parties and the media but fail to attract the interest of voters: such is the strange system we try to make sense of.

Happy holidays!!!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Who gives a flying [fig]

Those familiar with the hallowed halls of Bournemouth University Media School will know we have TV screens almost everywhere, every time I have walked passed one today it has shown a nervous looking Jacqui Smith (Home Secretary) talking about the fact that she once smoked cannabis while at University. Shock, horror, gasp, quick expose her to the public disdain and call for her to be stoned (again allegedly).

Is it just me that finds this a non-news story. Students, like all young people, which we all were once (I think I can just about remember being young, lots of times in fact) get drunk, do daft things, sample stuff and on the whole survive the experience to live long and fulfilling lives. This is not to say go and do drugs it is fine, that is not always the case as we know, but is it really appropriate to demonise a politician who once smoked a joint, and make it a front page story that dominates rolling news. If a Home Secretary is mainlining heroin at the desk, or indeed surviving the stress of the day with a spliff and a 'hash' brownie, then fine maybe there is a problem, a toke of a joint at 18 is not exactly suggestive of someone unfit for the role given to her by Gordon Brown. The BBC make the link in the following way: "Jacqui Smith has admitted she smoked cannabis while she was at Oxford University in the 1980s. Her disclosure came the day after Prime Minister Gordon Brown said she would head a review of UK drugs strategy - including reviewing the cannabis laws". They make no moral claim on the basis of this link, but what view are they expecting the viewer or reader to take one need ask?

This all fits within a much larger question about our politicians. Do we want people of high moral fibre, with clean records, immaculate lives, no skeletons in the closet however small, no past; or do we want normal people who have lived. Perhaps the BBC should do a survey of journalists. lawyers, police officers (anyone involved in commenting on and enforcing drug law reforms) and enquire how many of them have taken some illegal substance at some point in their lives, at least that way we would gain some balance on the issue. I don't care if the laws are relaxed, I also don't really care if people are smoking cannabis providing they don't try to drive afterwards, I do feel that making such a huge story out of it is a crime against serious journalism.

That is my rant for July, I don't do many but i enjoyed it, it was a cathartic experience, I can now relax and wait for those by-election results.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Having the reverse effect

Youtube is predominantly a site used by young people, or at least this is the perception. Politicians who use Youtube certainly want to portray themselves as being younger, or at least cool and in-touch; it also gives them the chance to reach out to young voters. But there are risks when anyone can comment on your video. Australian Prime Minister John Howard seems to have passed his sell by date, the youthfulness of leaders has been a feature of Australian elections previously; thus at almost 68 Youtube allows Howard the chance to shake off a few years in the eyes of voters. Hence he, or a misguided member of his staff, felt it a good idea that he used Youtube to talk about an issue important to young people: the environment

It is a typical talking head shot, a little wooden and perhaps indicative of why Howard prefers talk radio. Searching for it one finds several user generated rebuttals, such as this! Also it elicited several negative remarks such as "what a shit politician" or "Hey, Nice Name JohnHoward2007, I'm guessing 'Bush's Bitch' was taken ??? Nice to see you put the year in your username, as it is is quite significant seeing it'll mark your governments last year in power ". These types of remarks also drove instantly negative media coverage as the whole initiative was deemed a failure. It also means that he is side by side with some seriously prejudicial material, the below shows him being mocked in parliament under the caption "John Howard is a Farting Fossil Fool'
This highlights the dangers of attempting to jump on the social media bandwagon with no real understanding of the environment. Maybe it was a last ditch attempt to change his image, done in the spirit of things cannot get worse. Or maybe actually someone thought this was a good idea. The problem is the lack of strategic thinking and cost-benefit analysis. Anyone can post stuff to Youtube, a lot probably goes unnoticed; but if you are in the public eye there is a risk. If you are in the public eye and disliked by the users of Youtube, the risks are huge.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Consulting Conservatives

An email went around yesterday from David Cameron, this announced the launch of Stand Up, Speak Up "an online platform for everyone in the country to get involved in shaping the next Conservative manifesto... Politics is about giving a lead, and we have set out a clear direction for our country: more green, more local, more family-friendly - less arrogant about what politicians can do on their own, and more optimistic about what we can achieve if we all work together. That's why it matters so much to me that we ask for your views in helping to shape our election manifesto.... [BUT!!!] As I made clear at the start of this process, those recommendations do not automatically become Conservative policy. There will be some proposals we do not agree with. In some areas, hard choices will have to be made between competing priorities. And of course, we will only commit to policies that Britain can afford."

The site intro focuses on the 'Fixing Our Broken Society' agenda and includes a negative broadcast detailing the failures of Blair and Brown; whether or not that is a good thing is open to debate. But the site then draws the visitor to view policy documents, just follow the 'Join the Policy Debate' link, well download PDFs anyway - the offering is either the 5 minute, 15 minute or hour version. Perhaps to be more interactive on substance key ideas should be on the page itself but the information is there listing the problems policy wonks have identified.

The next stage is to vote or debate. Voting is a pretty simplistic affair, you can say which is most important and from a list of six three can be selected - so personal debt, educational failure [not loaded at all], family breakdown, voluntary sector, economic dependency or addiction. Well it is a list certainly. But the debate is the more interesting section. Each of the categories has a debating area with a list of topics, some generating a lot of comment. For example the section on tax credits for married couples gained 70 comments in two days (15th & 16th July). Response from the Conservatives is promised. Site Editor, Stephen Crabb MP, using the title 'Social Justice Champion', promises: "I’ll be watching the voting, reading your comments and giving my feedback on a regular basis". As an extra, contributors can sign up for the chance to win one of five places to debate policy with David Cameron himself, though signing up is by taking part in all the stages of the read, vote, debate process - so selected due to their views perhaps.

But what is the function of this. Well it certainly appears to offer any visitor who wishes to register the chance to contribute to policy development. The caveat in the Cameron email is honest and sensible, though how all the comments will be aggregated is less than clear. The fear if there is a direct link to policy though is the notion of tyranny exacted by the minority who choose to take part, and the party must be aware of this so to what extent can they use the comments. Alternatively is this simply an exercise in gathering supportive comments that they can they quote back to demonstrate there is public support for a policy. Hard to say, but that makes far more sense than trying to use these comments for design purposes.

If this is the purpose, it is all about creating social acceptance around their policy proposals. A politician saying that we should encourage marriage, that schools are failing or whatever may well be mistrusted. The public saying it can make people who have no personal knowledge more likely to agree. A politician publicly launching a consultation exercise, allowing it to run, then quoting from contributions to reinforce ideas already in their PDFs, is suggesting that there is some sense of co-production taking place [shared ownership of ideas] but really it is a process of leading people to think a certain way through the careful detailing of the recommendations presented in their report and how they were reached.

Clearly if a policy is universally criticised it will probably disappear from the manifesto but on the whole it appears that just like Labour's Big Conversation, unless visitors have detailed experience or knowledge, comments will largely be simple gut reactions driven by ideological reactions to the proposals. It may offer a sense of what the nation thinks but it is questionable as to whether any real debate will take place and hard to see how it could inform policy design. But it equally may not matter, appearance may be sufficient!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Dirty Politics

There are two by-elections to be resolved this week, Ealing and Southall following the death of Piara Khabra, and Sedgefield due to the resignation of Tony Blair. Both, it appears are becoming increasingly dirty affairs where the ideals of democracy and representation seem far from the minds of the candidates.

Ealing and Southall has seen councillors defecting from Labour to the Conservatives on the grounds of not being selected to be candidate; this indicates little ideological attachment to a party but rather a desire for power independent of the party. The Conservative candidate Tony Lit is not standing as a party candidate bunt under the moniker of 'Cameron's Conservatives', strange in itself. But over the weekend it was revealed that, representing Radio Sunrise, he attended a Blair fundraiser and there is an embarrassing photo (below) to prove it. Local Labour supporters have made great capital of the fact and so branded all the Conservatives turncoats. One can only wonder what the local voters are thinking about those people who seek to offer them representation.

Sedgefield is not much better. The Liberal Democrats decided to launch their campaign on Trimdon Green opposite the Labour office, not provocative at all. Labour supporters turned up to spoil the event, chaos ensues, and all is filmed and posted to Youtube [see below]. This looks like a cross between a home movie and a party election broadcast that puts both parties in a fairly bad light. The Liberal Democrats reportedly tried to corner the Labour candidate with camera again to produce a sequel but Labour were wiser on this occasion and avoided taking the bait.

The only positive campaign seems to be that of Graham Robb. He has been trying to engage local voters but the name Conservative appears to be sufficient to turn them away from him. But the positive tone of his blog from his MySpace page is actually quite a refreshing oasis in a desert of dirty politics. Given comments like "Labour have held this area for years and they have taken the voters for granted and done nothing at all." made publicly by local voters on the service received under Blair, and the disgust expressed by those commenting on Youtube, Robb could be expected to do well. But it seems unlikely, his eight friends on MySpace, none of whom are potential voters, indicates a lack of momentum and interest. Predictions are pitiful turnouts and Labour wins; a real triumph of democracy.

And this is perhaps the main loser here. When politics is carried out in this way how can trust and engagement be built? If the parties were squabbling about who would do the best job for the people of the area it would be understandable and perhaps would make voters think about their choice. When Labour pretend to be Newcastle fans when breaking up the Liberal Democrat launch, and attack the candidate only on the basis of him being from Newcastle and so not local to the Sedgefield constituency boundary, it suggests pretty weak politics. Equally when candidates appear to drift between parties, seeking the power and influence that comes with the title MP, it puts politics in a bad light and reinforces negative connotations. Thus politics becomes soap opera and voters become an audience, it may have always been this way but in an age when anything can be broadcast to everyone in seconds such behaviour does seem inappropriate and demonstrating little voter efficacy.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Obama: 'share your outrage'

Obama has made a call to his supporters to 'share [their] outrage' at George W's spinning on the Iraq report and the media complicity in not offering a critical perspective. His call is for supporters to write Letters to the Editor.

I often, and perhaps mistakenly, regard letters to the editor in the UK newspapers as rants from the politically engaged. If this is going around is network then newspapers could find themselves deluged, that is if only a quarter or so reply. Will they get published, obviously not, but they may indicate the strength of feeling on the issue. So, theoretically, this could be a powerful tool for changing the media agenda but it depends on whether Obama can mobilise the public; this could be a test for him!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Defining Satisfactory

George W Bush, commenting on the interim report on progress in Iraq, a report demanded by an increasingly hostile Congress, claimed that "Iraq has made satisfactory progress towards meeting eight targets, but has not done so regarding another eight". That progress appears to be that the Iraqi government has managed to pass a series of laws but has not managed to actually gain control of the state; so satisfactory progress is open to a degree of interpretation here. As Bush himself points out:
"Those who believe that the battle in Iraq is lost will likely point to the unsatisfactory performance on some of the political benchmarks. Those of us who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism,"
How true. Fox News' headline reads "Progress on Iraq: Officials say 8 out of 18 Benchmarks met". CBS, on a different tack, reads "Bush Optimistic Despite Mixed Report". More dispassionately NBC reports "Bush sees ‘cause for optimism’ in Iraq: White House report cites success on 8 goals, failure on 8, mixed effort on 2". No bias here then!

Being nicey-nice earns no credit

Well that was the philosophy of Richard Nixon, and while many have suggested he won in 1972 using underhanded tactics, documents released today prove this was the case. So what sort of tactics are we talking here? When dealing with opponents, Nixon's rule was 'hit them and hit them hard', in the spirit of this, an AP report claims he "tried to tie Democrats [George McGovern and running mate Sargent Shriver] to the mob, gay liberation and even slavery". While it seems an unlikely cocktail of crimes, Nixon's plan seemed to be to undermine them on different levels via different media.

McGovern, now 85, commented that this offered “another example of how the Nixon administration drifted away from both common sense and decency.” But I wonder. Negativity is now the mainstay of political campaigns, the difference is that the messages are screamed at voters via television advertisements as opposed to being surreptitiously placed into the newspaper's gossip columns. Nixon may have been typically underhand in his methods, but was he an aberration or the forefather of modern US political campaigning?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dirty Linen!

Tom Watson, Labour whip and Labour’s campaign director in Southall, has said: “Southall is the spiritual home of British Sikhism and they are Labour. For them to go to the Tories would be like going to a South Yorkshire coal mining areas in the 1980s and think they are going to vote for Mrs Thatcher.” Yet it seems he has not spoken to the local party. Southall Labour councillor who recently defect to the Conservatives Gurcharan Singh, who resigned on the basis that he had been refused a place on final candidate shortlist has reprotedly told The Times: “I don’t think the Labour Party is ready yet to have a turban-wearing Sikh as an MP.” This may be sour grapes, Mr Singh may be accused of playing the race card, or it may be true. Contributions on Labourhome tell an interesting story.

Swatantra comments: "the Singh's are acting like prima donnas. The white community must be laughing up their sleeves. Yet gain the Asian community has split along communal lines, and shown itself not fit to run a whelk stall. And its not the first time we've had this kind of behaviour from the Sikhs. Somebody tell me, why do we bother plugging away at community cohesion? Its the politics of the sub-continent on the streets of Southall." Very politically correct!

Without being drawn in to the comments on the situation in Ealing and Southall (I do like this post though) what it does show is that the Internet facilitates the off the cuff remark and perhaps ill-chosen comment to be instantly published in the most public of formats. If this was ConservativeHome there may well have been screams of racism (as Dizzy points out), at the very least it increases the hostility between factions. Whatever the foundation for the disaffection and subsequent defections, and however long they have been brewing, the Internet allows the back biting to be done in public and this gives a bad impression of both the party and all individuals involved.

Thus we see the risks of the open forum for parties! So is the web always the answer to the engagement question?

BTW: the picture is the Ealing Borough Coat of Arms - I publish that with a full sense of the irony there!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Clear dividing lines redefined?

When David Cameron offered to the electorate clear dividing lines between his party and a Labour Party led by Gordon Brown there were two key statements that suggested a Conservative government would not interfere in the lives of the people. Instead Cameron's "government [would be one] that actually wants to trust people and work with people rather than tell them what to do". Perhaps this would have offered clear blue water between the Labour approach, but is this still the approach the Conservatives believe to be tenable?

Iain Duncan-Smith's proposals, outlined in The Sunday Telegraph and detailed on the Poverty Debate website, which allows comments, uses similar language: "This report sets out to show how we need to help strengthen the welfare society. By that I mean the families and communities working together to give their children a real start in life, with a decent education and clear standards to guide them." But is not incentivising marriage government offering a loaded choice and not trusting people and workign with them but calling for compliance with a carrot rather than a stick. So is that the clear divide? Or is an element of inconsistency creeping in here? Shoudl the debate be broadened to the extent to which a vision of society should be prescriptive and on whose values? And the really interesting question, are those who have entered into civil partnerships eligible for the tax break?

Why Obama is winning in the donation stakes?

Highly negative, unofficial but the most viewed political ad on Youtube

Naueasting maybe, catchy yes, but can 2 million viewers be unaffected?

Old News & Non-News

While the big story of the last two days has been the sentencing of the 21/7 failed bombers, Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell has certainly stolen the limelight. Despite most media outlets agreeing that the most revealing bits are those that are glaringly absent, the bones of each entry are being picked over for tit-bits that inform us of the machinations between Brown and Blair.

What do we learn? Well given Campbell's colourful references to journalists and politicians he is a lot closer in character to The Thick Of It's Malcolm Tucker that most perhaps hoped. That the Blair machine was often running a seat of the pants, pragmatic and ready at panic stations media operation; obsessed with getting the right coverage and the image thing. But perhaps relations within the government were no different to disagreements within the cabinets of Wilson or Thatcher, all of which gained media attention and have subsequently emerged in various, perhaps more revealing, insider accounts.

The great irony about the story is that many newspaper columnists and broadcasters are happy to accept there is little that is new or revealing, but they then give it huge amounts of airtime and column inches. The only winner from this is Campbell himself. While it may not be damaging to the government specifically, it is more fuel to the mistrust and cynicism that abounds when the masses thinking of politicians and political communication.

The Conservatives, according to the Independent, have "issued a statement including 15 extracts they said showed Mr Brown in an unfavourable light", I tried to find it and failed! Will it have any impact, no more than the Panorama show that detailed Brown's use of spin I imagine.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Let me out of here, I don't wanna be PM!

I wondered whether Campbell's well-hyped diaries may be an attack on Brown, given that Campbell seemed to be anti-Brown accordign to various press accounts and the less than shockign revelations offered by Lance Price. However, in the event, he has painted over the relationship so as not to give Cameron's Conservatives ammunition; thus what he does not say is perhaps as revealign as what he does: the last piece of spin do we think?

One lovely story though is reported by the BBC to suggest Brown swapped the roel of leader in exchange for beign freed from a toilet.

Mr Brown and Mr Blair met at a friend's house in Edinburgh shortly after the death of the Labour leader John Smith. They were discussing who should replace him. The diaries, which refer to Mr Blair as TB and Mr Brown as GB, say: "TB was clear he should stand because he felt that was the best chance for the party, but GB was not convinced. At one point, GB went to the toilet. Minutes passed and TB was sitting twiddling his thumbs and even wondered if GB had done a runner. Eventually the phone went. TB left it, so then the answering machine kicked in and GB's disembodied voice came on: 'Tony. It's Gordon. I'm locked in the toilet.' They both ended up laughing about it. TB went upstairs and said: 'You're staying there until you agree.' " The two men later made a deal at a London restaurant, Granita, where Mr Brown agreed to step aside to give Mr Blair a clear run at the Labour leadership.

So are we expected to believe that this was the basis upon which Brown stepped aside?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

You may mock, but...

There is an entire website dedicated to comparing Bush's facial expressions to those of our close relative the chimpanzee. Just like many other representations of Bush it is not flattering, on most pictures the chimp does look that little bit more intelligent. The incredible thing is that, despite the negativity, George W has until recently retained reasonably high approval rates and retains his regular guy image; so there are limits to the impact of popular culture and user-generated content on politician's image perhaps.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Wanted: Pristine Politics

Jamaican politics, and election in particular, have witnessed a significant amount of problems. Corruption is said to be rife and the democratic process questionable. The Jamaica Gleaner, reflecting on the history, has put a call out to the parties and candidates to follow certain standards for the 2007 election, expected to be called on Sunday; those standards include:

  • We are, of course, reasonably assured that the outcome of the voting will, by and large, reflect the people's choice. We have a democracy that functions relatively decently. But a process that is relatively decent is not good enough for us. We want it to be pristine. After all, elections are not blood sport. Rather, they are processes by which people exercise their franchise to choose a group of people in whom they can repose their trust to manage the affairs of the country for a particular period.
  • Political leaders have a responsibility not only to make statements but to act in accord with these declared values. Put another way, we expect any candidate from any party who breaches the codes presumed by democratic competitiveness to be exposed, severely censured and even ditched by their leaders.
  • Second, we expect the remainder of the campaign to be substantially about ideas and specific programmes, rather than vapid and trite declarations or feel-good fun sessions.
  • That those who offer themselves as candidates begin to speak with clarity and outline specifics, rather than offering platitudes and promises that are undeliverable. In other words, we hope for a process that is honest and truthful, with declarations of specific goals, with timetables for achievements and actions to be taken in the event of failure.

Reading these ideals makes me wonder why such standards are not demanded more broadly, can we say that, in the UK, the USA or across the EU, Australasia, or any democracy for that matter, such standards are met? It is hard to say yes isn't it? Is the fact that we cannot say yes, these are central to our understanding of an election campaign, the reason that many disengage from campaigns, show a disinterest in electoral politics, or mistrust those who claim to represent us. There's a thought for the weekend!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

It's not fair!!! We're anti-war too

In his role as campaign prop, former US President Bill Clinton has been complaining “it’s just not fair” the way his wife and nomination hopeful Hillary Clinton, is being depicted for her controversial Iraq war vote. He argued that: “It’s just not fair to say that people who voted for the resolution wanted war.” His problem is that Obama has taken ownership of the anti-war stance, becoming "the raging hero of the anti-war crowd on the Internet" according to Bill Clinton: for analysis see more from Chris Matthews below.

The problem, it is argued, is that the war is a clear wedge issue and Obama's consistent line has earned respect while Hilary Clinton has been accused of back-pedalling and, the ultimate crime, flip-flopping (the accusation that dogged, and became synonymous with, John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign). And that is perhaps the problem here, will this be something her opponent will use against her if she becomes the Democrat nominee and if that fear is widespread among Democrats will this increase support for Obama?

Yes I inhaled, that's the point

The clip from US TV is fascinating comparatively. While British politicians have been almost hounded from office for hints that they may have tried illegal substances, US Democrats are more than willing to admit trying drugs, Barack Obama in particularly. The piece argues two pints, one that it gives the impression of authenticity, being normal and real. This is argued to be a dog-whistle suggestion, heard only by the young that expect a normal person to fit into certain characteristics. Secondly it closes down debate and speculation, though perhaps David Cameron wanted to keep the mystique going for some reason. What will be admitted come the next election, or the one after, or will anyone need to speculate about anyone's behaviour when they were younger when most of it will be listed within the profile history on Facebook?

When the media calls time...

Due to the focus of much of the literature on media and politics, and generally the news that filters to us, we often think that the media-politics vicious cycle is a US-UK phenomenon. This vicious cycle finds what Steven Barnett referred to as Rottweiler journalism, which describes those like Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman who bombard their 'prey', usually a politician, with questions they are reluctant to answer. We also find the conflation by the media between entertaining and informing [infotainment]. These encourage politicians and their spin doctors to hide facts that show them in a negative light and offer news packaged in an entertaining way in order to gain positive coverage and lead the agenda. But this is not simply an isolated feature.

In the run-up to the Japanese General Election for the Upper House (House of Councillors), 29th July, the current defense minister, Fumio Kyuma, remarked that the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were "something that couldn't be helped". This was said in the context of the US wanted to end the war before the Soviet Union occupied Japan and expanded its sphere of influence into the Pacific Ocean, but that was not how the media reported his comment.

Kyuma was forced to resign as the media condemned him for justifying the US attack, being insensitive to those families still suffering the effects of the radiation and fallout, and it is argued that it could bring down the Liberal coalition government already in trouble over Japan's the Social Insurance Agency's bungled maintenance of premium payment records. Comments from a colleague who is an expert in the area suggest that the media have decided that the coalition should lose and is dredging up negative stories wherever they can be found. The Kyuma crisis comes as the Social Insurance problem was becoming a non-story and public attention was shifting. So it is not just the UK press that gang up on a government they feel is either going to, or should, lose.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Can rhetoric win the nomination?

Barack Obama is in triumphalist mood this week. In an email sent round his supporters he claims:

"The most extraordinary and deeply humbling result is the people -- more than 258,0000 of you -- who have taken ownership of this campaign. A number that big is a thunderclap over the political process. It means our campaign has more supporters than any campaign in history at this point in an election, and it’s a wake-up call to our current politics. It means ordinary people are coming together in unprecedented numbers to take back their government. It means you are defying the pundits and Washington insiders, rejecting their cynicism and negativity, and embracing the hope that we can change things for the better. It means we are building a movement so big, so deep, and so personal that our collective voice is undeniable."

Rhetorical certainly, bravado to an extent, motivational speak definitely. But perhaps the words are not empty as Obama has raised $10 million more than Hilary Clinton and is perhaps pushing their campaign towards a more negative tone according to one Iowa press report. Bill Clinton, the man tasked with telling his wife's story during her campaign, declared her: "the best qualified non-incumbent I have ever had a chance to vote for president" but avoided making any criticisms of his wife's opponents saying he liked them all.

I guess the question is will Obama's triumphalism act as a bandwagon that will propel him into the run-off or will Hilary Clinton's claim to be the "best qualified and experienced person" win the day. As Obama's campaign has developed it seems to have adopted an almost evangelical style as opposed to the serious issue based campaign of Clinton; the big question is, if it is a straight fight between the two, which style will be seen as most attractive among Democrats and which will be seen as the best to compete against the Republican nominee which seems to be former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani or John McCain (all of whom are underdogs in a straight fight against Obama according to one poll. Guess the big question first is what sort of leader the parties want and then the same question will be turned over to the American people.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A bit shell-shocked

The BBC's Nick Assinder offers a review of Jacqui Smith's first week in office as Home Secretary, one in which the threat of terrorist attacks again raised its ugly head. He is very complementary: "Ms Smith's approach was entirely different [to predecessors], offering instead that calm, considered approach which is likely to maximise the cross-party support for any future changes she may propose". The BBC really need to get a different picture of the Home Sec though, the one they use does not suggest calm and considered, more shocked and confused.

Anyone for Tiffin?

Reaching out New Zealand style, apart from tea it is not clear what you get for your $12, or if this is a one off, but it is one way of achieving the two key tasks of electioneering: raising funds and interacting with voters. If this is a fairly regular event Key may be able to get round most of NZ by the time of the 2008 General Election and a significant number of people, if not actually then by Word of Mouth, may feel they have met him and know him a little better.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Social Network for sale, £1000 each

There are six MySpace pages claiming to be Tony Blair's, see this one for example. They are all fakes, but Peter Hain's in genuine, well one out of the three is, as are those of a number of politicians here, on Facebook, Bebo etc. But are they really the politician?

The purpose of setting up a social networking site is to offer an insight into the real person behind the political persona; to be something other than the woman or man who is fielding Paxman's questions or delivering the party line on the News, Question Time or whatever. The idea is that the person becomes authentic in the eyes of those who interact with their pages.

Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC Technology Correspondent, uncovers an interesting insight into the use of social networking, quoting a friend he writes: "I met somebody the other day who told me that online networking was so important, and he didn't have the time, he was paying somebody to be him online. To blog, network, post etc . £1,000 a month too... Apparently it's a new occupation which he reckons already numbers hundreds of people, paid to be other people!"

This is no major surprise, after all we can imagine that the more high profile the public figure the less time they have, ergo the more likely they are to have staff to update their blogs, write on people's walls and update their profiles. The problem is that you expect that there would be some instruction on what to write, that it would not be situation where the supposed individual was totally detached from their network.

One can imagine that PR and Advertising agencies will begin to add this as a service, next we know there will be virtually identical profiles appearing where every politician has a pet, is family oriented, cares about the constituency, has the Arctic Monkeys on their Ipod, watches Lost while having a vision of a better society; or has this already happened

Has Brown sold change?

The message the new prime minister has been hammering home is change, that he will be different to his predecessor is the perception he wants us all to possess of his style of leadership. This is a difficult task given his centrality to the Blair government over the last ten years, and doubled by the fact that the media has focused on the change narrative and taken many opportunities to suggest there is little evidence that Brown would be different to Blair. But none of that matters if the public do buy it.

An ICM poll suggests that to an extent they have. The baseline is that 13% think there will a big change for the better, 26% a small change for the better, 40% no real change, while only 15% suggest a change for the worse. More interesting is the distribution across groups. Brown seems to have won over slightly more women than men, a key voting group. But the magical middle England C1 C2 social classes are not as convinced, in fact it is the ABs and DEs that he seems to have convinced to the greatest degree. This may be reflected in the fact that most support comes from those who voted Labour in 2005, the figures suggest that he is in a good position to regain the support of the traditional Labour supporter and head off a Liberal Democrat challenge from the left, but Conservatives are unconvinced. Again looking at the regions, the North is more convinced that there will be change for the better than the South.

So has the hype had much effect? It is hard to tell. The poll seems to have asked a very narrow question, but looking at this and other polls it seems voters are giving Gordon the benefit of the doubt but with a healthy amount of scepticism. The news is peppered with evidence of change: his more moderate tone on security after the weekends' failed terrorist attacks, discussion of re-empowering MPs, so he could convince many more between now and the next election. I would suggest this will be the key predictor for when it is called, if his approval is maintained and he is perceived as quantitatively different then he will seek an early mandate but Douglas Alexander will be watching these polls with interest and assessing how to keep the momentum up.