Friday, December 19, 2008

Are we missing something?

There is a debate, possibly dead for a while, but due to re-emerge if the Conservatives hold firm to the policy, of whether police chiefs should be directly elected by the public. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has canned the idea as it may politicise the police force, the Conservatives claim this is due to the Labour government's reluctance to give up control; but I wondered why should an election politicise the police. Keith Vaz suggests it may give control of the police over to far right groups; but why? Here is my reason for wondering. While we may associate elections with parties and their leaders, that is only political elections. There are a range of elections, student union, trade unions etc, where there may be ideological differences between candidates but these are not shaped on party lines. If an election is run that excludes parties and is outside of party politics would this mean politicisation? Surely many elections are decided simply on who is the best person for the job, one wonders if ideology or personality is key in contests such as that for US President. At a more minor level, student union elections are based on popularity to some extent but also on key qualities for a post; at Bournemouth the communications officer is nearly always from a communication or public relations degree suggesting qualifications are important. So why should anyone question the platforms on which candidates for police chief would stand, would they not promote their record, their vision for a community, offer to redress imbalances, reinforce their role as caring for the community and how they will be accountable? Perhaps if party was less of a factor, and voters were encouraged to think more about who would be a good representative as opposed to how to use a vote tactically to ensure X does not get in (the popular tactic in marginal constituencies) then more people would actually engage in voting. And here is the key thing. Of course no-one would want a police chief to be elected by 20-30% of those they are accountable to; though we seem to accept it as a fait accompli for government. But if people feel their vote counts, that they are motivated to engage in the contest and become attached to candidates then they are far more likely to vote. So there could well result in a non-political, highly engaging contest taking place and voters participating on the basis of trying to get the best person for the job installed. Would that not be the ideal of democracy? If it is, what is the problem?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A bit strong, or striking the right chord?

Politicians are often quite measured in their language, particularly criticisms of opponents. However, the battle between Cameron and Brown is one that seems to be not simply political but also personal; or at least that seems to be the perception both leaders (Cameron in particular) want to offer. While it would appear that getting everyone, including single parents, back to work would work well with Conservative voters, it is Cameron that has emerged as the chief opponent to the plan. And interestingly he is defending the family in his attack on the 'macho... sick' Brown. Well that is the way much of the media report his quote, but in saying that "I think this is all some kind of macho positioning exercise, in which case I think it is pretty sick", in further questioning the thinking by saying "``I don't know whether James Purnell is just trying to be tough or if he genuinely thinks it is OK to force mothers of young children to go to work. Either way, I think this is a shameful proposal." and concluding his comments on the subject with a overall criticism that "These, I believe, are all signs of a Government that has been in power for too long", he is setting out his stall as against anything the government has to offer. This could be dangerous if they have to adopt government policy if they do win the next election, equally it could strike the wrong note among party loyalists; however the strategy is to be anything but Labour and make criticisms link with observations about being out of touch and 'in government for too long'. The time for a change (for the better) may well be the key message for the next election campaign, and Cameron is positioning himself as diametrically opposed to anything Brown's team can offer.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Foil or Fool

When mixing with celebrities, and especially comedians, politicians tend to come off quite badly. They look foolish for trying to be cool and funny as well, or just become the foil for a joke they do not always look like they understand. Not sure which is the case here, aside from whether Walliams should have turned up and confused the children who attended the Treasury's charity party as his 'ladyee'. Darling had the guts to play along with the engagement and laugh it all off, which does take nerve when the cameras are on you and there are a bunch of kids demanding to know if they are married and why the ladyee has a beard.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The simple message didn't win the day

There has been a lot of campaigning around the Manchester Congestion Charge which was decided by referendum today. The result was a no, turnout was fairly high for such a vote (53% with just over a million participating), but it is argued that it was the cost implications that swayed the vote. The Yes campaign run by Labour supplemented the usual techniques with a very flashy and professional online film "produced this to replace the traditional campaign leaflet... aimed at the student/young professional audience and is hopefully engaging/sharable whilst not being too party political".

The film gained 184,806 views by the time of the announcement as well as a lot of, predominantly hostile it has to be said, commentary from Youtube users. The No campaign also used Youtube, though gets a paltry amount of hits. In contrast to the Yes campaign it has little of a positive message but preys on fears of being 'ripped off' by 'sharks' (or worse with on example) but often uses a little humour as well (see below)

Perhaps the No campaign used more traditional means to target its core audience to win, perhaps the young professional did vote yes in line with the video aimed at them. Perhaps also the Yes campaign was hindered after their £230,000 television advertisement was deemed by Ofcom as being biased. However it seems the simplest message, about the effect on the pockets of those who work in the centre of Manchester, linked in to fears of unemployment and the economic downturn (both of which the No campaign claimed would be exacerbated by the Congestion charge) seemed to have the most effect. Where there was a positive message calling for support the No campaigners waded in with a very hostile message; there was no similar response to their ads; hence it seems No won the day.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is John Lewis' the best Xmas ad

Probably, but only because you can do so much with it. I quite like the Shockwaves for Boris, but I'm sure what Cameron really wants for Xmas is an election, Darling needs a visit from three wise men and Brown a miracle, well you can make your own up. This was made by some of our final years who are investigating the power of the viral as part of their Interactive Media Strategy unit.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Future of Politics - the report is out

The report is an interesting read, I have posted a longer comment about this to the Total Politics blog but the main thrust is that all layers of politics (local and national) need to harness new technologies to engage the voters. My issue with the report is that the suggestion that there be a new electronically facilitated direct form of democracy suggests a complete overhaul of the system. It will not save parties but make them obsolete, while this is considered by the authors and sidestepped the fact that government and the role of the opposition would equally have questionable usefulness is not considered. Thus the bold claims may give ideas to MPs on why they should be more of a maverick to get a personal vote, but the conclusions that result from open participation may make many within politics recoil in horror. Hence, in my opinion, the report appears to move towards a conclusion that is rather pie in the sky; if it is intended to start a conversation about new technology that is a worthy ideal but the implications may scare the politicians more than inspire them.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Future of Politics

While not a child of Obama's campaign, it is timely that Orange is tomorrow releasing a report on how technology can facilitate a greater link between politicians and the public. The Future of Politics argues that technology "allow(s) the public to have their say about new legislation, and the concept of MPs interacting with voters through real time online discussion. The use of holographic projection (see picture)... means there would be nothing to stop one of us beaming in to take part in Prime Minister's Questions". This report has been constructed by MPs in conjunction with Orange technologists and appears something of a pipe dream in terms of what could be achieved using the technology if the will is strong in politics.
However, the ideas are worth some thought. Would the caution inherent among politicians prevent such moves in losing control of the message? Would the public wish to get involved? Or rather would a majority wish to get involved and would the limit on numbers that can dissuade many? On the other hand could technology provide a level of engagement previously unthinkable. A key point is that participation has already been facilitated by the web and so has increased. Far more people contribute to political forums and comment on news sites that ever wrote letters to papers. The explosion of political blogs demonstrates a willingness to use technology. What if more people could have instant contact and interaction live? Could that draw in a wider range of participants? Worth a thought and look out for the report.

Should MPs be above the law?

It is not clear what the public will recall of the Damian Green affair. Will it be that the government tried to silence an opposition MP from giving sensitive but information in the public interest to the public? Or will it be that an Opposition MP had 'groomed' a civil servant to obtain information of a sensitive nature? Those are the two positions and the outcome will be based on trust. Does the public trust the government or the Opposition the most? Perhaps the answer to that is obvious, though of course trust in all politicians is low, but if trust can be linked to popularity then the government may well come off worse; especially as the media seem to be following the opposition line.

However there is a broader question. Should an MP be above the law? One key aspect of an Opposition MP's role is to scrutinise the work of government, this may include leaking embarrassing information to the media that is in the public interest, however it is unclear whether theft is condoned. Equally, it is unclear whether an Opposition MP should not be ensuring that the public should be informed of secrets governments may wish to conceal if they are in the public interest, and obtain them at any cost. Civil Servants have a duty to be impartial, therefore that aspect of the case is clear, but if the passing of information to an MP by a Civil Servant is illegal, is encouraging a Civil Servant to break the law also illegal? MPs live with a variety of privileges which do not apply to the rest of us, but should they? Could one aspect of this case that the stays in the public consciousness be that MPs think they are above the law and that they should not be?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Better than Football

There seems to be a whole cottage industry developing that is trying to engage us with politics. The latest link to be sent my way is to create a Fantasy Parliament, basically you choose who is PM, Chancellor etc and the cabinet members get points for speaking in the House, being promoted etc. The aim, the creators state is: "Fantasy Parliament is designed to help to further re-engage people with the politicians that represent them and the work of the UK Parliament, through a fun game that is free to all. You don’t have to be a professional political commentator to take part – the game has been made for everyone, from parliamentary researchers, to activists, to students, to young people and members of the public". Unfortunately these aims, and wide audience, may be aspirational only. The site is a bit clunky but there is about 100 cabinets in existence on the site so far. The negatives, well you have to search by surname for MPs, you cannot find them by constituency or current job and then when you look at other cabinets and wave the cursor over the 'seat' (pictured is the screenshot of the cabinet table and seats) only their picture comes up: fine if they are all front benchers but if unknown they can be hard to recognise. But if you fancy creating a GOAT (government of all talents), would like to have Jeremy Corbyn in the Foreign office and Vince cable in the Treasury you now have the chance. Incidentally, the top three cabinets (not sure on what basis as every score is zero so far) are very similar to those of either Cameron or Clegg but it is hard to find a Labour supporter. Perhaps this is symptomatic of the government's failure to attract support online, or perhaps no-one actually would want Brown as PM or Darling as Chancellor; or at least not yet. The top 5 MPs are also an interesting list all unknown with the list topped by Hywel Francis - if you are wondering who he is then Google his name and prove the site is workign by making you find information about an MP who you previously was unaware existed :-)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Boris the Petrolhead - or not!

The last time Boris Johnson appeared on Top Gear he proved himself marginally better than the late Richard Whiteley - see video.

He has had another go and his performance will go out on Sunday, though he avoids being criticised in an article in today's Telegraph (which I can't find online) by stating in advance that rather than being won over by the petrolheads it is an electric car that caught Boris' imagination. On performance, cost etc he promotes them as the future, thus he can continue his celebrity role but sidestep the criticism and also keep the environmentalist credentials that are now essential in his role as Mayor of London.

Should we question the ethics?

In a piece for The Sun newspaper, Conservative leader David Cameron writes on the repercussions from the Independent enquiry into the tragic death of Baby P (or should we now call him by his name: Peter?). Firstly Cameron salutes those who supported his call for the enquiry "More than 1.3million signed The Sun Baby P petition, each name a cry for justice. Yesterday, those cries were answered. The sackings, suspensions, resignations were long overdue..." he also asks a range of questions concluding these with "The army of Sun readers who signed their names to that petition want answers to these questions, and so do I. It’s thanks to pressure from this paper that we’ve got this far, but we’ve got to keep pushing for the truth... And we’ve got to keep fighting to make the safety net stronger for other vulnerable children". Here he positions himself alongside the Sun's editors and the readers who have signed the petition.

The problem is that, apart from demanding an enquiry that is Independent from Haringey council, there is no indication of how David Cameron would prevent further deaths apart from ensuring there is punishment not just for the perpetrators but also "those who allow children to come to harm", the social workers etc. But here is the question. Is this ethical. The Sun will call for punitive punishment in its role as populist newspaper appealing to the 'man in the street'; it is no different from also calling for the death penalty for certain crimes or the News of the World fear camapign about paedophiles living among us on licence - one which led to the house of a paediatrician being attacked. The media can get away with this, however it is equally easy for an opposition politician to attack a system in the full knowledge that they may not be able to do any better if they were in power. This is a highly emotive and tragic case that has already been described as a political football, and it seems Cameron has scored most of the goals. However, it is easy to oppose unconstructively and tarnish an already struggling government's reputation further while eliding yourself with mass public opinion. However democracy and the running of the state should work on reasoned and rational debate, is it ethical to join an emotionally charged debate, is this simply about chasing polls, and if so does this raise serious ethical questions.

There is nothing to suggest that any other party would not act in a similar way, by the way, it is a mainstay of permanent political campaigning; the question is should this be a norm of modern politics or should they the politicians ensure there is a more considered level of debate than one that is unable to think beyond 'hanging the bastards'?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

the great thing about blogging

For an MP there are many arguments why they should blog - they show their more personal side, they can talk about topics of interest and engage with like-minded people, they can talk about matters that effect their constituents and engage with those who will elect them, and all this is not filtered by national or local media.

Paul Flynn also finds that he can respond to the media. There was some minor furore yesterday when the media exposed the story that he had has his communication allowance cut because he had used his blog to insult other 'right honourable members'. He offered his side that here was a journalist looking for a story and making one up. But the most important point Flynn makes is regarding how MPs must think about communication, and why he argues his blog is an excellent communicative tool. His is, in his words "Independent. Liberated. Opinionated. Un-censored. Fun" while "Many of the early MPs’ blogs simply regurgitated party propaganda and were unread"; and of course being controversial earns you the attention of journalists and this post gained far more visitors than usual

Market oriented volunteer-ism

Where next is the big question that surrounds Barack Obama. Not the obvious, the White House, but how does he convert his inclusive style of campaigning into a style of governance and how will he retain his movement of supporters and volunteers are interesting questions. There are some indications. A survey has been sent out to all subscribers. It firstly asks the basic data and points of identification; in particular which social groups volunteers belong to (this includes racial groups but also political issues and causes [environmentalists], students and seniors and Labor). Secondly it focuses on desires to continue to volunteer and what sort of issues (right) his supporters would be "interested in volunteering or organizing around". The point here may be two-fold; one you want people to campaign on issues they have an interest in and passion for: they will campaign harder. But also it may be a way of gauging what issues are most important to his keenest supporters so maintaining their support and interest by the setting of priorities for his government.

The rest of the survey asks about experiences of volunteering, the stories and achievements of those who have participated in his campaigns. This is more than likely to be used as part of a narrative of his campaign. The stories of the grassroots supporters is a story of the campaign, how he and his volunteer network mobilised people and their emotional attachment to the campaign and its success. This could remain symbolic as he can use the narrative to show how he was swept to power on the back of public euphoria for him as president as opposed to him being the least worst candidate; something that is quite distinct in modern politics.

The challenge for Obama is keeping the movement with him. Of course the mob-euphoria of election day will subside but if he can retain a volunteer network that will campaign for him and promote policies, lobby senators to support Obama, elect Obama-ites across the Houses of US government and of course mobilise other people it will give him immense power as a President: a very public mandate. This is fine at present, but the question will be to what extent he can hold that cohesion when faced with the real politik that is the job of President. The survey in itself also demonstrates a desire to continue including those who helped get him elected, he demonstrates adherence to the rules of relationship marketing: it is long term and not a one night stand with a single goal in mind. But it may just also be about reassurance. As he meets a range of former opponents and brings them into his team some may wonder if Obama will really offer the change they wanted; after he told the voters that both Hillary Clinton and John McCain (both of whom may end up with key positions) were part of the old system he wanted to change. Yes it suits his new politics of inclusion and co-operation but not the rhetoric of sweeping away the problems of the system that he suggested were linked to his opponents. Again the effects will only become apparent when President-elect becomes President and his honeymoon period is over; it is then that he will discover if he can maintain his movement.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The image thing

Here is something interesting, left is the traditional image we see of David Cameron, the politician in suit and tie usually facing the camera directly. It offers the impression of being in business, working in the traditional dress of the politician. It can be a symbol of power and status; though of course not all those in positions of power or those with status wear a suit there is a certain symbolic quality in the suit as a mode of attire. But David Cameron seems to be shifting his image somewhat. Accompanying his statement on the economy is a less than traditional image (right). He is in casual dress, offering a side profile. To me it is the pose of a catalogue model and breaks a range of conventions. The look is perhaps thoughtful. He is clearly not wearing a shirt and tie, it looks more like a fleece. Equally there is the backdrop to the image. Tradition is the symbols of power, the Houses of Westminster for example. This backdrop is blurred and hard to interpret, it could be an industrial or city vista, it could be anything. Now this could be read as a huge mistake. That while this may be appropriate for a less formal message, it perhaps conveys the wrong connotations when accompanying a serious message on the economy. Alternatively it may be a subtle message that he does not have follow dress conventions to be seen as a politician, rather he can break those conventions and look like the modern man who does not have to conform but can dress smart/casual but still be taken seriously. As ever this can be decoded different depending on the reader, and may be largely ignored by many; however it it clearly a choice to offer this less formal and more casual image to visitors to the party website.

Has he changed his mind?

The news is out that Cameron is no longer going to support Labour spending plans and is offering an alternative in case an election is on the horizon. The story is available across the media but a link was also sent via an e-newsletter that has a link to the WebCameron Youtube site. But the interesting thing is that five minutes after receipt of the e-newsletter the video is no longer available. Was there a huge gaffe in the original, has he changed his mind, or is it a problem with the technology????

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Some people just don't learn

The last time Robert Kilroy Silk, former UKIP and Veritas candidate and now an independent MEP was in the limelight it was when he was on the receiving end of a bucket of err 'slurry'. This should prepare him nicely for a few weeks in ITV's jungle experience. Of course he is not a celebrity anymore, not since his racist comments forced the BBC to remove his daytime chat show; however he has seemed to desire celebrity, perhaps to compensate for the failure of his political career (he was a Labour MP 1974-1986 and a front bench spokesperson within Kinnock's first team). But he has come under fire for his decision to jump on the jungle fever bandwagon. Labour MEP Glenis Willmott described it as "a complete lack of respect for voters" according to the BBC. Now he may see this as unexpected, and may defend himself by talking about engaging with a public disinterested in politics. But this was a tactic that has failed once before. George Galloway was criticised by Minister for London Jim Fitzpatrick who argued "while he has chosen to lock himself away in this celebrity graveyard, his constituents have yet again been left without help for their problems and without a voice in their Parliament" and in a 'Have Your Say' column the verdict was overwhelmingly that MPs should not go on reality TV shows. It can be argued that MPs, MEPs, Assembly members etc need to be a little more human and not just politicians in the eyes of the public, but surely Kilroy-Silk must have know this would not go down well and would play against his ambitions in the long term as well, more than likely, in the short term.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Is this just a little too much

The worrying thing about the aftermath of Obama's victory is the repeated offers to buy commemorative bits of the campaign, T-shirts first, now coins. Not sure if these are legal tender (I suspect not) but is this moving out of the realms of being a president and into those of the pop star or movie where merchandise is pushed out to bolster profits and keep the brand front of mind; what next - the Obama action figure (please god not a family set). Now it is a way of keeping up momentum over the next 68 days until his inauguration but it is also blatantly about fundraising. Now this may be somethign that his supporters want to buy into, but is this also just a little tacky and inconsistent with the office he is assuming? Just a question!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The dangers of being in the promise business

On Wednesday morning at busy subway stations and transport interchanges across major US cities, thousands of free copies of a spoof edition of The New York Times were distributed. The headline “IRAQ WAR ENDS” is said to have surprised commuters, though the piece on the indictment of Bush for treason is much better. The 14-page paper is dated July 4, 2009, and "imagines a liberal utopia of national health care, a rebuilt economy, progressive taxation, a national oil fund to study climate change, and other goals of progressive politics... the pranksters — who included a film promoter, three unnamed Times employees and Steven Lambert, an art professor — financed the paper with small online contributions and created the paper to urge President-elect Barack Obama to keep his campaign promises". It is said that Internet support were provided by the Yes Men, who were the subject of a 2004 documentary film, they issued a statement. They talk of "describing the gains brought about by eight months of progressive support and pressure, culminating in President Obama's "Yes we REALLY can" speech" and in a quote Bertha Suttner, one of the newspaper's writers. "We've got to make sure Obama and all the other Democrats do what we elected them to do. After eight, or maybe twenty-eight years of hell, we need to start imagining heaven."

Barack Obama was criticised way back by Hillary Clinton for being in the promises business. Early statements on the intent to close Guantanamo Bay fuel the expectation, there is in America a movement for change and they are firmly behind Obama. However, he is going to be pushed to deliver all the way. While a small stunt, this has gained the Yes Men and the authors of the spoof New York Times a lot of media coverage, this gets the ideas a wider audience and fuels expectations among all those groups that supported Obama. The big question is whether he can deliver 'heaven' for people like Suttner.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What is the point of PMQs?

It may be a controversial statement, but it is my opinion that the tradition of Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) has no democratic function whatsoever. Why do I say that?
  1. Firstly, it would be wrong that the only opportunity for parliament to bring the leader of Her Majesty's Government to account would be within a couple of hours per week when short questions only can be asked and, for the majority of MPs, this is a single question that has no relation to any ongoing debate.
  2. Secondly, the majority of questions from the members of the Labour Party are planted to allow the prime minister to give a good account of himself. A couple of questions I viewed today could easily have been worded "would my Honourable friend agree that the leader of the Opposition got it wrong again".
  3. Thirdly, it is a huge media spectacle broadcast live on BBC TV and online and so not simply closeted away on the Parliamentary Channel and so each participant plays a role in the drama. Often the performance of a party leader is related to their performance at PMQs, particularly if they asked a difficult question of the prime minister.
  4. Fourthly, and lastly at this point, it is really all about permanent campaigning and party politics. Opposition leaders and MPs must take this opportunity to publicly score points against the prime minister and diminish his standing and enhance their own; the prime minister needs to enhance his standing: and so it goes.

Today Cameron raised the tragic case of Baby P, Brown talked of procedure, investigations and reports rather than ensuring as of now such a failure in the protection of a vulnerable child could never happen again and accused David Cameron of playing party politics with a child's life. The ensuing few moments (watch here) of the debate saw Cameron getting increasingly angry at that claim and (possibly) taking the opportunity to score further points with Brown saying yes it was terrible but procedure was in place, investigations were going to happen. It was not exactly a high point for democracy and the great institution of our parliament.

But the problem is not solely about the way Brown responded. It is about the context of what PMQs has become. Brown has spent most of his time as prime minister on the back foot defending himself against people who are often better performers than he is. He hides behind procedure and argues that the right response will emerge from a measured process of deliberation and investigation, that is what he is about. He is unable to act the emotional leader expressing public grief at Baby P's brutal murder at the hands of her parents, not is he able to slam Haringey council's operatives who failed to prevent that murder, it must all be investigated. His response may seem inadequate, and indeed it lacked warmth or compassion so it was indeed a huge failure of communication; but it is also a failure of the PMQ bearpit style of attack and counter attack. At the end of the day the truth is nothing will be done for a long time as the failure needs investigating, but you cannot say that; the easy option is to make the other guy look as if he is playing politics with lives, but that can have repercussions not just on the person attacked but also the attacker. The verdict on Brown will probably be pretty bad based on today's performance, evidence from the Have Your Say section of the BBC News website suggests already this is the case:

1303: Have Your Say "The prime minister has shown his complete lack of tact, discretion and decency during this debate. He's a one-trick pony; an ex-chancellor - and, unfortunately for British tax payers - he's never been any good at that either." 'Pavillionend', Canterbury.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Have they not paid enough?

Obama's fundraising was phenomenal, the amount raised from public donations over the period outstripped anything either Hillary Clinton or John McCain could get with all their contacts; but now the election is over and victory is his its over... or not. The fundraising goes on:
"In the months and years ahead, we're going to accomplish amazing things together. No president has ever had the support of such a powerful grassroots movement, and Barack and Joe will need you to continue fighting alongside them. But before we take the next step, we need to get our house in order. The Democratic National Committee poured all of its resources into building our successful 50-state field program. And they played a crucial role in helping Barack win in unlikely states like North Carolina and Indiana. We even picked up an electoral vote in Nebraska. The DNC took on considerable debt to make this happen. Make a donation of $30 or more now to help the DNC pay for these efforts, and you'll get a commemorative 2008 Victory T-shirt"
Now one would imagine a lot of people are all donated out (pardon the phrase), is it too much to pay more for a 'product' you have already 'bought'. If we do consider the investment many must have made, is not a further $30, T-shirt or no T-shirt, a little too much to ask before any return on that investment is seen. While it may be far better than being funded by buisnesses or shady deals on yachts or with stolen money, is there a limit to how muc people will donate after the big event has come and gone and been won?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Change has come to the US and the world, it must be true as every journalist says so. The actual nature of that change is to be seen, whether Obama is capable of delivering the change that his huge and diverse support now expects is a huge question but he has and continues to build expectations. In order to maintain interest and enthusiasm in him he has created a blog that allows his supporters, journalists and anyone interested to find out what he is saying and how is plans will evolve over the next 72 days before inauguration. The blog is, and currently this includes links to videos of his speeches.

However this is not offering political Web 2.0 and appears to choose not to. It is a way of communicating unmediated messages directly to his audience. It does not allow comments on his news items or speeches, so ensuring total control over the message. There is an area of the site that asks for 'Your Story', "Tell us your story in your own words about what this campaign and this election means to you. Share your hopes for an Obama Administration and a government for the people". However this is appears arguably to be more about providing marketing material than involving the public directly in government, what Obama's election means to 'you', your hopes, can all be used as public endorsements of the campaign as they can be carefully selected and posted to offer the right impression. But perhaps the 'hopes' may also demand to be answered also and this blog could become a way in which Obama and his public can interact. At this point it is though a 'perhaps' and this is really a new way of communicating to (not with) the public and gaining endorsements.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The social media battle

Something that McCain has been slow to engage in and hence he is the loser. Jeremiah Owyang has completed an analysis of the results of the social media campaign by both the major candidates and the following headlines emerge:
Obama: 2,379,102 supporters
McCain: 620,359 supporters
Obama has 380% more supporters than McCain
Obama: Friends: 833,161
McCain: Friends: 217,811
Obama has 380% more supporters than McCain
Obama: 1792 videos uploaded since Nov 2006, Subscribers: 114,559 (uploads about 4 a day), Channel Views: 18,413,110
McCain: 329 videos uploaded since Feb 2007 (uploads about 2 a day), Subscribers: 28,419, Channel Views: 2,032,993
Obama has 403% more subscribers than McCain
Obama has 905% more viewers than McCain
Obama: @barackobama has 112,474 followers
McCain: @JohnMcCain (is it real?) 4,603 followers
Obama has 240 times more followers in Twitter than McCain
The key question is will this matter at all. There is no geographic boundary on social media engagement so these online supporters may not even be in the US never mind the all important swing states and bellweather states. But is he does win then it may well be the case that social media may have be seen as a significant and central tool for future campaigns.

Mobilise the vote via Facebook

Now my participation will have no impact whatsoever, but as both a reminder and an endorsement this could have a huge impact on mobilising young voters in the US. The idea is simple, that the Facebook user is invited to donate their status to remind their friends to vote and, if you wish, to vote for one of the candidates in the US presidential election.
The tool is created by Project Agape run by two young men with a history of creating online communities and being involved in grassroots political organisations. I can see it working well in the US, not sure if it would be applicable more widely.

Ad spending - the Obama phenomenon

There is a fascinating part of the New York Times site that is monitoring television advertisement spending during the US presidential election. Obama has spent $207,410,911 as of 1.30 pm UK time; in sharp contrast McCain has spent $119,906,703. This is almost 50% less so he has done pretty well to keep even given the disparity. Now there could be differences in strategy, targeting for example of specific media outlets or programmes during which the ad will be shown. Obama may have seen a need to get wider coverage, more exposure, than McCain. Obama may also have seen a need to respond more to McCain's attacks as well as putting out positive messages. But given that many of the ads are available online, 25 new ones appearing on the Obama Youtube channel yesterday alone, the spend is phenomenal.
Advertising can be dismissed as being able to transmit peripheral cues only, nothing substantial. But there have been a lot of issue based ads with Obama winning on all issues except for The Budget and and Energy/Environment, surprisingly he even wins on international affairs, not perceived as a strength of his. The targeting is also highly strategic. In Columbus Ohio, a marginal district in a swing state, Obama has spent $3.9mill to McCain's $2.9mill. But the most phenomenal thing has to be that the money spent by Obama has been donated by the public and not funded by the state or lobbyists and big business.


A very interesting dimension to McCain's campaign is his use of the word hope. He does not ask people to hope but suggests that is all Obama offers. Using the slogan "don't hope for a better life, vote for it" he is saying he can deliver where Obama cannot. A clever tactic though perhaps a little too clever as it requires a bit of thought to work out its meaning at the end of a 1 minute commercial. But it is clear that McCain has been trying to undermine the change selling point Obama has established for himself - too little too late or will the voters have last minute nerves about electing an unknown and inexperienced politician to be president? That is the key question, polls may see Obama winning but there may well be some soul searching in the ballot boxes.


As election day dawns of course it is all about mobilisation, and in the US about getting volunteers out on the streets in the neighbourhoods. Barack Obama's message to greet voters as the wake is simple: "We're just one day away from change. Election Day is tomorrow -- Tuesday, November 4th. We've asked you to do a lot over the course of this campaign, and you've always come through. Right now, I'm asking you to do one last thing -- vote tomorrow, and make sure everyone you know votes, too". But there is a new dimension as well: "we can make history. We've made it this far because supporters like you never stopped believing in your power to bring about real change. Take the final step now".
Interestingly John McCain did not send me an email; either I am off his list, not in the right district, or he didn't send a mobilisation of email.

Not so silly!

The Michael Palin for President campaign continues to try to pose as the silly alternative to mainstream politics while encouraging an anti-Sarah Palin vote. The last, one hopes, email from the campaign is all about mobilisation: "Vote like the wind... Vote like if you don't then the Spanish Inquisition will fry you up and toss you into a Spanish Omelet!" But the last line is a real clincher and suddenly it is not silly or Pythonesque: VOTE, YOU MISERABLE BASTARD, AS IF BY DOING SO YOU CAN KEEP AN OIL-DRILLING, WOLF-KILLING, IGNORANT ALASKAN MOOSE-MUNCHER FROM EVER GETTING HER IGNORANT, WELL-MANICURED FINGER ANYWHERE NEAR THE BIG RED ARMAGEDDON BUTTON! (You can). Well no-one from the Obama campaign could say this directly!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

An illusion of interactivity

It is argued that much of the supposed interactivity offered by political parties is illusory. We see opportunities to participate, invitations to send emails etc, we see the outcome of participation but what we seldom see is actual participation taking place or get the chance to do so. So while we can send an email we may never get a response or we hear of consultation but are unsure who actually took part. If you are cynical it can be assumed that there is a language of listening and participation but this is purely window dressing for a business as usual elitist political system.

I raise this in response to a curious live chat event advertised for 1.30pm today with Yvette Cooper Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I received an email invitation (below) which shows it was actually sent out at 1.35 so I was going to miss the start whatever happened.

I actually followed the link at 1.50 but was surprised to find that it had finished already. 'Yvette', as we assume it was she, told us there were hundreds of questions in, she answered seven which read very much as frequently asked questions on many public service/customer service pamphlets and web pages and then logged off. The dialogue may disappear soon but I give a flavour of it:

Steve Carlington, says: My bank has recently been unwilling to give me the credit I have always received to run my business. The government needs to do something to change this or else I will have no breathing room and things will become really tight and my business will suffer.

Yvette Cooper, says: Hello Steve. I'm sorry you are having such difficulties with your bank. I don't know your particular circumnstances, but we are worried about small businesses gettting hit by the global credit crunch. Mistakes in the international banking system and the fact that banks are still restricting credit are now having an effect on ordinary businesses not just in this country but all over the world. We have set conditions for those banks that are getting help from the government's new recapitalisation scheme, and they have agreed to increase availability of lending to small businesses as a result. Today Alistair Darling and Peter Mandelson are also meeting with senior executives of other banks to urge all of them to do more to support businesses at a difficult time. i think its important that if government is stepping in to support the banks, then banks should do their bit to support the rest of the economy too. We are also looking at other ways to support businesses who are having difficulty getting credit to help them through the tougher times.

My question, and it is a question, is this real interactivity, does Steve Carlington really exist and is he really a member of the public? Or is this smoke and mirrors interactivity, an illusion created using the sleight of hand enabled by the internet?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

strategy, tactic, but what about the outcome?

To engage with middle America, to overcome negative connotations, to answer critics, to be visible outside the traditional confines of a campaign, to be human/authentic/real, to be seen with celebrities, to get the message across.
To appear on Saturday Night live, alongside Tina Fey (the best Sarah Palin lookalike around) to allow the cast to poke fun and take it in your stride, to appear with Alec Baldwin and others, to smile and look like you are having fun.

Possible Outcomes
To achieve the long-term strategy, or to look rather false or silly, to trivialise the campaign and its issues. To actually be seen to endorse some of the negatives voiced by Baldwin and Amy Poehler in her rap.

Decision Making
Should she or shouldn't she - she chose yes but was this the right decision for her as a candidate to be Vice President?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Image: and how it can be interpreted

I borrow the title from an article today's Independent written by Archie Bland who chatted to me about the issues on Friday. The article argues that a bad photo, or more broadly television appearance, can make or break a campaign. Quoting PR consultant Mark Borkowski, the thesis is that "If you ever stop thinking about how you look, you can get caught out." And this is the problem with such images of William Hague in a baseball cap on an amusement park ride, the strange image of John McCain tongue out groping for his seat that has gone viral online and across the media, Miliband and that banana, John Redwood miming badly to the Welsh National Anthem well we could go on. But the key about these images is if they sit comfortably with the voters frame of reference. Basically we all possess a range of perceptions about every public figure, these are called schema. If US voters have a John McCain schema that includes old and frail then these images will build up that perception and could be reasons why they should not elect him as president (this is the point I make in the article about Hague's perceived immaturity, the picture of him as a boy stuck and reduced his credibility). However this negative may be seen as an aberration from the schema, that this is not really him and he cannot be judged by a photo capturing him when off guard, hence then the voter will reject the inference. So while Borkowski is absolutely right about the importance of image the decoding of any image is also a function of existing attitudes and perceptions. For voters in the US, and particularly those floating voters in the swing states do perceive McCain as "a frail old geezer staring fiercely at the backside of the man striding confidently away from him, making a last, desperate play for the vote of the lizards" then the picture will compound that image if not it will be ignored and filed as rather nasty media hype of an off guard aberration by a man who has the qualities to be a President. So the key lesson is not just don't look stupid (though that helps) but don't look stupid in a way that plays to existing prejudices

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Do personal emails work?

The campaigns of Obama and McCain both think I am an undecided voter in Ohio, though if anyone checks my zip code I live on an industrial estate. But it means I am happily receiving their e-newsletters and campaign emails. McCain's team are fairly infrequent in sending things and often it is more a series of news links than the mobilisation attempts employed by Obama. The latters' email campaign actually seems to hinge on personal emails from him, his wife, David Plouffe his campaign manager and since the Democratic convention Joe Biden joined the emaillers. Joe has sent an email today about his wife, the text is as follows:

"My wife Jill is an extraordinary woman. Jill's passion has always been education, and even during the campaign she's been teaching class during the week and joining me on the trail on the weekends. But this week, she also found some time to go to campaign headquarters and call voters in crucial battleground states. Jill has always had a great time talking to potential supporters, and I'm sure her calls brought Barack and me a few votes closer to victory. Can you do the same?"

Receivers can then watch a video of his wife Mrs Jill Biden phone canvassing, well mostly actually talking about herself and are then told the importance of the activity. But why is this tactic employed?
The notion to personalisation is to build a relationship between the individuals and so it draws on the same set of motivations as face-to-face communication between friends, not necessarily close friends but at the very least fellow community members perhaps. The question for me with it is whether it works. While the receivers have been introduced to new characters as the campaign has progressed towards the election are US subscribers now becoming anaesthetised to these appeals as they know what they are going to ask? It seems to have been used repeatedly and almost on a daily basis if not more often, what is the saturation point for any 'neighbour' asking for more participation - be it time or money - while the tactic is said to be successful is there a point where anything becomes over used?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

off guard?

In an era of media trainers, perception managers, branding consultants etc etc in politics it is perhaps refreshing when the politicians look normal, authentic and not stage managed. However there are also moments when you realise why those consultants are so important. There will be a lot of political points made about this, and already are across the blogosphere (such as here). Should it matter? probably not! Does it? Probably!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A new American hero

It seems everyone has now heard of a plumber from Toledo, Ohio by the name of Joe Wurzelbacher. He has been cast as a hero of American politics just because he became the ordinary guy after debating economics with Barack Obama when meeting him on the campaign trail. His name was first invoked by John McCain, and from then on he was drawn into last nights' debate continually despite not being present and in the end both McCain and Obama seemed to be fighting to appeal directly to him for his vote often talking directly to Joe via the camera. Politicos strung together the mentions and it is staggering just how many times his name was invoked.
According to a Ragan article, Joe the Plumber has become a feature of over 1,000 Google news items and tweets from both the floor of the debate and from PRs and journalists across the US, some suggesting he was to be offered a seat in the next President's cabinet. Of course these things are fairly facetious but there is a symbolic role that Joe the Plumber is playing that is not lost on commentators.

While Joe will not be in government he is being used as a representative of the floating voter in the swing state. He is worried about the economy and is unsure which candidate will work hardest and do the best job in protecting Joe's business, his home, his family during the recession. Obama telling Joe that small businesses like his would be exempt from paying Health Insurance for employees may be attractive, it certainly seemed to catch McCain off guard, but now Joe is, as the New York Times suggests, a "proxy for all of the country's working people", what is his verdict.

The new star of American politics was instantly interviewed and his words posted to YouTube. For him it was McCain that won the debate and his vote, Obama was a bit too socialist and perhaps parochial with "everything starting at home". But will this be important? If Joe continues to be used as a cipher there is the chance that this unscripted yet articulate small businessman could be perceived as the authentic voice of middle America and so Obama needs to consider how he can win him over between now and Nov 4th.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Perception Management

I was talking to my students today about the focus on image and marginalisation of substantial policy from much of the political communication that is made mainstream. In other words the stuff that is promoted to us is more about building a perception of the man rather than telling us what the man will do when elected. The following video is a prime example.

The link is sent around by email saying that his opponents are asking 'who is Barack Obama'. His campaign team's response is to: "share a video of personal moments from behind the scenes at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, so you can see Barack and Michelle as they are -- decent, warm, and kind people with a loving family". It is a fly on the wall style video, well done yet appearing to capture private moments - a cynic would wonder how much is staged and whether anyone can act normally when a camera is pointed at them. But the broader picture is also whether this is asking the US voter to vote Obama simply because he is a nice guy, a family guy, a guy 'like you' or just to get them interested and involved to collect further information. While the latter may be an aspiration is the former more likely in reality and if so does this have a negative impact on how informed voters actually are?

Online Democracy?

It is often argued that the Internet facilitates greater democracy, it allows the public to input ot news stories (comments posted to BBC Online for example) as well as start or contribute to existing debates through blogs etc. However there is a flip side to this. It also allows groups to gather data on specific questions that can then be used to promote an idea. The British National Party, for some unknown reason though a couple of insider investigations leading to arrests may give a clue, do not like the BBC. They have a poll on their front page asking about the licence fee, a contentious issue, but any rigor in the poll is destroyed by the two highly loaded questions (see 3, 4 and 5) the latter being purely sarcastic one assumes. While it is unlikely these results will have any impact it gives the notion of online democracy a bad name when the research is a push poll rather than something designed to gather information of any use.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Wink Wink

It is hard to tell whether Sarah Palin is popular or not, some sections of the media castigate her, others talk of her as the saviour of the Republican campaign: the authentic hockey mom. But what is interesting is the fuss being made of her winking. There are a few clips on YouTube, such as the below to illustrate this:

The media seem to suggest that what she is suggesting is an understanding of her audience. That by winking it is an unspoken gesture of empathy and being at one with the people. Hence while many papers quote strategist Axelrod saying she would perform well but that you can not get away with just a nod a wink or a smile. However her great quality is her ordinariness and perhaps the nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more tactic will work for her.

Friday, October 03, 2008


I do find it amusing that the media have dubbed the Government Of All Talents, an idea that has seen Fiona Phillips of GMTV offered a cabinet post has been given the acronym of GOAT. But I do worry about this, Peter Mandelson is returning, that in itself does not worry me, but what does is that some of these 'talents' are clearly unelected. Now it would seem a great idea to have the best people having a seat in decision making, but who do they represent. In theory members of the cabinet should be accountable to parliament and ultimately the people but when you have more than the couple of peers in Cabinet, all dependent on the PM for a job, surely this means they are only accountable to the PM and have not allegiance to anyone else particularly not parliament. Is this just me??

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The online race to be (LibDem) President

From a very slow start, Lembit Opik seems to have launched a campaign for his bid to be LibDem leader. Interestingly the BBC picked up on the bit of the contest taking place on Facebook, both he and Ros Scott have '4 President' groups and in terms of membership Opik is winning 694 to 416. So does this indicate anything, no and numbers alone rarely do. Those supporting Opik are mostly UK based, but include people from the Caribbean, across Europe and one Alex Hilton the creator of LabourHome. Scott, on the other hand, has all the MPs showing their support and hers seems to be the site for the party elite and some of the activists.

In terms of content however, Opik's Discussion Board contains the question 'will he help or hinder the party' and there are 5 posts. Yes they all say he will help, but it does focus on some of the questions about whether he can be taken seriously as a politician. A clever persuasive tool is for the admin to put up the question and get the ordinary visitor to give an endorsement. Scott's page is a little drab in that respect, pictures of her touring the constituencies but nothing that shouts out at the visitor.

Ros Scott's website however is the focus of her campaign. Here visitors are asked to input a postcode or select a region and then you get endorsements from local party activists from the local MEP to councillors to an ordinary, new member of Poole Liberal Democrats. A very attractive site and perhaps pitched right for the target audience of card carrying members. Lembit Opik's is nicely branded, it is yellow, but far more haphazard and unprofessional. There are a range of endorsements from MPs, PPCs etc but it does not have the attractive presentation; but does this matter really?

Perhaps the telling difference is the statements. Scott talks in manifestos and there is a lot of words to get through, but this is ideal for those who have high involvement in the contest and its outcome. Opik offers 12 lines that are about his personal values as opposed to the nitty gritty of politics and the role of the President. It is a contrast between Opik's "President with vim and verve, who everyone knows" and "someone who represents that membership not just to the outside world, but internally, to the Leader". But it depends on the audience which will have the greatest persuasive impact. Is it a case of style versus substance, celebrity versus grassroots campaigner and if so which would you put money on to win?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The dirty politics of cybersquatting

Anyone can create a website and use any name they want, I think it would be a brave individual or organisation that would try to sue someone for breach of copyright over a name unless there already was the copyright in place. So if someone does create a site attacking you called don't think you have recourse to law. It is known as cybersquatting, taking over someone's name and using that to promote your message and not theirs. In politics it is becoming a well-used tool. In 2005 the Conservatives created to counter the Liberal Democrats' decapitation strategy. The same has been launched by Obama with The site offers "three things every voter should know about John McCain and... Iraq" for example. The simple message on most of the pages is that McCain is Bush by another name and so Obama and Biden are the candidates that offer real change - the ongoing narrative of his campaign pretty much.

So why is this not on his website, well it is, but why go cybersquatting? Well if a floating voter does go and Googles 'John McCain's Record' it comes up as the fourth hit. If Obama can get this to the top of the search results then voters will see his record before seeing that of McCain. I am not sure if McCain has a similar site, I saw this promoted via a premium ad on at first I thought it was a McCain paid-for link, another way of capturing voters' attention. Such is the way the Internet allows for innovation in campaign strategy.

Learning from Obama and Royal

French Presidential runner-up Segolene Royal allowed co-production of policy on her website, creating a 'Notebooks of Hope' section where French voters could express their aspiration about the future. While it did not secure her the office it represented a departure from the traditional top-down style of campaign communication. Obama, meanwhile, has made much use of videos where ordinary Americans can state why they back Obama for the presidency. This method of citizen endorsement could be a highly influential tool of persuasion as well as giving some sense of joint ownership of the campaign to his 'movement'.

Both tools are to be features of the Conservatives revamped website and in particular The Blue Blog according to a BBC News report the initiatives are designed to create a "sense of closeness" between supporters and party leaders - not between the party and ordinary voters one can note. Caroline Spelman is quoted as saying: "With a general election on the horizon the rejuvenated website will play an important role in getting our message out and be an integral part of any campaign." The videos will be recorded at the Conference taking place in Birmingham this week. Clearly it indicates that the Internet is becoming integral to the campaign but what seems doubtful is whether interactivity is a goal.

Picking up on previous posts on Web 2.0, while the party seem keen to mobilise and include the activists, there is doubt as to whether they can draw the key audience of floating voters towards the party. However it may be argued that there is a trickle-down theory here. That by including activists they may draw in a wider audience who can observe the interaction if not take part and so gain a perception of a party that is non-elitist and that listens.

As an aside, if you Google Blue Blog you firstly get a knitting site, then the Conservatives and third an Everton FC supporters blog: not exactly a distinctive name which may be a problem!

Should the rules change?

Nadine Dorries MP has had a blog for some time, she blogs a lot and often offers some interesting insights into her thinking. Sunny Hundal reported to the Parliamentary Commissioner that the blog was being publicly funded from her communication budget; this is up to £7,000 that can be spent on the production and distribution of documents including annual reports, surveys and letters, official parliamentary websites - which would be taken down during general elections - but not party political campaigning or information. According to Jack Straw the idea is that it will fund communication that will "contribute towards public understanding of what this Parliament is for and what it does".

Although little has been done to Nadine Dorries, in fact her blog claims she was cleared of wrongdoing. The ruling however makes three points:

The rules of the house, however, do require Members to make a clear distinction between websites which are financed from public funds and any other domain. At the time of your complaint, Mrs Dorries’ website did not meet that requirement. Nor was it appropriate that she use the Portcullis emblem on the weblog given its contents. And the funding attribution on Mrs Dorries’ Home Page should have been updated to reflect that the funding came from the Communications Allowance and not from the Incidental Expenses Provision.

Clearly the sum of £1992 claimed by Dorries funds the blog in some way, in terms of webhosting if nothing else.

But should there be such worry about her blog. She has removed the 'offending' logo and so made good the problems identified. There is a more important point here though. Opponents are making a fuss about her blog, but it could well fulfill the potential Straw claims that the communication allowance has. Her blog posts mix information about her role, her politics, comments on public affairs and her own, sometimes off-the-wall, observations on the world. All of this says a lot about Dorries the person, the MP and her party in essence. The rules delineate between campaigning and informing, but in effect the boundary is too blurred to be of use. While an MP may use a range of communication tools to explain what they do, a by-product of that is saying I am very active so, if you are a constituent, you should re-elect me. Equally, while it would be easier for all MPs who wish to blog to join a free site, actually the set up cost is the main expenditure. After that does it mean it is owned by the public for the site's entire existence or just for the year it was paid for.

What seems to be forgotten by the rule makers, but also by all of those who complain at breaches of rules, is that we live in an age of permanent campaigning. The Lib Dem Focus newsletter, Labour's Rose and Conservative MP's mailouts have a very clear campaigning function: the promote the activities of the MP, councillors and the party. So how do you say you cannot do any campaigning, how do you draw the boundaries between informing and campaigning, and is it relevant to do so anymore?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Brown's Speech 2008

I usually watch the speeches, think of ideas, and then try and compose a comment after if I have time. Today I thought I would do something different and live blog it. Not to have a large amount of comments but to build an ongoing narrative and see how that dovetails with the bits picked out by commentators. If you are interested in the full commentary see the link below.

The weight of expectation

It is hard to imagine the pressure Gordon Brown must be feeling as he prepares for his speech. The media today have ramped this up. The Sun states: “This must be a landmark address. It must stamp his authority as leader of this nation and reassure terrified voters they are in safe hands.” The Times dub it: “the speech of his life”. There is already a link to the speech on the website, but currently it is circular taking the visitor back to the Conference home page, but the hint is in the title 'Fair Chance and Fair Rules'. This suggests it will be aimed at the core Labour members, supporters and voters. But it will not be judged by the objectives set by Brown or his strategists but by expectations of journalists, the audience members they choose to fit their narrative and by the audience themselves whose expectations will be influenced by the media. Would anyone else really want to be PM?

What's in a name

After some form of voting, the Conservative party have launched their blog: its name is THE BLUE BLOG - mmm. Content could be interesting: "The blog will start with a bang at this year's Conference, where we will be bringing you backstage news and views from David Cameron, the Shadow Cabinet, MPs, delegates and the occasional guest." Given the twittering of LibDems and the comparative silence from Labour, the Conservatives had to do something to maintain their status as the party most embracing technology (at the top level that is) and innovating. Not sure if this is simply a relaunch of WebCameron as that gets little media attention, an attempt to gain more interest in their e-communication, or something genuinely different. There is no link as yet, not even a holding page, their website does not advertise it but, as in the manner of modern politics, puts Brown and Darling centre-stage (right). Let's hope the Blue Blog will offer a more positive message about the party itself rather than attacks on opponents. The one problem, extrapolating from polls, Cameron has is that he is seen as better than Brown but there is little wide knowledge about his or the party's policies. A similar situation saw Neil Kinnock versus John Major, Major was then seen as the safer pair of hands. Perhaps the Blue Blog can get more policy out there as the media may not be doing Brown any favours at all but neither are they giving Cameron a platform.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Very Personal

"He is an effing awful PM. And you should be able to tell the truth in Parliament. When it comes to political communication, Brown is just so bad at it. And, let's face it, the ability to communicate ideas is a pretty important part of being PM. He needs to explain what's going on in the world, and he fails, dismally. Do I hate the man? I certainly stand by everything I've said about him."

The words of Shadow Chancellor George Osborne talking about Gordon Brown. Will saying he is "effing awful" give hime the appearance of giving voice to the public mood, after all it is the sort of thing the eponymous 'man in the street' may say, albeit one that is perhaps ill-informed? Alternatively will it make him appear to be making a personal attack without criticising Brown's politics, so just attacking for the sake of attacking? I think the one very true fact Osborne identifies is that Brown is bad at communication, but hinting he hates him may be a mistake.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Odd Attacks and Interesting Data

A poll published by the Indepedent which shows Gordon Brown as almost the most unpopular cabinet member and that 54% of Labour activists would prefer someone else to be leader has received a lot of publicity as well as scathing attacks on the Ministry of Truth blog and Iain Dale's Diary. MoT's attack on LabourHome notwithstanding, the basis for dispute is "the poll had been commissioned by the Indy... where’s the demographic information that pollsters collect as standard in order to balance their polls and ensure their statistical validity and what’s the margin of error on the numbers......" Well it is not unusual for media organisations to commission polls and not state the fact, even when it is the phone in poll, and the article does say "an exclusive poll for The Independent". But the main problem is validity, but it was an online poll of an audience that is largely unknown. The invitation was to "With the Westminster Villiage obsessed with the question of leadership of the Labour Party, we thought it's time to find out what the grassroots thinks. Click here to take part in the Labour Grassroots Survey and we'll publish the results in the first days of Labour Party Conference." So the respondents, from a total population of unknown numbers, could be non-average (unrepresentative) just because the link was only there for a matter of days. There were 788 members, all of whom must have been checked to see if they were supporters as "Non Labour supporters who responded to the survey were stripped from the results" though this may have still been skewed by opponents claiming to be supporters. However, a serious question is how you get to the engaged and active supporters of a party. Chances are, in the digital age, they are online and accessing party communication and taking part in social networks. But is it really so wrong to do a poll online? It is impossible to offer the normal caveats or statistics beyond the number of respondents, and perhaps The Independent should have stated how it was conducted, and yes sponsorship should have been mentioned by Labourhome in the link as perhaps some supporters were a little too honest (though it does say data will be published), but are all the attacks really justified and why are the opposition attacking when really it is better for them and for Labour. As I understand it, Labourhome is independent of the party leadership and perhaps the one place where inconvenient truths can be aired, such things should be read by the party leaders as it may jsut enhance the connection between the party and their foot soldiers. For PR purposes, and if I was advising Brown, I would face this head on in the speech this week!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Call me suspicious

So the latest on the Michael Palin for President is a hard sell on 'Campaign Iconography' for the 'Silly Campaign', Buttons are $5.99, the thong $12.99. Now where is this money going, to Michael Palin or perhaps would this be to Barack Obama. If the latter, however indirect, is this not a little bit cynical? And if revealed would this not damage his 'peoples' campaign'? And further, do they have copyright (or does Michael for that matter) for his image?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Has Rove changed sides?

Karl Rove, the man dubbed Bush's brain due to his role in masterminding his communication strategy, has given Obama an open goal in his fight against McCain. He is quoted as stating "McCain has gone in some of his ads -- simply gone one step too far, and sort of attributing to Obama things that are, you know, beyond the '100 percent truth' test." This, said to Fox News has been widely quoted in the media and across the web already, particularly it has been circulated by Obama's team to reinforce the case to suggest McCain is running: "the sleaziest, most dishonest campaign in history". But Rove actually makes an important point to both candidates, negativity is being relied upon too much and both candidates run the risk of turning voters off. I commented to a colleague last week that I am surprised there is not a deep sense of election boredom setting in across the US, after all it seems to have been running for a year already and is just getting more intense. Rove's argument actually makes a lot of sense, but will either side listen?

The Grassroots Activist or the High Profile Celeb?

It is interesting to find out which is better. Whether a high profile in the mass media or a simple grassroots campaign to activists backed by an online campaign will get someone elected. Well there is an experiment going on it seems. The campaign to be Liberal Democrat president. The most high profile contender is Lembit Opik, famous for his predictions that Asteroids will destroy the earth, for his relationships with a Weather Girl and a Cheeky Girl and most recently for being the advocate of the Segway. I cannot find a personal website for him across four pages of Google results but there are loads for News of the World stories, Hello Magazine etc etc. So he is well known and one could suggest he would have some support.

His opponent is Ros Scott, member of the House of Lords and a grassroots campaigner. She has a great website 'I'm 4 Ros', has a regularly updated blog 'Because Baronesses are people too' and has spent a lot of time courting activists in the local party associations. She has no significant public profile, but she may be considered the more serious politician.

But here is the question. The majority of electors are ordinary members, not the activists that Scott would have been meeting, they will be aware of Opik from numerous media appearances. So who will win and why?

What's in a name

The Conservatives invite votes on the name for their new blog, the choices are pared down from thousands of suggestions to:
The Blue Room
The Blue Blog
Speakers' Corner
Out of the Blue
Voting ends Wednesday at midday. Why go to this trouble, if nothing else it gives a sense of co-ownership and offers the perception that the party does not have the objective of controlling the blog. It has been argued that parties return to a default position of control when designing online content, this gives an impression they will not. However that will be proven by the content itself, however at this stage it gets people involved and that is something every party needs.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A lack of strategy

In the current age of professionalised political communication, what is expected to be central to communication is strategic thinking at the macro level. Is Downing Street and Gordon Brown's problem a lack of strategy resulting from the high and quick turnover at the highest level in his short time as prime minister. PR Week today highlights that there are four key vacancies at No 10: Communications Advisor; Chief Press Officer; Head of the Strategic Communications Unit; and Chief Speechwriter. Now one can say these are peripheral roles and what is important is political decision making and not communication strategy. However, if there is no-one considering how to communicate policy, or possibly even to pick up flaws in the decisions that impact on communication (how can we sell the unsellable), then it may explain the strategic failures that seem endemic in policy announcements. With a conference in days and a general election in eighteen months this could a the critical failure in strategic thinking!