Wednesday, August 20, 2008

no case to answer?

One of the most popular petitions posted onto the 10 Downing Street website was a call for Jeremy Clarkson, journalist and fast car fanatic, to be made prime minister. Usually the response to all petitions is serious and measured, for this a video response was created that says "we thought about it and... maybe not".

I wonder if this is a missed opportunity to make a case why Gordon is better than Jeremy would be, given his support (or lack thereof) maybe a case was needed, or is just easy to dismiss the trivial petition independent of the fact that half a million are willing to sign it? I'm not sure, of course there was no way that the petition would be listened to or taken seriously, that was not the point, but maybe rather than showing their humorous side it could have made more of a case. Besides all this, why did Gordon not make an appearance and show his human and humorous side, perhaps an interview with Jeremy asking if he would want the job. It just lacks something and it could have been so much better and gained a lot more positive publicity, just a thought!

AND why can't you post a comment on the video on the No 10 YouTube channel or for that matter any of their videos: ah interactivity and engagement, or rather free advertising, Web 1.0 for beginners!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Authentic Endorsements

A while ago the Obama campaign ran a competition among donators to win backstage passes to the Democratic Convention. There are 10 winners and they are now being used as endorsers of his campaign to a wider audience. to get a sense of the tactic here are some snippets from the vignettes about "the people who make up our movement... of all different ages, races, and backgrounds":
Barb is a teacher living... on her family's wheat and cattle farm, and rising fuel prices are making it hard to get by. She hopes Barack's plan for alternative bio-fuels will help the struggling economy in rural Montana. Barb volunteers for her church, sits on a hospital board, and organizes community events.
Anne is a retired budget analyst for the federal government. She says the first time she saw Barack at the 2004 convention, she thought, "This is Everyman. He is Kansan and he is Kenyan; he is African and he is Anglo-American; he is common sense and he is eloquence; he is dynamic and he is down to earth."

Trinace is a single mother and disabled veteran who served overseas for the Iraq War. She currently works for the U.S. Army as a public affairs specialist. Trinace is inspired by Senator Obama's message of change and his plans to address all of the issues that she cares deeply about...

John served in the U.S. Army for 10 years. He says his two tours in Iraq with the 10th Special Forces Group opened his eyes to "the link between our country's lack of an effective energy policy and our flawed foreign policy."
In effect these are representatives of the wide spectrum that is America, yet also representative in many ways of people who may be floating voters. Rather than persuading these people himself, Barack Obama's campaign uses them to promote his presidency to those similar to these backstage pass holders: dissatisfied patriots who want change on the issues they care about. Neatly he also approaches issues that McCain has attacked him on such as the Iraq War, energy policy, bio-fuels and of course his nationality. it is argued to be a powerful tool, people listen to people who are like them, if these messages and similar tactics become widely disseminated it may win over some of those unsure of Obama.

Getting Noticed

If you are a fringe political movement or campaign, and when I say fringe I mean non-electoral, perhaps no more than a few people, the challenge is gaining any sort of coverage for the campaign. Basically apart from the few people within and around the members no-one knows who you are, what you are about, or that the campaign/movement exists. Well there seems one way that is frequently employed, use Twitter. The basic idea is simple, as anyone with a PC and Internet access can have a Twitter account then it offers a level playing field. You can then search within Twitter for those interested in, for example, politics/environmentalism, or at least you can find people posting on those issues. Once located you choose follow to as many people as you can, this can be done randomly but it is less scientific. Now, if you are the campaign you do not necessarily wish to hear from all of those people you are following, but the hope is that following is reciprocal. That when someone gets an email alert to say, for example, Prevent Nuclear War is now following you, you will go to your account, look at their profile and follow them in return. According to Twitterfacts, there are currently around 340,000 users and on average 2000 new accounts are created each day, Neville Hobson estimates there were 750,000 members in January 2008, Twitterfacts predicts a million in April 2008 possibly 2 million by the end of the year; whatever the reality that is quite a reach for a campaigner with a PC, compared to the days of street leafleting it is massive. Equally, as the graph just of Belgian Twitter users shows, it is about networking; so if you can get a follower within a network you may gain others as messages are forwarded and re-posted. Who knows if it leads to greater interest, support or sign-ups; no-one yet I imagine! But it is one further way that social media and the interconnectedness facilitated by Web 2.0 allows a more level political playing field and accelerates the pluralism of ideas and arguments, nice to finish on an idealistic note every now and again - go on shoot me down!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The power of the ism

Remember the old BT ad, Maureen Lippmann playing the grandmother congratulating her grandchild on her results "well you've got and ology, you must be a scientist", something along those lines anyway (now fitting for results day). The political equivalent of the ology seems to be the ism, we have had Communism, Thatcherism, you name there is an ism, it simply means a distinctive doctrine, a theoretical and ontological perspective from which all decisions flow. Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, Richard Reeves, "Cameronism is certainly not an ideology, nor even - yet - a coherent political philosophy". The criticism Reeves offers, and the article for who quotes him, is that the lack of a philosophy leads to greater similarity between the parties and a focus on image management (or at least dodging bad publicity).

But perhaps there is a point that is missed by the critics. While it is probably true that there is no ideology shining like a beacon from the windows of Conservative HQ, there are a set of values that we associate with Conservatism, they may be blurred with those of Blairite Labourism, or Blairism, but this has been part of a long process, a drift away from big ideas. Ideological isms have been replaced, politics is now about pragmatism and managerialism. The big idea, according to Oliver Letwin, one claimed to be an intellectual conceptualisation of Project Cameron, is 'Rolling forward the frontiers of society' but is this a doctrine or a soundbite? If one looks at public policy over the last ten years it is difficult to see a coherent ideological thread running through them. Rather one sees specific responses to problems, or specific innovations, each of which fit to their context. Similarly the campaigning centres more on who is best to run the country, to take the tough decisions and make the right choices, who perhaps can fit best as representative of the majority, than who has the grand ideas. What happened to the grand ideas such as The Third Way, books have been written on it but few demonstrate clearly how it became a guide over policy. In fact most highlight the essential truth of Reeves' not particularly original statement, that the Third Way is a path in between the old doctrines of right and left: ergo we are all in the Third Way now.

So essentially Reeves and is right, but also both seem to miss the point. It is not the case that Cameron lacks an ism but that electoral politics lacks its isms. Is there an Obamaism, a Mccainism, as Sarkozyism, not really. Their campaigns may have slightly different values but the key question they ask is who is best to run the country, on that basis perhaps the one ism they all share is popularist managerialism - 'elect me, you will like the result' seems to be the modern slogan, just above 'elect me, I'm better than him' - some may think that isms should be central to politics but one wonders if the masses care that much.

New polling method predicts US election result

Keith Olbermann of MSNBC's Countdown reports that Obama has been predicted to win the US presidential election by a landslide. The poll was taken across six minor league baseball stadiums over six nights and asked 'voters' to choose their preference by selecting the bobblehead doll (pictured) of their favoured candidate. The bobblehead is a human version of the nodding dog, normally dolls are of baseball players but you can pick up a range of 'nodding' celebs from Einstein to Mr T. Olbermann is not too specific who set this 'experiment' up but it can do the Obama campaign no harm - the news is that ordinary America think he is the best candidate. What is scary is that someone, somewhere thought this would be the best way to predict the outcome of an election, scarier still is the lead mirrors polls around the same time. I think it was a local Yorkshire-based newspaper that showed fruit and veg stalls selling the appropriately coloured products to match the parties during the 2001 UK General Election, not sure if bobbleheads would be a good alternative or if Brown, Cameron or Clegg would agree to having their doll made either. Well they might... Brown might be willing to have anything made that will improve his popularity!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Does repeat-remind get boring?

I always wonder about this, I remember one candidate for election in 2001 saying that Labour had a repeat-remind mantra that stated when you were sick of saying something the majority of your audience may only just be starting to retain the message, I was not convinced. I am equally unconvinced about the effectiveness of Obama's continuing strategy. From the start he has avoided out and out negativity but compared himself to other candidates as the outsider versus the insiders. His outsider status is founded on his public (mass movement) funding. With McCain this attack is clearly valid, however since signing up to his emails that is the only message I get. Maybe I am in the wrong demographic to get other messages but it seems to be the same message over again: "John McCain [is] trying to convince you that you've been swept up and tricked into wanting change... To sell this ridiculous idea, McCain and the RNC are using huge checks from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs to run negative ads attacking Barack Obama and the millions of volunteers and donors who have joined this campaign for change". I can see the aim, to solidify the movement he has created online and on the streets against McCain, but I suspect this is something they are anyway. But I do wonder if the US voter is getting a little bored with this, it is a message I have seen replicated on websites, campaign ads etc etc, is this the real cause of Obama fatigue, not just his omnipresence i nthe media but because when he appears he says the same thing too often? More generally, when does this lose its resonance and become as boring as certain car insurance ads that we barely notice anymore?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ready for the election?

Its a funny time for politics is the summer, the politicians are all on beaches and the media are inventing news based on supposition, hints and the odd leaks. But every now and again there is an odd story that floats up the the surface that is actually interesting. Gordon Brown, it is claimed, is to write a book on Britishness. You may think he would be too busy but apparently not, I must admit I thought books were things politicians wrote after they leave high office. But maybe the intention is for a release to come just before the next general election, perhaps it will be a large piece of branding that has Brown alongside a range of the 'great and good' putting forward an idealised image of society under a fourth Labour term of office. Or am I just a terrible cynic?