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!