Monday, December 14, 2009

Election, what election

Once again we are given indications that a General Election is due 'early', perhaps in March, as opposed to June 2010. Why is this on the agenda is a question? This benefits the Conservatives in two ways, firstly they want everyone to be thinking about a General Election. They need people to be making choices as early as possible and want to keep sustained pressure on public opinion and, of course, on Gordon Brown. But they might also want to try to re-live that moment a couple of years ago of the election that never was. If they can build up the expectation of an election, and again it fails to materialise, will it further impact on Brown's reputation? Of course we know Brown is waiting for his moment, and is working hard to improve his standing among the public - the first prime minister since Churchill to spend the night in a war zone for example - Cameron's problem is he has to wait and pressure is the only weapon an opposition has in effecting the date of an election.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What have birds and Maude the Cow got in common?

They both Twitter! No really, how successful this has been I do not know. Maude is the Anchor Butter mascot, and has been twittering for a while.
The function is purely brand awareness despite the fact that the tweets rarely mentions the brand it is a way of gaining attention and delivering audiences to the brand homepage. The outcome, they hope, is that next time one of the 1,329 followers, or perhaps friends made aware of the twittering cow, are at the spreads aisle of the supermarket Anchor is front of mind and that purchase maybe even helping that cow survive. The trick is to have the attractive anthropomorphic mascot to front the campaign - think Alexander Orlov who likes comparing his fellow Meerkats - perhaps Tory Bear can do the same in a political context.

You need cheerleaders

It is unknown what impact the blogosphere has. There is some academic discussion of it acting as an echo chamber for ideas; basically that the messages of a brand, politician, political party or journalist become repeated and circulated across weblogs. Thus it can amplify messages or, by amplifying the messages of one party, it can reduce the impact of opponents. While there are active Labour and Liberal Democrat bloggers, it is the Conservatives that have the most organised, most followed and most sophisticated support in the blogosphere. Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes have become pseudo political celebrities as well as reasonably respected commentators (more the former than the latter) and there are a number of others such as Dizzy and Tory Bear with a significant readership. These may well be significant players among those who follow online debates. Guido mainly now seems to attack Labour at every opportunity, this critique of a party election broadcast is a particularly good swipe at the Labour spin machine


I have only seen one Labour blogger doing the same, Recess Monkey (whose amusing response to the video, if not to the criticisms made, is below) in fact left wing bloggers seem to also take a critical stance a lot of the time.
So the Conservatives have a lot of cheerleaders online while Labour, it seems, are failing to make any breakthrough in this respect. This may be symptomatic of the party's standing; it may be a failure to mobilise supportive bloggers, it may be that this simply not done in Labour circles. If there is an impact, and cheerleaders are important in amplifying messages and getting messages across to new audiences then Labour seem to be seriously lacking here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The power of the viral

The trick with viral campaigning is make it funny, make it something everyone understands and make it something everyone gets (in terms of a joke). While this may not find resonance with everyone, and you can criticise it as nothing more than a cheap joke, it is very quick turnaround for a political party and is nicely current.
Of course this is just the start of the deluge of photo shopped pictures that are going to be circulated by parties and their supporters over the next six months prior to an election so the joke will wear thin after a while; but as a one-off it may well get coverage across the Internet. And of course this is its only function, getting seen, understood and retained as a message; anything that derides Labour is doing the Conservatives a favour!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Online campaigning as collaborative diegesis

If your first thought is 'Huh' bear with me. I was at an interesting research seminar yesterday run here at Bournemouth by colleague Joe Flintham who was talking of the notion of a collaborative diegesis. Diegesis may sound a complex thing but it is something we are all familiar with, it is the world which is created by any narrative, that which involves us and we are transported to when we read a book, watch a film etc. For Joe, his work is on fiction and collaboration in stories using a range of media (see Hauntology for one of his experimental projects which invited people to add sounds while exploring a 'haunted' table with drawers). I was struck by the idea of a collaborative narrative which builds and develops a story and was thinking of its application beyond the world of fiction.


Here was my thought. Social Networking Sites are naturally collaborative, a profile page on Facebook, YouTube etc can be populated by the creator but also by visitors to that profile. Each contributing comment on a post, picture or video adds to the original item and so provides a further dimension that can be experienced by future visitors. Political profiles, be they fan pages, individual MP's pages or party video sites usually allow comments. The similarity with contributions to something like Hauntology is striking. Some are reflective on the original item; some tangential and related to the host, production values, spelling, whatever; some relate to the meta-narrative (big picture) such as a campaign or contest, values or a world view; they are each personal and had meaning at the time of their posting. Of course there is censorship of the contributions, and perhaps this results in a wholly supportive narrative, this is a necessary feature of oppositional politics. However is something like the contributions to the Post shown on the right, something which seems almost a unique feature of Obama's campaign and presidency in terms of the numbers contributing if nothing else, a collaborative diegesis? Is this creating a world constructed by a collaborative narrative which is enveloping Obama as the character at the centre? Is this narrative not only persuasive, in terms of the endorsements of Obama by the members of the Facebook community, but also transportational; does it conjure the image of a world in which Obama has a free hand, or the world he wants to create, and so why he should be supported. It was an idea inspired by Joe's talk and so all feedback and comments welcome.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Co-producing a campaign

There is perhaps nothing more persuasive than a message than comes from someone you feel to be similar to yourself. We are persuaded most often by our friends and loved ones, they have a profound impact upon our attitudes and behaviour on a daily basis; most of the time we are unaware of that impact. Many campaigns attempt to replicate the power of what, I guess, can be called peer pressure. The Conservative party wall of videos, the fan pages on Facebook, all attempt to get the public to endorse a party on the basis that people like them are already doing so.

Barack Obama is doing the same with the issue of Health Care Reform. The campaign ran a competition to make a video that would promote the campaign. The YouTube site claims there have been "nearly 1,000 submissions, 20 amazing finalists, and more than 3 million views" for the call. The have selected a winner: Eric Hurt (the video is below)

The winning video is very simple in its message. It links well to the theme of Organising for Amwerica by offering short future narratives from children on what would happen if they have an accident and need medical care. It is a message to get people to donate to the campaign, to lobby on behalf of the campaign, and so to put pressure on elected representatives to pass the reform bill. The power of this is the people who are backing the campaign, this one video has received 70,404 views and received 135 comments since it was posted eight hours ago; scanning the comments they are all positive about the campaign. The tactics of soliciting people's input and posting on a social network allows the supporting citizens to co-produce the campaign messages and make the camapign belong as much to the people as to Obama. Whether they represent a majority or not it gives the impression of a movement; whether there are any lessons that can be drawn from this and applied elsewhere is difficult to say. Obama has a unique approach to being President, if he wins this campaign he may well be seen to be the ultimate advocate of people power; if not he may be able to shrug this off as a brave attempt to back the people that was thwarted by vested interests on Capitol Hill. It seems that co-production is not just persuasive, but also offers a win-win zone for Obama and the people of the US.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Widget Campaigning

Widgets have become quite important in online campaigning. Widgets are simple little devices that allow brands to be promoted across their supporters web sites and various online presences. The problem with this strategy is motivating supporters, or in fact any web user, to want to place that widget on their site.

The Conservatives may have found a solution. The General Election Countdown (right) is part of a wider campaign, spearheaded by party chairman and de facto (if not in reality) face of their campaigns, Eric Pickles. He wants to ensure that members and supporters keep focus on the election and do not see it as a foregone conclusion whatever public opinion suggests. He is an interesting choice, his down-to-earth and amiable manner, greeting viewers of the latest video with 'Hello Chums' gives the impression of an ordinary guy; the serious message of the mountain the party have to climb to win delivered in a serious but friendly manner encouraging supporters to work for the party. The widget allows you to countdown to the election while also promoting the party slogan 'Now for Change'. The countdown itself is quite cool, well perhaps it is to political nerds like me anyway, time for Labour to find their own widget for supporters.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Politician Endorsement

Odd to see a politician being used in an advertisement as a positive endorser of a message. It seems the power of the 'Yes We Can' slogan, its symbolic meaning, coupled with Obama's reforms is striking a chord in the US and so is being used to back social messages. No idea why this was emailled to me but thought it was interesting enough to share.

Why winning Glasgow North East was important but meaningless

Labour's first good news story for a very long time is their victory in Glasgow North East. While the figures show an increased majority up to 60% and what could be described as a landslide endorsement of Brown's government, such indications may be erroneous. By-elections are strange beasts. It would be nice to see a resurgent Labour party, whatever your political persuasion it is a good thing for democracy. But this is not the indicator of this happening. Turnout was only 33%, Labour's majority was always high (though previously unopposed by the major parties) and their overall number of votes decreased slightly. The Scottish National Party gained around 1,000 votes the other parties made little headway at all. But consider the resources thrown at the contest. The visits made the Labour supporters in this traditional heartland seat feel important. If only opening a local or national newspaper they found their area centre stage with the prime minister (or similar figure) walking their streets. This will not happen at the General Election. The General Election will be decided in those marginal constituencies, here resources will be deployed to their maximum but those voters may be much harder to persuade to vote (or support Labour) than the hardened Labourites of Glasgow. Unfortunately for many local MPs and PPCs, it is the question of who should, or who should not, be prime minister that will dominate the contest. In Glasgow it was a question of do they still believe in Labour, they did, but the election will ask a very different question of a range of very different voters. Thus this is a momentary blip in Labour's fortunes, they need a much more positive note to be sounded at the national level to find a resurgence in time for 2010.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A bit of satire

Though there is perhaps the argument that I should have tried harder, I just could not resist sharing this satirical video depicting the US presidential campaign of 2008.


Having watched it twice i think it is slightly pro-Obama given its depiction of McCain as a warmonger and the serious digs at Obama were the discredited 'Osama bin Laden' attacks and his relaxed communication style shown on chart shows and some public appearances. Kind of nice to see the whole contest given a pseudo-South Park make over.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Its all about having a digital footprint

As part of the CENMEP project I have been reviewing how UK political parties used the Internet at the 2009 European parliamentary election. Looking back at Wainer Lusoli's work from 2004 it is hard to see any significant differences in strategy. Websites are now better constructed using the most up to date technologies, but only if you have the resources. In the case of the the majority of the 25 parties standing it was an online brochure offering little that was engaging when compared to the norms of Internet use across the corporate and not-for-profit sector. The big difference is the migration into social networking sites. Most parties now feature on Facebook, many use Twitter, YouTube is an easy way to promote videos be they sophisticated or home made, Flickr hosts photos of the leader or perhaps candidates. These do offer a new level of engagement, as on the whole you can comment on many of the material posted but I wonder if that is really the intention. Few parties seem to do much that encourages interaction. It seems to be, as the post title suggests, a way of extending the party's digital footprint; being found easily and so getting the message out as opposed to communicating with potential voters. So is the use of social networking little more than a way of advertising for free for political organisations? Beyond a small minority that seems to be the case. But the question is can we expect more, can the interactive features of SNS be adapted for political purposes within the context of a persuasive campaign? The suggestion is that we will see more of this at the UK 2010 election but whether there will be a substance to this online migration is a big question - all thoughts and predictions welcome.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What are the point of parties having shops

Well if: "you've ever had your heart set on an official Conservative Party mug, an 'It's time for a Change' baby-grow, or even a 'Honk for Change' car sticker, then I've got some good news for you" is the opening line of the promotional email send under the name of party chairman Eric Pickles. The 'goodies' are not exactly original, I am unsure how often 'Time for Change' has been used in some form as a slogan, though it is expected of any challenger when their opponents have had incumbency for a long period of time. Equally Honk for... car stickers were popularised during the contest to be nominee and President in the US - even with a Honk if Hillary scares you variant. I quite like the T-shirts 'Don't blame me I voted Tory' and 'Release your inner Tory', winners of the party's recent competition, and they are quite amusing in a non-political way while getting a message across.

But are these things that will really have any impact in terms of support and visible endorsement or contributing to the party funds? The latter I doubt a lot, and lets face it if there is even an expectation that there will be a financial impact then the party are in trouble financially and strategically. It is the former where these may be important. There are a range of impressions such things convey, wit and humour firstly which can defuse some of the negative impressions of politics. Secondly they are a visible expression of support and may have influence on people if they are seen around. Thirdly, and important in terms of campaigning locally, a team of people wearing Conservative logos and slogans can create a buzz on the streets. It shows a presence, it raises the profile of the campaing locally and gives the impression that there is an enthusiasm and excitement for the campaign.

Perhaps actually this is something that all parties should consider supplying to their activists. A uniform T-shirt that gives the party visibility beyond the rosette or badge. It may not be the latest fashion item or be worn down the shops or in the bar, but as a campaign tool it may have a deeper significance.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Should the BNP be given the oxygen of publicity

It is a question that seems to be of concern to many at present and opinion is divided; should British National Party leader Nick griffin be allowed to appear on BBC's Question Time? The no argument is based upon whether it is right that a group that holds views out of step with those of a multicultural society should be given a public platform and the credibility that goes with that. There is a danger in censoring the BNP in this way, that is that we silence all opinions we do not agree with and that is a slippery slope away from democracy and the ideal of free speech. The yes argument essentially focuses on free speech and the fact that the BNP is a legitimate political party. Peter Hain questions this on the basis of last week's ruling that they need to change their constitution or be outlawed, and interesting twist that could have some truth if they are unable to conform to the ruling. But there longstanding argument is that the BNP should be allowed to take part in open debates in order to expose their true character. If their arguments are contested openly, their validity questioned, particularly their arguments regarding repatriation, then they may have less credibility in the longer term. It is an interesting idea and one I have much sympathy with; but it very much depends on how the debate goes and who is fielded to oppose Griffin on Question Time - makes it almost essential viewing for all those interested in politics! But there is a big question here, should anyone have a say? Should some views be censored? Or should their ideas be given the oxygen of publicity that may give them credence or see them die under the spotlight of public and media opprobrium? Writing to the BBC, Hain argues "In my view, your approach is unreasonable, irrational and unlawful." but is he correct?

Friday, October 16, 2009

One great put down

It does seem incredible that anyone can even make the link between health care reform and acting like a fascist dictator but that seems to be one tack of the anti-free health care campaign.


The respoonse "having a sensible with you would be like having one with a dining room table" (sic) is a classic from Senator Barney Frank. It also indicates just how polarised society is on this issue and how it taps into deeply held ideological positions that are engrained within US psychology. For some reason it is just not American for a broad swathe of the society Obama is trying to convince of the efficacy of this policy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A mere toenail in the body politic

This is a fascinating interview, Boris may be perceived as a bumbling fool but there is a very quick brain behind the shaggy mop. Maybe it is the training received on Have I Got News For You that stands him in good stead, but he is able to really undermine Jeremy Paxman who was not going for the jugular but was perhaps hoping Boris would go off message. The turning of the tables and being allowed to basically give a party political broadcast is wonderful - something between bluster and fillybuster, perhaps it demonstrates a better and more skillful side to media management than the stonewalling that most politicians offer.
(Shame the BBC wont allow the embedding of videos!!!)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Conservatives try to emulate Obama

One of the key elements of Barack Obama's campaign was the mybarackobama (MyBO) section of his website. What this did was allow subscribers to network with campaigners in their region, set up their own campaign initiatives as well as be led by the Obama team in terms of phone and door-to-door canvassing. Subscribers also received extensive amounts of emails, mainly asking them to donate to the campaign. The Conservatives are emulating this technique with MyConservatives.com. It is described as an online network, though currently it is a little short of members but it is early days. The activities that the site permits are taking an active role in campaigns in target constituencies; donating; phone canvassing; and setting up fundraising events 'with online ticketing'. It is not clear how the networking aspect will work, particularly for drawing together activists as was clearly happening within MyBO. Also it seems there is no blog in place to be used as a hub for campaigning. It is, however, interesting that an Obama technique has been picked up and transplanted by a UK party; the question is whether it will take off and what role this will play in the election campaign.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Street-Level Campaigning

It may seem strange to most except Daniel Hannan that there is a huge debate raging in the US about free health care. The anti campaign is talking about this as if it will bring on the end of civilisation, it is talked of as a threat to civil liberty. Obama is of course leading the campaign for free health care and it is an uphill struggle all the way. The communication strategy, as would be expected, is multi-layered including appearances on every primetime television channel (except Fox of course). But the most interesting is conducted beneath the media radar and is at the ground level. The communication is from members of his movement, or so we are told, people like Nicola Aro. The email via the mybarrackobama.com community begins with the campaign message "I was lucky enough to be one of the thousands of people who heard President Obama speak about health reform recently at the University of Maryland. As he told the fired up crowd, "Change starts with people -- especially young people -- who are determined to take this nation's destiny into their own hands.""; it then moves on to ask for volunteers to support the campaign and lobby their representative. The Campus Phone Booth idea is about people calling other people and getting them to do the lobbying for them.

Basically it is an attempt to maintain the power of the movement that supported Obama's campaign for the Presidency. More importantly it is about citizen advocacy, people convincing their peers to get involved and back the President's initiative. It is an attempt to counter the public debate that centres on the negatives. It could be a highly persuasive tool if enough students and young people can be mobilised to run a booth and second can then mobilise others to lobby Senators. It is risky, but if it can tap into support for the initiative, and those being asked to give their time believe that they can make a difference by doing so, it could be a highly successful way of putting pressure on Senate.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

#Twinge - Twitter's potential for politics

At Labour's Conference last night there was an interesting debate on the use of Twitter, interesting because it showed in many ways the full range of attitudes to the use of the Internet and social media within Westminster. The debate was blogged live on Channel 4 news website and via Twitter (appropriately). Of the bits they showed, Tom Watson came over as the advocate. Not surprising really, given his history as a pioneer of new media and blogging in particular. For him though, social media is a way of connecting with like-minded people and given them opportunities to discuss issues of importance. For him, social media enhances democracy; possibly Kerry McCarthy (Labour Twitter Tsar) would agree. Caroline Flint rather sat in the middle on this. She was concerned about the time this kind of interactivity could take but also made what is actually a very good point that social media cannot be used to substitute other forms of interaction. But she also offered the typical political line: "at least you can get your version of the truth out there". So for her it has some uses but possibly more for propaganda and persuasion than connectivity or interactivity. Ed Balls made an interesting point about proving authenticity, and the fact that when you are a Minister people are sceptical that it is really you sending the tweets; absolutely true. He also commented on the fact it is hard to be interesting all the time, yes accept that too. But his comments also showed that his use lacked any real strategy and he was being taken somewhere through the use of social media. So he is led by the bandwagon perhaps, but is perhaps being drawn to communicate in different ways because of that. If anyone wants to seek hope from this it is perhaps in the approach of Tom Watson, the man who wants to bring people closer to politics. However, he may not be alone. Users like Ed Balls may become drawn towards a more inclusive style due to the nature of the communication and the use by one section of the Twitter community. So it may have potential for democracy after all, though still some like to announce what they had for breakfast - fancy boiled eggs now!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Forging a Progressive Alliance

One the day of the start of the Liberal Democrat Conference the Conservatives have launched a rather interesting tactical video. The video depicts a meeting between David Cameron, Eric Pickles and eight Liberal Democrats who have defected to the Conservatives. The message seems to be that if you are serious about politics, and about wanting a more progressive government then you should join the Conservatives. Indeed, in the email to publicise this, Eric Pickles is explicit in stating "I'm asking them to help form a progressive alliance to get rid of this failed Labour Government. An alliance built on our shared aims of personal freedom, a commitment to the environment, and a desire to protect the most vulnerable at home and in the rest of our world".

The featured defectors include Chamilo Fernando the youngest person to have been short-listed by a mainstream political party to be a mayoral candidate for London; Tarik Mahmood, former candidate for Rossendale Council and the seat of Uxbridge in 2005; Norsheen Bhatti, PPC for Chelsea and Fulham who recently courted some media attention for outspoken comments about Clegg's leadership; and Jeff Clarke who stood for Wirral West in 2005. They are an interesting group that, due to their backgrounds and ethnic origins, demonstrate diversity and openness. They are very much the embodiment of the concept of a progressive alliance, as are the reasons they give for their switch.

On a more critical note, beyond questions of the extent to which the video is scripted and more of an advertisement than a record of an event which are expected of such a promotional tool, this raises many questions about the state of British politics. It demonstrates the weakness of ideology, the fluidity of party loyalty and, perhaps, the hunger for having proximity to power as opposed to a party coalescing around an idea. It is leadership that matters to some, to others it is broad policy priorities; though this perhaps reflects broader society than just those within politics. It also perhaps indicates a further key theme for the Conservatives at the forthcoming General Election. While questioning the record of Labour they also seek to undermine the Liberal Democrats' support and attempt to reclaim the supporters they lost to the party in the South while also winning over previous Labour supporters who now lean towards the Liberal Democrat. This could actually be quite successful, particularly as the arguments are presented not by recognisable Conservative figures but by Liberal Democrat activists. Is it appropriate to ask for switching, well it has been done by all parties in marginal seats using derivatives of 'XXXX can't win here, so vote for... US'; this is a slightly More advanced version that may have resonance with those not fully sold on Clegg as Liberal Democrat leader, who recognise a sense of futility in the fact that the Liberal Democrats will not (or may never) form a government, and who buy into the compassionate, progressive Conservative project!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

We Have More To Offer

Is the translation of 'wir haben mehr zur bieten' the caption of an ad by the Christian Democrats in the current German election campaign.
While there are various readings and interpretations of the phrase itself, juxtaposed with the picture of party leader Angela Merkel and her colleague Vera Lengsfeld suddenly there are other readings and interpretations that may or may not be intended (though it is hard to imagine the pictures are chosen in a random way). Looking at the ad one wonders exactly what it was that the producers, and indeed Merkel herself, wanted to convey and if this is the sort of image and brand connotations Merkel and the CDU want or not. Interesting definitely!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I have heard a lot of discussions about the use of the Internet in relation to political engagement in one form or another. Political science approaches at the ECPR are becoming attuned to the new 'communicative ecosystem', in particular that it is no longer sensible to talk of a politics as usual when participation at some level is unavoidable - and if initiated by the political actors and organisations or not. Equally, discussions at the Web Metrics symposium organised by Royal Holloway University of London largely centred on understanding the users and fitting that to the strategy of either the research or the organisation.

In terms of political communication what seems clear is that organisations have a choice of whether or not to develop a Web 2.0 strategy, and in considering this the organisation has also to consider what benefits and threats exist. Parties and governments may see open access as a threat, as individuals contribute and so distort the message and make communication unmanageable. However individuals and other organisations see only opportunities. I noted this example from Greenpeace's use of Facebook. Canadian activists have seized two giant dump trucks and a shovel at the Albian Sands open-pit mine north of Fort McMurray and have vowed to remain chained to the equipment until their message was heard. It has received widespread news coverage; however Greenpeace are reaching a global audience via Facebook also, posting pictures and receiving 'likes' from their audience (see screenshot). The reason they may do this is that this might target their supporters better, mobilise support online and gain greater interest in this and their other campaigns. While 155 likes and 14 comments may seem paltry, one has to remember that all the friends of those 155 have been informed of their friends' endorsement. Some may look at the link out of curiosity, and thus the reach increases. Such tactics seem increasingly common and a part of the new networking ecosystem that social networking facilitates. Electoral politics, Obama aside, are behind the curve on this but activists are showing the way in reaching wide audiences quickly and cheaply.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Conservative conundrums

Is it really six weeks since I last posted, how time flies. Summer is for holidays though, and the trouble with holidays is catching up afterwards, hence silence for a while. But it has also been somewhat dull in British politics. Dull because there is a lot of care being taken as all parties prepare for a general election. The most fascinating struggles seem to be taking place in the Conservative party. While there seem to be a constant stream of rumours surrounding behind the scenes machinations within Labour circles (for example); the Conservative power struggles are very public. The substance is also fairly revealing.

Alan Duncan's off message argument in favour of expenses was dangerous for the new compassionate Conservative brand; thus he was eventually dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet. Interestingly Daniel Hannan's rant against the NHS was simply dismissed as opposed to any form of censure against him. Perhaps this is because he is not a lone voice, given others also spoke out in support of him, but also because there is a groundswell of support for his stance within Conservative circles. However Edward McMillan-Scott is less lucky, he has been expelled for his opposition to the Conservatives' new alliance in the European Parliament and his decision to stand for Vice President against one of the party's new allies.

Perhaps what this suggests is that the party is struggling with certain policies that are extremely close to Conservative hearts. The party is clearly distancing itself from the duck houses that Tory grandees were buying to feather their nests (sorry, couldn't resist). They are perhaps not closing debates on the NHS, though are keen to marginalise them without fully extinguishing those voices. However the position on the EU is irreversible. The party wishes to be clear about its opposition to federalism and will not have that questioned. Perhaps the aim of all of this is to firm up the party's traditional support and amass it behind Cameron. Perhaps there is research that suggests he has more appeal among the floating voter than his own core support, an issue that dogged his early period as party leader. Perhaps what the party is doing is sending subtle signals to their core voters, supporters and activists that the party may have changed but certain values and positions remain.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Gordon Brown in his comfort zone

This is fascinating, there are some inaccuracies in the text here and there but what I find incredible about this is that here is a completely different side to Gordon Brown. His amusing anecdotes work, he has ideas, why is it then this character does not emerge in Westminster


I think it is comfort zones. Here he is in one. He is expressing ideas to an audience that want to hear and are not waiting to trip him up. He can be passionate here, whereas Westminster is too locked within party politics. An amazing difference. Perhaps demonstrates that some, like Tony Blair and David Cameron have not just the charisma but the mental skills that allow them to acclimatise to the pressures that face party leaders. Brown is a passionate but cerebral politician, he perhaps lacks those skills and so does not appeal to the audience that want simple cues about the character of a leader in the current fragmented media age. Just my thoughts!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Jo Swinson experiences the dangers of SNS

Social networking is becoming a part of the political communication process for many MPs, and linking up Twitter and Facebook is a way of getting messages out to a range of audiences. A couple of studies undertaken by myself and Nigel Jackson have shown party politics to be the least popular usage of such sites and perhaps this is one bit of clear evidence why not.
Liberal Democrats have the greatest number of MPs using social networking, and there is a logic for them to do things like this by Jo Swinson: advertise what party leader Nick Clegg contributed to PMQs. The mainstream media focus on the battle between prime minister and prime minister in waiting, not the actions of the minor parties to the same extent. So they try to alter this imbalance. However, once they are party political, and if they amass an array of friends or followers from outside of the party circle, they can gain comments such as this. If removed it suggests censorship, if not they have a highly negative, and yes pretty crude, comment about the current party leader on their profile. This can be embarrassing either way. Therefore, there are dangers with using SNS to promote the party in this way as such comments can also be mediated by other members of these communities and the result can be the antithesis of what was intended.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Twitter Control

I know that Hillary Clinton and John McCain are all now within Obama's team, but one would think that they would not all be saying exactly the same thing and almost exactly the same time. However it seems that the Obama machine is now in charge of all their Twitter accounts and so, if you are sad/unlucky/fortunate (delete as appropriate) to subscribe to all you end up with the feed (left). So who really thought that the live confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor needed that much publicity? More substantially, does this not suggest the stifling of the voices of those included into government because of their talent, I know it is 'only' Twitter, but it suggests a strong control mechanism over public/political communication from anyone with the Obama team. This seems to run counter to the notion of including your rivals and to the open and transparent image of the administration. or am I just a pedant?

No spin, no rhetoric, no bull, no idea

video

Have you ever wondered what politicians would be like if they had no special advisors, no spin doctors, they just appeared on camera and spoke like the ordinary guy in the street. This is the late Australian Labour Party senator Bob Collins, he had a rather chequered career but his has to be a high point. I would love to see Paxman's reaction to someone like this.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Packaging Cuts?

No I'm not talking about the stuff that our beg comes in, but how politicians talk of a cut in spending when they are unable to say they are cutting spending. Labour have put themselves into a rather difficult position it seems: they have to reduce the amount the government spends but cannot announce public spending reductions. So there is a lot of talk about 'cuts' from the Conservatives and various journalists, while Labour politicians talk of maximising finite resources. I actually thought Ed Balls did rather well, though Andrew Marr did not exactly savage him, but he used language very carefully. He talked of demanding savings and 'smarter' and 'defter' spending, so targeted where need is most, though of course if previously spending has not been smart and targeted it does beg a few questions. This of course will be the key wedge issue between the parties, Conservatives accusing Labour of over-spending and reckless economics, while also obfuscating and concealing the true extent of the problems and their cuts. Meanwhile, as Balls frequently stated, Labour's position is the Conservatives will reduce public spending in favour of 'the rich' so appealing to those reliant on public services and fearing a heavy tax burden. If this remains the key issue through to May next year who the public trust most could determine the outcome of the election and there may be many hovering pencils when voters try to work out who is the most believable or least untrustworthy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why should we believe either side?

I have a real problem with negative political campaigning. Evidence suggests that it does work, but only among those who are already supportive of the message and, usually, the sender. They tend to polarise their audience, they are either for or against based on their existing predispositions. They do not convince people however, in fact they have a wholly negative impact on undecided voters and turn them away from the system generally as opposed to simply the person under attack. In order to explain why I use a video circulated by the Conservatives which is a good example of the effects of negativity.

This video asks the viewer to believe Gordon Brown is a liar and is misleading the public over his and the Conservative Party's spending plans and who will make cuts to public service spending. Those who distrust Brown and like Cameron and the Conservatives will believe it and, perhaps, their pro-Conservative voting intentions will be increased. The reverse will be the case for pro-Brown and pro-Labour supporters. That is all fine. But the problem is for the rest of the audience. The Conservatives may be pushing against an open door in terms of public opinion, around 40% indicate they would vote for them if there was an election tomorrow, the question is whether all of these people are likely to change their minds. But even if we assume 40%, it leaves some that may well be undecided or still not totally convinced. The message in the video asks them to trust the Conservatives and not trust Labour, but this can also lead to confusion. There is a further question asked: 'Who should I believe', this leads to 'Who can I trust' and importantly 'What are the motives behind this message'. If the message is deemed to be chasing votes then trust in the sender will be reduced, if also the motives of Brown are questioned then this reduces trust in him also; hence the system suffers as the audience then is seeking an alternative to both or considering abstaining as the choice becomes too difficult. Hence this strategy may actually have a negative impact beyond that which is intended!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Parmjit's Plan

An election is taking place today, it is purported to be for the most important role in British politics, yet the public has no say and the role may seem to be arcane as it is steeped in tradition. The Speaker of the House of Commons is the person who decides who is, and perhaps importantly who is not, allowed to intervene in debates; they oversee the rules of conduct and behaviour both in the public eye and, at least previously, behind closed doors. Effectively they are an MP who controls the behaviour of other MPs, they are from one of the parties but the role is independent and above party politics, but there seem to be party political advantages to the job as it seems the party with the biggest majority is always keen to shoe in one of their own into the job.

The task of the Speaker elected today will be perhaps a little more complex than has previously been the case, they will be charged with cleaning up British politics and ushering in a new era of transparency. In their speeches many have offered just that, particularly front runners Margaret Beckett and John Bercow. An interesting pitch has been made by outsider Parmjit Dhanda. He stands as something of a revolutionary alongside the other reformers. He has called for a more accessible parliament that does something close to debate roadshows and where the public are able to log on to a website to choose debate subjects. On his blog Parmjit argues: "We need to give ownership of Parliament to the people. Hence Ministers, Shadow Ministers and whips will need to relinquish their control of the Parliamentary Agenda. Through new technology like Internet polling the public should choose the issues for ‘topical debate’. And instead of poorly attended debates lacking atmosphere in Westminster Hall, Parliament should relocate Ministers and the entire apparatus for these debates to Town Halls around the country".

He picks up a very important point here, that there is a huge disconnection between the pomp and tradition of parliament, the way that MPs work and operate and the way that they are governed and the rest of society. Few understand the working life of an MP, few engage with what goes on in parliament, and so while the majority still vote and feel it is a duty it is likely few really understand what it is they are voting for. People need to be brought back into the process. Parmjit Dhanda argues that people are engaged in politics, but on Facebook and social networking sites while parliament chugs along. The big question is whether people would engage or whether there would be the same level of nuisance engagement as the Downing Street polls or would people really get behind such an initiative? While Parmjit is an outsider and unlikely to be in a position to enact his ideas, perhaps these ideas are ones that need to be discussed further as parliament looks to the future and reforms not just the way MPs are paid but also the way they do their business.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Propaganda?

It is suggested that after word of mouth, the dramatic and entertaining narrative can be a one of the most powerful persuasive tools. The reason why soaps such as Eastenders and Hollyoaks are often used for social marketing and awareness campaigns (safe sex, HIV, child abuse) is that while audiences are caught up in the personal narrative of the character's lives they are also receiving a range of messages about the things happening to that character. The Mark Fowler narrative in Eastenders provided the audience with an insight into what it was like to be HIV positive and how fear-based discrimination impacted on the person and their family. It cultivated new ideas and promoted understanding. Mostly such things are fairly worthy but there is a lot of propaganda and branding as well, US films promote images of the nation and its history as well as ideological perspectives of events; perhaps not so worthy.
It struck me while suffering the second part of May Contain Nuts last night that I was watching another example of this. It was a left wing perspective of society that pitted the underprivileged against the elite with a well meaning, aspirational but in many ways hapless couple caught in the middle with their principles being questioned continually and often failing right up until the end. The Yuppie or Sloane Ranger, epitomised in the character of Ffion (with two F's) exhibited a narrow-minded, self-centred individualistic character that is the product of Thatcher's Britain. But few positives were attached to the character, she expected the mother of the mathematically gifted black girl from the local council estate, refused a scholarship at the Chelsea School for Girls, to be a prostitute and drug addict. While the simplistic plot of mother trying to get her daughter into the school, taking her daughter's exam for her, being helped out by the gifted black girl, and then finally admitting that she had cheated was the central narrative there was far more to it. There was a highly negative portrayal of the values of the private school and its attitude to underprivileged families. There was a damning of the aspirant middle class that are removed from and look down on council estates, secondary schools and the state sector generally.
Little surprise it was written by John O'Farrell, as a left winger this is clearly an ideological perspective of the world that contains a certain degree of truth but builds up characters as rather one sided stereotypes constructed to build a narrative. But its pro-secondary school narrative also has a sense of the personal and political about it. He is a staunch Labour supporter and activist, and his vision of society is consistent with the party ethos whether we recognise that to be the case or not based on the behaviour of the government or its members. Equally he is a governor of Lambeth Academy, so has a vested interest in promoting a rosy view of the state school. None of that suggests anything sinister or serious, and there are plenty of political narratives out there that present perspectives of society from ideological perspectives. The general question is whether these things should be presented as entertaining dramatic and fictional perspectives, or whether there should be a caveat on many of these to say written from a, in this case, pro-Labour, socialist perspective? Just a question!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Engagement?

Labour, if albeit quietly apart from when Derek Draper was learning to tell the difference between his RSS and his elbow and getting it wrong, seemed to have really stepped up their online strategy. There is now a 'Believe in Labour' Facebook group but also something that has the appearance of a party wiki. Labourspace seems to post policy ideas and for others to comment on them. Included on the site are videos, rather more professionally made than the average citizen is capable of, but appearing to show people making suggestions. Visitors can also sign up and create their own profile page which shows their posts, what campaigns their support and oppose etc. It also offers a range of ways for visitors and site members to share information and recruit others, so very Web 2.0. The conversation on England (below) shows a core argument, a range of contributions and contributors recruiting others.
Interestingly it appears to have been around for a while, posts go back to the beginning of this year, little could be found that is negative based on a scan of issues, it is very much about the big issues and not the nitty-gritty of policy or party politics but there are a range of small social issues discussed. It seems to be designed for members but is now being made more public via Facebook, surprising really that it was not made more of but perhaps that is the strategy. Have been reading a PhD recently, for the purposes of examination, that talks about relationship marketing and the internal market. What this site's function seems to be is a tool for bringing existing supporters closer to the party and government and perhaps then mobilise them as advocates and activists. The process could be that having signed up and contributed, if some effect is seen based on a contribution then this empowers the individual, gives them a feeling of efficacy, but also recognises who provides them this opportunity; they can tell others etc. Without signing up it is impossible to tell how many are signed up, how active the site is in reality or whether there is any links between activity and political action at the highest level (if anyone wants to share info that would be great) but it is an interesting tool that could be powerful if it has direct initial reach and can be disseminated to a critical mass through word of mouth.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Must Labour lose... in 2010

A Yougov poll conducted 29/05-04/06 has been used failry bluntly to explain voting for the BNP, but actually it reveals a great deal more about the state of engagement in British politics. In terms of the election itself it is questionable whether it matters, or whether the results can be translated into a national trend; the majority are expressing their views on Britain's relations with Europe or on the British 'political scene'; the problem is that both are transient and as Europe is unlikely to be a General Election issue, and the scene could well change following Brown's reforms, the next election will be framed by a very different context. Perhaps then the other revelations offered by the poll are more interesting.

Firstly, something which we were probably aware of, has been the break in generational loyalty but what is surprising is that this is least pronounced for Labour where 66% of current Labour voters are copying their familial predecessors. Currently Labour has lost the faith of those who are most loyal, but their allegiances are now spread across competitors; hence they may be able rescue their position electorally if they are able to recapture their heartland voters. Of course the erosion of loyalty from Labour is not new, I identified this in research in Barnsley back in 2002 after the famous low-turnout election of 2001, but is is perhaps becoming more pronounced and so leading to more protest voting. However, given that Labour is still perceived on the left and, perhaps more importantly, the Conservatives on the right and for the rich; an image that remains hard to shift particularly perhaps in the wake of those moat cleaners and duck houses. That said it seems that there is little real difference between the perceptions of parties in relation to issues or voter satisfaction. In fact the only slight difference, which one could note and say here is where the voters for any particular party can be identified from others is confidence of prosperity in years ahead. Supporters of the Conservatives and UKIP seem to have more fears than do voters for the more left parties; is this an opportunity for the right? Certainly the figures offer some insights into potential strategies; however the data needs more sophisticated analysis of the raw numbers to really glean powerful insights.

A final point, however, while many talk of media usage and the power of online across all the parties the traditional mass news media predominates; well almost. The BNP website is in many ways the most interactive; interestingly, and despite the media coverage, their supporters are more likely to use party websites (12% over 3/4% the next highest and joint median average). Are the BNP capitalising on the negativity of the mainstream media coverage and gaining direct communication with current and potential supporters, if so this is worrying as not only does this allow for purer persuasion (indoctrination perhaps) but also influence via the two-way communication facilitated on their forum. Something else to throw into the strategy pot.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Animals go to vote

I quite like this, it is funny in a way, with the animals stirring to the call to vote (reminiscent of Orwell's Animal Farm in a way), it is quite cheaply made (no pun intended) but its simplicity it also its appeal. For those who believe animals should have a political voice it is quite evocative and gets its message over without any negativity.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Reasons to Vote - by the parties

The recent election broadcasts give an interesting insight into the party campaign strategies. Aside from its rather stark, arty style in places, Labour's is strictly comparative and trying to encourage fears that the Conservatives would cut funding to areas that most benefit the least privileged. Interestingly it focuses on real people or actors and not the leader, perhaps reflecting a recognition that he is not attractive to voters. But the killer sales tool is celebrity endorsement, it is Eddie Izzard that stands at the end to ask for a vote for Labour as opposed to the leader as is traditional.


The Conservatives focus on the leader and repeat the shots from Cameron Direct, so showing him touring the country engaging with voters. Clearly the strategy is to highlight David Cameron as in touch, willing to engage as well as emphasising his good performance skills while also having a dig at Brown's unelected status.

Interesting Liberal Democrat leader leads on the one issue the others ignore, the expenses fiasco. Positioning the party as willing to revolutionise the system Nick Clegg talks directly to voters, on the level so encouraging the perception of him as honest and open. There is no other content; clearly the strategy is to appear the most honest and also talk directly on the issues people 'on the street' and the media are also giving greatest priority.

While the smaller parties focus mainly on the core issues it is interesting to take snapshots of the election broadcasts to gain an insight into the party's thinking. Of course all of these may be of academic interest only as they may have little impact given the negative image elected politicians have earned but interesting all the same.

Caption Competition

Sorry if you were expecting a picture to add comments to (well you can if you like!) or a prize (which you wont get) but looking at Boris Johnson's Twitter feed and amid his comments on where he is going or what he is doing (there is also public information in his own inimical style: i.e. "World Hepatitis Day today. 1 in 12 people are infected with Hep B or C. Shocking stuff. Get tested chums) but also he forwards links to Twitpics (you can make your own jokes about that) such as the one left. Looking at it I wondered exactly why he was sharing this. OK, there is is at the Tower of London with two beefeaters; but surely this is more like a holiday snap than a picture that indicates a hard working Mayor. On the whole the pictures feature Boris with the great and the good; but it is not just about image and presentation. Boris's pseudo celebrity status means he has quite a following and so gets a lot of comments; few are negative and most are in a very informal style as if one friend is talking to another. The above elicited the below comments.

Several tell him to get his hands out of his pockets, Rosina Carley calls him a 'scran bag' (whatever that is), 'empatt' a gorgeous scamp; it is very jokey and showing affection rather than opprobrium. And my point? Well the informality of him and his followers gives an impression of accessibility and openness. His very deliberate style of informality allows him to get away with a lot and this may be a good model to adopt for political leaders. Rather than the overtly third party approach of No. 10 Downing Street which has now morphed into the USEGOV newsfeed, this seems to be Boris. So could this be a good way of managing your public image?


Monday, June 01, 2009

Aww Cute

As part of a research project I have the (perhaps) uneviable task of coding a sample of party and candidate websites. A little mind-numbing at times but illuminating also. It is the fun things that stand out, so there may be a lot of observations popping up here over the rest of the week. One thing that surprises me is how dull most websites are, they have the air or something that is a secondary communication tool, something many parties and candidates (especially candidates) feel they need but are not sure what to do with. The most interesting are those that offer a little of a personal touch. On which note full marks to Rupert Matthews, one of the five Conservative candidates for the EP in East Midlands. Part of his site shows the Blue Bear on tour, as below Blue Bear visits Ashbourne and, perhaps less wisely, looks like it has been nailed to a chalet door on the Isle of Wight - made me chuckle! Probably sad but hey, its getting late in the day and i've been at this since 8am.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Why perception matters

Unsurprisingly polls indicate an landslide away from Labour next Thursday, they now lag behind even UKIP. More interesting is, according to the Times' analysis of the Populous poll is that, on the expenses scandal "Asked which of the leaders had been most damaged, 62 per cent said Mr Brown, 5 per cent Mr Cameron, 1 per cent Nick Clegg, and 25 per cent said they had been equally damaged". This does seem surprising given the fact that the worst excesses seem to have been perpetrated by the so-called Tory grandees with their servants quarters, duck islands and moats; but perhaps it isn't! David Cameron saw an opportunity here and grasped it. Not only can he complete the modernisation of the Conservatives but he also was quick to condemn and investigate those worst implicated while calling for reform. He has also openly called for new candidates to stand to clean up politics in a move more in line with the Jury Team's call than what would be expected of a mainstream party. Gordon Brown seems to have been reluctant to sack anyone of note and also to condemn anyone. Maybe he knows it would be hypocrisy, maybe he cannot afford to lose anyone or maybe he just doesn't know what to do. Given he was already unpopular and seen as indecisive and out of touch this could have been his moment to seize the initiative; he failed again. Thus, when looking at who is most tarnished, the guy doing and saying nothing and seeming to hope it goes away, who already has a bad reputation, is going to be in the worst position. The public are probably ready to believe anything negative about Gordon Brown's leadership style; and he seems to be playing to the stereotype some sections of the media and his political opponents have built around him.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The power of prayer - and a good website

On one page of the Christian party's campaign site for the European Parliamentary Election was the message 'pray for a good result'; while my colleague was going through all the party sites he passed it on. However, it seems the power of prayer is not working as since this afternoon their site as exceeded its bandwidth and is now offline. Clearly they now need either a lot of prayer or, more likely, cold hard cash! A shame as it was actually quite a well put together site. Unlike that of WAID 'Your Decision', (a shot of which is right) it is cheap and functional, but anything but aesthetically pleasing. Does it matter, if we do live in a visual world where image is more important than function then it possibly does. True, they do not have a great chance of making any impact; but it may prevent them getting their message out to anyone who stumbles across the site or visits out of vague interest just because their home page looks too amateurish. Well that is my view anyway!

Our Divided Politics

It is common for many to argue that there is little between our parties, they are too similar and promote managerialism above ideology. However it seems there are significant differences between the parties and something interesting seems to be happening to our parties. All this is of course predicated on whether we should trust the calculations of the EUprofiler website which asks your position across a range of hot issues. It can be used from any EU member nation and is designed, I guess, to provide advice on how to vote. For me, however, if the positioning can be trusted, what is interesting is where the parties sit on the two axes (pro/anti-EU and socioeconomics). Unsurprisingly the EU divides the parties with only the Liberal Democrats and Labour being in the pro-EU quadrants and the others they mention (Conservatives, Green, UKIP and BNP) being anti-EU to varying extremes. It is interesting that the Conservatives are the least anti given they wish to join the extreme right anti-integrationist grouping in the European parliament, but not hugely surprising perhaps. But when looking at the left/right socioeconomic axis, the Greens are most leftist followed by the Liberal Democrats; the Conservatives and British National Party occupy the centre ground but Labour are now placed to the right of these parties. The difference is not huge however perhaps is recognition of a perception many may have that the parties are not far apart but Labour have shifted to the right due to their position on civil liberties and ID cards if not on economics. Obviously the position is the result of being gauged across a range of policies but it is an interesting insight into our parties which says quite a bit about where our parties actually sit in relation to one another and what it is that actually divides them. Happy with my outcome by the way

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Foot in Mouth Disease

While busy slaving over marking exam papers, often containing rather strange arguments and phrasing, but it seems the strained logic students display (in the context of time constraints and minds going blank under pressure) is nothing compared to the words of the professional communicators we supposedly have in parliament. Exiting Conservative MP Anthony Steen displayed a bizarre arrogance beign interviewed on World at One, causing Tory bloggers tripping over themselves to distance themselves and William Hague to look deeply embarrased on tonight's Question Time. Gordon Brown declared that he would lose the next election in what he probably thought was a witty retort at yesterday's Question Time; that is the tip of the iceberg of his strange endorsements and condemnations of Hazel Blears. The prefessionalism of politics, the spin and media management has completely unravelled, the parties are focused on trying to rescue their reputations and win points from their opponents and keep the fringe parties at bay. One wonders who is running the country right now, and if they (as a government or parliament) cannot regulate themselves and get their communication right can they really manage the nation. As I type Ben Bradshaw has been stunned by a lady in the audience at Question Time, he cannot answer the claim that Brown should go or why there is a mess; I will be surprised if anyone votes on June 4th, or if anyone votes for any of the major parties, it is the outcome though that we should worry about!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Right, then left, then right again

Celebrity endorsement is nothing new in politics; Gerry Halliwell was one of many of the 'cool Britannia' set to back Blair's Labour and half of America's glitterati fell over themselves to jump onto the Obama bandwagon. In the UK in 2009 things are a little different. The party that the celebrities seem to be flocking to is the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Perhaps it is with the expenses furore and fiasco as a backdrop they are emerging as the party with the most realistic chance of seeing off the far right while also registering a protest against the parties in Westminster. Not sure if Nigel Farage would, if he had the choice of celebrities, would choose these. The BBC News shows Frank Carson arguing "I'm disgusted with the way politics has gone in this country and I'm urging people to vote UKIP", though he also talks of ditching human rights legislation which may be unwise. But full marks to former Green Cross Code man Dave Prowse for the soundbite ""I've looked right and left and right again and the only party I can safely vote for is UKIP." Of course UKIP are not alone. The Scottish Greens state the party has the support of "Joanna Lumley, Anita Roddick, Mark Thomas, Terry Jones and Jeremy Irons" though perhaps this is a little dated as sadly Anita Roddick passed away in September 2007.

Does it matter, well perhaps and perhaps not. Celebrities can be looked to as gauges of who to trust; but only if they have the trust and respect of broader society. Joanna Lumley could have an impact currently if she campaigned actively for the Greens on the back of her Gurkha campaign; Prowse, well those of a certain age may remember him (as pictured) or as the body but not the voice of Darth Vader but like Carson he is not exactly a household name. But support is support and it gets the party in the news at a time when the election is suppressed by and framed within the expenses row discourse. Thus nothing positive hurts!

You couldn't make it up

It has been quite nice to be away for the best part of a week, and so not receiving the daily diet of MP's excess porn on every available news channel. Far better the debate on the merit of the Belgian Eurovision entry. So returning you find the MPs turning on the Speaker for not taking the expenses matter seriously enough; does no-one else see this as a somewhat invidious position given they (on the whole) were taking full advantage of the system they now criticise. The public, rightly, are using every avenue to demand heads roll; parliament meanwhile carries on regardless: bickering amongst themselves and demanding the head of the man who implements (badly or not) but does not make the law. Meanwhile it is the likes of Esther Rantzen and Martin Bell who capture the public mood and hint they may stand against the worst offenders. All this seems to forget that in a matter of three weeks the public can, if they wish, go out and vote. Is anyone really worth voting for may well be in the minds of many. It would perhaps be a result if no-one voted but there is a danger that minority parties will mobilise supporters and so we end up with some very curious results. Now it may not matter if the British contingent of MEPs represent minority parties; however does this effect negatively the extent to which British interests are represented. Will the British National Party be interested in debates on agricultural policy; so will Britain lose its voice totally in the European Parliament? Does anyone else care?

Monday, May 11, 2009

It's easy when you have nothing to hide

Full marks to my former MP Annette Brooke, she has published her expenses on her website for all to see: a total of £1765.85, interesting that so few are able to do the same and justify their expenditure. This seems utterly reasonable and consistent with my opinion of Annette as a very honest and ethical lady; it is a shame that her and those with a similar attitude to what is justifiable will receive little media attention and instead it is those who are playing the system for every penny that will tarnish the image of all elected politicians. I assume that focus will turn to the Liberal Democrats at some point this week, then perhaps to minor parties who are also getting as much as they can from Brussels, the London Assembly etc etc. One wonders who will benefit out of this and what impact it will have on democracy and the MEPs and councillors that are elected in less than a month. Will the minor parties benefit and how much will those parties use this as a weapon against the 'establishment'. The Jury Team hint it will part of their contribution on Sky tonight, the British National Party have launched an attack on Labour and the Conservatives already; but can either make an electoral breakthrough at a time when turnout is more than likely to be severely depressed and when the parties are going to have to expend energy digging themselves out of the whole some of their elected members have put them in rather than making a case for people to vote for them. Brings to mind that ancient Chinese curse 'may you live in interesting times'; clearly we need more MPs like Annette Brooke to make their defensible and low-level expenses public to try to bring some balance to this highly damaging fiasco that could well undermine British democracy.


By the way: revelations show Sinn Fein claiming £500,000 but never attending parliament; so where exactly were the scrutineers here? Did no-one at any time think about any of these expenses or are the laws that lax? Guess I do not really need to ask that question, the answer is all too obvious.

Explain or Resign!

The revelations of MP's expenses is perhaps the final nail in the coffin of public confidence in Westminster; all reference to it should now be buried and it needs a proper wake. It also needs to be replaced and that means MPs need to do something. it is something of a travesty that parties and MPs have been saying that the publishing of expenses is going to be 'embarrassing'; the easy comment to make is if it could be embarrassing then why claim for 'a bath plug' etc. Then there is the grotesque sight of MPs squirming on camera saying it was within the letter of the law; suggesting perhaps a 26p wooden spoon is essential for one MP to carry out their work - are they HoC cook perhaps? The rules are of course wrong. Half the country commutes some distance and cannot claim expenses for doing so, they hope their wage will cover that along with all the other bills. Most of us pay for our own home improvements, not it seems MPs, hence these inequities further demonstrate the disconnect between our houses and the Houses of Parliament. This will not be forgotten and it needs action, reform certainly and a reform that puts MPs in the same bracket as the man in the street, but also this needs resolving. If those MPs who have acted within the letter, but not the spirit of the law, cannot appear on camera (or YouTube, or in public letter) and explain their claims to the penny as part of the job as an MP they should resign. I am sure there are many who would like to become MPs, but perhaps a few less than previously if the gravy train is to run out, lets have by-elections or a general election if there are too many and have a new set of representatives with a new set of rules. Of course the problem is that only MPs can decide if this will happen and turkeys are unlikely to vote for Christmas, but if they want to create a new confidence in politics it needs doing and all those with guilty secrets that are difficult to justify should go now!
Cartoon is by Matt of the Telegraph

Thursday, May 07, 2009

White House 2.0

In an era when politician's promises tend to be rhetorical and empty with little sign of being actioned, it is good to see immediate action. President Obama stated in his recent Weekly Address, that government must "recognize that we cannot meet the challenges of today with old habits and stale thinking... we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative." His pledge was to "reach beyond the halls of government" and engage the public. The result has been to 'be where the people are'; Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Vimeo, Twitter, YouTube and iTunes. The White House blog post "Technology has profoundly impacted how – and where – we all consume information and communicate with one another. WhiteHouse.gov is an important part of the Administration’s effort to use the Internet to reach the public quickly and effectively". But it is not simply a strategy of reaching out and getting the public to engage with information, as a Politico's review suggests questions posed via social networks are also answered via the White House blog so putting people directly in touch with their government. Is this the future of government? Could any other politician either institute such a strategy, or perhaps gain the level of engagement Obama enjoys; that is the big question? Also, whether it will last is a question though that depends on Obama and the way he encourages the use of these tools and the extent to which there remains an audience.

Attack ads - German style

It looks quite cool and engaging but basically it is just a negative advert produced by the German SPD (Social Democrats). Rough translation is, The Shark represents the Free Democratic Party who are labelled as financial sharks (unscrupulous free marketeers basically). The 'Coin-head' represents the Christian Democrats who are labelled as self-interested and money-minded. The hair dryer is the left who are, well you may guess this - all hot air. It ends on the slogan "Regulation of Markets, Fairness for People, Responsibility for Europe".

It is entertaining, fairly blunt and to the point, nothing that special but has been circulated around Twitter and Facebook as a 'cool ad'.