Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Monday, December 13, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
Friday, December 03, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Perhaps in light of the expenses crisis the assumption is that most MPs actually work for themselves anyway; this would be unfair as many do a good job as servants of the constituency. They promote a range of local causes as well as defending individual and group rights and taking cases to councils and beyond. They also act as advisers and give weight to campaigns. It is said there are divergent levels of service, with those MPs who enjoy safe seats being more relaxed about their presence locally and those in marginal seats being very keen to be seen as the defender of all things local. But the key thing here is being seen. Many MPs in safe seats so the same job as those in marginals, they just don't need to shout as loudly about their work.
Often representativeness of parliament is linked to the age, gender and ethnicity balances, while some predicted parliament would be younger, more feminine and more representative. This was not the case, with only a 2% increase in female MPs. But does that matter? While there perhaps should be a 50/50 split, with the geographic link it would still mean one-sided representation at the constituency level. The big question is about feeling represented. There are a range of value-laden 'should' demands of MPs in terms of how they should act as representatives (beyond expenses and all that relates to that type of behaviour), but many of these are quite unrealistic for any individual MP representing up to 100,000 people while also having a full time job in parliament. This puts the onus on the represented to go out of their way to be 'represented' and so show they have power; but in turn that is impossible if everyone actually did simultaneously demand the time of the their MP. MPs are not the only route to representation, but the fact that they are the formal democratic link places a burden upon them.
Friday, October 08, 2010
His soul arrives in heaven and is met by St. Peter at the entrance. "Welcome to heaven," says St. Peter. "Before you settle in, it seems there is a problem. We seldom see a high official around here, you see, so we're not sure what to do with you.
"No problem, just let me in," says the MSP.
"Well, I'd like to, but I have orders from higher up. What we'll do is have you spend one day in hell and one in heaven. Then you can choose where to spend eternity."
"Really, I've made up my mind. I want to be in heaven," says the MSP.
"I'm sorry, but we have our rules."
And with that, St. Peter escorts him to the lift and he goes down, down, down to hell. The doors open and he finds himself in the middle of a green golf course. In the distance is a clubhouse and standing in front of it are all his friends and other politicians who had worked with him.
Everyone is very happy and in evening dress. They run to greet him, shake his hand, and blether about the good times they had while getting rich at the expense of the Scottish people.
They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster, caviar and champagne. Also present is the devil, who really is very friendly who has a good time dancing and telling jokes. They are having such a good time that before he realizes it, it is time to go.
Everyone gives him a hearty farewell and waves while the lift rises. The lift goes up, up, up and the door reopens on heaven where St. Peter is waiting for him.
"Now it's time to visit heaven."
So, 24 hours pass with the MSP joining a group of contented souls moving from cloud to cloud, playing the harp and singing. They have a good time and, before he realizes it, the 24 hours have gone by and St. Peter returns.
"Well, then, you've spent a day in hell and another in heaven. Now choose your eternity." The MSP reflects for a minute, then he answers: "Well, I would never have said it before, I mean heaven has been delightful, but I think I would be better off in hell."So St. Peter escorts him to the lift and he goes down, down, down to hell. Now the doors of the lift open and he's in the middle of a barren land covered with waste and rubbish.
He sees all his friends, dressed in rags, picking up the rubbish and putting it in black bags as more rubbish falls from above.
The devil comes over to him and puts his arm around his shoulder "I don't understand," stammers the MSP. "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and clubhouse, and we ate lobster and caviar, drank champagne, and danced and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of rubbish and my friends look miserable. What happened?The devil looks at him, smiles and says, "Yesterday we were campaigning. ....Today you voted."
Thursday, October 07, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
What is surprising firstly is the bracketing off of the campaign site from the MP's site with only David Miliband providing a direct link and his brother Ed linking via a news item. Andy Burnham's site can be found easily via Google, Abbot and McDonnell do not feature and none of the sites are that prominent. Though there are references to a site for Ed Balls, all that can be found is his MP website, this does not mention the leadership race. So the first issue is a lack of search engine optimisation or enmeshing between different platforms. Constituency facing websites funded by parliament cannot of course be used for government campaigns but a link is not breaking the rules; so one feels the first opportunity is lost.
Websites are now a key promotional tool. These are the single place that an individual can present themselves as they wish their potential supporters to see them. Looking at the websites of the Milibands and Burnham what so far can we assess of their campaigns?
David Miliband has gone for the weblog style and so all news items can be shared and commented on. All comments are positive - so far - but this is about giving an impression of accessibility. It maps on to the ethos of the get involved section which copies many of Obama's techniques in terms of organising local events. There is however a lot of promotion - the wall of faces of supporters; but it maintains the mixture of information provision and interactive elements that appear to be emerging as a new model of Internet campaigning.
Ed Miliband's site is pretty much the same. It is slightly less crowded, there is no wall of supporters but the blog style presentation, comments and sharing features and links to social networking sites all mirror the style of his brother's site. This reinforces the idea that there is a style of campaigning site - a genre as Foot and Schneider suggest - and candidates and parties at general, local and European elections, as well as contestants within this sort of race, are increasingly adopting and adapting to their objectives.
A different approach is however adopted by Andy Burnham. You cannot enter the site without signing up to his campaign; this is immediately off putting for those who are unsure and concerned about giving away personal data. On the plus side it provides Burnham with all the emails of those who sign up and gives him permission to contact them. Then what happens, nothing. You sign up you get the confirmation email and you get the Mail Chimp sign up confirmation; there is no campaign website it is just a splash screen. So he offers no information about what a Burnham led party would be like, why he wants to lead; all material that is essentially staple to convincing of the seriousness of his campaign or the validity of his candidacy. Perhaps he is relying on more face-to-face forums, perhaps on personal contacts or other communication means, perhaps he believes that the majority of his supporters are offline, or perhaps he feels the resources needed are too great and not cost effective. It is unusual however in the modern era.
The extraordinary choice made by Burnham aside, clearly the Milibands have recognised the value of the Internet and are using it to both connect with their supporters, activists and party members. The sites are slightly different in that the top half of David's page is about him and the promotional aspects; Ed focuses more on the Web 2.0 features and the site is simpler and less cluttered. Both however fit to the new style of political campaign websites, information and interaction are both represented, often in equal measure, in order to provide the impression of openness and accessibility as well as the sense that there is a community of support around the candidate. It is all still about promotion but of a more co-created variety than has traditionally been the case.
PS: If anyone has an address for the sites of Abbott, Balls or McDonnell do let me know; I did try to find them!
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Friday, May 07, 2010
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
A Total Politics video encouraging us to make our mind up. Some 'interesting' lip-syncing and dance moves from a variety of MPs and candidates. Have to say Alastair Campbell is the only one who seems to keep his dignity.
Monday, April 12, 2010
This is the advert promoting the manifesto of the Labour Party of the UK. Given that this is engaging it may get seen quite a lot of people, I can see this doing the rounds on Facebook etc. But is this a smart way of communicating their message, making simple and easy to digest and understand. Or is it dumb, or rather too dumbed down, trivialised and lacking substance. It could be seen as the bullet points for a grand plan, or a series of rather vague promises. It could be seen as patronising or reaching out and making policy relevant. What does anyone think?
Monday, March 29, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
One reason for that is engagement in party politics itself. Tribal politics, which pitted capital against labour, is a feature of history and what has resulted is a lack of ideas in politics and a convergence around the centre ground. In order to differentiate themselves, parties enter into empty oppositionalism and attack politics. There is a lack of a narrative underpinning party manifestoes and so it is more about selling a party as 'least likely to cut core public serices' than competing approaches to governance. Research suggests that this process of marketisation of political policy making and campaigning has a sclerotic effect on voter engagement. It simply promotes a ‘hard sell at any cost’ approach using bold statements that focus on image not substance. While it is argued this is a response to lowering engagement and involvement, so political messages must require only peripheral processing and not deep cognitive engagement, this lack of interest may actually be exacerbated by the style of communication.
Turnout figures also however mask a stark political reality; that not only is there a lack of choice but that there is also a representational divide in Britian. In 2005 the highest turnout was 77%, the lowest 34%; some voters were engaged! There is a big disparity between Marginal and Safe seats! The former see a keen contest fighting for every vote; the latter see little contest and are likely to have a lower level of representation from their MP. This may seem a contentious point, but having moved between constituencies in recent years I note receiving newspapers, flyers and a significant amount of literature from both the MP Annette Brook across a four year period, as well as her opponent in the 2005 election. In four years within the Poole constituency I have not heard anything from MP Robert Syms, nor even seen him in the media: it would appear he makes no effort to publicise his work for the constituency at the very least.
The separation between an air war (via the mass media) and the ground war (on the streets and doorsteps) can be highly important in terms of maintaining a representational connection as well as achieving electoral victory, and could be crucial in 2010. The Air war is likely to be highly negative aimed at getting committed voters out and convincing those who already lean towards one party or another. The negativity will appeal only if the receiver agrees with the foundation of the attack; if they feel it to be inaccurate or too personal the sender will suffer. The Ground war, in contrast, will be about persuading by personal contact and making policy relevant to lives and localities. But only the key voters in the marginal and target seats will see a ground war; this two tier system will remain as long as the UK uses the first past the post voting system. Voters need to be asked and convinced, most are not!
A further set of indicators relates to trust in politics (standing at 24% currently) and general interest in participation. 80% are interested in politics (though this drops to 35% in the most deprived areas which are also likely to be safe Labour seats) yet only 15% are interested in an active role and only 27% feel they have any say in how the country is run. Self-efficacy in the UK is very low and, following the expenses scandal, can only be lower.
Leader debates may be the one positive element in the air war. Controls demanded by the parties will reduce audience spontaneity though. On the other hand, they may also be more like PMQs and full of rhetoric and attack and not setting out clear reasons for electing any of the participants. So the debates may only be peripherally processed and not play a role in providing informed choices. The media will also have a key role to play. The danger here is that focus will be on minute performance issues and political substance will be ignored or forgotten. This may be the case with much media coverage of the contest, their perspective being of a horse race with a focus on strategy as opposed to political choice, and highlighting personal failings and gaffes; does this encourage particapation?
Much has been said about the effect of the Internet, that it will come of age in 2010 and that there may be an Obama-isation of political campaigning. Parties will try to use the Internet to increase awareness but UK politics lacks an Obama, and the parties find it hard to develop participatory campaigns. MyConservatives.com centres around local candidates in marginals but struggle to gain supporters. In the marginal seat of Mid Dorset and North Poole, candidate Nick King has four supporters and has raised £150; not exactly demonstrating high engagement – perhaps the product (politics firstly, perceptions of elected representatives, and the party, not Mr King) is the problem! Activists will be trying to innovate and mobilise but can they touch the hearts and minds of the masses?
Due to the Internet, more voices will be heard, and some will be new ones, but largely they are megaphones for the parties. Greater co-production of the campaign will occur but outside party sites, and a lot will be satirical. Labour’s change we see site, I am told, gets more negative ‘Changes’ than positive and there are a few ‘negative’ changes shown on the related Facebook site; debate online regarding the site then centres on censorship rather than the aim of the site which should provide citizen endorsements of Labour’s tenure. The fact that the majority of pictures are uploaded by Labour candidates and activists tells us that either ordinary citizens do not see positive changes or they cannot see the point in engaging.
Because of all this, turnout is likely to show the same mixed pattern as in the last two contests with engagement being higher in the marginals. There may well be a slight average increase if the contest stays close however. It is highly likely that voters will select the best MP, locally, or the least worst leader and some may remain unsure till very late in the campaign. But will anywhere near a majority engage and become involved in electoral politics generally, let alone in the campaign of one of the parties. Based on current indicators related to the voting system, the level of negativity already circulating, and the nature of engagement online via party sites and across Twitter, it seems not. It will be a dirty fight and for many engaging in that fight will be anathema despite the powerful arguments for making an informed choice.
But does this suggest electoral politics in in terminal decline? Probably. Politics needs to be made relevant beyond key voters in marginal constituencies, perhaps this suggests revising the voting systems; it also needs to be part of everyday lives, suggesting better communication. Policy making should be closer to the people, either via effect representation or forms of direct democracy. Ideological space needs to be reconfigured to match modern society and the emotional and personal aspects of the leaders need to be discussed intellignetly to enable both personal and political involvement. News values need to be changed, as does the spin culture within politics; which we accept feed one another. Political communication needs to think not about victory but reception; victory at any cost may be pyrrhic and empty in terms of perceived trust and legitimacy when all that has been achieved is a depressed electorate bored with negative attacks. These were just some of the suggestions, perhaps a combination of all would reverse the negative social trend towards politics?
This is an overview of a debate held on March 14th at Bournemouth University featuring the author, Prof. Barry Richards, Dr Dan Jackson, and Roman Gerodimos.