Thursday, November 15, 2012

Why electing PCCs is a bad idea

I have lots of reasons for opposing these but the two main points of opposition for me are as follows.

Firstly, we do not want the police to be under party influence, so setting out policies that follow or oppose governments for political reasons as opposed to what is right for the area. 

The second is that in elections like this turn out is low and some people are more likely to turn out an vote than others. If PCCs view these elections strategically and seek to be re-elected then they may choose to ensure that the areas where voting is highest, or those with the greatest likelihood of voting, have a much greater influence on policy. We would not want highly visible policing in some areas but invisible elsewhere for the purposes of winning votes. They are my major criticisms, both are dismissed by the candidates I have spoken to but I still feel the dangers exist.

Those who agree and wish to voice this opposition can sign a petition

Monday, October 08, 2012

Too many tweets... do not a news item make

Which is the brave move made by David Cameron. From stating that 'too many tweets make a twat', three years later Cameron has joined Twitter and been given quite the welcome. Of course it was unsolicited but it was a weekend, it was a fun story at the beginning of the Conservative Party Conference and it seemed someone thought it a good idea to submit question via Twitter. The #askdave went berserk, trending in hours. If anyone out there wants to find some witty critiques of Cameron, his cabinet, his government, his policies they are there. He made no attempt to crowdsource but the crowd appeared anyway. 

What is interesting is that there are no news items to be found in the mainstream UK media for #askdave, only the New York Times makes a wry comment. So despite the number of responses (though many are from John Prescott), the fact that it seems infamous in politico circles, it is simply a phenomenon within a bubble that encloses the politically-interested Twitter community. So, how democratizing is Twitter, does it shape the agenda; perhaps only when people say something that interests journalists, that shapes an existing story, but it is not a way to capture the attention of journalists with a story they do not want to report. A surprise in this case!

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Right Message?

After two and a half years in government there are many messages that perhaps should be communicated. Backed by an email campaign and webpage, foreshadowing the Conservative's conference, this is the message they seem to want to get out to voters. Of course it will go down well with their supporters, research shows that attacks always do (see for example the work of Stephen Ansolabehere). But surely the target of the message is the floating voter, or more likely the person who voted Conservative in 2010 but may have become disillusioned with the party (or indeed the coalition government) and may be reconsidering their choice following what was regarded as a 'spectacular' performance by Ed Miliband at Labour's Conference.

But will it work. Will it make those wavering Conservative supporters reconsider? Creating a little bit of cognitive dissonance to juxtapose the post conference euphoria? Or will it make the Conservatives seem a little desperate? Having nothing positive to say about their own record they go into attack mode. It is a question of perceptions but it could be a risky strategy for a government that have never fully won the approval of the voters. 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Open Source Democracy

While I do not always agree with Clay Shirky I find his ideas and arguments highly engaging and find myself thinking wouldn't it be great if he was right. In a recent TED talk he talks about the potential for open source democracy and crowd-powered social change (a feature of much of his writing). His idea is that governments would be willing to provide a social, communal space where political decisions can be developed and taken by the combined thinking of politicians (possibly civil servants) but importantly also the ordinary citizen - that the space becomes co-created and reliant on the sum of all parts to reach sensible solutions. It works on the same principle as open source software - co-operation without co-ordination. The formation of communities that come together to reach common goals. Watch his video, think about his argument, but also think about the ramifications.

The advantages are clear; what we are talking about here is electronically-enabled, non-representative direct, democracy. But what of disadvantages? One of the major problems with direct democracy is how to gain the right representative composition of participation - in other words will direct democracy create better laws, laws which are the benefit of all or just a small, non-representative minority. Where would be the checks and balances to prevent racist, homophobic, sexist and prejudiced voices predominating. Of course there can be checks and balances but is it possible, organically, to get a sufficient number of average people to participate in direct democracy initiatives even when the initiative has a direct link to a legislature. Even if you can gain a critical mass to participate at one point, can such a critical mass be maintained? Will that critical mass both be deliberative as well as anarchic or just plain satirical? (Downing Street petitions in the UK have gained signatures against mandatory car tracking but also for electing Jeremy Clarkson as prime minister). So there are challenges. But could it work, is there real potential or is this just a cyber optimist's pipe dream? 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Will taxation save the 'quality' press

From the various comments online the answer is no, and that it is a stupid idea. But this is not an off the wall idea from someone who knows nothing about our media industry. Guardian executive investigations editor David Leigh has suggested a £2 a month broadband levy should be imposed on all households to save newspapers from the effect of falling print circulations, so basically as the television licence protects the BBC, this tax would protect print journalism. His argument is that as consumers will not pay for content, an argument that was lost some time ago, the only option is to collect the tax via broadband providers (stand by for a price rise and administration cost to coincide with this if ever enacted). 

The question, however, is will it save print journalism; or rather can print journalism be saved? Print has a problem. It cannot compete with rolling news but tries to through online rolling news, so undermining its own product. The print version is more portable (though iPad or kindle versions make some media more portable than others), but is is convenient? Print can deliver a greater level of analysis than is often the case with straight news bulletins and most news programmes outside to the BBC stable, a point Ivor Gaber noted during analysis of the coverage of the leader's debates during the 2010 UK General Election, but does it? Basically is print journalism providing a product that is desired by the 21st Century consumer, or are they thinking from within a bubble where they are worthy, the fourth estate, and so needing protection? 

I personally can see both sides of the argument but would be interested in the views of readers. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Engaging the Public

On July 6th we organised an event which attracted around 35 people. The premise was that politics should be about engaging the public, informing them, interesting them, exciting them and involving them. Yet there is widespread disinterest, disengagement and distrust in our political system. This one-day event is designed for sharing ideas about why the public show disinterest and distrust and how we might consider re-engaging the public, encouraging people to get involved in politics. Our research focuses at the local and national level of politics. We will introduce ideas ranging from understanding the political consumer to how to engage and mobilise members of the public using the latest technologies and how to audit communication. This is how the day went:

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Promise and Problems of Online Deliberation

There is a fascinating report by Laura Black available free here which assesses the deliberative prospects offered by different forum design choices. The report includes a great schematic which gives an accessible overview of the implications design choices have for designing and hosting spaces that facilitate deliberative decision making. The question that is perhaps not answered is how to make people want to have a conversation in the first place, and then how to start that conversation - but for those with an audience that want to talk this gives some invaluable insights.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Research shows government departments do not use social media properly

Mark Pack highlights that government departments are in broadcast mode only and have reasonably few followers. See this video from PR Week. My own work (presented at the ECPR and currently being revised for publication) suggests there is a correlation here, that the more interactive you are, and the more personalised, the more people engage with your message.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Celebritisation too far?

Many of the great kings and emperors (and other important notables) has their portrait painted for posterity. The picture would be full of symbolism to demonstrate their power. One wonders how many leaders would want this sort of portrait to be done of them and what impact this has from an impression management perspective.

This is Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, it is unofficial and satirical and sold for $5,000. The cup looks like a Tim Horton's cup, which is the Canadian coffee house brand that politicians must be seen in to be seen to be 'normal'. The artist has gone on record saying that apart from the head the body is not a representation of Harper.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Great Spoof (

Where there is a good story, there is a good way to satirise the situation and create a good spoof. Doubtless this will go viral quickly, it is very much in the vein of and those create your own slogan posters from the 2010 UK General Election. This is the power of the Internet, anyone who wants to can contribute, they just need the skills, resources and the will.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Fine words from a member of the government

The main story for the Daily Mail is that Chancellor swore in a confrontation over the budget. It is not surprising that there are heated discussions over politics, it is a feature of coalitions. More appalling is the quote in the article from Tory MP David Ruffley (Pictured) who said: ‘Pensioners are going to be bellyaching about this for a while. The grey vote is powerful and [Osborne] could have thought better of it and found the money elsewhere.’

Is this the sort of comment that is appropriate from a representative of the people? It suggests that Ruffley is concerned only about votes and treats a large proportion of the population with disdain. It is hard not to treat anyone with contempt who dismisses the concerns of people who may be worried about affording their bills as bellyaching. The fact that the journalists ignore this is worrying, they focus only on the story of disagreements. Will this be picked up by Labour? It is not the words of someone representing a compassionate Conservative party and certainly does not fit with the ethos Cameron seems to want to project but plays to those notions of the Conservatives as the nasty party, out of touch and elitist. If more MPs share this view and are allowed to express them it could be very damaging for the brand.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book Review: Rasmus Kleis Nielsen - Ground Wars

The book Ground Wars focuses on a area of political communication that is largely ignore by academic study. As the subtitle states, the focus is on 'personalised political communication' or individuals as media. While much is written about the air war, the mass media campaign, advertising, television debates et cetera, we find that the ground war is seldom documented. Yet we can find evidence that, aside from the currency earned by a good incumbent, being contacted by the campaign can be crucial. The figure Nielsen references is the mobilisation of one in fourteen contacts, similar evidence can be found in work by Gerber & Green as well as myself in a micro-study of marginal seat campaigns in the UK.
The value of Nielsen's book is that it offers an in-depth account of the various players that participate. He describes any campaign unit as an assemblage, a tapestry of permanent and part-time staffers, volunteers and part-timers, all of whom draw together for the purpose of pursuing a goal. However, these goals may not always be identical. They may all want a Democratic victory, but some are there for the candidate, some for the party and some for the president. There may also be various competing forces working together but with their own objectives and motivations. Nielsen also charts how voters respond to be canvassed, by telephone or on the doorstep, or being 'knocked-up', encouraged to go out and vote, and the complex but often dubiously accurate walk sheets, voter lists and accompanying scripts that are employed. It is a rich story that questions the extent to which all political campaigning is professionalised but highlights how these personal interactions are a core part of the campaign experience for some voters in the US.
Of course the US is not alone in having a ground war. Nielsen hints at the fact that this is part of campaigning, and not just US campaigning, but there is no comparative aspect to the work itself. However, the parallels with campaigns I have experienced are many. In the UK local campaigning has perhaps even less of a professional edge, but the same characters appear (though there are few if any paid part-time canvassers on the whole). The same forces, also, are at work. Thus Nielsen's work offers much scope for future research agendas, both in tracking the evolution of these campaigns, how they work across different systems and what commonalities and differences appear across ground wars. For this reason, as well as shedding much light into a hidden aspect of campaigning, this book and the research it builds upon, is very important for the understanding of how both party staff and volunteers as well as voters, experience elections.
Nielsen's work is also useful for another reason. The appendix offers a personal and academic overview of the research method. The work is ethnographic in style, taking a participant observation approach. Nielsen details the difficulties in gaining trust, the challenges faced by trying to be removed while also being useful to have around, the misunderstanding of his work as the 'office anthropologist' and the array of challenges met through the course of his study. As such this offers both guidance and caution to any researcher embarking on similar work.
Overall it is, to those fascinated in campaigning, a gripping read. Well researched, insightful and full of wonderful snapshots drawn from observations made during the research. If you really want to understand campaigning, this is the book to read.