Posts Tagged ‘general election’

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Does it matter what politicians do with social media?

January 12th, 2010 by Liam Barrington Bush

There’s been a fair amount of discussion about the impact new technologies will have on the upcoming UK general election.  There is widespread belief that social media sites, mobile phones and online video will impact the ways people vote in May (or June) of this year, but as to how these gadgets will influence people’s voting patterns, is still up for debate.

Some people have pointed (cringingly) to Gordon Brown’s YouTube address, the increasing number of MPs and government departments with Twitter profiles, and the online blogging platforms of the major parties, as evidence of an increasingly tech-savvy political class that will wage it’s election battles on virtual platforms, rather than in constituencies and on television debates.

But the problem with this is that most of government (with some important exceptions) just don’t get social media!  If it’s seen as a free broadcast channel, it is unlikely to have any additional impact, beyond that of the traditional press, and may further disconnect them from the people they represent, if used solely to disseminate messages.  The groundbreaking nature of these technologies is in their ability to connect people and facilitate conversations, two traits which have traditionally run against the grain of mainstream politics.

Technology will have some impact on this coming election, but not (primarily) because politicians are starting to get on-board.

Technology will impact the election most significantly because of what is being said by those using it outside of the political institutions.  The fundamental shift that social media is starting to enable, relates to what blogger and academic Hannah Nicklin describes as a ‘wikipolitic’; the process through which public opinions develop a collective expression via various online platforms, and are then manifested in action – by people themselves or the politicians who are mandated to represent them.  Fundamental to this, is the breakdown of the interface between people and political institutions (initially through online technology) and gradually, the connection of people – including politicians – to each other in the development of the policies that impact our lives. (Read Hannah’s blog for more on ‘wikipolitics’).

My thoughts on David Cameron (or Gordon Brown, or Nick Clegg, for that matter), can now float into cyberspace and immediately connect with the thoughts of those who agree with or oppose them – on a truly mass scale.  For that matter, if I was to capture a video on my mobile of one of the above leaders contradicting a key campaign message, or come across an email that included potentially offensive language about a particular people or constituency, I could share them with the world within minutes … or say, if I – or you – had an especially relevant take on one party-or-another’s election manifesto, we could become the tipping point of the 2010 general election!

…Or… Or… Or…The list could go on…

So when we talk about the impact technology will have on the upcoming election, I recommend turning our social microscopes away from the press-released YouTube videos of Parliament and Downing Street, and towards the places where people are discussing the issues that will affect them.  To the Twitter feeds, blogs and viral videos that are increasingly providing the narrative of life in Britain in 2010 and what we want the people we vote for to do with the power we have given them.

Of course, ‘wikipolitics’ and ‘e-campaigning’ only matter, insofar as they can enable greater communication and discussion of political ideas; we can’t let new technology sweep away the importance of sound policy.  Many factors will influence this – like every other – election; I’m interested in how we, as people, can play a more central role than we are often credited in playing, as we decide who will lead this country into this next phase of history…

Liam is Learning and Development Officer (Campaigning) at NCVO, he is chairing the Social Media workshop at the Campaigns Conference

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Going local

January 8th, 2010 by Eleanor Bullimore

With the General Election looming, localism is high on the agenda for all the political parties. The consensus appears to be that more decisions should be made locally with local people playing an active role in that process. Whilst this has sparked an interesting debate as to whether there is a real commitment here to hand over power to local bodies and people, we cannot deny that the last few years have seen increases in legislation, consultations and funding for projects that seek to give power not only to local government, but also to individuals.

The voluntary and community sector obviously has a key role to play in helping deliver this new agenda. But there are also implications for how charities and voluntary organisations work – particularly when it comes to campaigning. For one thing, campaigners will need to start working through the complex maze that is local government and new relationships will need to be built between local decision makers and organisations.

But will national charities be expected to engage at a local level? Could this mean that charities will have to invest more in local campaigning?

The trend towards localism is shifting the balance of power, but it is also shaping the expectations of local people. Individuals are being given an increasingly meaningful role in shaping their neighbourhoods and communities, as well as the services that they use. Community involvement is key to the Government’s plans to improve public services. Increased involvement not only improves services, but it also improves people’s perceptions of those services, helping to create better, sustainable relationships for the future.

National charities have a lot to learn from this approach. As a sector, we cannot afford to talk on behalf of the people we support. Instead, we should be creating platforms to give people the chance to talk for themselves. If we want our campaigns to retain any degree of legitimacy, this must be done on a meaningful level, and not just by wheeling out the usual suspects at conferences or for television interviews.

And where better to start this trend than at a local level? Many campaigning organisations have already recognised the power of local people and have started to harness it in the form of local campaigns networks. At Leonard Cheshire Disability (LCD), for instance, disabled people are supported to create campaign groups to campaign on issues that effect them in their local communities every day. This is empowering people to make change happen for themselves and enabling real change to happen in areas that previously could not be reached.

We should not underestimate the importance of local issues, nor the impact that local people can have. With a shift of power from national to local government, national organisations may well be pushed to engage more with local people. But this should be seen as an opportunity, rather than a cost. By investing in local campaigning and local people, national organisations will be investing in a sustainable future for themselves.

Eleanor is a Local Campaigns Co-ordinator for Leonard Cheshire Disability, she is speaking in the ‘Going Local’ workshop at the Campaigns Conference

The Times They Are a-Changin’

January 5th, 2010 by Chloe Stables

Whatever the result at the ballot box, the 2010 General Election will fundamentally alter the face of British politics. Climate change, the banking crisis, social media and even duck houses and bell towers all shaped the political landscape in 2009. So what lies ahead for 2010?

1997 saw the largest number of MPs standing down since the 1945 election, with 117 MPs retiring. In 2010, this record will be smashed with some commentators predicting that nearly 200 MPs will hang up their boots – almost a third of the House. A huge influx of new blood is bound to impact on politics – the new intake will be younger, more diverse and more technologically savvy.  But some, such as Professor Phil Cowley, argue that we will have a House of Commons which is a lot less willing to challenge the government. Campaigners may have to work a lot harder to spur new MPs to rock the boat and challenge the party line.

At the same time, campaigners may also have to dig a little deeper in order to gauge MPs views. Allegiance to a political party may not be the shorthand it was once was for understanding their world view. Jonathan Isaby from ConservativeHome estimates that almost 20% of Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidates will previously have been candidates for other political parties and it’s likely that the trend will continue towards a rise in independent candidates.

The campaigning environment also looks set for some major shifts, the growth of consumer action, the rise of more fluid activism, the impact of social media, an increase in competition and coalitions, and the ‘professionalisation’ of campaigns staff will all impact on the way campaigners interact with politicians.

To take just one example, Tom Watson MP argues that the essence of social media is the ability to very easily form groups with low barriers to entry. While its not clear how social media will influence the forthcoming general election, its importance cannot be denied. As a recent piece in the Guardian notes; at the last election “social networking sites were known to few. Facebook was largely unheard of and Twitter had yet to be invented. YouTube had been in existence for only three months. Blogs were in their infancy and political bloggers, now hugely influential in the flow of news, had yet to evolve.”

This, combined with current trends towards greater transparency, open government and the cross-party drive towards greater localism may mean that some of the old orthodoxies may be challenged – large national campaigning organisations will have to compete with smaller looser networks of activists able to mobilise quickly and gain access and influence over Parliamentarians.

To help respond to these challenges, NCVO is launching a new kind of conference for a new kind of politics. Share your thoughts. Get involved online. Pop along if you can.

Chloe is Parliamentary Officer at NCVO.