lessons from America

Online, but who is listening?

Saturday you had three major political conferences going on in London at the same time: Convention on Modern Liberty (civil liberties), Six Billion Ways (international social justice campaigns) and Progress’s Labour 2.0 Campaigning for the Net Generation. I went to that latter one. It was a useful event, and I came out having picked up some good online campaigning tips. But I came out frustrated as well as energised. And talking to colleagues this morning who attended the other two conferences, I even more keenly feel that. For the energy – the popular momentum and interest and activism – is not in the Labour party, or parties in general; it is outside. Missing from Labour2.0 was virtually any meaningful discussion and acknowledgement of (i) how Labour engages with a broader progressive coalition and (ii) how Labour engages with and involves all those millions of single-issue pressure group activists, and civic society in general. Honourable exceptions to this silence were Nick Anstead, James Crabtree, BorisWatch (in the London context). Special mention also of Stella Creasy, who is revolutionary in her desire to open up the conversation rather than close it off via the traditional canvasser’s first question “do you support / would you consider voting for Labour”.

In terms of blogging in particular but also online communications more generally, there seemed a real disconnect between the positive, inspiring e-campaigning messages we had heard in the morning sessions and what was discussed in the afternoon sessions. There seemed to be a pre-occupation with beating Guido / Iain Dale / ConservativeHome at their own game. Most people were taking a very narrow view of politics: treating it as high politics and what gets done in town halls, government departments and at Westminster. Especially when talking about the lack of women and alternate voices in the blogosphere, there was some discussion of style of politics – its viciousness, macho-ism, male-dominated nature – but a deeply disappointing acceptance from most people that that was the way things were. No real voices in the room for change or looking at what might have caused our negative political culture.

All of it brought home to me how we have a ‘First Past the Post’ (winner takes all) blogosphere!!! Where is the pluralism? Where is the democracy? Where is the inclusivity? Where are the women? Much of this is about the way we do politics and our political culture. And it does depress me that where as a year or two ago this was much more talked about within the Labour party, the fight no longer seems to be there to bring politics into the 21st century. Because the danger is that we might use all these new shiny technologies and ways of communicating, but fewer and fewer people will actually be listening to us.

Anyway, here is my write-up of some of the key points that I made note of and felt important to me at the time:


Douglas Alexander MP:

 Using new methods to do old things “traditional values in a modern setting”
 Lowering barrier to organisation and campaigning, and at almost zero cost.
 Encouraging people with no formal connection to the campaign to become advocates
 Online phone canvassing is a great new tool that will enable constituents talk to others in their
own constituency..

Joe Rospars (new media director for Obama campaign):

 New media does not equal technology; it is the writers, designers, photographers etc
 In America, people transformed political landscape – a moment of civic renewal
 Underlying imagery / messages in his presentation = visibility – signs, placards, parties etc that
not just make a statement but connect you to something more
 Content –> real relationships: between campaign and supporters; between supporters.
 Importance of personal stories, “voices” and authenticity.
 Community organising is about making connections, not politics.
 People were hungry to be reminded that the conversation is about them; that there is more to
politics and they want more; want to be involved and be part of it.
 Stories have power.

Future of Internet Campaigning

Professor Andrew Chadwick (Royal Holloway):
Labour was a pluralistic institution when it was set up in 1900s – a federation of affliates, a network, a combination of values. Needs to remember that and operate like that again – that will be how it maximises its potential – on and offline – in this new era.

Greg Jackson (Tangent):
We are in an arms race of online campaigning and competitive advantage of anything may be very short-lived. Technology helps the tipping point happen faster and cheaper. Network vs. community. Likely to need more staff to create content and analyse / react to wealth of data. Membership vs. supporters

Mobilising the centre-left blogging community

Tom Berry (BorisWatch)

 New coming together of progressives in London blogosphere which would have been unthinkable a
year ago
 Little alternative political or media scrutiny of Boris and Conservatives except via blogs
 Party needs to supply blogs with more resources and stories
 Encourage original journalism

Fundraising and Voter ID Online

Gavin Shuker (Political Insight):
Tories are better at transmit technologies, but not conversations. Content management –> relationship management. People respond to asks

Jag Singh (MessageSpace):
Need compelling narratives. Campaigning beyond boundaries. Channel anger into doing ‘stuff’ for you and bringing them to the table.

Stella Creasy (PPC for Walthamstow):

 [paraphrasing] how do you build the relationships in safe Labour seats?
 Systematic collection of email addresses. For email lists are the important thing.
 Show different that Lab can make + be rooted in the community
 Test: is this email useful enough for forwarding on?
 Ask people to share – their stories etc
 Not about closing down the conversation – hence not about asking them are they Labour members or will they vote Labour. That comes much later on in the process.

Lessons from the Private Sector

Simon Redfern (Fishburn Hedges):
People trust brands less and people more. Speed matters. Don’t be risk adverse. Morph ideas don’t dicard them. Technology at home better than at work for many people.

Ollie Rickman (Google):
Google US polling station maps and outreach. Hoping to bring that here for next general election. Google want more ideas on connecting politics and google technologies.

Transforming Labour in the digital era

Nick Ansted (Uni of East Anglia):
Web2.0 = user-generated content; user-organised content; personalisation of info experience.

Sue Macmillan (head of new media at Labour HQ):

 Email capture and manifesto policy formulation and online phone banking are some key new
innovations of Labour’s online offering.
 “those in deepest darkest Tory Devon can fully have a chance to participate in campaigning /
 membersnet overhaul to include proper social networking tools and a greater degree of openness
to non-members.

Can Centre-Left effectively use the internet while in office:

Derek Draper:
Labour List – “the clue is in the name … we are Labour .. We are ultimately about supporting the government” (on every issue?”) LabourList is not a campaigning site. It is a community of Labour-minded people. Campaigning is for Labour party site.

March 2, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments