Posts Tagged 'Gordon Brown'

Social media and the soapbox

Gosh, there’s nothing like a few well placed words for kicking off a party political crisis. Or, rather, there’s nothing like a slightly weird video that presents the Prime Minister of this country looking like a strange gurning alien for kicking off a party political crisis.

Earlier this week, Hazel Blears, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, wrote in the Observer:

“YouTube if you want to. But it’s no substitute for knocking on doors or setting up a stall in the town centre.”

It’s pretty obvious what her target was here: the YouTube video where Gordon Brown announced plans to reform MPs expenses without telling Parliament first. It also contained a few somewhat frightening impromptu smiles that didn’t help his image one jot.

Sadly, this kerfuffle has somewhat shown British politics in a somewhat unfortunate light again when it comes to social media. You’d think when you’ve got Barack Obama and his supporters embracing the web, that politicians in the UK from all parties could learn from this.

But, no. We’re still on either dismissing tools like YouTube out of hand or, worse still, condemning any attempt to engage online as a waste of taxpayers money. 

Take this rather ignorant post from Conservative MP Nadine Dorries on her attitude to Twitter.

In some respects it’s no different from what you’d hear from others who don’t get or don’t want to get Twitter. But to hear it from an elected representative is somewhat disappointing.

It essentially implies that she’s quite simply not going to bother engaging in a growing platform that provides an excellent way to directly connect with voters. As Chris at Clicking and Screaming says:

“I see little difference between the banal comments of the Twittersphere about ‘In the Loop’ and the banal opinions of a Member of Parliament on anything outside her remit. If it’s interesting to you, follow it. If not, don’t. But don’t lash out at those who do.

The compulsive need of those not involved to discuss it at length shows a fear of the unknown which, for a politician (and I generally have more respect for politicians than most do), is short-sighted.”

Let’s come back to Blears’ comments that You Tube is no substitute for door-to-door canvassing or taking the soapbox on tour. Again, it’s dismissing a wide-reaching social media tool used by a lot of the voting and non-voting public. It sounds a lot like one of those people back in the day who thought email would never catch on.

Local electioneering still has its place but YouTube has the potential to reach millions – many more than the town centre soapbox [1].

A few MPs even have their own YouTube channel, including Blears’ colleague Sadiq Khan [2]. But even then, this reveals a whole new set of problems. The most popular video on Khan’s channel has 227 views. The rest average somewhere between seven and about 150. Still, it’s a start.

The problem, to me, is one that’s all too common in any business or organisation or industry. You have some people who get social media and want to engage. You have some that know that they should probably be on these sites in some way, shape or form but aren’t sure how, and you have those who just don’t want to know.

Politicians, largely, are in the second and third groups. Brown’s office is probably in the second – they’re making the right moves but aren’t really utilising it properly.

So, for Brown’s YouTube videos, it has a feeling of somebody suggesting it as a good idea but with no real strategy behind it or a proper feeling for how YouTube works.

It feels somewhat like The Thick Of It special where the opposition MP’s advisor starts a blog, while the politician himself doesn’t really care.

In all honesty, it probably wouldn’t take a lot of work to join together all the aspects. There’s no reason why, say, Brown couldn’t have announced the expenses measure to the chamber and then had a YouTube video posted immediately after the announcement (sans gurning, you’d hope) and then followed it up with, ooh, a blog post and the like.

Then, on the other side, perhaps Labour (or perhaps an apolitical body) could pull together all the politician YouTube videos, and Twitter accounts, in one place so it’s easy for constituents to find and engage with their MP (which is, after all, one of the main reasons why they were elected, right?).

And there’s no harm in giving the Twitter feed or YouTube channels a plug. I only stumbled across Sadiq Khan’s feed when I was looking for something else – in 18 months living in Tooting, I’d never had information offline that he had a web presence and it wasn’t top of my agenda to look. Many other voters probably have similar mindsets.

As The Register points out, moderating comments isn’t that difficult (and it doesn’t seem as if Downing Street had even thought of it) and there’s so much untapped potential for politicians in this country to get involved in social media, engage and perhaps win back some of the trust that they seem so keen to squander on a regular basis.

But instead Labour (and, via Dorries, the Conservatives as well) have managed to get social media, their strategy and response so spectacularly wrong. Which leads to another spat. Which turns voters off even further.

Add to this the smeargate emails, and the media’s obsession that Iain Dale, Gudio Fawkes and the unlamented Derek Draper, are the only web-politics that matter, well, it just doesn’t want to make you get involved online.

In the US, Obama used social media and the web to bring about a positive movement that engaged the average voter in politics. In the UK, all we can do is sling political mud at each other online. How very depressing.

[1] It’s worth saying that the soapbox offers politicians a direct way to engage and spend time talking to constituents, but there’s no guarantee that the constituents want to engage. With social media – You Tube, Facebook, Twitter et al – you can measure the level of success much more effectively AND engage in conversation.

[2] The only reason I’ve chosen Sadiq Khan is he used to be my local MP so I’m slightly more familiar with his online presence (he has a Twitter feed as well) rather than any particular like of dislike of the politician.

jfffffffI see little difference between the banal comments of the Twittersphere about ‘In the Loop’ and the banal opinions of a Member of Parliament on anything outside her remit. If it’s interesting to you, follow it. If not, don’t. But don’t lash out at those who do.
The compulsive need of those not involved to discuss it at length shows a fear of the unknown which, for a politician (and I generally have more respect for politicians than most do), is short-sighted.
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42: The meaning of [insert own comment here]

I try, largely, to avoid politics on here these days. I also try to avoid hyperbole. In the light of yesterday’s narrow victory (if, indeed, you can use such a word) for the 42 days issue, avoidance is difficult, nay impossible.

Politics has, for me, long stopped being about any idea of governing, having descended into a mixture of bearpit shouting and self-serving interests of those in charge. Yesterday was another day further down whatever slope we’re slowly sliding down into.

There’s never been a decent argument put through for 42 days other than it might be useful at some point in the future and the police would quite like it. It feels more like Gordon Brown’s desire to look tough and reinforce his Premiership than any particular matter of national urgency or necessity, and he failed on both account. It’s just made him look both overly authoritarian and hugely incompetent.

Essentially, we can now been thrown in prison for six weeks if the police feel like it and the government says its necessary. As a matter of interest, even China’s number of days you can be held without charge is lower. Do our elected representatives feel proud of the fact that we now have a more repressive law on the books than that bastion of liberalism, China?

To quote Justin:

“It really doesn’t seem to have occurred to Gordon Brown in his scramble to look hard that if he had a rock solid, utterly convincing, based in evidence case for 42 days he’d have little opposition and none of this tawdry haggling and dragging politics through the shit once again would have been necessary.”

And what really sticks in the craw – and what I suspect will put even more people off politics – is the way the vote was won. I have no problem with votes being won that I disagree with if people are voting because they genuinely believe change is for the better. Take Boris – I didn’t vote for him, but he won the election fair and square, even if you may disagree with the result and despair and the reasons why people voted for him.

But to offer a series of costly concessions isn’t democracy – it is, quite simply, buying votes. And to all those who brought it, I hope you feel proud that you’ve sold out your principles just because somebody dangled a large wodge of cash in front of you in exchange for your support. I hope, whatever you got the money for, it was worth it.

I’m now going to crawl back to my media world and hope to God that the majority of the electorate and politicians see this for what it is, and that this proves to be the last throw of the dice for one of the most illberal governments we’ve ever experienced, who came to power promising so much and will leave doing more damage to their party and ideology (whatever the hell that may be, I’ve no idea anymore) than any piece of investigative journalism or opposition attack ever could have done.

See what they’ve made me do? I’ve lapsed into hyperbole again.

UPDATE: When, as Vee points out on Twitter (which is where I first got the news from), when David Davis finds a Labour policy too right-wing, you know something’s wrong.

Internet protection: Gordon still doesn’t get it

Gordon Brown may be many things, but unintelligent doesn’t seem to be one of them. Why, then, is he still repeating the mantra that ISPs have to take responsibility for what children can access on computers.

The oft-repeated analogy is it is akin to the Royal Mail deciding what letters are suitable for you to receive. Except that’s a bit simplistic, because the technical reality is a hell of a lot more complicated. But the principle is the same, roughly. Tiscali, my ISP, are no more culpable if I decide to look at terror-related materials than Royal Mail or TNT or any other courier service is if I then print out said manual and send it through the post.

It would make more sense to get computer manufacturers to preload child safety software onto the machine – after all, that’s the tool the kid will be using. But that’s not without problems or trade issues.

As for the rest of today’s Byron report, well, as Bobbie Johnson says,most of what it calls for is already “available in abundance”. Or just bafflingly vague as to how it’ll be enforced.

Take the computer game grading issue. Ok, so a clearer classification system isn’t a daft thing, but from my own experience many years ago as a sales assistant in a computer games store, most parents do have a fair idea of what a computer game is about. It’s much like the blurb on the back of a DVD, plus screen shots. Computer games really aren’t that hard to understand.

The internet’s a different matter. Much less structured and plenty of sites that if you’ve never used, could appear baffling. Fair enough. But let’s not equal not understanding something with being dangerous. So, yes, Dr. Bryon’s loose call for better education is sensible, although could have probably been said in a lot less words and for a lot less money.

As for how she, or the government, plan to regulate social networking sites… well, your guess is as good as mine. Social networking covers a broad area, and even MySpace and Facebook have differences that wouldn’t be easy to shoehorn into a one-size-fits-all approach. Is she going to include social bookmarking like del.icio.us is there – after all, it’s easy to bookmark a page that could be offensive or inappropriate for a child. How about Twitter? Or Netvibes, now there’s a social networking element in Ginger? Nope, I can’t even see how that would work.

Actually, social networking sites are just one of the many questions in the report that seem to struggle when you ask the two questions ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’. Nope, I’ve got lost again here, sorry.

And behind it all, there’s still a tiny part of me that worries it’s still just a short step to the government putting mandatory filters and blocking sites on the premise of protecting the children, and if you’re wanting to remove the filters then, well, there must be something dodgy about it.

Paranoid? Me? Perhaps not if I lived in Australia.

UPDATE: Byron outlines how the codes might work. I’m pretty darn sure that most of these codes or privacy protections already exist in some form or other. Has she actually ever used a social networking site?

Certainly, Facebook’s uppped its provacy control and you’ve got a certain amount of control. MySpace, too, has basic privacy settings which sort of fit this criteria. Can’t speak for Bebo, as I’ve hardly touched it.

Follow up thought 1: Why all the focus on Facebook? That’s got a naturally higher demographic. So at what point do we stop treating children as children and treat them like adults? 16? If 16, why? What’s to say 15 year olds aren’t capable of not being nannied?

Nope, I’ve just confused myself again here.

Follow up thought 2: The internet, and social networking, isn’t static or slow-moving in how it develops. It’s not like print or TV. The codes would have to be pretty fluid. After all, 18 months ago Facebook was little known outside of university networks. Add another 12 months onto that and MySpace was a curiosity.

The point being, there’s bound to be a site that springs up soon that grows organically and isn’t covered by the code. How does that fit in? Either the codes have got to be so vague as to be fluid or so complicated they take into account something that doesn’t exist yet. Neither of those problems have ever stopped this bunch of politicians before, mind.

UPDATE 2:  

Unity gets justifiably angry at a couple of very stupid comments.


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com