Thursday, 29 May 2008

E-campaigning and us

. Several debates have taken place on Liberal Democrat Voice and across the blogsphere about how best to approach the question of e-campaigning. Broadly speaking I think it is helpful to split political websites into two categories' 'talking to ourselves' and 'talking to others' by which I mean activists networks for debate and news and places where we actively campaign to win support for our ideas and our party. One of the things that has initially impressed me is how proactive we are in the latter category things like the Focus newsletter show a willingness to reach out which does have an impact. Canvassing the other day I was told that the Liberal Democrats would have a vote due to the fact that the other two parties were unseen. This is something that we can be proud of but I think in the internet sphere can be built-on; so with all this in mind I would like to take you, the reader, on a short tour of the blogosphere stateside.

I have to confess a vested interest when it comes to Daily Kos, I blog there and have done for a few months ever since the site came to my attention due to a news item about a 'strike' by pro-Clinton bloggers. This has meant that it is now effectively the writing venue of choice for Obamite Democrat activists. Registering entitles you (after a week) to posting rights on one 'diary' entry a day, the plus-side of this is that it keeps content fresh and varied the downside is that it is restrictive.

Kos is a good example into activists talking to activists category as is Democratic Underground. Move On is the archetypal example of a campaigning website and a testimony to the influence it can have; it has more than 3 million members and is a campaigning force to be reckoned with. It has an explicitly outward focus looking to get people involved not just in it's campaigns but politics as a whole. It describes its 'Operation Democracy' as a;

“ network of committed volunteers who go beyond email and organize hard-hitting events in their community.”


Who;

“work together to hold our elected officials accountable, and lay the groundwork for electoral victories in 2008,”


and;


“specialize in rapid-response events so we can act on issues while they're still hot.”


My feeling is that in the United Kingdom there is something a separation between politics, political ideas and organised parties. The state assumes the responsibility for 'educating' people in general democratic principles through the medium of things like citizenship classes while the parties stand separate from this process. Of course educational neutrality is how things should be but that doesn't prevent the parties undertaking a vigorous outreach policy independently Given the relative positions of the parties it is clear that ours is best aligned to undertake one of these thus creating a loyal periphery who are loyal because the body of ideas that represents their vision of not just how they want to see their own lives bettered but the lives of others too.

Liberal Democrat News has established the the basic concept of a Party newspaper which is a good one. Newspapers traditionally can cross the gap between inward and outward focus. However, they have to provide a more varied diet than 100% pure politics if they are to have that broad appeal necessary to reach a wider layer of people. Culture, sport wider life-style issues would all have to make an appearance as a reflection of the necessity of providing people with a varied news diet. Is it absurd to want to see Lib Dem writers writing about Premiership football?

Our coverage in the wider media, even in sympathetic papers like The Guardian, is not the best or the most far-reaching and can often be often reduced to boiling down to focusing on our relationship with the 'Big Two'. This is largely a result of our standing as the third party but it creates a challenge and an opportunity which things like Lib Dem News and Focus start to address but can be taken further especially when it comes to our use of the medium of the internet. Opportunities exist for broadening our base and our horizons using the medium of the internet. Both Liberal Democrat News and Liberal Democrat Voice are essentially activist tools; my specific proposal is that the Focus approach be given a national web presence with it being given a broad remit to try and draw in supporters and members. I think an open-ended debate on this question is important....so who will get the ball rolling??


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