Digital Democracy – some themes to look out for in UK General Election campaign

Many thanks to Albion London for putting on a cracking panel last Wednesday in Spitalfields for a discussion on Digital Democracy and the impending UK General Election. More info on the specific event can be found here, including a video with Alan Rusbridger’s insightful views on Us vs. Them and Open vs. Closed.

With the UK election getting into full swing, MPs have been scrambling over themselves to be interviewed by the MumsNet community. Both David ‘Call me Dave’ Cameron and Gordon ‘I’m Just about to Blow a Gasket’ Brown have courted the active and passionate community, but having heard from Justine Roberts, founder of MumsNet, I’m really not sure what kind of impact either of them made with that community. They’re doing what politicians have always done; look at stats/results, target a particular demographic of disenfranchised, sitting-on-the-fence voters and trying to woo them.

But is that it? Is the UK election really ‘The MumsNet Election’? The UK election isn’t going to be anything like the US Obama election, that much is clear. So far all we’ve heard are fluffy promises and the same old negative politics and fear; this time though such tactics are being amplified for all the wrong reasons by digital. It goes to prove that in this general election you have to say something meaningful.

Take for example the brilliant work of Clifford Singer’s spoof campaign posters over on
I’ve never studied economics before
We’ll airbrush anything.
Don’t worry, you won’t feel a thing.
This one’s still my favourite though (because it’s real and it’s online affecting offline ;p):
There have been 256,463 David Cameron posters created using the online poster generator courtesy of Andy Barefoot. Go and create your own.
There’s much more Clifford has to say on the experience in a blog post he’s written, Five Lessons from MyDavidCameron – Definitely worth a read.
And recently he’s announced he’s going to stop them now. The timing couldn’t be better. These spoofs have a certain shelf life and now that the Conservative’s have jumped on the bandwagon and created a nasty, bitter tasting version themselves, it’s all getting a bit ‘unappetitlich‘.
I think they have captured the public’s imagination because the posters themselves have been so devoid of anything meaningful; either in their message or in their substance.
Since Obama, what democracy has needed to be respected is meaningful action as opposed to political in-action which we’ve become used to. I wrote a couple of musings prior to the US Presidential campaign on what impact digital and social media would have on politics and yes, Obama’s campaign managed to create an incredible grassroots swelling on Facebook providing the largest donation pool in modern political campaigning – but social media isn’t just a route to raising more funds for a campaign – any brand worth their salt could tell you that by now! It also enables activism and cuts through the bullshit. Look at what’s happening right now with the threatened closure of BBC 6Music or the Robin Hood Tax campaign to give you an idea of the power social media has when it’s got a purpose.
Which brings me to my second theme of the UK General Election: Independent MPs.
Tasmin Omond, the Climate campaigner has announced she will be standing against Glenda Jackson in the newly formed borough of Hampstead &Kilburn, who Tasmin called “the laziest MP in London”.
She has now formed a political party, called The Commons, and is believed to have substantial financial backing from green campaigners.
Last week cryptic posters started appearing in the area, of a silhouette alongside the other candidates including Ms Jackson, Liberal Democrat Ed Fordham and Tory Chris Philp, proclaiming that the election race would include “not just the usual suspects”.
Ms Omond said: “Hampstead and Kilburn is a new constituency and we want to show people what a new MP can do. We’ve had enough of distant politicians droning on about broken Britain but doing very little.
“Labour and the Conservatives represent a type of politics that people are bored with. We want to remind people that politics is about choice. The other candidates are going after the dwindling older population in the area who still vote.

“We are going after the tens of thousands of young voters. If we get their vote, we will win by a landslide.”

Ms Omond said that if she wins the election, she will put a third of her salary into local projects selected by her constituents. She also vowed to do one day of community service each week and said she would ensure everyone in the constituency who is eligible to vote is registered by the end of her first period in office.

Ms Jackson, Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate, last year repaid more than £8,000 in expenses she had wrongly claimed. Glenda Jackson has previously been shown to be one of the MPs who offers least value for money.

In 2007/2008, she claimed £136,793 in allowances despite turning up for only 27 per cent of votes and speaking in just two debates.

Ms Omond said: “The expenses scandal definitely influenced my decision to stand. People in the constituency I’ve spoken to are incredulous that Glenda Jackson would even bother standing in the election. She is the laziest MP in London.”

Ms Omond said the Climate Rush group would be “heavily involved” in her campaign: “We’re going to have people dressed as suffragettes going door-to-door offering to draught-proof houses and sort out insulation.

Should be interesting, if only as a side show…

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