soap box

Election Day!

Originally posted 6th May 2010

After weeks of polling, baby kissing, soap box speeches, rosettes and public gaffes, this election has transpired to be the most interesting and closely fought election since Ted Heath’s fateful 1974 debacle. However, the surprising thing has been how traditional a campaign each of the major parties has led. In fact their collective campaigns seem to have come straight out of Heath’s 1970s.

Heath and Cameron

Heath and Cameron

For a start, the Tory press has been criticised for wielding its terrifying influence, female politicians have been notable by their absence with only the leaders’ doting wives making an appearance, parties have resorted to spending the majority of their campaign funds (whether from Ashcroft or the Unions) on negative billboard campaigns and leaflet drops.

Where was digital in all of this? Where was the re-run of the Obama cyber campaign?

For a country that still uses the postal vote, and hasn’t quite worked out how to organise online voting, it doesn’t on the face of it look all that good. I’m left thinking that a great opportunity may have been missed here. The leaders did take part in a Facebook/Youtube debate marking a “decisive shift away from the constraints of top-down traditional media… thus changing the way that politicians campaign for good” according to Richard Allan (Facebook’s Director of Policy). But he would say that wouldn’t he?

The one major change to the 1970s was the introduction of the televised prime ministerial debates which left television playing the major communications role (over and above the party political broadcast). These debates, and Nick Clegg’s performance, did engage with a disengaged electorate… and it would seem this is where digital took over. It might be me, but the real debate and excitement came from the user generated content of the ordinary man on cyber street. For the first time social networks allowed voters to debate among themselves and join the causes closest to their hearts. Take the “I agree with Nick” Facebook group which boasts 5,000 fans or indeed the “Don’t you hate when Sue puts you with that bigoted woman?!” group with boasts an impressive 100,000 fans. Digital should have changed the way politicians campaign forever, but it has certainly returned the real debates back to grass roots.