S ou ee t j pa oi ni ge ng 2 th for e Yo info un rm g a Fa tio bi n an s
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS? CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE Sarah Brown, BenPOLITICS? Bradshaw MP, Will Straw, Tom Harris MP, Alex Smith, Jessica Asato, Sarah Brown, Ben Bradshaw MP, Alex Smith, Tom Harris MP, Will Straw,McCarthy Jessica Asato, Kerry and many more... Kerry MPMcCarthy , and MP many more... NEW MEDIA SPECIAL
Volume 13, Issue 3 | Spring 2010
The best fiver you’ll ever spend By joining the Young Fabians you become a member of the only think tank in the country run by and for young people. For over fifty years we have been at the forefront of the Left, agitating for change through our pamphlets, magazines and events. You can become part of that rich tradition by joining the Young Fabians today. What’s more it only costs a fiver. That’s it. For that price you’ll receive the full edition of Anticipations delivered to your door. It gets even better. You’ll also receive the Fabian Society’s quarterly magazine, Fabian Review, and the latest editions of their policy books and pamphlets. So what are you waiting for?
Join the Young Fabians today at www.youngfabians.org.uk
FROM THE EDITOR
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
A web presence isn’t enough; social media must give people real control James Green, Anticipations Editor and Labour PPC for Cheltenham
hen the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, few could have anticipated its impact. Twenty years later and, as Ben Bradshaw sets out in this edition’s essay, every part of Britain will soon be online. This internet revolution has been a powerful democratising force. Where once we relied on experts and professionals for information and guidance, today we find and shape it ourselves. Social relationships have been transformed as old networks are challenged from the bottom up. Parents, empowered through online forums such as Mumsnet, are looking to each other for advice rather than to health professional alone. Where once we wrote a ‘letter to the editor’, we now are the editor with blogs like Anticipations contributors Will Straw’s Left Foot Forward and Alex Smith’s Labourlist changing the way we engage in politics. And Twitter, as Sarah Brown discusses in this issue, is bringing millions of people together, fostering discussion and debate in bitesize 140 word chunks. Yet in many ways mainstream political parties have been left behind. There are some notable exceptions. Labour’s Membersnet and the recently launched MyConservatives.com offer activists new ways to organise outside of traditional party structures. MPs such as Tom Harris
and Kerry McCarthy, who share their thoughts with Anticipations, are fostering real debate through their blogs and Twitter feeds. However, despite these efforts, all too often British politicians engage with the internet in dated terms. They fall over themselves to develop a ‘web presence’, but fail to appreciate that harnessing the potential of the internet is as much to do with power relations as it is new technology. When millions of people from across the world can create an encyclopedia that is as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica but significantly larger, we are reminded that the era of passive consumerism has passed. Today we are active citizens and we demand meaningful control. Yet even politicians’ best efforts have failed to grasp this lesson. WebCameron, perhaps the most well known example of a British politician attempting to interact with the public online, is depressingly cosmetic. It is the moving picture equivalent of a top line briefing or set piece ministerial speech. WebCameron is symptomatic of a wider political failure in which British politicians remain wedded to an old style of politics that has lost relevance in today’s changed world. It’s no coincidence that the decline in traditional democratic participation has coincided with the explosion of the internet. People are organising, communicating and accessing information like never before
and yet our political system remains as centralised as ever. The dislocation between mainstream politics and the public runs deeper than issues such as MPs’ expenses. It reflects an unmet need to pass power back to the people. A number of organisations have begun to look at public services through this prism, placing active citizenship at the heart of public service reform. The approach of Participle and ThinkPublic, two such organisations, is as simple as it is profound. It is based upon the view that people are increasingly rejecting the old 1950s state and 1980s market models. They don’t want to be needy recipients, nor do they want to be passive consumers. Through workshops and online tools, communities are supported to collaborate and take ownership of their public services, tailoring them to meet their needs. The message from this work is clear. If the last ten years were characterised by choice and access in public services, the next decade must be defined by meaningful control. The internet can change politics. But only if it is part of a wider effort to shift power downwards. Now is the time to learn the lessons of the web and reject the paradox that gives people more ways than ever to speak, but leaves them feeling that their voices aren’t being heard. Leave WebCameron to the Tories. Labour can offer so much more.
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
FROM THE CHAIR David Chaplin Chair, Young Fabians www.youngfabians.org.uk
A message from the Chair of the Young Fabians
he theme of this edition of Anticipations tackles a big issue – new media. This is an important topic not just for young people, but also for adults. It is relevant to those in employment as well as those who are out of work or retired. The media, technology and new uses for it are at the centre of pioneering policy development in a number of key areas including education, social mobility, health and wellbeing, and science and innovation. But the challenge for government in this area is to capitalise on the enthusiasm and excitement around the growth of new media and to harness it for economic growth and social good. The government’s current strategy through the Digital Britain report and the Digital Economy Bill which is currently going through the House of Lords is to position Britain as one of the world’s leading knowledge economies. It focuses on infrastructure, the creative industries, digital inclusion and the reform of public services. Under Lord Mandelson’s supervision at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the government’s digital agenda has skipped a beat, moving from a minority interest to a crossgovernment priority. The question remains however, why is Digital Britain an agenda for Labour, and what does our current policy platform do for Labour values and the most vulnerable in our society? This question is important, and not just because we are in an election year. Even if the starting gun had not been
fired and we weren’t in the midst of the long campaign, it is important for Labour to be clear about how seeing new media as a force for good makes the Party different from David Cameron’s Conservatives. In the wake of the MPs’ expenses crisis, the House of Commons has embraced new media to create a new game for young people to play online. ‘Be an MP for a week’ allows participants to see the competing pressures which can face elected representatives. Government could take a leaf out of this book and offer a more transparent explanation of its processes and functions to voters through the internet and new media innovations. It’s important that the digital inclusion agenda is pushed forward by Labour in government. As Lord Carter said when he launched the Digital Britain report, we can’t leave it to the market to deliver broadband to the homes of the most vulnerable and poverty stricken communities. There is a role for government to deliver this and Labour is taking proactive steps to invest in this infrastructure. It will reap rewards - recent research highlights the importance of access to new forms of learning to the achievement and development of young people. With the recent commitment from the Prime Minister to a £300m scheme to roll out laptops to nearly 300,000 low income families, we can see the active demonstration of this aspiration. Coupled with the growth of Cabinet Ministers who are now using Twitter
to write to the world about their daily experiences and activities, banal and otherwise, there is also a movement to open up politics to greater scrutiny and make politicians more accessible and accountable to citizens. And even the Young Fabians have taken part in the boom of new media as a resource for activists and campaigners through our new blog which is growing each day into a lively and dynamic online discussion forum for young progressive thinkers. The challenge ahead is to continue to show how this agenda would be put at risk under a Conservative government and we don’t yet see these arguments being articulated effectively by Labour in the run up to the election in a way that resonates with normal people’s experiences and aspirations. This is a key challenge for the Party over the coming months, and I hope all Young Fabian members will get involved in this debate, by writing on our blog and contributing to all our activities. As we launch our 50th Year celebrations this month it’s also an opportunity for our members to talk about the issues that the Fabian Society needs to tackle in the new political terrain that unfolds later this year. Make sure you use the new communication tools that the Young Fabians are embracing to get your views heard – join the debate! Join the debate by visiting the Young Fabians blog at: www.youngfabians.org.uk/blog
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
CONTENTS Spring 2010 Volume 13, Issue 3
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
10 of the Best... Social Media Campaigns
Winning on the Web Alex Smith
Focus on... The European Union
The Online Election Will Straw
Notes from... Is the internet really changing politics?
Feminism 2.0 Jessica Asato
New Media, New Danger? John Wood
Launch of the Young Fabians blog Adrian Prandle
Giving Ideas Impact Kerry McCarthy MP
Young Fabians online networks Nick Maxwell
Top Ten Tips for Labour bloggers Tom Harris MP
50th Anniversary of the Young Fabians David Chaplin and Adrian Prandle
YOUNG FABIAN IDEAS
The Young Fabian Interview Sarah Brown
The New Progressive James Green
The Young Fabian Essay Rt. Hon. Ben Bradshaw MP
How to change MPs’ expenses James Shafe
Published by: The Fabian Society 11 Dartmouth Street London SW1H 9BN T: 0207 227 4900 F: 0207 976 7153 Printed by: Caric Press Ltd Lionheart Close, Bearwood Bournemouth, Dorset, BH11 9UB
Anticipations, like all publications of the Fabian Society, and the Young Fabians, represents not the collective view of the Society, but only the views of the individuals whose articles it comprises. The responsibility of the Society is limited to approving its publications as worthy of consideration within the Labour movement. © YOUNG FABIANS 2010 www.fabian-society.org.uk www.youngfabians.org.uk
The editor would like to thank: Sarah Brown, Ben Bradshaw MP, Tom Harris MP, Kerry McCarthy MP, Catherine Stihler MEP, Jessica Asato, Will Straw, Alex Smith, John Wood and the Young Fabian Executive Committee. With special thanks to Aex Baker.
Images used in this publication are royalty-free or are Creative Commons licensed. Copyright remains the author’s own.
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
> THE YOUNG FABIAN INTERVIEW
The Left’s most prolific tweeter shares her views on Twitter and social media
arah Brown has quite simply taken the world of Twitter by storm. A relative newcomer to the microblogging site (which, for the uninitiated, allows users to post 140 character-long ‘tweets’ akin to public text messages), Sarah began tweeting in March last year. As ‘SarahBrown10’ her regular tweets give a refreshingly frank insider’s view into life at Britain’s most famous address. Her place amongst the twitterati was secured when, in September, the number of fellow twitterers following her online overtook those of technophile and all round national treasure, Stephen Fry. The fact that her 1,115,580 followers (at the last count) amount to five times the number of people currently members of the Labour Party, loses none of its salience, despite the regularity with which it is quoted. Although she’ll happily fly the flag for traditional Labour causes such as the NHS, Sarah’s tweets are never party political. She instead uses her enormous popularity
to raise the profiles of issues close to her heart – the Million Mums campaign, organ donation and efforts to help the people of Haiti, to name but a few. It’s this tireless campaigning coupled with the insights into family life at Number 10 that give her updates their vast appeal. Recent tweets have told of Sunday lunches, days in the park and a self-imposed Twitter ban in an attempt to clear her inbox. Despite leaving the politics to Gordon, Sarah’s oft-cited status as Labour’s biggest electoral asset means hopes are high that her, seemingly effortless, ability to connect with the public on such a huge scale may pay dividends in the coming months. In an exclusive Q&A, Anticipations asks Sarah Brown for her thoughts on whether Twitter can change politics… How and why did you first get involved with Twitter? I’ve always thought of Downing Street as a public building with very limited public access and so I’ve tried where I can to open
it up to people while recognising it is a place of work. I have always received a lot of lovely letters and emails asking about life behind the big black door and I started by writing a couple of blogs on the Downing Street website explaining what I am doing. Then I asked a friend who knows a lot about the web what she thought would be the best way for me to share information about the campaigns and causes I’m involved with. She recommended Twitter, I registered @sarahbrown10, and it all went from there. What advice would you give other people who want to use social media to highlight campaigns and issues? I set myself a new year’s resolution this year - work hard, have fun, stay true. That’s my rule for life – but it’s a good guide to tweeting too. I don’t do much politics on my Twitter – partly because Gordon’s the politician in our house (he tweets on @DowningStreet,
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
which has over 1.7million followers), and partly because we’ve got such a star turn in @KerryMP that social media people interested in a bit of progressive politics can get all the Labour news and views by following her very funny tweets. So I try to focus on the areas I am most involved with and the charities I support, and that would be my advice to anyone else starting out using social media. What has been your biggest achievement through Twitter? I don’t know if achievement is really the right word, but I was pleased to bring together so many people who use social media for social good at the #downingtweet party I hosted just before Christmas, in support of the Million Mums Campaign (www.millionmums.org). The campaign aims to stop the scandal of a woman dying every minute of every day from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications and it’s been great to see people from all over the country and all walks of life come behind it. I hope lots of Anticipations readers will sign up for justice for mums and babies across the world, we would love to have you on board.
- astonishingly - not everyone supports our brilliant NHS. It’s a bit like Sure Start or the minimum wage - they didn’t happen by accident, but now people think they’re such a part of British life that we probably won’t have #weloveSureStart or #welovetheminimumwage until somebody tries to take them away.
The recent ‘We love the NHS’ campaign showed the power of Twitter to mobilise people. How do you think social media can be further used to engage people in the issues they care about? What was so amazing about #welovetheNHS is it reminded people that what we have isn’t inevitable – that some people aren’t so lucky, and even that
Twitter has been successful in raising the profile of issues. Do you think it is as effective at bringing about real change in individual behaviour? I certainly hope so. One of the most interesting events we hosted at Downing Street last year was a screening of the compelling film ‘The End of the Line’, which highlights what we can - and must all urgently do to preserve the world’s fish
stocks – and after watching it people were tweeting about how they were going to shop more sustainably. And I’ve been very proud to support the #savejess campaign and @thegiftoflife which are encouraging people to sign up as organ donors. If the Twitter traffic is anything to go by, loads of people were prepared to take this simple life-saving act, simply because they’d been asked. Young Fabians should sign up too. How has Twitter changed your life? Well it’s certainly helped me connect with some amazing people I’d have been unlikely to meet any other way, and it’s been a real privilege to be let into the lives of so many people across the country and the world. My day now has a regular dose of catching up with who’s passed their exams, who’s getting over a break-up, who has been elated and dejected about each twist and turn of the X-factor or Dancing on Ice. It’s been so lovely to find such an easy and honest way of connecting with people, and I hope we’ve done a little good for some great causes along the way. What was your first Tweet? I don’t remember it. Twitter is, and should be, a conversation and engagement with other people, more than a platform for memorable statements and meaningful first Tweets. I can tell looking it up on my Twitter page that I started on 21st March 2009. I can’t believe that is not yet a year since I first logged on. The time before Twitter already feels a lifetime ago.
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
WINNING ON THE WEB Alex Smith Editor, LabourList www.labourlist.org
On the Left gaining ground in the blogosphere
year ago, the notion that the Tories were streets ahead of Labour online was almost unanimously accepted. WebCameron and CameronDirect – the initiatives set up to take the Tory leadership directly into people’s homes – were celebrated for demonstrating an understanding of the nature of the web. Conservative bloggers dominated the blogscape. And Tory HQ seemed comfortable – where Labour was not – with critical, pluralistic and genuinely grassroots contributions from the likes of Iain Dale and ConservativeHome. The sum of those parts was more influential still. As mainstays of the Tory presence online, each building on the others’ success, independent Tory web activists held an increasingly significant sway within both the mainstream media and their own movement. Conversely, Labour HQ sporadically sent out email reproductions of set-piece cabinet speeches to members, clinging hopelessly to that out-dated model of command and control of the party line. Labour had failed in its attempt to harness the real power of Web 2.0 – interaction. Indeed, the only option then given to recipients of those stale emails was to click on a link to unsubscribe from the contact list. Web experts from the Obama campaign, pitching for business in the UK, were aghast. Over the past year, however, that deficit has been closed, and even reversed. The ‘We Love the NHS’ campaign on Twitter and the ‘We Still Believe’ video on the night of the catastrophic European elections last June showed that Labour people could be spontaneous, quick-witted and relevant online in defence of our values – and that campaigns could be run and bought into
across multiple, integrated social media platforms. The newly positioned LabourList has been at the heart of those developments, publishing well over 2,000 articles submitted by 260 contributors. In debating news, policy, strategy and the future of the Labour movement from a distance, we’ve amassed 305,000 individual readers who have viewed 2.5 million pages in just 11 months. Subsequently, LabourList has become the biggest independent webspace on the Left, the fourth most influential political blog in the UK, and the 18th most influential in Europe. Other significant forums are also now finding their voice. Will Straw’s excellent Left Foot Forward is scrutinising Conservative policy – and the Tory cheerleaders on Fleet Street – more than was ever the case before. The Fabians’ own Next Left blog is as prolific as it is intellectually important. Even traditional stalwarts such as the New Statesman and Tribune are getting in on the act, each working behind the scenes to stake their claim as leaders of progressive thinking online. Indeed, going into 2010, the respected editor of ConservativeHome, Tim Montgomerie, says “there are clearer and clearer signs that the right’s dominance of the internet is being challenged as never before.” These impressive advances over the past year have been the result of two things improved party-organisational targeting of the online gap, and the simultaneous grassroots’ eagerness to get involved and take ownership of a space that James Crabtree of Prospect Magazine believes “will soon reshape British politics.”
Certainly, Labour HQ has developed a new understanding that “the internet is not a fad”, as The West Wing’s Vice President Hoynes said. A dedicated and expanding team of tech-savvy staff have been deployed at Victoria Street, and has quickly got to work developing new ways for Labour supporters and sympathisers to connect. But the Labour Party’s own exponentially improved online strategy over the past year could not have happened without buy-in from ordinary supporters, who have come out in their droves to tweet, blog and organise online for the cause they believe in. Some of that compulsion has been fed, in part, by the Obama campaign and its inspiring victory in 2008. Many Labour members had been over to the States to volunteer for the Democrats, and each brought back unique lessons for our own activism both online and off. Those lessons were of grassroots autonomy, open and honest engagement and a more mutual and integrated communication strategy for the web age that all could play a part in. All of a sudden, party members realised that no one need be told what to do or how to do it. This was our movement, and we could make the change ourselves. With these advances on the Left, the Conservatives have been forced to redouble their efforts. Lord Ashcroft recently underwrote ConservativeHome with £1.3 million of investment and CCHQ has now launched its own version of MembersNet, MyConservatives.com, to much fanfare but with little real traction to date. The internet will not on its own change the result of the 2010 General Election. In these times of financial and democratic deficit, success will come as it always did from boot leather and meaningful reform. But what Labour supporters have now shown is that the ability to expand the terms of those debates is in our own hands. The time to get involved is now.
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
THE ONLINE ELECTION Will Straw Editor, Left Foot Forward www.leftfootforward.org
On how new media will shape the next General Election
t is becoming a cliché that the 2010 General Election will be the first to be fought online. Much of the debate about policy and politics will be discussed on blogs, money for national and local campaigns will be raised through electronic paypal donations, and activists will campaign using web tools like Labour’s Membersnet and MyConservatives. com. American politics has now had two elections fought online – the mid-term elections of 2006 and the Presidential Election which brought Barack Obama to the White House. It is important that we recognise the key differences between Britain and America when trying to adopt their best practice. For a start, the US has no national newspaper market and no bias restrictions in its broadcast media. But there are also lessons that can be learnt. When Nick Anstead and I edited ‘The Change We Need’ for the Fabian Society in March we made two points about blogging. First, we said that blogging is more effective as a campaigning tool when it is used for ‘rapid response research’ – reacting quickly to statements, speeches and policies by conservatives, and publicising moments of hypocrisy, especially where the mainstream media reaction has been quiet or slow.
Second, bloggers can usefully exist outside the mainstream structures of a political party or campaign, giving them free license to go on the attack in a way that might diminish the reputation of politicians. This approach also gives the ‘blogosphere’ free reign to attack conservative positions by otherwise progressive politicians. I set up Left Foot Forward, a relatively new blog for progressives, to fit firmly into this space. We put a high premium on evidence and ensure that all our claims are backed up by links to the relevant facts or newspaper articles. We also tend to avoid gossip and opinion. We are also non-partisan in the sense that although I am a committed Labour Party activist, Left Foot Forward is not a Labour Party blog. We have contributions from Liberal Democrat and Green Party supporters, as well as from a number of non-aligned progressives committed to a single issue like climate change or development. We have even published an article by Demos’ ‘progressive conservative’ Jonty Olliff-Cooper. We are a space for progressives of all stripes and, although much of our fire is aimed at the Conservative Party and their irresponsible positions in relation to the economy and Europe, we have also taken the government to task over the renewal of Trident, its support of nuclear power,
and its timidity on drugs among other issues. We can also move beyond the views of the main political parties and provide a response or rebuttal to the views of some of the key influencers on the right. Columnists like Melanie Philips and Simon Heffer, pressure groups like Migration Watch and the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and the right-wing blogs themselves are all our target in a way that might seem parochial to the mainstream media. So what will success look like? As with the best US blogs, we want to be judged not just on the size of our audience – after all we are wonky and will attract fewer readers than some of the more gossipy sites – but we also want to be judged on influence – incoming links and ability to shape the news agenda. So far, so good. In just four months we have become the fourth most influential blog on the left according to the rankings compiled by Wikio. Our stories have been picked up by a number of newspapers and broadcasters, and even by the Prime Minister in PMQs! But there’s still a long way to go. The biggest right wing blogs get much greater volumes of traffic and can therefore claim greater influence. Meanwhile, the internet changes so rapidly that the prize during the election will be for the most innovative use of new media. Who will master the use of YouTube with humorous and informative videos that drive a particular narrative? Who will best aggregate Twitter to give a sense of the chatter taking place around the country? And whose blogging will actually provoke activists into giving money or campaigning? After all, elections are won with votes and everything else is secondary to that.
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
NEW MEDIA, NEW DANGER? John Wood Campaigns and New Media Officer, TUC and contributor to Touchstone blog www.touchstoneblog.org.uk
On the benefits and hazards of social networking for unions
nline social media has become a global phenomenon in only a few years, with hundreds of millions now regularly using blogs and social networks to co-ordinate their personal lives, or to network and collaborate professionally in ways never before possible. These new technologies are still starting to be exploited by trades unions, but as left political activism online continues to grows over 2010, I believe we could see social media also offering significant gains to the union movement. There are many reasons why engaging with social networks might be an attractive prospect for unions. Using the major networks is free (or cheap), and they’ve already signed up a high proportion of union members and potential members, making them a useful platform to be seen on. Publishing content on social media is extremely easy, opening up content creation and participation to many more people at different levels within the union. There is also scope for grassroots networking on an unprecedented global basis, with organisers and activists able to leverage the wisdom of crowds to solve problems. A number of union activists and organisers are starting to make use of social networking for research and building first contacts for organising campaigns at new workplaces. Some unions are using a presence in social networking to engage with members and prospective members. Unions can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with how they work (or, of course, to people who know too well how they work). Younger people particularly who might not be comfortable approaching
a union organiser, attending a branch meeting, or actually reading a rulebook, are possibly more likely to consider talking to a union if they’re in an environment in which they feel more comfortable and in control. As social networks are built around friends (or contacts) sharing information with their own friends, there is a potential for ‘viral’ transmission of messages between users. The TUC’s own Facebook application My-Union.org makes use of this in a small way by displaying badges of UK and Irish unions on users’ profiles. However, just as there are many opportunities for unions in online social networking, there are also many hazards. We need to plan for these, as difficulties in social media arise extremely quickly, and can grow out of hand if the union are unable to react quickly enough. Without the proper resources behind social networking activity, many union campaigns on social networking platforms may fail. By entering social networks, unions are in effect offering to develop some form of relationship with network users, and will increase those users’ expectations of a genuine interaction with the union. If this expectation cannot be fulfilled, the disappointment could damage users’ perspectives of the union. Entering into open and rapidly responsive discussion online may also cause difficulties for the organisational culture of many unions. There may be concerns around jeopardising the accountability of unions’ representative democracies in favour of the rough direct democracy of the networks. There may also be concern that issues previously kept
internal to the organisation are now being discussed in public, and an attempt to silence discussion rather than engage with it. Just as damagingly, unions’ capacities and cultures may also mean they are unable to respond quickly enough when they need to seize an opportunity. Unions will also find a special difficulty in keeping the appearance of unity so vital in employment disputes. Some recent disputes have been effectively co-ordinated and boosted by activists through blogs and Facebook groups. This form of open discussion may cause problems though in that opponents may perceive a weakening of resolve on the part of workers in a dispute if hitherto hidden differences of opinion amongst the union members were identifiable in public. Indeed it would even be possible for others to plant the seeds of discord in public, and 2009 saw what looked like far right attempts to influence disputes through social media. If activists do succeed in building something effective online, they may find that the commercial social networks are not a very firm foundation. There have been a number of cases internationally in recent years of union or political activists being ejected from social networks, losing the hard work they’ve invested in building up contacts and content. This isn’t because of some anti-union conspiracy amongst big networks such as Facebook, but comes down to basic business priorities on their part. It’s sometimes easy to have a false perception of Web 2.0 services as being fundamentally progressive and democratic, based on the open management styles of
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
services such as Wikipedia, or open source projects. Commercial social networks are hard-nosed businesses however, and have a huge overhead in moderation and customer service. With Facebook for example, revenue per user is extremely low. As a result, they abdicate any serious attempt at moderation, using their resources to investigate more businessthreatening cases such as child protection. First-line moderation is managed by software, looking for usage patterns that might suggest abuse of the service. Unfortunately for unionists, an organiser rapidly adding new contacts and sending regular mass mail updates once a campaign suddenly breaks, looks to a robot a lot like a spammer, using a short window before detection to send as many unwanted advertisements as possible. This happened in early 2008 to a Canadian unionist, Derek Blackadder, who had his Facebook account closed for adding too many friends too rapidly (After a popular campaign to reinstate him succeeded, he was swiftly banned again, this time for answering his hundreds of solidarity messages too rapidly). Complaints from campaign targets, especially those with a potential legal dimension, are likely to have similar results for activists. During an union drive to organise a casino in Halifax, Canada, the campaign’s profile page was deleted from Facebook (though here the union were technically on the wrong side of Facebook’s terms of service – always read the small print!). A UK political blogger claimed her Facebook account was deleted after an anonymous party had suggested, without evidence, that she was violating the terms of service. And in late 2008, a Canadian
satirical campaigning video on YouTube was deleted after legal threats from the employer who had been parodied, even though the complaint was later shown to be purely vexatious. When a conflict arises, as it inevitably will, it’s simply easier and safer for a commercial network to act decisively, even if they make the wrong decision. The cost of spending time moderating conflicts far outweighs the cost of losing users. Unions seeking to engage with the big social networks need to take this to heart and plan backup channels for campaigns, in case they find that they lose an important account or page at a critical moment. There’s an even greater risk to lay activists though, if their activities online displease their employer. Social networks offer powerful co-ordination tools to activists who want to connect with members, but those connections and communications are stored and searchable online, and in many cases could be discovered by employers or other parties. Union activists could end up being scrutinised online by hostile employers, looking for evidence to act against them. Unions need to do more to promote fair access to ICT and social media as a key part of facility provision offered by employers to union reps – an important safeguard, but not one that will cover (the majority of) workplaces without union representation. Also, given that union activists will likely also be using social media to conduct their own personal lives, any social media activism will inevitably be linked with their personal activity. If avoiding pseudonymous use (something which doesn’t inspire confidence from prospective members, and which in any
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
OPEN SOURCE POLITICS Sophie Kainradl Young Fabian Member
On how Labour should embrace the campaigning power of the internet
he relationship between the Left and political campaigning has always been testing. For decades the Labour executive was weary of buying into the techniques needed to win over voters. While Kinnock desperately fought to reform the Party in the 1980s, Thatcher set about importing campaigning techniques from the States with great success, leaving the Left with nothing but a conviction in ‘honest politics’ and an attachment to the past to keep it afloat. Is history repeating itself on the internet? Among the wider electorate there exists the impression that the Tories have outflanked Labour online. Right-wing bloggers like Guido Fawkes have stolen the media limelight with their news breaking stories, while David Cameron has gained a national online profile through his WebCameron performances. In a recent interview Kerry McCarthy MP, the Party’s new media campaign spokesperson, was keen to advertise the Left’s love affair with Twitter and Facebook. However, all these changes are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the campaigning capacity of the internet. The internet is a very different medium compared to traditional media outlets like television or print journalism. While broadcast media communicates messages down to the audience, the internet works on a basis of networked communication, in which messages can also be delivered from the audience to the broadcaster and between audience members themselves. In this environment the success of online campaigns depends upon freeing up information and facilitating new modes of communication between party members
and politicians, individual party members and, most importantly, between the Party and the wider online public. Thomas Gensemer of Blue State Digital, the company behind Obama.com, described the internet as a giant telephone when he visited London earlier this year. In that case we want Labour to be an iPhone with apps galore, not a Nokia s110. Sites like Twitter and Facebook may provide politicians with a great tool to mobilise campaigns and keep members updated, but they fail to facilitate the networked communication the internet is capable of. So how do we start to make the transition? To begin with we can learn from the lessons of the past. It was the Tory belief in the supremacy of the free market that opened up the doors of Conservative HQ to the advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi, pollsters, and PR professionals, who all worked to win the Conservatives an unprecedented fourth term in office. Blair followed suit nearly a decade later when he scrapped Clause Four and adopted modern campaign techniques. Both election campaigns utilised resources and talents available elsewhere, tapping into the expertise of those not necessarily involved in politics and the Party. A similar attitude is needed to unlock the full campaigning power of the internet. Labour needs to embrace the free knowledge economy of the web to make information more accessible to users and tap into alternative resources online. This process is two fold. First, online innovations should be geared towards creating data ‘mash ups’ that use existing technologies to update existing knowledge supplies. This trend is already evident in
the ‘Show Us a Better Way’ competition run by the government’s The Power of Information Taskforce, which asked for new ways to display public data. Labour should be using existing online technologies, like those pioneered by Google, to allow users to share and review data in real time. Second, Labour should focus upon creating new portals to communicate their messages and provide information. The Guardian Online’s Guardian Open Platform is a key example of how knowledge might be disseminated in order to gain valuable advertising space. Open Platform is an API, an Application Programming Interface, a portal that can be installed onto other websites allowing users to search the Guardian online using specific search specifications. It essentially offers sites the ability to make use of available information and in return the Guardian’s advertisers receive extra coverage. In the case of Open Platform it is a profit driven enterprise (online advertising is notoriously hard to monetise). What Labour should be considering is how such initiatives can be used across the internet to expand its online campaigns, using new and unforeseen partnerships. The Party isn’t as far from achieving these online capabilities as you might think. Labour Taskforce, a network that allows users to post their own campaigns and communicate with manifesto coordinator Ed Milliband, is a key example of the Party trying to facilitate wider online communication. Rather than limiting discussions of online campaigning to Twitter and Facebook, Labour should learn from the past and free up its data through new innovative partnerships. In this way we won’t drag behind the Tories. We’ll lead the way, designing progressive online tools for a progressive party.
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
GOING VIRAL Thomas Foot Young Fabian Member
On how to have impact on the web
hen politicians collide with emergent forms of media, the result is very often quite unpleasant. The recent attempts of the EU to thrust itself into online relevancy with a series of ‘sexy’ YouTube ads constitutes just one cringing example of a more general trend towards the clumsy, the unabashedly partisan, and the downright silly. This misuse of the web as a space for campaigning can be attributed to one fundamental misapprehension. Being a committed apprentice of liberal democracy, the politician will approach the internet as she does the town-hall or roundtable, with deliberative democracy in mind. But rational discourse is not how things go down within any given web forum. As in the old John Wayne movies, these digital saloons are likely either adversarial or vacant. To understand how to get the most out of the web the politician needs to explore four key concepts - granularity, usability, integration, and accidental learning. The term ‘granularity’ has been appropriated by media researchers from the management sciences and it anticipates that contributors will be more successful when broad objectives are disaggregated into tasks of less magnitude - in this instance, by reducing the costs of participation. The inclusion of e-petitions on number10. gov.uk is one example, simultaneously offering low cost political engagement to citizens and a barometer of public-opinion – regarding discrete (‘granulated’) issues to the office of the Prime Minister. A related concept is ‘usability’. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are eminently usable insofar as the functions seem
intuitive and the layouts rational. At the most basic level, these websites work because they are branded to serve welldefined consumer needs. Transversely, the website of your average MP will suffer from attempting to serve a number of purposes, resulting in a schizophrenic mess of excess information and incompatible formats. One potential solution to the problem of providing sufficient political learning whilst maintaining granularity and usability lies in ‘integration’. As opposed to concentrating knowledge and opinion within a dense webpage, it may be more productive to out-source the creation of content to already well-populated sources. Assimilation to the plethora of superb pre-existing think-tanks, blogs, news analysts, and forums would not only allow for a more concise website, but also add legitimacy and stimulate interest from established e-communities. However, people will often simply not find the time for politics. It is this assumption that underpins much of what is written within this article. Where, then, do people learn about politics? Anthony Downs has proposed that we learn about politics in the ‘third places’ – those physical and metaphysical spaces that exist somewhere between the public and private realms - the café, the pub, the rail-station. I would like to add the socialnetworking site. I go to Facebook for entertainment, I am suddenly confronted by a status regarding deficit reduction, and then, I am reading an article. I am engaged in ‘accidental learning’. To all party members: optimise your page – make your personal information interesting and candid, and avoid overt partisanship whilst
still disseminating politics. Although it may offend traditional sensibilities, in order to conquer these virtual battlegrounds our protagonist must leave notions of ‘deliberative democracy’ within the physical realm, and don instead a fluffy, none-too-political hat. If worn correctly, the political learning that emerges as a result may actually be richer than that available in typically politicised social spheres. Strangely, users will not immediately be willing to write great theses upon the finer points of waste disposal regulation. But, given the correct incentives regime, they may write a blog or contribute content to a ‘wiki’. You see, the coalescence of internet users into an online community is dependent on a multiplicity of tiny reciprocal movements – like a group of kids dipping their toes into frigid seas, exchanging nervous-excited glances. If one friend pegs it back to dry-land, the rest would surely follow. However, isolated toe-dipping can soon develop into a torrent of feet pattering on the wet sand…and this would create a tsunami of information. This phenomenon may be defined loosely as ‘going viral’. Perhaps ‘going tidal’ is more apt. Studies suggest that despite its diffuse nature Wikipedia is now as reliable as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and it is immeasurably larger. Web content is crafting opinions with unique vigour and politicians have a role to play in stimulating and informing the debate. Free-speech is no longer the ultimate political resource. The internet has extended up a microphone to all-takers. Although the outcome is not likely to have the elegance of an aria, if we just forget our inhibitions and grab the mic with both hands, we could yet contribute a little ditty to what could be a blinding, if atonal, collaboration.
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
of the best
PROGRESSIVE NEW MEDIA CAMPAIGNS SHAKING UP THE INTERNET Omar Salem Young Fabian Member
NOT IN MY NAME - HOPE NOT HATE www.notinmyname.tv Hope Not Hate launched the ‘Not In My Name’ in response to the election of BNP candidates Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons to the European Parliament. Fifteen minutes after the first BNP win was declared a ‘Not In My Name’ petition was launched. Over 50,000 people signed up in the first 72 hours of the campaign. More that 7,000 people uploaded photos of themselves holding ‘Not In My Name’ signs. User generated submissions were then turned into a video with music donated by Snow Patrol - that gave voice to the public’s strong views about the BNP’s electoral success.
ED’S PLEDGE - ED MILIBAND AND THE LABOUR PARTY www.edspledge.com ‘Ed’s Pledge’ was set up in the run up to the Copenhagen conference by Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband to build public support for ambitious action to tackle climate change. Despite exhausting late night negotiations, he kept the public informed about the latest developments using e-mail, Facebook, blog posts and Twitter. ‘Ed’s Pledge’ has also been used to put pressure on the Conservatives to come clean on their environmental policies, with over 1,000 people mobilised through Twitter to sign an open letter to David Cameron within the space of an hour.
FROOT LOOPS AREN’T HEALTHY - CHANGE.ORG www.change.org In Autumn 2009 US food manufacturers launched a new nutrition labeling scheme called ‘Smart Choices’, putting a green check mark on products determined to be ‘smarter food and beverage choices’. One product endorsed was Froot Loops, which is 41% sugar. Amazingly, the president of the Smart Choices board defended the product’s endorsement, arguing that Froot Loops was a better choice than feeding doughnuts to children. Change.Org mobilised its members to contact organisations associated with Smart Choice Board Members and shortly after the initiative was suspended.
KEEP THE POST PUBLIC - CWU post.cwu.org ‘Keep the Post Public’ was launched by the CWU to oppose plans by the government to sell off parts of the Royal Mail. The website included easy to use tools for supporters to sign a petition, write to their MP, find local campaign events and invite friends to join the campaign. To the delight of campaigners, the government shelved plans for a sell-off. ‘Keep the Post Public’ also campaigned for modernisation of the Post Office, with a new role as a ‘Post Bank’. This idea was later backed by Gordon Brown at the 2009 Labour Party Conference.
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS? 2009 IRANIAN ELECTION PROTESTS On Flickr, Youtube and Twitter Despite attempts by the Iranian government to prevent reporting of the repression of demonstrations following the 2009 presidential elections, thousands of photos, videos and tweets flooded onto Flickr, YouTube and Twitter. The Global Internet Freedom Consortium provided tools and server access that allowed Iranians to bypass attempts to censor the internet, helping ensure information about the Iranian Government’s crackdown continued to flow.
BARACKOBAMA.COM - BARACK OBAMA mybarackobama.com Few articles on new media are complete without a mention of Barack Obama’s campaign. More than a year after, it remains arguably the most effective use of new media in history. The Obama campaign had unprecedented success in unlocking the potential of new media to empower supporters to participate in a campaign – with record levels of activism and fundraising. Only time will tell if anything similar will be seen on this side of the Atlantic.
PEOPLE POWER VS. THE GENERALS - AVAAZ www.avaaz.org When Burmese Monks and democracy protestors marched in October 2007 against repression by Burma’s military dictatorship, Avaaz was there to support them against the brutal crackdown from the military junta. Avaaz, a global web movement that grew out of Moveon.org, has over 3 million members across the world and an e-mail list that operates in 13 languages.
GAGGING OF THE GUARDIAN OVER TRAFIGURA On Twitter at #trafigura When the Guardian was banned from reporting on a Parliamentary Question asked by Paul Farrelly MP mentioning energy and mining firm Trafigura, Twitter was soon abuzz. The details of the question and fact that Trafigura had attempted to prevent it being publicised spread rapidly across Twitter. Within hours Trafigura caved in, allowing the Guardian and other media outlets to publish the story.
GO FOURTH www.gofourth.co.uk Go Fourth has lifted the mood of Labour activists, working to campaign for a fourth Labour’s term. It has worked across a range of new media, producing videos, collecting petitions and encouraging on the ground campaigning.
WE LOVE THE NHS On Twitter at #welovethenhs Conservative MEP Dan Hannan spent the summer of 2009 touring the US, campaigning against Barack Obama’s health plans while denouncing the NHS as a ‘sixty year mistake’. The British public disagreed with this view, with thousands expressing their view forcefully through Twitter by using the tag #welovethenhs in tweets.
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
FEMINISM 2.0 Jessica Asato Acting Director, Progress and founder of the Labour Women blog www.labourwomenblogspot.com
On the influence of women on the internet
omen have always fought for their fair share in public life. Whether it was the struggle to get into the professions boldly illustrated by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the suffragettes fighting for the right to vote, or more recent campaigns to get equal pay, women have made their voices heard and forced through progressive change. I have been surprised, therefore, at the lack of prominent women in political debate on the internet. In some ways, you’d expect the blogosphere to present less of a barrier to women’s engagement in political comment. You don’t need serious patronage or media connections to get published. It’s not costly to set up a blog or contribute to other websites such as the standard bearer for the Left online, LabourList. If you want to be anonymous, you can just about get away with it, as long as you are interesting enough. Time shouldn’t necessarily be so much of an issue either – you can blog whenever you like, unlike having to go to political meetings which might exclude parents who need to be at home with their kids in the evening. So why, out of all the political blogs on either left or right, are there so few women represented? Looking at last year’s ranking of political blogs by Total Politics, in the top 30, only one was run by a woman. There are some notable exceptions to this – after all, Labour’s new media campaign czar, Kerry McCarthy MP, is a woman and so is our top Tweeter, Ellie Gellard. But in general women are absent. Last year, I decided to set up a blogging space for Labour women to try and remedy
the situation. I thought that women didn’t like participating on blogs because the comments were abusive and sometimes misogynistic. Or perhaps women felt less able to ‘throw themselves to the wolves’ and would like a friendly space to try out blogging before deciding to go it alone? The exercise wasn’t a complete failure, but it didn’t have the success I’d hoped for either. Most Labour women blogged once or twice and didn’t come back again. It’s not that women don’t engage with the online space full stop. After all, Mumsnet is a huge success with 17 million monthly page impressions, and a recent survey which coined the awful phrase ‘mousewives’, found that 80% of stay at home mums spend more time online than their domestic chores. When it comes to the political web, however, women aren’t up for it. A similar phenomenon seems to have taken place in the US too. In an article for the New York Times in 2007, Katharine K. Seelye asked readers why women seemed to be absent from political blogging. Answers ranged from “women are just too busy”, to “men like to show off more”, to women dislike the “anonymity and rancor of the blogosphere.” Speaking to female friends in the UK Labour movement, all three of those issues have similarly been raised. I’m particularly interested in the ‘too busy’ excuse, mainly because I find myself falling prey to it. Despite my huge interest in, and passion for, online campaigning and debate, I find it incredibly difficult to put aside the time to blog once a day. So I don’t. But then I’m a council candidate, I’m on the governing
bodies of two schools, sit on two charity boards and run numerous campaigns. Those things have to take priority, and I
know it’s the same for many other women. Add children to the mix and getting into the online space seems too much trouble for too little gain. Maybe lack of self-confidence comes into it too. I’ve lost count of the times I have heard women say that they aren’t sure people would be interested in what they have to say, or are worried about sounding poorly informed. A blog lends itself to people who can dash things off, have confidence in their opinions and who can take the resulting abuse. Whether it’s nurture or nature, men seem to be conditioned to fit with this style of online engagement better. So I’m not sure there is an easy solution to the issue of women’s representation online, but there are two things which might make an initial difference. The first is for political bloggers and websites to recognise that the current tone of online debate puts women off more than men. We need to think more carefully about how we treat each other in this space and not say things we wouldn’t be prepared to say in the traditional setting of a political meeting. The second is for women to recognise that they are excluding themselves from a political space which is growing in power. In a few years we will make policy, elect our leaders and gain supporters for our causes online. If women’s voices are absent from this, we only have ourselves to blame if our policies ignore childcare and our leaders are male. In short, we need to fight to dominate in the online space if we care about our representation in the politics of the future.
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
ORGANISING ONLINE Wes Streeting Young Fabian Member and NUS President www.nus.org.uk
On how new media can benefit campaigning organisations
t’s already clear that the main parties and the old media are gearing up for what is widely predicted to be the first new media General Election. But while lots of commentators will be focussing on how political parties intend to use online social tools to get their message across, this election more than any other offers an exciting opportunity for citizen empowerment and democratic renewal. What if this election were about bottom up demands from the people, rather than the top-down offer of traditional election campaigns? If, after reading this edition of Anticipations, you feel inspired to read more about the potential offered by new media and social networking in transforming the landscape of domestic and global politics and economics, reach for Clay Shirky’s international bestseller, ‘Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organising Without Organisations’. Its compelling narrative will be familiar to anyone who’s ever joined a Facebook group, signed an online petition or tweeted at someone they don’t know. In Shirky’s own words, he seeks to illustrate “what happens when people are given the tools to do things together, without needing traditional organisational structures.” Shirky’s analysis is not without its flaws and he overstates his case when it comes to the redundancy of traditional campaigning organisations. One of his case studies – the successful campaign I waged against HSBC’s unfair graduate account charges – would not have been nearly as successful without the organisational strength of NUS behind it. Our award winning campaign
has been cited as the first example of how online people power, coming together in this case via thousands of people joining a Facebook group, has been used to overturn the might of a multinational corporation in favour of consumers. Thousands of people joining a cause on Facebook is nothing new today, but at the time the combination of new media with the tried and tested tactics of a campaigning organisation – not to mention the interest and snowballing coverage in the old media – was enough to force HSBC to U-turn. At the end of the ‘Duck House Parliament’, this General Election offers a unique opportunity to revitalise the democratic process. Undoubtedly, coalitions and campaigning organisations that have long fought for democratic reform will be using new media to advance their case, but the process of using online social tools itself offers the chance to start the process of renewal during the election campaign itself. Organisations like 38 Degrees are already consulting their supporters and subscribers about what their manifesto should look like. Activists and campaigners are already engaged in a conversation about what they want from their elected representatives. NUS is launching a hard hitting campaign to take our campaign around tuition fees and the funding of Britain’s universities to a much wider audience than our traditional base of activists – with direct consequences for the election itself. Having, very sensibly in my view, abandoned the notion that it is realistic or socially progressive to demand the abolition of user contributions altogether, we have instead set out a costed
alternative for a progressive graduate tax, rooted in social democratic values. But we haven’t gone soft on fees. Many commentators expect the current review of tuition fees, due to report after the election, to recommend a rise in fees and the introduction of a real market in price. This approach is deeply unpopular with the public, with over 80% opposing such a rise. The consequences for fair access and social mobility would, in my view, be disastrous. We will therefore be asking candidates to sign a simple pledge - to vote against any proposed rise in tuition fees during the next Parliament and press the government to introduce a fairer funding system. Unlike the last election however, which saw Labour lose a worrying number of seats off the back of the student vote, we will also be launching a website – using the same technology deployed by ‘They Work For You’ - to collect students’ e-mail addresses, home and university postcodes. Before the General Election, every student who signs up will receive an e-mail showing whether or not their local candidates have signed the NUS pledge and where they can cast their vote to make the biggest impact on the outcome of the result. Unlike the last election, we will be using the same webbased technology to ask students to give us the e-mail addresses of their friends and family, so that we can ask them to join our campaign too. Some candidates have accused NUS of putting a gun to their head with our approach. In reality, it’s the 21st century equivalent of asking a candidate what their stance is on the doorstep before making your decision. Candidates of all parties must get used to the kind of tactics being used by NUS very quickly. This is going to be the first new media General Election, but it could be campaigning organisations and citizen power that emerge as the real winners.
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
DEBATING THE LEFT Tom Miller Young Fabian Member and Labour PPC for Woking www.wokinglabour.org
On the importance of embracing real debate on the web
t has been about six months since I retired my own blog to (further) obscurity. Since then a lot has changed about how new media and politics interact. For a start we have seen an explosion in the use of portable technology to use social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, but also to view the web more generally. We have seen the rise of Twitter itself, full of juicy bits of 140 character gossip for London freesheets to carry when journalists have nothing else to write about. Previously Facebook was the only social networking game in town for those interested in organising progressive campaigns online. Despite all of the excitement which often surrounds new tools and networks, email has and continues to be the main ‘hook’ for those interested in campaigning. The big attraction of Facebook to organisers was firstly its multitude of options, for example having a group enabling long term contact and updates which correlates with particular events. The evidence was that Facebook worked on the ground. I would suggest that this is because it relies heavily on emails, and provides functionality for events. This, in a sense, gives us an illustrative taste of audience selection when using social media to campaign. Facebook is great for organising people on the ground. But the medium that has really taken on a life of its own over the last year has been Twitter. Although similar to the ‘updates’ facility,
Twitter is a different beast altogether. When I think about how Facebook has been effective for me, it has been setting up a morning canvass, or a fringe event. Twitter has produced results for my own local campaigning that have been altogether different. For instance, where press releases to local radio stations in my traditionally Tory locale have fallen to unyielding editors, comments on Twitter have earned me slots on my local BBC breakfast show, and an appearance in an upcoming programme on ITV. From a more collective viewpoint, Twitter generated the ‘#welovethenhs’ campaign, a spontaneous uprising against the political absurdity that is Dan Hannan MEP. In contrast to Facebook, whose political application is primarily (and increasingly) about politics on the ground, Twitter is about the superstructural, the debate that takes place ‘up there’. Twitter is a haven and a feeding ground for a timepressured commentariat. So where do blogs fit into all this? I started my own blog some time around 2005 and 2006, primarily as a result of a Labour orientated frustration with government policy at the time. It provided me with a virtual and free-of-charge printing press - a platform. Despite the fact that there are a lot of great blogs out there, one cannot help but feel that the medium is in decline, overshadowed by its social networking peers. Since the time I first started blogging, somewhere in the second wave of left of centre blogs, the popularity
of internet politics, and people from politics indulging in the internet, has been subject
to explosion. Where there was once a more obvious separation between the personal and the political, mostly batted around the internet by a small to medium sized group of people, most active in politics are now busily tweeting away about the X-Factor or what shopping they just brought in. I’m not saying this is bad. But it has doubtlessly created a broadsheet/tabloid dichotomy in new media that is steadily marginalising the ‘broadsheets’, as represented by the blogging medium. The effect of right-wing blogs and their distaste for basic courtesies has also been corrosive towards the Left, and indeed the generally honest. Blogs are still useful for what they always were - hosting information and providing a platform for the obscure and a repository for the useful. The immediate examples which spring to mind are the Fabian Society’s own Next Left, Will Straw’s Left Foot Forward and more broadly Liberal Conspiracy. Others like Ministry of Truth are also doing great work in this sense. The blogosphere has also created a space for internal party debate. Alex Hilton’s Labourhome and Alex Smith’s LabourList are taking on this challenge, albeit with rather different flavours. Liberal Conspiracy has also worked alongside some other good blogs such as When Cowards Flinch, The Bickerstaffe Record and Penny Red. These blogs all have consistent critiques to make of government. Labourhome and LabourList both feature authors that are often a long way ‘off message’. Outside of the Labour Party, those who keep one foot inside (Compass, Progress and the Labour
YOUNG FABIANS CANDIDATES NETWORK
Representation Committee) seek, alongside activist groupings like Vote for a Change and 38 Degrees, to change policy. There was a time not long ago when the party as a functional entity would not have seen any advantage in harnessing the energies that people using platforms in this position have to offer. The contemporary Labour Party does not demand control over what campaigns run when. Spontaneous campaigns are springing up more and more often that attack the Tories and the rightwing thinktanks. Bloggers are overlapping with Twitter users to make this kind of thing happen. Rather than Twitter killing blogs, the smarter bloggers are using its functionalities and viral potential to drive traffic to their sites. Given the Party’s financial issues hitherto, this input has been of tremendous value. Conservative bloggers have managed to create a situation within the Conservative Party much like that held by the ‘Netroots’ in the US Democratic Party. They lobby for the party to swing rightwards across a whole range of issues, and claim partial responsibility when it does. Figures like Tim Montgomery are increasingly influential within the Party itself, probably more so than most Tory backbenchers. They have managed to do so without causing scandal or publicly notable detriments to Conservatism, but still managed to exert an influence on wider media and provide policy meat for their activists. This should be an indicator for us. There is little to be lost by embracing online pluralism, but much to be gained. This being the case, the Labour Party should throw open the doors to all bloggers with an interest in defeating the Tories, even if that means that they, like
Conservative Home, might at times be critical. Mainstream media, particularly those elements of it with more monopolistic positions to protect, is often fond of claiming that traditional media represents a marketplace of ideas. Clearly this is vastly more true of blogs. They source ideas and preserve them where social networking just does not have the capacity to do so. You can’t tweet anything substantive owing to the character limit. Nobody reads Facebook ‘notes’. On Bebo and Myspace, nobody really reads at all. Ideas of one sort or another are what blogs are really for. The blogosphere also remains a marketplace, though in political blogging, particularly on the Left, it does seem that there is a certain trend towards group endeavours. The way lies open for Labour and the rest of the progressive left outside of Parliament to use this as an opportunity. In many ways blogs can and, when they are read, do provide a better briefing for activists than official party materials. Labour provides plenty of material on current policy to campaigners. But if I want access to figures on the makeup of immigration, I know that I have seen a couple of detailed collations on Liberal Conspiracy over the last two weeks. It can therefore provide a statistical context which the Party can’t, whilst at the same time being able to claim genuine independence, something that mainstream journalists naturally gravitate towards. The beauty of the blog as a medium is that the information will end up in the hands of both journalists at the top, and at least some activists at the bottom. In this sense, blogs left to compete in the ideas marketplace become mines for useful information. In another sense their independence also
has valuable political functions that Labour can ill afford to miss. Cowards Flinch is a Labour Representation Committee supporting blog whose author, David Semple (a party member), would selfdefine as ‘hard left’. As one would therefore expect, the blog is often caustic towards the current Labour government. But recently, Dave has written a post encouraging support for those even more disaffected than he to canvass for Labour MPs on the Left. Quite simply, nobody can defensibly deny the simple value of having one more Labour MP in the Commons, especially if we do come down to a hung Parliament. Labour’s hard left blogs perform a valuable function. Many of the leftish blogs called from as far before the current crisis as 2005 for an extra tax on city bonuses. At the time, opponents within the Party dismissed the idea as impractical and ludicrous, as ‘class war politics’, and some even as a treasonous campaign. At the time of writing this article, it looks like this is about to become government policy. That being just one case in hand, it seems clear to me that a pluralistic range of voices on policy and alignment is actually a tremendous resource for the Party to draw on. It gives it a range of options for future development, and helps to forge a link to reflect that on the ground. If a relationship of trust and respect for diversity can be built between the institutions of the centre left and its blogging adherents, the medium can become a truly formidable wherewithal for progressives. Twitter? Sure. But there are still plenty of great blogs broadly on the democratic left. As ‘ideas people’, Fabians in particular have good reason to be open to them all.
YOUNG FABIANS CANDIDATES NETWORK
HOW TO: RUN A SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN Kevin McKeever, Young Fabian Member and Labour PPC for Harborough www.onyourside.org.uk
On the role of social media in effective campaigning
ommentators are keen to point out that the next General Election will be the first where the internet will play a vital role in the campaign. Social media in particular will be front and centre in the ongoing pursuit of more personal targeting of messages to voters. Social media is designed to facilitate interaction between users, evolving online communication from another channel for the traditional monologue mode of campaigning – broadcasting one message to a wide range of people – into a dialogue between many people who interact with each other to varying degrees and at different times. Social media presents a golden opportunity for candidates and local Labour parties. The major benefits of online campaigning centre on cost, reach and interaction. Microblogging sites such as Twitter are free to use and a simple website can be set up and maintained for a relatively modest fee. Email lists, still viewed as the most effective way to target messages at a defined group of recipients, present a virtually cost-free opportunity to disseminate information to, and interact with, a wide range of people. And the posting of brief, informative campaign videos on YouTube is a cost in your time alone. Once online, the effective campaigner has a potentially massive audience to interact with. The opportunity to deliver a campaign message to a voter and begin a series of conversations is much higher than would be achieved by traditional, offline campaign methods alone. Journalists, keen to scoop stories with minimal effort
in an era of tightening budgets, are keen followers of online debates, with many effective online campaigns and innovations being re-reported. The true value of social media lies in the opportunity to interact. Those who use social media as a means to disseminate their press releases – and many sitting and MPs, candidates and campaign groups do – fail to understand the expectations of today’s internet-savvy voter. Daily on Twitter, users debate issues, refine their arguments and seek to bring others around to their point of view. When a Member of Parliament issues an online pronouncement on the issue of the day, users expect not only the opportunity to comment but also a response to their view. The use of social media is not without its dangers. It’s vital that the campaigner projects an authentic voice. Reiterating ‘the line’ and parroting press releases will not wash with those you seek to influence and convince and will lead to a rapid reduction in your online audience. An authentic online communicator will also be a regular one. Visitors to a website, followers on Twitter and fans on Facebook will drift away if updates are irregular, few and far between. Equally, your online efforts should avoid the banal: “X MP is eating cake” as your daily update. Giving an insight into eating habits is unlikely to keep a Twitter following engaged and positive about you. Most importantly, online activity should supplement, not replace, effective local organisation and on-street campaigning. For a candidate, not only is your regular online following unlikely to be rooted
geographically in your constituency, but the age, gender and socio-economic background of those you interact with is likely to be within a narrow range. Users of Twitter et al are by definition a selfselecting audience many, if not most of whom, are politically engaged with a clear idea of their own politics. The danger for your views to echo in a Westminster bubble and of preaching to the choir is acute. Politicians will always have to manage an ongoing tension between authentic, individual interaction online and the duty to maintain a common position and party unity. Whilst the power of social media lies in the ability to facilitate millions of conversations at any one time, journalists in particular will be quick to highlight instances of politicians going off-message or committing a gaffe. It should always be front of mind that all conversations are conducted in the public domain, even if by email, with the potential to reach a much wider audience than anticipated at the time of writing. Engaging in conversation and campaigning through social media is no longer optional. But an enthusiastic approach, which harnesses the distributive and interactive value of the medium, will unleash its campaigning potential when added to the arsenal alongside the established on-street campaigning tools. Used well, social media will raise your profile and generate an awareness of your campaign issues; you will be heartened in the knowledge that you are reaching and interacting with a large number of people with a wide range of views; and, most importantly, you should benefit from a boost at the ballot box.
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
YOUNG FABIANS ONLINE NETWORKS Nick Maxwell Networks and Schools Officer, Young Fabians
On the launch of the new Young Fabians ‘Ning’ networks
or those Young Fabians tempted by despair, reading an old media edition of ‘Antics’ dedicated to the cause of new media, never fear. We can declare this month that the Young Fabians flag has been hoisted further than ever into the deepest depths of the new media world. Update your Facebook status, tweet to the heavens - the Young Fabian ‘Ning Networks’ have arrived. This month marks the launch of two dedicated Young Fabian online networks, hosted on Ning.com. It is difficult to describe these types of projects without descending into techy detail or wandering into meaningless dotcom optimism. I shall give it my best shot. The Young Fabian Ning Networks are a series of unique, targeted, online-based communities, which aim to bring together progressives - Young Fabian members and non-members - in a forum for debate, discussion and action. The networks will have a specific theme, tackle a specific issue, or seek to host a particular section of the membership. They will have a specific brand and character and the Young Fabians Executive Officer for Networks will be entitled to remove inappropriate content, but, beyond that, networks are a free forum for network members to do, debate and create what they want. The real promise of new media is empowerment. It’s hard to appreciate the opportunities of new media without becoming enamoured by the sheer potential power of collaborative thinking,
sharing and action. The idea that distant authorities or a few ‘elite’ individuals have a monopoly on knowledge or that official information should go unquestioned can be completely undermined by new media - more precisely, by new media offering huge numbers of people the opportunity to share their insights and information. New media has the potential to release massive amounts of energy from the many, shifting power away from the few. Information and authority flows to the many, for the many. At the Young Fabians, we wonder whether the same productive potential, energy and empowerment of the many, for the many, can be achieved - in some small but significant way - through the Young Fabian networks. We are launching two new networks, ‘The Future of Finance network’, for progressives interested in the role of finance and society, and the ‘Technology and Society’ network, to help bridge the gap between technology, science, engineering and progressive politics. Hopefully, they will achieve what they say on the tin. Our intention is for both networks to provide an opportunity for people to write, blog, discuss, create and lead innovative progressive projects on the issues that they find interesting. Both finance and technology are areas where network members could contribute a huge amount to thinking on the Left. How can the City really change the way it operates and maintain the trust of society? How will new technology shape
the character of social issues and social debate? These are questions that the Left, historically, has often struggled to find an answer for, or even find someone to field the question. All the more important then that the many, in these policy areas in the first instance, are enabled to speak and share their thoughts. We’ll be launching both networks with big splash events before the General Election. Please visit the Young Fabians website for more information. But remember, don’t visit as a passive old media reader, we want your ideas. Visit as an individual who is empowered to input and contribute. If you have an idea for the next Young Fabian network, we’d like to hear it. Write on our blog and tell us. Ultimately, the success or failure of all new media is down to people involved and what contribution they make. But, we shouldn’t forget that new media is ‘social media’. We are talking about the natural territory of the Left - the people who are already convinced about the power of community and of social action. In the UK, the Left and Labour are in a tough fight against the Right in the new media world. Up against the firewall, if you like. It’s up to you, not elites or distant figures, to turn things around. So, do get involved, blog for the Young Fabians. If you’re interested, get involved in the Young Fabian networks. If you’re more traditional, then come along to the launch event. We look forward to working with all of you.
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
> THE YOUNG FABIAN ESSAY
Building a Creative Economy in an Internet Age Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
On building a creative economy in an internet age
ritain’s success in what we call the ‘creative economy’ should be a badge of pride and a major plank of Labour’s re-election strategy for all Fabians and progressives. There aren’t that many things where we lead the world. But in the creative economy the UK is number one internationally as a proportion of GDP – about 10%. Twice as many people work in the creative sectors as the financial services. They have grown twice as fast as the rest of the economy, have continued to grow through the international economic downturn and will continue to grow by at least double the rate of the economy generally in the years to come. None of this has happened by accident. It’s been thanks to a combination of the natural creativity of the British people, unprecedented investment by government in the creative sectors and strict adherence by Labour politicians to the vital arms length principle – that, as the first and greatest Arts Minister, Jennie Lee, put it: “It’s government’s job to provide the support but then to step back and let the artists get on with it.” The result has been an unprecedented decade for culture, arts and sport. As Richard Brooks, the Arts Editor of the
Conservative supporting Sunday Times wrote recently, “culture never had it so goodas in the past decade.” British film, theatre, music, museums and galleries have had their best period ever and last year, in spite of the economic storm, was their best year ever. Each of our creative industries is in the top three globally in absolute terms and in some, like TV formats such as the X Factor – we export more than even America. First we changed the culture. My department, which was still called the Department for National Heritage under the Tories, got a title that was both more comprehensive and forward looking. Investment in arts, culture and sport enjoyed its biggest sustained increase ever – 40% in real terms. We nailed the decades old lie that you had to choose between excellence and access. We showed that whether in our Olympics or Oscars triumphs, helping people unlock their talents, supporting them in their progress, opening access to all sectors of society are pre-requisites for success on the field, track or film set. We revived sport in schools. We recognised the transformational potential of unlocking people’s creativity in some of our toughest communities – using grassroots
cultural and sporting programmes to address social and economic disadvantage. Community sports programmes have cut crime by 30% to 50% in those areas in which they operate. We valued culture for its own sake, for its impact on our national wellbeing and identity and not just for its economic contribution. We changed and are still changing the laws to support the creative sectors – whether through our highly successful film tax credits or the Digital Economy Bill currently going through Parliament. The Bill and the wider Digital Britain agenda are about adapting our infrastructure, protecting the value of what creative people make and preserving public service broadcasting in a world in which change has never been so rapid. We are already on track to deliver broadband to virtually every home and business in the UK. Our universal service commitment to provide broadband at a minimum of 2Mbps by 2012 will mean the one in ten households who currently cannot access services such as BBC’s iPlayer do not face digital exclusion, as more and more services are delivered online. But we can’t afford to let matters rest there. Delivering next generation super fast broadband
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
across the country will be just as important as what we’re doing today. The market, left to itself, would only provide two thirds of homes and businesses with next generation broadband. That’s why we are proposing a modest 50 pence a month levy on fixed phone lines – the cost of which has fallen significantly in recent years – to help ensure no-one misses out on the broadband they’ll need for the future. How to protect the value of what musicians, filmmakers and other artists create is posing a challenge to all government’s in the internet age. It’s estimated that illegal downloading costs British musicians about £200 million a year, - our film makers a similar sum. An effective copyright strategy for the digital economy is not simply about punishing unlawful behaviour. It must incorporate education, making a persuasive case to an internetliterate generation used to downloading free music or film whenever they want it, that if we are to protect creativity it must be rewarded. Of course, very importantly, creative businesses need to develop new business models too - in these days of flourishing user-generated content, online participation and thriving social networks, the old models of distribution just won’t
work. Digital content needs to be legally available at reasonable prices and in forms that consumers find attractive. But this won’t work unless there’s a robust legal framework in place to protect the rights of content holders, including sanctions for serial infringement. Everything we have done and plan to do reflects our values and a recognition that success in the creative sectors demands active government. Delivering universal high speed broadband, securing important public service broadcasting such as local news, protecting copyright all require government intervention. In each of these areas, the Conservatives are either hostile or indifferent to our approach, preferring to sub-contract their policy to a Murdochdriven laissez faire. There are also alarming signs that the arms length principle which successive governments have respected in culture and the arts would be at risk if the Tories won power. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, recently attempted to reward the ex-editor of the London Evening Standard with the post of Chair of the London Arts Council, in breach of both the arms length principle and the Nolan rules on public appointments. In spite of the deep disquiet this has provoked in the arts world neither
David Cameron nor the Shadow Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has criticised Johnson’s conduct. Defending artistic and cultural freedom is going to be more important than ever as the hangover from the credit crunch hits. So will defending spending. Given that every £1 invested in culture generates about £5 for the economy and that culture spending amounts to just 1% of the NHS budget, there are strong grounds for protecting these areas from the chilliest winds of the fiscal tightening to come. Sam Taylor Wood’s wonderful film, ‘Nowhere Boy’, about the early life of John Lennon, reminds us of the era nearly five decades ago when Britain broke America’s long dominance in popular music. The film also symbolises the strength of contemporary British cinema, which saw Slumdog Millionaire sweep last year’s Oscars. Neither film would have happened without public funding. Nor would the two most successful plays of 2009 – ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Enron’ – both born at the subsidised Royal Court – both transferring this month (January) to the West End. Sam Taylor Wood’s career – from installation artist to film maker – illustrates the fluidity and rich cross fertilisation increasingly characteristic of Britain’s cultural strength.
20:20 VISION Catherine Stihler MEP Member of the European Parliament for Scotland www.cstihlermep.com
On the importance of a European vision on education and skills
e are living in exceptional economic times. A challenging and critical task for all European governments and the European Union is to restore confidence in the global financial markets and to replace the millions of jobs that have been lost in the crisis. The next decade will be an extremely important period in the economic history of Britain, Europe and the world. The collapse of the global financial markets in 2008 underpinned the sheer importance of interdependence and strong, decisive European action. Collective action is vitally needed to steer Europe and the world out of the global recession. There are no UK-only solutions. By working together we can create global solutions for global problems. Single member state action is just not enough when the scale of the problem is considered. It is vital that throughout the next ten years all European states work together in partnership, push for bold policy responses and seek new sources of growth to help our economies recover. The EU 2020 strategy is currently in its early stages of consultation. It is being designed as the successor to the Lisbon Strategy and will primarily focus on the creation of a sustainable social market economy that is robust and effective enough to help member states overcome the challenges of the global economic downturn. We cannot let history repeat itself. A key element of the EU 2020 strategy is the vision of creating a well-resourced and unprecedented knowledge-based economy. The strengthening of education will play a pivotal role in this. Investing in
education is one of the most effective and successful ways of tackling inequality and fighting poverty. We live in a fast-paced and ever-changing world, but unfortunately millions of people throughout Europe are excluded from the labour market due to their lack of skills or education. It cannot be understated how important it is for people to enter the job market with knowledge of subjects such as Mathematics and Science. Furthermore, a high number of young people and adults in both the UK and throughout the EU leave education without basic reading or writing skills. Recent statistics have uncovered that one in five adult Scots have both reading and writing difficulties. Skills are the basic tools needed for anyone to enter the job market and to cope with the transition from education to industry. The financial crisis has destroyed millions of jobs throughout Europe. The collapse of the job market, in certain sectors, has highlighted the need to create a ‘postcrisis European economy’ that can tackle rising unemployment rates and stimulate much needed growth. The EU 2020 seeks to create a ‘smarter, greener, more competitive economy’ that will offer more opportunities, security and social protection for its citizens. This will not be an easy task. Much work and investment will be needed to ensure that no-one is excluded from knowledge and life long learning. We cannot simply create new ‘green’ jobs, if supply and demand are not in harmony. By investing in education, lifelong learning and training, we will have a vibrant, strong and competitive workforce ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. Not only will
investing in newer, greener technologies help member states to meet environmental and climate change targets, but the advancement of the ‘green’ industry will help to pull people out of long-term unemployment and into high quality jobs. The emergence of the digital economy is a new era for Europe and its citizens. An ambitious and far-reaching agenda is needed to ensure that no Europeans’ are excluded from the digital revolution. Knowledge of technology and its applications are fast becoming a requirement for most jobs in Europe. In order for people to play a full part in the digital age, Europe should strive to achieve 100% broadband coverage and to take steps to create a competitive Online Single Market. Together with the emergence of ‘green’ jobs, opportunities in the field of network industries will be critical steps toward exiting the crisis and entering into a dynamic, competitive and sustainable economy. Entering the work force is a much needed safeguard against poverty. However, alone it does not offer security and prosperity for all. Alongside an effective knowledgebased economy, Europe requires a modern and sustainable social welfare model that protects the most vulnerable. People need an adequate safety net to cover them for periods when they are out of work and an adequate pension that will help reduce poverty levels. The road ahead will be long and tough. After all, people throughout the world are coping with the worst financial and economic crisis in decades. Nevertheless, with co-ordinated action I am confident that Europe has the potential to meet the EU 2020 goals and aspirations. By pooling resources, sharing ideas and tackling common problems, the EU will emerge as a strong leader in the fight against the global downturn. As Henry Ford famously said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”
...THE EUROPEAN UNION
THE LEFT AFTER LISBON Brian Duggan International Officer, Young Fabians
On the challenges for the European Left in 2010
wenty ten sees the European Union start to operate in a very different structural way to business as usual. As the new Lisbon rules come into force the EU will not only become a more coherent global player, it will also begin to operate more politically. The new Lisbon structure brings with it a subtle shift of power away from the Commission and towards the Council of Ministers and MEPs. This should mean that from 2010 the EU is a more transparent political decision making body, whilst also able to take stronger decisions on the world stage. The centre-left campaigned for, legislated and welcomed these changes, which place greater democratic accountability at the heart of the EU. But we should also be wary. Put simply, the Left don’t have the balance of power in Brussels. The centre-right still holds majority authority in the ministerial meetings, in the European Parliament and at the Commission table. The challenge facing the European Left in these circumstances is not only about operating as an effective opposition at European level, by lobbying and legislating from within the corridors of power. It is also about building and renewing electorally and trying to hold or gain ground in domestic elections in Austria, Hungary, Sweden and, perhaps most significantly, here in the UK. The Left must focus on winning elections before we can claim more seats and greater influence at the top tables of Europe. The Copenhagen negotiations offer a good example of the good things to come
for Europe in the next decade. The ability for Europe to adopt a common position before entering into a global deal showed an EU more confident on the world stage. Significantly ministers from EU states benefitted from having an agreed set of emissions targets before speaking to the rest of the world. Copenhagen showed the world more of the EU that we expect and that we will need in the years ahead. The world saw an EU that could punch its weight and act with a collective voice, Copenhagen served as a powerful example of the role that the EU can play in facilitating the development of important common goals. 2010 will also be a significant year for European foreign policy. The appointment of Baroness (Cathy to her friends) Ashton in the post of European High Representative for Foreign Affairs means that Europe has a centre-left commissioner leading on foreign policy. The High Representative post has the right of initiative and a potentially highly visible role on the world stage, including the ability to address the UN Security Council. One of Cathy’s first tasks will be to report on the establishment of the European External Action Service in April. This should begin to pave the way for more effective use of European powers beyond the borders of our continent. The new European Commission should, if the Parliamentary scrutiny process goes off without a big hitch, mean the Barroso II team is in place, bringing an end to the institutional process and allowing all of the institutions of the EU to get to work.
Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, is setting his focus on hauling Europe out of the economic
crisis and building a successor to the Lisbon strategy for growth and jobs, which ends in 2010. This marks the beginnings of an economic agenda for Europe in 2020. The importance of the 2020 strategy and the proposals for legislation on financial supervision will continue to be the subject of hot debate. Politicians, business and industry and the unions will all debate what Europe’s economic priorities are over the next year with a view to forging a consensus on our economic needs. The challenge facing the Left will, as ever, be our lack of electoral clout in Europe where ‘real’ politics is beginning to have a much more public role. The vision for 2020 debates will be primarily an economic discussion, not one dominated by national interests, which should allow for competing left-right visions for Europe to be played out, aided by the shift in power towards our elected ministers and MEPs. For Young Fabians, who have consistently called for better global institutions to achieve fairer global decisions, this marks an important change. In 2010 we may see Europe act closer to our aspirations. But it will only be by fighting and winning elections that we can ensure that those institutions are focussed on the causes we care most about. A Labour victory in 2010 will be crucial to this, ensuring Britain retains its place in the world. The year ahead will be a challenging one, as Europe works to play a greater role on the world stage. The challenge which we face on the Left is to keep it acting with the values which define us.
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
YOUNG FABIANS BLOG LAUNCH Adrian Prandle Vice Chair, Young Fabians www.youngfabians.org.uk/blog
On the role of new media for the Young Fabians and Labour
REPORT ON THE LAUNCH OF THE YOUNG FABIANS BLOG
n the evening of the State Opening of Parliament, the Young Fabians saw the longawaited official opening of the Young Fabians blog. John Wood from the TUC’s Touchstone blog, Progress‘ Jessica Asato, and LabourList Editor, Alex Smith, joined our panel discussion in the House of Commons, whilst there was tweeting-aplenty using #yfblog. ‘From the Webbs to the Web’ set out to look at the potential in the web for sharing ideas and developing policy in the 21st century. We heard about the good – Alex Smith: ”It’s no longer the case that the right are streets ahead online - in fact the reverse is now true.” And the bad – Jessica Asato told us that a clear majority of posts as well as 90% of the left wing blog rolls are made up by men. It was agreed that events like the one taking place remained important and that online politics can’t exist alone - and in a sign of old and new together, tweeting even stopped for a brief period of Chatham House rules discussion. There was consensus that wiki-policymaking – blank page policy built up in the same way the Wikipedia website is - should be given a go. It was suggested that both men and women need to change the space in an antagonistic and personal blogosphere if they truly believe in equality and social justice. And we heard the proposal, nay request, from Jessica Asato for an online policy aggregator to be put together, allowing anyone to search by word or phrase and be a mouseclick away
from every thinktank’s ideas. Some good comments came from the floor, including a discussion of what makes a good blog post. An old-fashioned meeting, some very modern tweeting, and a new blog for Young Fabian members.
THE NEXT ELECTION MUST BE FOUGHT ON AND OFF LINE
ew media isn’t going to change the face of the 2010 election. Well, it isn’t going to have a uniquely positive impact. Whilst it will be no surprise if a couple of online scandals cause some derailments, the post-election analysis will find it hard to pinpoint exactly how it was the web ‘wot won it’. One reason for this is because the potential for new media to have the biggest impact on the election is where it meets traditional campaigning methods. There are two aspects which Labour candidates will need to master in order to maximise the benefits of new media. The first is pace. Recent examples highlight how the web has pressed fast forward on the 24-hour news cycle. The super-injunction suffered by The Guardian at the hands of Carter Ruck and Trafigura was more than alluded to across the web within minutes of the newspaper’s ‘nonreport’ online. Twelve hours later and the injunction was gone. The pace with which the web operates, and its empowering nature that leads to participation of ever-increasing numbers of people, heightens the challenge for politicians and candidates. Those that can exercise their political judgment
best to react and adapt to will be those that use new advantage. The second aspect for master is that of simplicity.
this new pace media to their candidates to Yes, simplicity
of message, but also realising that very short, is very sweet on the web. Message and communications must be honest – not just in fact but also in voice. This means real stories and passionate testimonies. It means that effective fundraising has justified the ask and appealed to donors by stating what the campaign needs the money for. Labour’s most under-rated innovation ahead of the General Election campaign is its Virtual PhoneBank. A very simple idea that allows users to undertake telephone canvassing when and where they want to. The link between new media and very established forms of communication is crucial. Which is why we shouldn’t underestimate the age-old methods of campaigning which involve talking to people. Keeping things in perspective is key. Blogosphere battles may seem important when you’re in the middle of them but if outside of the bubble, the people who will go out and vote in your constituency aren’t talking about them, then your blog isn’t going to swing things come polling day. What will have that effect is convincing voters of the benefits of a Labour government, and having the bodies prepared to get that vote out. I have no doubt that the Labour candidates that use new media to talk directly to their constituents and to mobilise support will be setting themselves up for success. If they then go out and meet these people on their doorsteps and in the campaign offices, then there will be every chance Labour can overturn expectations and govern in the interests of communities up and down the country.
GUEST BLOG POST Kerry McCarthy MP Labour Party New Media Campaign Spokesperson www.youngfabians.org.uk/blog
Kerry McCarthy MP posts to mark the launch of the Young Fabians blog
hen the Young Fabians contacted me to ask me to write this piece, I was asked to comment on whether collaborative policymaking is possible online. Well yes, it is. But just because a new medium exists, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any better than the old ways of doing things. We’ve all been to meetings where, fascinating though the discussion is (sometimes!), in the end they’re little more than talking shops. This is also true of online debates, perhaps even more so if you don’t have anyone to look at the clock and say “right, we’ve got ten minutes left, we need to reach some conclusions!” I’ve seen plenty of interesting and thoughtprovoking comment pieces online, but how many of them ever get translated into action? If you’re looking to influence actual decisions, you still have to get to the decision makers and into the arena where decisions are made, which in Labour’s case means our senior politicians, the National Policy Forum and Labour Party Conference (via the influential, such as the big beasts in the union movement). The most basic use of new media is for transmitting information - telling people what our policies and our principles are, what we support and what we oppose, what we’ve done and what we plan to do. It’s also about engagement - having a conversation with people, hammering out ideas and thoughts, and not just transmitting but receiving too. And it’s
about campaigning, promoting a cause, making sure something actually happens as a result of all this talking. Although Twitter is derided by many as being trivial and insubstantial – how can you possible say anything important in 140 characters? – I actually think it’s the best tool for engaging with people that I’ve found. It’s a great source of news and information, as people tweet links to articles or blog posts, and it sparks lively debates. It’s a great tool for challenging your opponents when they say something stupid, and for rebutting their arguments. A perfect campaign could involve using all forms of social media, for example, wikisites, blogs or online forums to develop ideas, Facebook and Twitter to rally support and publicise the campaign, and podcasts, YouTube and virals to keep interest going. So let’s say, for example, that you wanted to come up with some ideas that would give young people a reason to vote Labour. First thing I would say is this - focus. Focus on what’s achievable, namely what you can ‘sell’ to the Party and what the Party can deliver. (I know Fabians are the intellectuals of this Great Movement of Ours, but there’s a time for talking and a time for action, and six months before an election definitely falls into the latter category! You can’t ‘sell’ a thesis online. You can ‘sell’ a great idea.) If your intention is to take ideas forward, you need a mechanism to come up with a consensus and to set priorities, whether that is a form of online consultation, or a meeting. Keep it simple - you’re not being
asked to write the whole manifesto. A great example of a successful online (or partly online) campaign recently was the Scout movement’s ‘Stop the Rain Tax’ campaign, which involved Scouts lobbying Members of Parliament at the Party Conferences and through Twitter. There was a clear ‘ask’ to their campaign - they knew what they wanted from politicians. Although it may be tempting to stray far and wide in your online discussions for the pure intellectual enjoyment of it, think how much more satisfying it would be to know you’ve actually changed government policy and – hopefully – made the world a better place as a result. So settle on your ‘ask’ and then get it out there in the social media world. There’s no reason why you can’t have a blog and a Facebook page and an online petition and supporters tweeting too. If it’s a good cause and you’ve managed to rally support behind it, and been innovative in your campaigning, the mainstream media will eventually pick up on it. Which means even the most Luddite politicians can be reached. Final point. I’m obviously a convert to the idea that social media can be incredibly useful to politicians and political parties, but above all, I use it because I enjoy it. So make sure you have fun with it too! We want to hear from you. Join the debate on the Young Fabians blog at: www.youngfabians.org.uk/blog
C 50 YEARS YOUNG: HALF A CENTURY OF THE YOUNG FABIANS David Chaplin and Adrian Prandle
Chair and Vice Chair, Young Fabians YOUNG FABIANS
On the 50th anniversary of the Young Fabians
conventional thought within the Labour Party. When the Party faced a debate about
ON THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE YOUNG FABIANS
t all started in the Cole Room, the subterranean meeting room at eleven Dartmouth Street, the Fabian Society’s London office. At a meeting presided over by the then Assistant General Secretary, Dick Leonard, a vote was taken to establish a group within the Society called the Young Fabians. That was in May 1960, fifty years ago this year. Since then the Young Fabians have seen many future political heavyweights pass through its ranks - Giles Radice, Conrad Russell, Peter Mandelson, Jack Straw, Gordon Marsden, Stephen Twigg, Ann Taylor, John Mann, Phil Woolas, Oona King, Lorna Fitzsimons, Paul Richards, Tom Watson, and Liam Byrne have all been Young Fabian Executive members. Newer and equally promising names such as Kevin Bonavia, Jessica Asato, Conor McGinn, Kate Groucutt and Mark Rusling have all served as Chairs of the Young Fabians in recent years. As a youth organisation the Young Fabians has always held a special place in the centre-left family and within the Labour movement. Affiliated to the Labour Party but representing a group of young activists, campaigners and thinkers who are as comfortable in the debating room as they are on the doorstep, the membership of the Young Fabians has often represented the most engaged young politicos who come together to share ideas and challenge
the future of our constitution and Clause IV, the Young Fabians were at the centre of that debate, arguing for progressive change and bringing the voice of young people to an important debate about Labour’s future. We have also been involved in leadership debates, backing the candidature of Tony Blair in 1994 and hosting the only leadership hustings between Gordon Brown, Michael Meacher and John McDonnell in 2007. Our recent work, including our campaign trip to Ohio to support Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign, shows how we are changing to meet the needs of our members who now look to engage in campaigns with global significance. But the biggest challenge for any youth movement is to grow and develop with our members. As people move on in life their ideas are affected by experiences and events, so the Young Fabians is open to anyone under 31. Fifty years since its inception the Young Fabians continues to offer an open, vibrant and dynamic space for radical thinking and action on the issues that matter.
REPORT ON THE ‘50 YEARS YOUNG’ EVENT AT FABIAN CONFERENCE
eter Mandelson gave a clear message to Labour activists of the fight needed in the months ahead. “We’re going to fight, fight, and fight
again,” he told the audience at the Fabian Society New Year Conference. Signalling a change in gear and a greater focus on the Party, Mandelson spoke of an election
team, confirmed earlier this week, that was “schooled on winning” and would not give up. He suggested that the Young Fabians “have a lot to answer for” as the launchpad of his political career. It was through the Young Fabians that he progressed and he has never looked back. Comparing the under-31s section of the Fabian Society with himself as great survivors of British politics, Mandelson complimented the organisation as a breeding ground for Labour that continues to go from strength to strength. Whilst the Fabian Society and Young Fabians are a unique part of centre-left political discourse, we should not forget that the Young Fabians is an important home for activists and not just for thinkers. Issuing his “marching orders”, Mandelson called upon Labour activists to “subordinate every other distraction” in the coming months. Describing the Party’s direction as being about core values rather than core votes, it was hard to disagree with his assessment of what those values were - fairness, social justice, enterprise and equal opportunity. And was that an election slogan I heard being formed? “Change for good, and change with Labour.” Let’s go out and all be that change - in our communities and constituencies, for our country and for the world. Visit the Young Fabians ‘Campaign Corner’ and look out on our blog and website for more news over the course of the year on our fiftieth year anniversary celebrations.
CAREER SNAKES AND LADDERS
arl Pike ung Fabian Member
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
NOTES FROM... Shamik Das Social and Membership Officer, Young Fabians
XXX Jessica Asato NOTES FROM THE EVENT Acting Director, Progress ‘IS THE INTERNET REALLY CHANGING POLITICS?’
Demos asks - Is the internet really changing politics?
he question on everyone’s lips these days seems to be ‘will 2010 be the first internet election?’ – with everyone looking at the States and wondering whether we’ll see something similar to Obama’s online campaign over here, and whether the blogs will be anything like as influential. Opinions vary, with the experts at Demos’s ‘Is the internet really changing politics’ event in December uncertain as to just how big an impact the net will have. John Lloyd, Contributing Editor of the Financial Times and the Director of Journalism at Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, believes it may influence the way other media behave. “Websites are destroying the rules of the game,” he said, with off-the-record briefings no longer sacrosanct – Downing Street’s switch to on-the-record announcements from named officials an example of this – and bloggers being granted accreditation to press conferences. A major change has also come in the way scandals are reported. “The blogosphere will print stuff conventional outlets won’t touch,” added Lloyd. “They’re less likely to worry about burning their high-placed contacts as they don’t rely on them as heavily, or have any at all, as mainstream journalists.” As for the implications for party funding, said Lloyd, “as Barack Obama showed during 2007 and 2008, smallish internet donations add up - forty per cent of the biggest take ever is a lot of money.” The
campaign saw many donors contributing small sums each, in contrast to the situation in the UK, where a small number of donors contribute huge sums to party coffers. Rishi Saha, Head of New Media at the Conservative Party, explored how political parties are using the internet to reach out to undecided voters. “In 2005, there seemed to be a consensus, everyone saying ‘let’s all forget the internet exists’, that could not be further from the truth now,” he said. “Everybody now has a website, every party, every leader, every candidate. One of the things we’re doing is making it easier for people to find us, being really clever at the back end of our websites, and buying up key words and phrases, policies and names, so when people Google them our links come up first.” The internet had been embraced by those at the top of the party, he added. “We’ve got WebCameron, we’ve got Eric Pickles’s war-room briefing, and we’ve got MyConservatives.com, our new online network, giving supporters and candidates the tools they need for the campaign. We’re getting more people involved, people we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to reach.” The election itself, claimed Saha, would feature “two or three ‘gotcha’ moments that will carry the news media for two or three days at a time”, broken online. We may even see our own ‘Joe the Plumber’, an unknown ‘ordinary American’ who shot to fame in the 2008 Presidential campaign. Evgeny Morozov, Yahoo Fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the
Study of Diplomacy, said that fringe groups would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the web, their otherwise unheard voices making a noise through Twitter and on blogs. “These are the ones most often shut off from the mainstream media”, he said. “They will make themselves heard during the campaign. Politicians and conventional media will have to take notice of them. Their communities are active not just on blogs but on forums and bulletin boards.” The general public were still, however, and would be perhaps forever, using the internet for largely ‘trivial’ reasons and not for politics, added Morozov. “In free societies, societies without censorship, you get the same items as the most searched and most viewed, pornography, chat rooms, dating, social networking, wherever you are in the free world and Britain is no different.” Former Minister for Digital Engagement Tom Watson, blogger, Tweeter and MP for West Bromwich East, backed up Morozov’s points about fringe groups, saying independent candidates would benefit the most from the role of the internet, not the mainstream established parties. “The parties will be on broadcast mode,” he said. “In the forthcoming election, an independent candidate will be an internet sensation. Someone will end up with egg on their face, and it’ll more than likely be Labour or Tory.” For further information about Demos visit www.demos.co.uk.
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
YOUNG FABIAN IDEAS: THE NEW PROGRESSIVE
James Green Anticipations Editor and Labour PPC for Cheltenham
On the future of Labour
battle is raging over the future of progressive politics. It is a battle that has endured since the birth of the Labour Party itself. Today it takes the form of a struggle between self styled Old Labourites on the one hand and an emerging coalition of democratic socialists and liberals on the other. The ideological fault lines of Labour’s future are being drawn up - between those that argue for a planning state and those that call for an empowering one. Yet the lessons of the past twelve years show that to reengage the public in the political process, Labour needs to move away from the state-centred solutions of the past. Only by finding the right balance between liberalism and democratic socialism, extending individual liberty while defending social justice, can Labour renew itself and rebuild public confidence in its progressive cause. So what does it mean to be progressive? For a word that has been used so much in recent years it is strangely hard to define. Yet, despite that, it remains a powerful idea and one that continues to dominate British politics. From tax cuts to tax rises, from the stability of the state to the innovation of markets, the term has been used to describe a whole range of policies - some related, many fundamentally contradictory. Its popularity is now almost total. Today, few politicians argue over the merits of progressivism. The real battle is over who can claim it as their own. In many ways the popularity of the word can be put down to its vagueness. A catch all term, it reflects the way that most of us see the world. We all want to progress, move
forward, build a better life for ourselves. In that sense we are all progressive, albeit with a ‘small p’. In a rapidly changing and often uncertain world, the language of progress helps us feel optimistic about the future. It offers a positive worldview without the complexities of party allegiance or policy detail. In doing this it is able to bridge the political divide, engaging the left without alienating the right. For all three party leaders it has become the ultimate triangulating tool. ‘Big P’ progressivism is something all together different. It has deep historical roots that reach back to the birth of the Labour movement. In a recent article the historian David Marquand argued that Progressivism a century ago described the overlap of the gradualist democratic socialists like the Fabian Society with the ‘new liberals’ who provided the ideological underpinning for Herbert Asquith’s government. For them the progressive mission was clear. Whether it was about reform of the House of Lords or the extension of the suffrage, to be progressive was to be committed to a radical redistribution of power and opportunity across society. Progressivism described the belief that the good society was an equal one, and that through collective action and active government we could build our New Jerusalem. Since then the Labour Party has had a complex relationship with the term, rarely more so than over the past twelve years. For over a decade an internal Labour struggle has been taking place between the selfstyled New and Old parts of the party. For
New Labour the language of progress was used as much to challenge its opponents within the party, as it was to attack its Opposition without. In his Leader’s Speech to Labour’s 1999 conference Tony Blair outlined this view, “For the 21st century will not be about the battle between capitalism and socialism but between the forces of progress and the forces of conservatism...The forces that do not understand that creating a new Britain as true equality is no more a betrayal of Britain’s history than New Labour is of Labour’s values.” It is no coincidence that when thinking of a name for their pressure group the Blairite modernisers chose ‘Progress’. That battle still rages. Many in the Labour movement continue to challenge New Labour’s progressive claims. Yet New Labour’s vision of progressivism does share a great deal with the Progressives of the past. Its mission of redistributing power and opportunity to the many and not the few reflects the same guiding principle as those early Labour pioneers. In devolution the party drove through the most radical redistribution of power since women got the vote. Its anti-discrimination legislation broke down barriers and gave a voice to many of the most marginalised in our society. Its investment and modernisation in education and health transformed life chances, giving people new opportunities to fulfil their potential. Tax Credits, Sure Start, the New Deal, the Minimum Wage, Maternity Leave, the Winter Fuel Allowance, Pension Credit – all progressive policies that have given people greater power and opportunity in their lives.
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
The New Progressives Voices of Labour’s Future Edited by James Green
Young Fabians | e-pamphlet Yet New Labour’s approach to reform was very much a product of its time. State-centred solutions, managed from Whitehall, were required to tackle the challenges inherited from the Tories. Whether it was serially underfunded public services, or millions of people marginalised by the moralising policies of Thatcherism; clear and bold state action was desperately needed. However, while investment and modernisation from the centre transformed services, it also alienated many. Today Labour finds itself behind in the polls and facing a resurgent Tory party. We are forced to ask ourselves why, when people are ‘small p’ progressive in their lives, are they increasingly rejecting ‘Big P’ progressivism for their politics? In his recent John Smith Memorial Lecture David Miliband argued that a deep ‘democratic pessimism’ had come to define British politics. For all of us who have knocked on doors or pounded the streets for Labour, his conclusions ring true. How often have we heard people say that all politicians are the same, that we are all in it for ourselves, that ‘nothing ever changes’. The message from the public is clear - people feel disempowered. They have come to see progressive politics as a barrier to individual progress, rather than as a facilitator of it. Yet, despite their reservations, they remain unconvinced by the Tories. The public still want to believe in a positive progressive vision for the future, they just don’t believe that any political party is articulating it. So what can Labour do to regain public confidence in its progressive cause?
Some say that we need to return to the Old Labour policies of the past. They argue that Labour’s current plight reflects a widely held belief that we have moved too far away from our founding values. Yet it seems counter-intuitive to argue that voters are returning to the Tories in droves because they feel Labour aren’t left wing enough. Rather, they are calling for a new type of politics that reflects a fundamentally changed world from the one that Labour inherited in 1997. To regain public trust Labour must not look backwards but must instead offer a new progressivism that empowers individuals and gives them greater control over their lives. The progressive politics of the future must be about the state giving up power, rather than reclaiming it. In the Liberal Republic Richard Reeves and
Philip Collins outlined their view, offering a challenge to Labour that is particularly pertinent today, “Trapped in his elevation of means over ends, the social democrat is not sure what to do. The pattern of society seems oddly recalcitrant to his reforms and yet he cannot see that his own ends – which are right and good – can only ever be served by liberal means. Power to the people is in his gift if he holds the levers of power – but only by letting go, not by pulling them even harder.” It would be a mistake to use this argument to negate Labour’s many successes over the past twelve years or reject democratic socialism entirely. Just as the first Progressive pioneers a century ago were a coalition of democratic socialists and liberals, so the new progressives must be too. While the liberal tradition can teach social democrats about the importance of empowerment, social democrats can teach liberals that, without social justice delivered through an active state, empowerment means little. Only by finding the right balance between liberalism and democratic socialism, extending individual liberty while defending social justice, can Labour build the progressive coalition of the future. So what would that mean in practice? If the new progressivism is about ensuring that the public have the power to shape their lives, it is important to look at the institutions in which power resides. The obvious starting point is Parliament itself. The furore over MPs’ expenses has clearly shown that the public feel disempowered by a political system that seems out of
breath and out of touch. They demand a new type of politics in which the individual has greater influence over the decisions that affect their lives. Yet, because of our First Past the Post electoral system, the vote they cast at election time is likely to have no impact on the outcome. This has created a deep democratic deficit between politicians and the people they claim to represent. But beyond that, First Past the Post no longer represents the way that most of us see the world. The simple ideological dichotomy between left and right has lost relevance in an ever changing and increasingly interdependent world. We don’t experience life as a simple choice between two competing visions. Rather, in life we collaborate, work together and compromise to reach our goals. Politics should reflect that. If we are to learn one thing from the furore over MPs’ expenses it is that the public feel disempowered by a political system that feels inward looking and inaccessible. Electoral reform may not be a panacea, but it is certainly an important symbolic starting point in the drive to pass power back to the people. But we need to go further. The new progressive’s goal must be to redistribute power to the lowest possible level. That means stronger local government. The vast majority of constituency casework should be dealt with by local councillors, not Members of Parliament. If councillors had more access to central government and greater influence, they could become the strong and influential local voices that they deserve to be. The public needs to have a greater say in the way that public services are run. Choice is important, but even more important is meaningful control. We should expand participatory budgeting and give people greater opportunity to set priorities at the local level. Civil liberties must be protected, and in many circumstances extended, to ensure that people know that power rests in their hands, and not in the levers of the state. These are the policies that must define the progressivism of the future. There are some who would look back. Progressives must always look forward. This article first appeared in the Young Fabians pamphlet, ‘The New Progressives: Voices of Labour’s Future’, alongside contributions from eleven other young Labour PPCs. The pamphlet can be downloaded in full from the Young Fabians website at www.youngfabians.org.uk.
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
YOUNG FABIAN IDEAS: HOW TO REFORM MPS’ EXPENSES James Shafe Young Fabian Member
On how to reform the expenses system
olitical commentators and columnists expect too much from our MPs. That is the main conclusion that we should draw from the shocked reactions that greeted this year’s expenses scandals. By creating an environment where people with influence felt resisting corruption relied solely on their own private efforts benefitted no-one. A key lesson of 2009 is that only by catering to the worst in their natures will we get the best out of our MPs. To do this, we need clear rewards and punishments for ‘success’ and ‘failure’ in politics. By taking on the challenge of defining these goals we can show voters what Labour is really about. Progressives have not always had such great expectations of the people who represent us. Many liberal thinkers endorse the idea of using public opinion to check politicians’ corruption. Unlike today’s columnists, these writers, carefully emphasise the fallibility of the people who wield power. Almost 200 years ago, Bentham gave up on solely appealing to politicians’ benevolence. He made the timeless argument that we should instead assume their self (‘sinister’) interest and give them incentives to serve the whole community. Like an owner who makes it worthwhile for his dog to behave well by rewarding ‘good’ behaviour, political systems need to make governors selfinterestedly desire to serve us. Similarly, MPs should be wary of harming us (through excessive expense claims or corruption) because the repercussions will not be pleasurable for them. Like dogs who respond to attention, MPs react to praise
and blame, financial rewards and fines not just high-minded ideas. If we accept the self-interest of MPs, and others with power, we should not be shocked when some of them fail to act impeccably in the face of immense personal temptation and secrecy. Public opinion is useful in providing the incentives we need to make politicians serve our collective interest because the threat of being discovered and exposed should scare corrupt or inept MPs. In his essay ‘On Packing’, Bentham argued that libel laws worked against the public interest because they prevented corruption being held up to public view. This same kind of secrecy has surrounded MPs claiming parliamentary expenses. We should accept the fact that individuals will always be tempted to pursue their interests. What is truly dangerous is for politicians’ personal interests to remain secret because this makes public figures feel invulnerable to the threat of public opinion. Without transparency we are left with hollow public debate that ignores the reality of selfinterest. This year’s events show that public perception is a useful but limited tool. The ‘court of public opinion’ is often our first resort in corruption cases. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request revealed embarrassing information. Yet many have been left asking what sanction the public really has against MPs who have chosen to not run for re-election. Over the course of this year we have seen that publicity can still scare the powerful - or at least some of them. Peter Viggers, Anthony Steen and others will no longer be MPs after the next
election, but more influential frontbenchers have escaped punishment for similar
misdemeanours. Sir Thomas Legg’s initial letters to MPs in October, suggesting that they repay various amounts, demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of relying on publicity. Bentham assumed that the community’s condemnation would often be enough to deter wrongdoing because the displeasure we feel at others’ disapproval is a strong deterrent. Clearly, though, this ‘social sanction’ is not always enough. Faced with public revulsion at their behaviour, some MPs still insist that their claims were justified and ignore responses. Anyone who doubts this disconnect between political and public cultures need only listen again to Sir John Butterfill trying to justify himself over claiming for ‘servants quarters’, “[My] one mistake [was that]…I didn’t separate…the value of the servants’… wing.” For the well connected and experienced, claiming for cleaners and duck houses might be embarrassing, but its revelation is not career ending. The shame of exposure can deter many, but not all culprits. A consensus formed in response to these events that for MPs, ‘the era of selfregulation is over.’ This means that a new authority will determine their future pay and conditions. For this to be effective, we need total, compulsory disclosure because without transparency, the ‘social sanction’ (fear of discovery and punishment) has diminished effect. In secrecy, MPs can pursue self interest without fear of suffering as a result. The revelation of information worked in 2009 to address corruption - the public saw what it perceived as corruption,
CAN THE INTERNET CHANGE POLITICS?
and acted like dog owners denying a pet its treats. Preventing future problems demands us to make this same transparency regular, reliable and uniform. Accepting the fact of politicians’ selfinterest means promoting the full, public knowledge of all sources of their financial (and other) interests to guard against corruption. This provokes the wider question. If, like the rest of us, legislators need the threat of exposure, losing elections or even prosecution to deter bad conduct, what positive rewards do we need to encourage good governance? Thanks partly to Richard Thaler’s book ‘Nudge’, it’s become fashionable on both sides of the Atlantic, and the political divide, to highlight the incentives we offer people to change behaviour. We use taxes, advertising and legislation to ‘nudge’ or even push people towards desirable actions like giving up smoking, going back to work or using less petrol. So far politicians have been immune from these kinds of incentives but there has been no clear explanation of why. The status quo implies that we need rewards to shape the behaviour of smokers, drinkers, drivers, workers, mothers - almost every group in society except parliamentarians. Bentham’s approach assumes that all people, whatever their background or role, desire and pursue their own happiness. 21st century policy reflects this fact. MPs, in contrast, are offered few such incentives to shape their behaviour between elections. What makes them so different? MPs might point to a few factors that mark them out from the population at large but it is not yet clear why these should exempt them from being seen - like the
rest of us - as essentially, not wholly, selfinterested. Perhaps a culture of ‘public service’ means our politicians do not need to be treated like consumers because it encourages them to consciously consider the national, rather than personal, interest. Anyone who finds this kind of argument convincing must remember that similar cultures apply to civil servants, carers and countless other social roles that people perform in society. Why single out MPs as different? An obvious way of rewarding politicians’ ‘good’ behaviour would be to link some component of pay to ‘success’. Achieving this could be a complicated and controversial process. First we would need an independent authority to define (admittedly rough) measures for the good results of Parliamentary activity (for example, UK median income, the number of people in poverty, the number of failing schools). Recent events have already established the political necessity and principled need for an independent authority to assess pay. Quangos like the Care Quality Commission, Ofsted and Ofgem do something similar for a range of services from care homes and GPs to schools and energy supplies. Different measures could apply to each government department, with separate criteria for those on the front and backbenches. A reasonable and consistent connection between these measures, and remuneration would hypothetically follow. Performance-related pay for MPs will be met with an obvious objection - how can we really measure success in something as complicated as politics? Any numerical measure of political ‘success’ will always
be controversial. This controversy could, however, be an opportunity rather than a problem. By debating, openly and transparently, what political ‘success’ means to us we can clarify what we really believe is important. Conservatives might propose measurements related to home-ownership or inheritance, whilst progressives should prioritise tackling child poverty, increasing social mobility, cutting carbon emissions and improving the stock of social housing. By debating what measures success, we can tell voters where we really stand, what we believe in, and what kind of society Labour wants to create. This is the kind of debate that can help voters understand what Labour is all about. It is exactly the conversation we need to spell out the choice facing us all next year, and beyond. Most people in Britain want a government whose priorities lie with the many, not a privileged few. Why not be open and clear about the fact that Labour is on their side? Instead of hoping that politicians are incorruptible, we must assume that they are easily tempted. This means rewarding good performance, punishing corruption and publishing information so that the corrupt are scared of being caught. The idea of using incentives for MPs’ performance currently looks outlandish, but this is no reason to dismiss it. Things can change very quickly, as the panic flowing around Westminster following Thomas Legg’s initial letters shows. The past few months prove that naively expecting the best will not work - MPs like the rest of us, respond to incentives. Accepting and using this fact will continue to be a real challenge.
ANTICIPATIONS • SPRING 2010
TOP TEN TIPS FOR LABOUR BLOGGERS Tom Harris MP
2 4 6 8 10 34
Use humour. Political blogs, particularly left wing ones, have a reputation of being very poe-faced and serious, because, like, politics is about people’s lives, yeah? Don’t take yourself or your politics too seriously at least not all the time.
Don’t go out of your way to criticise Labour, but don’t be too worried about doing so either. Politics needs to be about debate, and one of the most regular - and valid criticisms of LabourList when it launched was that it was too on-message.
Update regularly. And I mean very regularly. At least twice a day, ideally more often. Your regular readers must understand that paying repeated visits to your site will pay dividends in terms of seeing new stuff.
Blogging is a community in its own right and political differences, while still there, matter less. Be generous on your blogroll. Feature rival parties’ blogs as well as those supporting your own.
Synchronise. Use Twitter to publicise your posts, use your blog to promote your Twitter feed, use Facebook to send hugs to people you’ve never met. It’s all good.
1 3 5 7 9
Politics is dull. Really, really dull. So when you write about it, you have to make it sound far more interesting than it actually is. And the only way of doing that is to be able to write well. A good writer can make just about anything sound, if not interesting, then not quite so dull. Go off-topic. Yes, readers will visit your site to read about politics, but it’s okay to talk about other subjects occasionally. Even politicians and local activists have interests outside politics. Whether that’s cooking or football or movies or... yes, Doctor Who.
Allow commenters to have their say. By all means moderate the abusive ones, but blogging isn’t one-way - a dialogue with readers is the life blood of a good blog. But conduct that dialogue on your own terms.
Format and design is crucial. Narrow columns, an attractive, good-sized font with adequate spacing between lines makes it easier on the eye for readers who have an awful lot of other political blogs on their favourites lists.
Don’t become a slave to the wordcount. If a post is worth only 25 words, write 25 words. Don’t try to expand needlessly on a subject just to make it look better. Pithy can be attractive to readers who are in a hurry.
Tom Harris is Member of Parliament for Glasgow South. You can visit his blog at www.tomharris.org.uk
national minimum wage international development the nhs disability rights comm sion in the next anticipations civil partnerships winter fuel allowance academies g aid environment reduction in poverty child trust funds sure start child tax credit fr entry to museums and galleries freedom pass abolition of fox hunting investmen public services paid paternity leave national minimum wage international develo ment the nhs disability rights commission civil partnerships winter fuel allowance academies gift aid environment reduction in poverty child trust funds sure start c tax credit free entry to museums and galleries freedom pass abolition of fox hun investment in public services paid paternity leave national minimum wage intern tional development why the nhs disability rights commission civil partnerships win fuel allowance academies gift aid environment reduction in poverty child trust fu sure start child tax credit free entry to museums and galleries freedom pass abol of fox hunting investment in public services paid paternity leave national minimu wage international development the nhs iâ€™m disability rights commission civil par nerships winter fuel allowance academies gift aid environment reduction in pove child trust funds sure start child tax credit free entry to museums and galleries fre dom pass abolition of fox hunting investment in public services paid paternity lea national minimum wage international development the nhs disability rights comm sion civil partnerships winter fuel allowance academies gift aid labour environme reduction in poverty child trust funds sure start child tax credit free entry to museu and galleries freedom pass abolition of fox hunting investment in public services paternity leave national minimum wage international development the nhs disab rights commission civil partnerships winter fuel allowance academies gift aid env ronment reduction in poverty child trust funds sure start child tax credit free entry museums and galleries freedom pass abolition of fox hunting investment in publ services paid paternity leave national minimum wage international development nhs disability rights commission civil partnerships winter fuel allowance academi gift aid environment reduction in poverty child trust funds sure start child tax cred free entry to museums and galleries freedom pass abolition of fox hunting invest in public services paid paternity leave national minimum wage international dev ment the nhs disability rights commission civil partnerships winter fuel allowance academies gift aid environment reduction in poverty child trust funds sure start c tax credit free entry to museums and galleries freedom pass abolition of fox hun investment in public services paid paternity leave national minimum wage intern tional development the nhs disability rights commission civil partnerships winter f allowance academies gift aid environment reduction in poverty child trust funds start child tax credit free entry to museums and galleries freedom pass abolition fox email your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org by June 11 2010 de opment the nhs disability rights commission civil partnerships winter fuel allowan
The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate. — Joseph Priestley 1733–1804
Some things are more effective when they’re kept simple. We think that making the web and new media work doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Effusion is an unconventional design and new media company based in Bethnal Green: we’re innovative, socially-minded and occasionally brilliant. We work with organisations of all shapes, sizes and persuasions to create clever things in print and online. Visit us or get in touch to find out more about how we can help and what we can do for you. effusion.co.uk