How Britain’s Political parties still campaign in an age of steam

Very 19th century: Ed Miliband campaigning, Pic credit:BBC

Very 19th century: Ed Miliband campaigning, Pic credit:BBC

The county council elections are upon us. Ed Miliband goes on a soapbox, leaflets are pushed through doors, canvassers turn up on doorsteps and people are supposed to rush to polling stations.

How brilliantly nineteenth century when  Gladstone and Disraeli drew crowds of thousands or even early twentieth when  Churchill (then a Liberal like Clegg) and Balfour campaigned across Manchester.

Politicians seem wedded to the old ways – like our splendid heritage railways – harking back to the glorious age of steam.

But this is the twenty-first century – the age of the internet, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and the rise of the blogger. – and the parties still – especially Labour – seem totally oblivious.

Indeed it is said that Tony Blair never communicated by computer – always getting a gopher to do his work – and  Gordon Brown tried to – but I gather his mistyping and mispelling are going to provide a field day  for commentators when his 5.30 am  e-mails are eventually released in 20 odd years time.

I see from my lobby colleague Oliver Wright (  – that Ed Miliband has asked Matthew McGregor, the British savvy computer guy who helped Obama attack dog Mitt Romney  to work on a new project for them. But this is but a straw.

Compare this to the massive success of campaigns since 2010 by groups like  38 degrees  and the glimmering of fights between Political Scrapbook and Guido Fawkes blog on the net , the rapid rise of hyper local blogs across London  from Barnet to Kidbrooke and  rural Derbyshire to West Wales. Compare  this also to the end of newspaper buying (unless free)  by almost anybody under 40, TV losing ratings, and most news being confined to a few sentences on an I phone.

Yet many politicians still behave as though the entire public still engage in debate in the same way as the crowds listening to Gladstone and Disraeli and avidly reading the morning newspapers. Sorry, I do not see people on the Berkhamsted Flyer debating the merits of Matthew Ancona versus Polly Toynbee.

It is time that  Britain’s political parties looked at how 38 degrees harnessed public opinion and not only used the net to find out what people want but engaged with their own members.

Otherwise David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are little more than replicas of Squire Boldwood in Far From the Madding Crowd They are sad political estate owners who give an annual Christmas party ( substitute party conferences) for their labourers who till the land (  the party faithful). Why not use  the net for dialogue with their members and bring in the public to debate the issues.

Deference is dead, people want to communicate on an equal basis. They have great freedom to express themselves, from praise to local attack dog, and through the net  reach a wider audience  than they could possibly dream about a decade ago.

But politicians cling to being patricians, all not only out of touch but out of date. None of them has to live on £50 or even £250 a week. No wonder an  old fashioned election campaign is encouraging a party harking back to a Golden Britain, UKIP. Wake up you dozy leaders, get a grip.

5 thoughts on “How Britain’s Political parties still campaign in an age of steam

  1. Oh dear David, you criticise Gordon’s spelling and then finish with “ge ta grip” – ah, I see you fixed it in the on-line version since you emailed.

    Thanks for giving Barnet a mention. We are a regular infestation of bloggers here who can’t be eradicated no matter how the council try.


  2. You are being a little harsh in your invective but the sentiment is no less valid for that. I can only provide insight from a Labour perspective but I am able to tell you that tremendous advances in the attitude towards digital communication have been made since Blair’s time in office. It was PM Gordon Brown however who took the matter seriously. I know this because it was his office who first enabled me to produce Labour Matters and later asked my advice about how Labour could counter the then Tory domination of the political blogosphere. It is not a coincidence that Labour List and Political Scrapbook went online shortly afterwards. It is also no coincidence that all are arm length of Labour HQ.

    Ed Miliband’s Labour, with Tom Watson in such a leading campaigning position, is slowly but surely creating a digital communications team which should do much to build on the lessons of Obama’s online success. I wouldn’t blame those involved being offended by this blog post therefore, but most likely they will simply see you as ignorant. The real question is not why Parties are apparently stuck in the past when campaigning but how best to translate digital campaigning to ‘real world’ action. 2015 I hope will show you that Labour at least are serious about answering that question.


  3. Reblogged this on The Thoughts of Chairman Dave and commented:
    With CLP colleagues, I have again been on the ‘analog’ campaign trail ahead of the county elections on May 2nd, when it is fervently to be hoped that the Tories and LibDems will be – to coin a phrase – handed their collective arse on a plate by a weary electorate ready for change. This is especially true here in Staffordshire, where there is a landslide to be reversed and four years of asset-stripping and mismanagement to be repaired (if it’s not already too late…)

    But David Hencke is right. We must look to our methods of communication and engage more effectively with voters. Read his excellent blog post. It’s food for thought.


  4. @labour matters:
    What is the point of having effective media management if you have no policy that is relevant to today.
    We will never return to full employment.
    Finances will not return to pre-2007/8 and they weren’t good then unless you were high up the food chain.
    I would suggest that people like me (low in the food chain) are better served by autonomous, smaller, groups of like-minded people.
    At least someone listens.

    The major parties are almost irrelevant; they offer nothing but corporatism.
    From cradle to grave.
    Subsidised by a tax revenue which is gleaned from a smaller and smaller (fully-employed) base.

    No thanks.


  5. I think you are absolutely right: on a local level, Labour is well organised in terms of leafleting, door knocking etc, and this is vital, but in terms of local websites, and connecting via social media, there is a huge gap, and the younger voters are left out in the wilderness, despite the increasing politicisation of an alienated generation growing up under this Condem government. In the states, Obama’s first term victory was partly due to the netroots movement: in Britain we are yet to see this fully in action. That said, the Tories are still happily stuck in the steam age, and the age of the man on the Clapham omnibus. I’ll stop there, as I’ve run out of suitable transport metaphors …


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