David Wilcox has taken what I had to say about political parties web presence in Lewisham and run with it (pausing to say some very nice things about this blog):
I suspect this [encouraging more civic online activity] is going to come from individual activist bloggers rather than a speedy transformation in the way that the main parties present themselves. Individual voices online are easier to develop than collective ones. But then, that’s another example of how individuals and social media can show how to do things differently… and as this little blog-comment-email-blog-blog exchange shows it’s easy to start a conversation.
I don’t think I’d disagree with that, but there are signs that the politically committed bloggers are having an impact on the development of our parties’ online presences.
Take the Oxford Labour Party site, which is run off a WordPress system, and which no doubt owes something to Antonia, Jo and other Labour bloggers in the area. Or the new template for the website the national Labour Party are trying to get MPs and local parties to buy, which owes something to social media. (You can see an example of it over at Hazel Blear’s website.) I’m told that the functionality includes a number of web 2.0 features, but I’ve not had the chance to play with it so can’t really say whether it matches up to the claims.
The Tories too are pushing a new template – see the Lewisham East Tories website for an (not recently updated) example – which draws a feed from their national site.
The question is whether, having been given the tools*, politicians and their activists can stop sounding like they’re “speaking” in Press Release. Perhaps the test is to stop thinking like exclusively as broadcasters and becoming interested in a conversation; or just coming over as the human beings we actually are.
I’ll admit that this isn’t easy. When I set up a blog (now deleted) for the Labour council candidates in Blackheath at the last election I found myself writing as if we weren’t individuals and (mostly) because of pressure of time just regurgitating the leaflets we put out. But I know it can be done, and I think social media will help.
*Just to be clear, the technology isn’t the issue here. I’ve seen political blogs which are written in that third person Press Release voice which makes it difficult to see the individual or indeed the passion behind what’s being written.