The Daily Telegraph writer Robert Colvile has written a cogent paper for the Centre for Policy Studies about the way the internet is changing politics and policy, and the current failings of the political parties to embrace the brave new world.
And while I largely accept his argument (that the internet offers the potential to create a faster more chaotic, but more open, world in which politicians will have to find new language or risk becoming even more bland – and so less likeable) it is the caveats that he puts around that that I find just as compelling.
These essentially are that the on-line conversation leaves out swathes of the population and as such skews the debate. So while he says “67% of Britons use the internet in one way or another” he also says:
- In the UK, in 2006, 51% of those earning up to £10,400 had never used the internet, compared to 6% of those on £36,400 or more.
- 71% of those aged 65 and over in this country have never used the internet.
- As we go down the age range, internet use grows rapidly – only 35% of those aged between 55 and 64 have never gone on-line, falling to just 4% of the digital near-natives in the 16 to 24 bracket.
So our on-line politics is likely to be dominated by younger, wealthier people; and I can’t help noticing that Colvile doesn’t talk about whether there biases around ethnicity or gender.
Which makes me think that, while he may be right in saying that the net savy MP (and for our purposes we can substitute councillor) will find that:
by inhabiting the same on-line spaces as their constituents on a day-to-day basis, MPs will interact with them in much more normal conditions – when the MP is not the privileged voice of authority, but merely one member of a conversation among many.
But the elected representative needs to consider how they’ll represent all of the views of all their constituents, not just those of us who are webheads, so the new politics will need strategies that reach beyond the net, even while they take the best of the net’s creative drive with them.