Was 2010 the internet election? It was the first, but the internet alone didn't win the election, and politicians need to avoid the pitfall of broadcasting without listening

Was 2010 the internet election?

Last week a couple of hundred people involved in internet politics met to discuss the impact of the internet on the UK general election at Personal Democracy Forum’s Action Replay event in central London.

The clearest opening statement came from Mark Pack of Lib Dem Voice. Of course 2010 was an internet election he stated – without UK Polling Report, BBC News Online and email nothing would have been done. Campaigns would have ground to a halt if the internet had been turned off. Fair point, but surely not the issue all the audience wanted to know – did anyone actually use the internet to help them win, to help them a particular candidate gain a decisive advantage?

Stella Creasy, new Labour MP for Walthamstow in northeast London, provided a very personal and compelling answer to this. She estimated that her use of the web, Facebook and, especially, Twitter had gained her something in the region of 500 votes. It was an open goal she said – other candidates were simply not active online.

Questions and comments from Conservatives present at the event disputed her numbers yet Stella was able to get replies from 3 local people via Twitter while live on the panel, reading the supportive tweets to the audience.

Stella’s recipe is a rather simple one. She is a good, hard working, committed, communicative local campaigner, and yet from the start saw the power of connecting activity on the ground with the possibility of networking people online. Stella readily accepts she is no IT specialist, but she is for sure a digital native – raising interesting questions about how different generations can run their political campaigns.

Stella also importantly avoided the two common traps – just using the web to broadcast and not to listen, and just talking to those already active online (the echo chamber).

Matthew McGregor and Joe Rospars of Blue State Digital, the web agency behind Obama’s online campaigns, have also emphasised these shortcomings of much of the UK’s online politics. They cite BSD’s work with Hope not Hate in east London as the campaign that most stands out for them – with the internet being used in an effective manner to structure and organise offline activity.

Supporters of Obama’s campaign, lest we forget, managed to organise 200000 offline campaigning activities. UK politics is still a long way away from that level but the challenge now is to get every Labour MP, CLP and candidate to learn the lessons from Stella Creasy and Hope Not Hate. 

Photo: eGuidry 2009

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  • David Sheard

    I was surprised at the number of my “non-political” – as opposed to “political” friends on facebook, were bouncing about political comment. Especially U Tube links eg Camerons Common People.

  • Nick Palmer

    I agree it can make a significant difference. As MP for Broxtowe I focused on an email list which I’ve gradually built up to 10% of the constituency (all subscribed individually – no mass sign-ups), so over 4000 homes get a comment from me almost every week. When it became apparent that I was likely to lose (the seat had a 14% Tory lead in 1992 and was never Labour before 1997), I mobilised support from the list and got 400 volunteers, £5000 in contributions and endorsements from right across the political spectrum: the key point was simply that they’d heard from me for years.

    I still lost! – but by 389 votes rather than the 5000+ which the national swing would have produced. And i’m keeping up the list for the rematch next time.

  • Mark Pack

    Kind of you to pick out my comment Jon. I’ve expanded on it in a guest post over at Slugger O’Toole: http://sluggerotoole.com/2010/05/18/after-the-election-did-the-internet-make-any-substantial-difference/

  • Paul Evans

    Nick, you will be sorely missed. Your email work was legendary and I’m really sorry you lost the seat.