Posts tagged ‘grassroots’
There has been much written in the UK media that this will be the first truly digital general election campaign. This is true to an extent, with the numbers of blogs and websites devoting themselves to politics and the election having increased widely since the last General Election in 2005 – it is hard to believe that neither Facebook nor Twitter existed the last time Britons went to the polls. So it was perhaps somewhat surprising that one of those bloggers, Iain Dale, told a packed Fleishman-Hillard London breakfast event last week that in his view, digital content and information will not dramatically influence the outcome on election day.
Dale’s analysis was that initiatives such as myconservatives.com (a tool which enables local campaigns to recruit volunteers and collect small donations) were launched too late by the Conservatives and should have been introduced earlier in the election cycle in order to have a real impact. Labour strategists are keen to point out that their version – membersnet has been operational for several years now, where initiatives such as the phone bank (where members can phone other members and voters using an online database) have been successfully deployed. However, such online phone banks are merely digitally advanced versions of more traditional campaign methods – i.e, a compliment to the long established tactics of canvassing and cold calling rather than a digital step change.
Dale also suggested that the UK should look to political systems closer to its own parliamentary democracy such as those in Europe or Australia for inspiration, as opposed to the vast Presidential election campaigning in the USA. He’s right, but not only because of the difference in style (and resources) but also because the digital elements of that election were built on a grassroots campaign for change – in the UK, there is no such instinct, with voters turned off from politics by the expenses scandal and no great desire shown for either Brown or Cameron.
Where the bloggers and political websites can be influential is in their attempts to create news agendas either as virals or in the traditional media. After some caution, journalists are beginning to report on stories created by bloggers, with Guido Fawkes having claimed senior scalps, including Peter Hain MP and Brown’s former press adviser Damian McBride. However, it is worth remembering that the UK’s biggest political scandal this year – MPs expenses – was uncovered not by the new media, but by a very old and traditional title – the Daily Telegraph.
Recent episodes such as spoof versions of David Cameron posters have perhaps best shown how virals can attempt influence. Its owner, Clifford Singer, posted spoofs of the Tories’ main billboard campaign on his website but realised the idea could grow when he almost immediately started receiving hundreds of similar versions from viewers. Within days, a simple website was created which allowed anyone to ‘invent’ their own professionally completed versions of the Tories’ campaign posters. The Labour MP and blogger Tom Watson MP has said about the viral: “MyDavidCameron.com is an example of people taking an idea and reusing it to add to a discussion and make a point. Political party managers might not like it, but it has given election billboards new relevance and interest for the forthcoming general election. It is making electioneering interesting, unpredictable and, dare I say, more fun.”
So although the internet will not control this campaign entirely, it is already challenging political strategists, campaign advertising executives and candidates to think in new ways and to respond to challenges that they would never have envisaged just a few years ago.
You can check out more about the UK elections at the F-H London blog.
Until a few weeks ago the Swedish Piracy Party was unknown among most Swedish voters. Likewise few Swedes were aware of the upcoming elections to the European Parliament. The Pirate Bay verdict and the Telecoms Package changed all that.
On 14 April the founders of Pirate Bay, an internet file-sharing service, were sentenced to a year in prison and ordered to pay about 3 million euros in damages to entertainment companies for having violated copyright law. The verdict led to massive mobilization among Pirate Bay supporters in Sweden and elsewhere, claiming that the verdict was a declaration of war on a whole generation.
A few weeks later a mobilization on a similar scale took place ahead of the European Parliament’s second plenary vote on the Telecoms Package. Named in Swedish newspapers as ‘The battle about Internet’s future’, Brussels’ plan to cut off illegal downloaders from the internet (or 3 strikes and you’re out) caused outcry among Pirate Bay supporters, Swedish politicians and open citizens rights groups. All of sudden the EU was hugging the media limelight in Sweden.
This combination of events played in to the hands of the Swedish Piracy Party. From having had less than 1% support from Swedish voters, current estimates are that the party will get a seat in the next European Parliament, perhaps even two! More importantly the debate about illegal downloading and the future of the internet has been acting as a catalyst, raising the interest of the European parliamentary elections among ordinary Swedes. It remains to be seen if this interest will still be there on election day!
Image by loungerie via Flickr
A post last week on the website Wired got me thinking about the use of grassroots in Brussels. The author highlights that GM has sought to use its own employees to lobby federal US policymakers for the money it needs to stay afloat as a company.
It reminded me of a recent dinner conversation about whether grassroots – digital or otherwise – can work in Brussels when conducted by corporations. The conversation was sparked by the Vattenfall campaign that has been running in PLux (see our recent post).
Principally our dinner conversation focused on two points:
- Whether contact from concerned individuals would have an effect in Brussels
- Whether it is acceptable for a corporation (as opposed an NGO) to undertake such a tactic
I’ve already argued, and continue to believe, that such contact can make a difference. In fact, I’ve even taken it to the extreme and argued that given our Brussels sensitivities about being in touch with citizens and the fact that direct contact with citizens is a relative novelty that it may be more powerful when done well.
Of course, when grassroots tactics have been used here they have tended to have been used by NGOs. Even a chemical-head like me has to take his hat off to the campaigns run by NGOs during REACH. Who could forget postcards featuring Barroso and Verheugen feeding chemicals to a baby through a test tube. Or delegations from the jam-making WI turning up in the European Parliament. Industry fights on fact, loses on emotion (again). Life ain’t fair, is it folks?
Thus, while I don’t buy the statement that just because it works in the US it can work here, I equally don’t buy that it can’t work here. It’s just going to be different. See some examples we’ve already featured in this blog (here, here and here). (more…)
This morning saw the European Disability Forum hand over an EU wide petition of over a million signatures to the European Commission. The petition calls for stronger disability legislation in Europe. Under the new Reform Treaty:
“Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.”
Interestingly, the 1million4disability press release suggests that only around a sixth of the signatures were gathered online, perhaps reflecting the already strong network of the national NGOs who collaborated in the Forum. These groups presumably already have strong support bases who be motivated relatively easily to sign such a general statement that has a direct personal relevance to many of them.
There has been some debate about how easy gathering the requisite number of EU wide petitions will be. Well so far so good, the oneseat.eu campaign managed it and now so have the European Disability Forum. While 1 million may seem a lot of signatures, it is a mere 0.2 percent of the EU population and divided by 27 Member States around 37,000 signatures a piece. European organisations with strong national databases of supporters should be able to gather such numbers with a manageable amount of effort. For those who don’t have such ready-made networks, the internet should offer a platform for creating them given the right issue, resources and tactics.
Of course the question then becomes whether Brussels will listen? Clearly such a petition puts the issue on the Commission’s table. But it also helps if the people you are trying to influence actually have an ability to do something about the issue. The oneseat campaign faced the issue that only the unanimous agreement of the Member States can change the seat of the European Parliament. The Commission has no competence to act despite people power. Their petition probably in the end had a little effect on a problem that can only be solved by a rather large swallowing of gallic pride.
In the case of this new petition, things look more rosy. A Commission cabinet official commented this morning that while the Commission was under no legal obligation under the new Treaty to act on the basis of such petitions, it would find it politically difficult to ignore. With connecting with the citizens/consumers a mantra of the current Commission, it would appear that all those seeking to influence policy in Brussels would be wise to consider when and how to make use of such techniques in the future.