Who is the most web 2.0 savvy out of David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Ming Campbell?

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Ashley Norris writes…

Sadly Gordon Brown has done the sensible thing/bottled out at the last minute (delete as appropriate) and put the general election on hold. Which personally I find a little disinegenious given that the Tech Digest team spent most of last week checking out the political parties’ online offerings so we could announce who we thought would win the web 2.0 election.

Well we can’t be bothered to hang on to this piece until May 2009 or whenever he pulls his finger out, so here is Tech Digest’s guide to how the UK polical hacks are using the web to combat the widespead political apathy which seems to have taken root in the UK.

None of the sites are anything near as whizzy or imaginative as Barack Obama’s online calling card, but there is some decent stuff out there including evidence that – get this – the Tories may have a sense of humour.

So do all these sites mean anything to anyone who is not a resident of Hackville? We got Tech Digest’s politically agnostic Deputy Editor Katherine Hannaford to find out.

Katherine Hannaford writes…

So the UK’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced on the weekend he wouldn’t be calling a general election this week. But it wasn’t because of David Cameron’s unscripted speech at the Tory party conference or the fact that he wants us to properly digest yesterday’s public spending review. It was because his minions couldn’t unearth a sex-tape showing an opposing MP in a compromising position in time. Ok, that was wishful thinking, admittedly.

Nope, the reason why ol’ Gord bottled it was because he hasn’t got his Facebook profile in order, he is still agonising about the poor viewing figures on his YouTube account and he hasn’t yet worked out what Digg is. Last I heard, he thought it was a gardening forum.

If only eh? Anyhow, instead of having a real general election in the UK, we here at Tech Digest are going to have a web 2.0 election – deciding which of the three main political parties have made the best web 2.0 efforts thus far. Read on below for the initiatives made by the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party, and we’ll give you a chance afterwards to elect a party to the Political web 2.0 Houses of Parliament.


Conservatives

Website

Surprisingly, the Conservatives have made quite a strong move onto the online world, with their website looking fresh and clean, more like an environmentalist’s site rather than a political party – there’s an irony. On the toolbar up top, there’s a tab with ‘Conservatives.tv’, which promises to ‘bring the latest news direct to you’. On this page, there are many videos for viewers, with easy-to-use tabs allowing you to choose between speeches, conferences and broadcasts. Not only that, but there’s a photo gallery, and audio clips playable through QuickTime. All very impressive, and easy to navigate around – definitely not what I was expecting from an old fuddy duddy party like the Tories.

Bizarrely the Conservatives’ site offers a fun 8-bit style game verging on copyright infringing, due to the blatant rip-off from Pac Man. God knows how they’ve gotten away with it, but the premise behind ‘Taxman Gordon’, according to the site, is ‘to make money while avoiding taxman Gordon and his 111 stealth tax rises. With the longest tax code in the world, try as you might you’ll never get away from Taxman Gordon!’ In other words, Pac Man has to gobble up coins, and the four green tree logos, in order to turn the Gordon Brown faces into ghosts to gobble them up. Phone The Sun – Tories in sense of humour shocker!

Blogs
The homepage of their site has a ‘Latest News’ section, with headlines and a few paragraphs, or sentences, and once clicked on, you’re taken to a news page, where they’re offering RSS Feeds subscription. While the word ‘blog’ isn’t mentioned, it’s fairly similar to one, in that it offers bite-sized news titbits, and when clicked on, you’re taken to the full post, where readers can leave comments.

There is however a ‘Backstage Conference Blog’, which is in full blog format, includes videos, and each individual post has widgets allowing you to save to Del.icio.us, Digg it, post the story on Facebook, add it to Reddit, and even StumbleUpon it. They must’ve hired a whizz-kid to sort all that out for them, gosh.


Not surprisingly given his unstinting championing of all things ‘web’, David Cameron has his own personal blog, WebCameron.org (with an appropriate ‘beta’ tag), which has obviously had a lot of money thrown at it, featuring colourful categories, even more videos, a news tracker, top posts, and a proud little button on the side proclaiming it to be the winner of the New Statesman ‘New Media Awards’. It looks good, but I’d be very surprised if he’s visited the site more than five times, let alone written any of the content/uploaded any of the videos himself.

Social networking sites
There are many faux David Cameron profiles on Facebook, but nothing genuine unfortunately. However, he’s certainly aware of the many groups on Facebook dedicated to him, as he mentioned during a speech last week in Blackpool that there are many groups, including ‘David Cameron is a Hottie’, and ‘Am I the only person who doesn’t like David Cameron?’.

According to a Liberal Democrat blogger at Liberal Democrat Voice, several months ago only 24 of 195 MPs from the Conservatives were on Facebook, just 12%.

WebCameron has also made it onto YouTube, with his own personal account where he uploads all the videos seen on his blog and the Conservatives’ site. His account has been in operation since October 2006, and has 46 videos uploaded, all with under 2,000 views each, and 295 subscribers. Oh dear. Ironically the most viewed video, which has been watched 5,674 times, features Tory London Mayor candidate Boris Johnson. Bet Cameron loves that. By far the best Boris Johnson vid on the web though is when he ruthlessly tackles someone in a charity football match. Let’s hope he tackles Ken Livingstone in the same way.

Liberal Democrats

Website
They might bill themselves as young, progressive and, as you imagine Ming Campbell would say, a bit ‘with it’, but the Lib Dems’ website is a rather staid affair. The yellow and black homepage features a news section, which when clicked on, takes you to a short news feed with snippets. Commenting isn’t allowed on the articles (what are they scared of? Isn’t Liberalism all about free speech?) and there aren’t any categories like you’d expect a blog to have.

They are taking all this online malarkey very seriously though. A Lib Dems’ spokesman, Mark Pack, told me ”Judicious use of Web 2.0 helps us to reach people traditionally disengaged from party politics as our presence on services such as YouTube and Facebook takes us to where the audiences really are,” when he returned my frequent phone calls – the only representative from a Party who’d do so, when I mentioned I wanted to write about their online efforts.

Blogs
The Lib Dems claim that Ming Campbell, the Party Leader, was the first major politician in the UK to start blogging. Comments are enabled on his blog, but either not many people comment, or they’re prone to deleting rude comments. A Flickr feed is featured, and in the sidebar readers have the opportunity to sign up to the Lib Dem supporters’ network.

Lynn Featherstone, Member of Parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green, is the other major Lib Dem blogger, and whilst it’s not the prettiest blog by far, it’s web 2.0-packed, with Lib Dem TV clips in the sidebar, a feed from her Flickr photos, and RSS Feeds widgets.

The Liberal Democrat Voice is an independent and collaborative blog run by several Lib Dem activists, including Mark Pack. Readers can contribute to it if they like, and there’s even a forum for readers to congregate and discuss worthwhile topics like Ming’s preferred hair wax.

Social networking sites
The Lib Dems just lurve them social networking sites! They claim to being the first main UK party to sign up for a YouTube account, Google Video account and that Ming Campbell was the first UK politician to have an official Facebook profile.

Ming’s Facebook account is closed-off, and whilst I did lots of research for this piece, adding him as a friend was going a step too far. Imagine what my Facebook friends would say when it pops up with ‘Katherine Hannaford is now friends with Ming Campbell’. According to Mark Pack (the aforementioned Lib Dems spokesman), every wall post or status update is written by him, however staff obviously maintain it, by accepting friend invites and keeping up general site maintenance. He has well over 2,000 friends, so is certainly a very popular man, but in my book he needs a few more before he gets a whiff of any kind of power.

The survey I mentioned previously, undertaken by Steve Webb at the Liberal Democrat Voice blog, claimed that 40% of the 63 MPs (that’s 25 MPs, in other words) were on Facebook.

Not only that, but he has a personal Flickr account with relevant photos of his party and him making speeches, and they’re even offering a toolbar allowing you quick links to the best of their site, hand-picked links and a Google-powered search box. Not exactly revolutionary, but it shows they’re trying to reach a new audience, at least.

As I mentioned before, they were one of the first parties to get onto the YouTube bandwagon, and have since uploaded 96 videos, with 302 subscribers. The highest viewed video is on 6,952 views (Iraq: What do we know?), but on average, they’ve been viewed under 1,000 times each.

Labour

Website
Surely the Labour party is too busy running the country to bother about online fripperies? Well yes and no. They might be a clear third place in the web 2.0 stakes, but there is plenty for the die-hard new Labourites to lap up.

The Labour website is crisp in its red and white design, and easy to navigate, with tabs on top featuring drop-down categories, and a sidebar showing large buttons, asking people to ‘Join Labour now’ and ‘Donate Today’.

The homepage features an embedded YouTube video of the Labour Party’s Party Political Broadcast for September 2007, and a small feed of other videos they’ve made. They’ve got an embedded Google Maps map showing Labour In Your Area, which is rather clever, and a news feed, which, when you click on it, gives you small feeds of each post, and when you click on those, you’re taken to the full post, where commenting is enabled.

The multimedia tab gives you two options, videos which takes you direct to their YouTube account, and podcasts, which takes you a series of interviews playable through Windows Media Player.


The fourth tab along on their homepage is ‘blogs’, which gives you three options – Bloggers4Media, Labour Home, and the disclaimer. Ahh yes, of course, the disclaimer. ‘Views expressed in this discussion and in the comments are the views of the individuals and are not those of the Labour Party. The Labour Party takes no responsibility for comments posted on this site’. As expected, really.

Blogs
Bloggers4Media is an archaic looking community which gathers together feeds of all posts regarding Labour written on personal blogs from all around the country. It looks like there’s a huge community behind it, with a quick cursory glance showing several hundred blogs being linked to, a very active forum, and even a Facebook group for all the bloggers. There’s a nifty maps feature, by using Google Maps, each Labour blogger is pinpointed around the country. Very democratic.

The second blog choice for Labour is Labour Home, which is a clean looking pro-Labour blog written by a group of supporters, established in June 2006. The sidebars include recommended posts, recent posts, a huge amount of categories and links under the posts, and tabs which include videos and the largest tag cloud I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Surprisingly, Gordon Brown doesn’t have a personal blog like David Cameron and Ming Campbell, but if he did, that would surely cause a lot of cynics to suggest he should spend more time running the country, rather than blogging about it.

Social networking sites
It doesn’t appear that Gordon Brown has a personal Facebook account, but as you’d expect, there are penty of imposter Gordons on there more than compensating for his absence.

As with the other two main political parties, Labour has made a huge effort with their YouTube account, although they only joined in February of this year. They’ve uploaded the most so far, with 107 videos on offer, the most watched having 35,470 views (Got A Question For Tony Blair?), and the average views being around 2,500 per video. They have 1,338 subscribers, making them the most popular by far.

In the aforementioned survey, only 13% of Labour MPs were on Facebook, which is 47 out of their 352 members.

Conclusion
It’s fairly obvious that the online world is going to be hugely important in the next election, whenever Gordon Brown calls it. I’m not going to align myself with a particular party obviously, but in this all-important Political web 2.0 election, I’d have to say I’d…vote for (ulp) the Conservatives.

I was hugely impressed with how David Cameron and co. had embraced so many online avenues, and their website had obviously had a huge amount of money thrown at it. Take the Pac-Man parody, Taxman Gordon, it might be a tad cheesy but at least it shows a bit of flair and imagination, which may, or may not, chime with young voters.

Cynics may say, and I’m sure they do, that they’re obviously grasping at straws, trying to win young voters over with a flash website and trying to get all ‘down with the kids’, when they should be thinking more about how to lead this fine country we live in. Surely though, in the world we live in where our lives are all but run online, where we shop, bank, pay bills and educate ourselves online, this is needed however? Especially with younger voters, such as myself, who’d be more inclined to go to a political blog such as Guido Fawkes or check out a party’s website for research than open an actual newspaper copy.

The Liberal Democrats, in my opinion, have made a huge effort as well, and it’s fairly obvious they care deeply about their reputation on blogs, and the online web 2.0 world. The fact that they were the only party who returned my incessant calls, leaving messages saying I wanted to write a feature on them for the UK’s largest technology blog, about their online efforts, resonates for miles that they are concerned about what us online folk think of them.

It’s very sad that our current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and his Party, Labour, have made the least amount of effort online. One might argue and say that they’ve been too busy running the country, but with that election coming ’round one day they better step up a gear or six.

You can have your say right after this, where we’ll be posting two polls asking readers which party has made the best – and worst – web 2.0 splash. It’s the second best thing to having an actual General Election this week and watching as each party leader drags their rivals through the mud.

Links to political UK bloggers for further reading
Bloggerheads
18 Doughty Street
Westmonster
Iain Dale
Samizdata

Related posts
Top 10 Web 2.0 strategies for the UK general election
Gordon Brown wants Citizen’s Jury to discuss game violence
Five ways David Cameron can drive viewers to his YouTube site

Katherine Hannaford

4 comments

  • Yes a very good review slightly spoilt by the omission of ConservativeHome and other blogs like iain dale and thewrongman.

  • I note that you aren’t politically savvy but how can you not mention the unofficial ConservativeHome and unofficial LabourHome if you mention the unofficial LibDemVoice?
    ConHome is probably 30times bigger.Its probably the biggest political blogsite in the UK and is the only one to ever get mentioned in the papers -it often is.
    LibDemVoice never criticises their party so noone reads it.
    Good analysis overall though to be fair.

  • interesting to see how the three main parties compare and the level of engagement in web2.0. especially in light of discussions around introdcuing online voting / registration in a bid to engage people more in the political process.

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