A summary of an election which could change the face of politics

So after yesterday’s #behindthenews panel discussion with Johnathan Lampon on ‘The youth vote’ (covered in an earlier post), I received an unexpected phone call requesting that I meet with Christian Hill (another BBC journo) to give a quick summary of my thoughts on this year’s election campaign run up and my election result predictions for #GE2015.

Because my section will have been a teeny part of this morning’s breakfast show with Jim Davis and Jo Hayward (7am if anyone’s interested), I thought it might be best to just type up my quick summary here to expand on my verbal analysis of all but a minute.

Basically, I think that despite the election itself being pretty exciting (I’m pretty certain that it’s close enough that there will be a minority government and another election within a year), the campaign period in the run-up has been…dull, if I’m honest.

True, there have been some highlights – Ed Miliband’s interview with Russell Brand for one, not to mention the Green Party’s spoof ‘Boyband’ video (below) which quite frankly is an unparalled election broadcast.

But generally speaking, it’s all come across as a bit too tightly controlled and, because of that, a bit too staged and boring. Election campaigns should be about speaking to the people and having heartfelt, genuine conversations, not delivering pre-planned speeches against a backdrop of party member’s with placards.

Of course, there is always a risk involved with talking to the public, especially when its election-time. After all, nobody enjoys having egg on their face be it proverbially or otherwise. The problem is though that it is precisely the way parliamentary candidates handle these situations (where they are around and engaging with real people) that is what can win them the hearts, minds and (most importantly perhaps) votes of the electorate. Shutting down opportunities for dialogue before they’ve even begun only further alienates MP’s from ‘normal people’.

This is an election which I believe will prove to be a defining point our country’s future, determining not only the way our country is run, but our values as a society.

What this election has show most of all, I think, is that politics isn’t something we should just get involved in once every five years where we moan about whoever was last in power and all the things they didn’t do/did wrong, and automatically vote for their opponent.

People (and especially young people) are realising that democracy isn’t just about elections, it is something about everyday LIFE; something so ingrained in every aspect of our society that we don’t even see it unless we look. They’re realising (slowly) that politics MATTERS and is something they CAN have a voice in so long as they stay actively involved.

I might be idealistic in saying so but hopefully this increased awareness and self-belief is something that will not only spur people to head to the polls this Thursday to make their mark for whichever candidate they choose, but will also inspire them to get actively involved in causes they believe in and raise their voices loud enough that the people of this country can be heard.

Breaking stereotypes and discussing the ‘Youth’ vote

With two day’s left until the election polls open, this morning I once again dove into a radio broadcasting and rejoined BBC Leicester’s Johnathan Lampon and BBC Local Apprentice Khadija Osman for Behind the News’ panel discussion.

Today we looked at ‘The Youth Vote’ and why young people may or may not be turned off from politics.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02pn8h1 (10:50mins – 36:25mins)voters

Since the 1970’s, the 18-24 age demographic have had the lowest voter turnout of any age group, but this year they could very well be the game-changers holding the power to influence who ends up in No. 10.

Young people need to feel engaged by the political process so its no surprise that jargon is a complete turn off. I believe young people are more discerning than we’re given credit for and although many of us are interested in politics, we are also very cynical of politicians. Who wants to be preached at when half of what is said goes over your head anyway?

When MP’s target and start listening and moreover including young people in the political process, finding out what issues we feel are important (because despite some snarky feeling that all we care about is student fees, that’s most definitely not the case) and hearing our views on public policy.

The issue that got under my skin in particular was the suggestion by one commenter that young people under the age of 24 are “idiotic beyond belief and will most likely be voting for disaster/Labour #Morons”… Gee… thanks.

Despite the (completely false) idea that young people somehow automatically vote Labour, this stereotype of the ignorant, politically-uneducated-therefore-clearly-left-wing, hippy ‘yoof of today’ is totally unfair and (as a young person myself) pretty darn offensive if I’m honest.

The main challenge for politicians today in engaging young people is pretty much the same challenge they face to the rest of the electorate (but perhaps to a stronger degree). Average Joe Bloggs (both senior and junior) no longer trust politicians to be honest in either their policies or their values, and it is THIS failure to engage in a trustworthy and believable way that political parties need to work on.

#GE2015. Britain’s ‘Social Media Election’

Sixty years since the 1955 ‘Television election’, 2015 is looking to be the year in which social media platforms will play a decisive role in reaching Britain’s electorate.

Although Marketing Magazine reports that the Conservatives are expected to “outspend Labour 3:1, opting for traditional media”, Labour is putting more emphasis on door-to-door canvassing due to Miliband’s desire to have “4 million face-to-face conversations”. This means that despite less financial spend, Labour is equally more likely to be harnessing the influence and engagement potential of digital and social platforms.

This I think has been perfectly demonstrated during tonight’s Sky/Channel 4 Leader debate between PM David Cameron and Labour leader, Ed Miliband, which generated a considerable amount of simultaneous discussion across Twitter via the amazing – if a tad long – hashtag #Battlefornumber10.

Tweets ranged from the tongue-in-cheek:

To the thoughtfully considered:

To the frustrated outrage in response to the behaviour of Kay Burnley and Jeremy Paxman:

The vital role of social media within politics is becoming ever more widely accepted, and now it is becoming increasingly obvious that whichever party is first to develop and implement a convincing social media strategy will have a distinct advantage this upcoming May. Sites such as Facebook have already been used successfully in the US as a way to engage with – and gather information from – potential voters, and in the UK, 24million people have signed up to the service. This of course gives political parties a pool of voters from which to fish (or more accurately target and engage) on a more personal and responsive level than anything offered via traditional forms.

According to some however, social media is “massively overrated”. Richard Huntington, group chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, argues that “It’s great at preaching to the converted and distributing leaders’ speeches or policy points, but political messaging rarely escapes its bubble, unless it’s very amusing.” Personally I think I’d disagree with this.

Although ‘amusing’ posts and tweets (particularly tongue-in-cheek satire) create increased ‘talkability’ online (thus enhancing a post (and brand’s) potential reach), I think this view doesn’t take into consideration the age old adage that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

I mean, it’s no real coincidence that only 55% of MPs in the safest seats use Twitter compared to nearly 90% of MPs in the most marginal seats. Being in a ‘safe’ seat erases the need for an MP to engage in a two-way conversation with their electorate – which I honestly think is to the detriment of the political sphere as I’m wholeheartedly a supporter of the ways that engagement and communication builds trust and brand loyalty.

Personally, I think a multi-pronged/integrated campaign approach will work best. Combine the power of Ad agencies which deliver strong, strategic messages, with the considerable influence and attention generated by public relations, as well as the personalisation and responsiveness allowed by digital and social platforms, and I think you’re/your brand is in with a winning recipe for increased engagement, trust and loyalty from your audiences.

Overall I think tonight has given me a lot to think about…

I was planning on dedicating a considerable part of my dissertation this year to analysing @Nick_Clegg’s Twitter use in the month prior to the election using a range of frameworks, but I have to say that tonight’s debate raises a new potential focus…

Do I continue looking at the influence of (and need for) trust within political (ie. the Liberal Democrats) brands, or….

do I look at the role of and way that social media is being used in the run up to the election….

Lobbying for change

Should a political party tell the public what it believes, or should it ask the public what it wants? So goes a beloved dilemma of political theorists and party policy-makers over the years – from long since before the internet came to prominence.

Of course, there is no easy answer to it; particularly when individually each MP (irrespective of party affiliation) may be subject to external influence by PRs or the corporations for whom they are working.

The UKPAC definition of lobbying claims that it means working:

in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the United Kingdom Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within their competence.

In the UK, lobbying plays a significant role in the way that policies and decisions are made at local, regional and national levels, as lobbyists attempt to influence the formulation of legislation in ways that benefit their clients. Most lobbying activity is undertaken by professional public affairs agencies who represent multiple clients and primarily focus on lobbying within the corporate, charity and trade sectors.

Although I believe that working to influence political decisions regarding policy and legislation is a legitimate and moreover a necessary part of the democratic process, I do think that there needs to be a wider and more fair level of engagement in the process, with more transparency as to the dealings between Whitehall and lobbyists.

In 2010, David Cameron said that lobbying was “the next big scandal waiting to happen” and subsequently ‘promised’ to “sort it out”. However last year, the issues within lobbying reached a level where (according to a TI poll) 90% of UK respondents believed that “our government is run by a few big entities acting in their own interest”

A Lobbying Act was implemented in January 2014 in an attempt to rectify the poor reputation of lobbyists that had been steadily growing over the past decade (some of which are shown below).

07120215_Liftingthelid_TI_web

On February 10th however, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations revealed its manifesto for the upcoming year which raised seven key areas that the public relations profession wants to see addressed (both in the industry and beyond), namely:

  • Lobbying
  • The future of corporate governance,
  • Independent practitioners and future skills needs,
  • The gender pay gap,
  • Data protection,
  • Internet governance and broadband.

Lobbying

For the last few years, the CIPR has been calling on government to actively support higher levels of accountability and standards within lobbying. Althoguh this did pay off last year in the Lobbying Act, but understandably (as shown in the above infographic), there is still a fair way to go.

CIPR president, Sarah Pinch, says, “The next UK Government should seek to restart the dialogue with stakeholders on the role of lobbying in our democracy, and actively support the development of a highly skilled, qualified and ethically competent group of public affairs professionals that serve the needs of a modern complex democracy. Ensuring that the law that introduced a statutory register of consultant lobbyists genuinely provides the public with more information about how policies and laws are shaped should be considered a priority. Failure to do so will result in lobbying genuinely being the next big scandal waiting to happen.”

The Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is another prominent issue that is regularly discussed in the public relations industry. The CIPR suggests that future governments need to dedicate themselves to strengthening the Equal Pay act, ensuring it is universally applied. The State of the Profession report, due to be revealed sometime this week, will contain up-to-date information on the size of the current income gap, but last year’s study showed that the gap between men and women was as large as £12,390 in senior roles.

Pinch adds, “Looking outside of our traditional areas of influence, some of the really big questions facing our society – internet governance, data protection – have (so far) not figured largely in contemporary political debate, but our future government will need to take a lead on finding answers to them.’

“Most of these issues are not ones for which a government can simply legislate, and most of them do not have a simple, straightforward solution. Rather, they require an open and informed public conversation which will allow us to arrive at a sustainable set of policies and maintain the UK’s world lead in what are critically important areas.”

Social Media: How lowering the partisan filter changed political communication forever

Since the early 2000’s, and the explosive development of social media platforms, the Internet has become a new dimension of the public sphere “to which all citizens should have access”, according to Habermas, 1989, as “a forum for the formation of public opinion.” Part of the attraction of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube is arguably that that the ‘average’ person – being someone with little or no advanced computer skills – can be successful using them to generate content.

contentContent – being anything from a 140 character ‘tweet’ on the online social network ‘Twitter’, to a video of puppies uploaded to ‘YouTube’ (a video content distribution forum created in 2005) – can not only be created easily, but can be accessed with something as simple as a smartphone and can be easily linked between different web-pages, making it one of the most efficient and versatile forms of mass communication.

Henry Giroux, an American cultural critic and one of the founding theorists behind the concept of critical pedagogy, best summarised the impact of the development of social media when he said:

The Internet, in all its variety, has effectively re-constituted – especially amongst young people – how social relationships are constructed; and how communication is produced, mediated and received. Under such circumstances, state power becomes more porous and there is less control and regulation as to what is said. Text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the internet have given rise to a reservoir of political energy that poses a new relationship between the new media technologies, politics, and public life.”

Suffice to say that the influence of social media is making huge changes in combating the issue of political apathy by providing new ways to stimulate engagement in politics through allowing politicians and political parties to communicate faster (and in a more targeted manner without the need of mass media) with potential voters, and vice versa.

No longer can it be said that the traditional forms of media communications have “significant influence over voting behaviour at election time” (Joyce, 2010), as the rise in popularity and diversity of social media has allowed what is known as ‘the partisan filter of politics’ to be lowered, thus increasing the range of political parties and ideals available to be disseminated by the public. This changing face of political campaign marketing has been seen on both sides of the Atlantic, but most of all in the 2008 Presidential Election campaign of (now President) Barack Obama, whose use of social media raised over half a billion dollars in online donations, and labelled that year as the first real “social media election”.

Obama’s embracing of social media platforms is largely thought to be a part of his appeal, and his digitally savvy campaign strategy is argued as being one of the key reasons he was able to take his seat in the White House. But, his engagement didn’t just stop once he achieved office. Instead, during his 2012 re-election campaign Obama averaged 29 tweets per day (compared to Mitt Romney’s 1 tweet per day) which, since 2008, has spurred his Twitter following to have grown from approximately 100’000 to 19 million, and his Facebook fanbase from 2 million to 28 million.

obama

Here in the UK, social media has had a similarly profound effect on our political sphere, quickly becoming a vital campaign platform that is re-shaping the way elections are won and lost, how policy is made, and how people get involved in formal and informal politics. Social media strategies by political parties however vary greatly in their approaches, from single-issue campaigns to established political party Facebook accounts with strict control over the content.

What they have in common though, is the idea of a direct, free and easy involvement (or engagement) with the public via the publication and promotion of regular updates and information as well as the active participation of members. Party leaders and their MPs, for example, now commonly have Twitter accounts, giving them the ability to reach their advocates and the general public within a matter of seconds through regularly posted messages or purchased, promoted advertising.

multistepmodel

Additionally, social media has become a leading aspect in the development of the multi-step model of communications, giving reporters and other social influencers the opportunity and platforms to voice their opinions as often and loudly as they like as they record, disseminate and analyse every detail of the UK political sphere, creating a 24/7 news cycle.

The downside of this however is that it has inadvertently given rise in media coverage and popularity of previously socially frowned upon radical right-wing parties, such as the English Defence League and the UK Independence party, who have employed social media to rapidly grow and create a significant political and social impact over the past few years.

The Oxford Internet Survey shows a very definite shift toward online political activism, with the percentage of people who signed an online petition doubling to 14 % between 2007 and 2011 compared to that of those doing this offline falling from 20% to 18% within the same time-frame. Recent research by Demos into the Facebook groups of radical right-wing parties also showed that members and online supporters of these groups are particularly active in comparison to the average ‘fan’, with around 2/3 voting for that party in the last general election, and 1/4 having been involved in a demonstration or strike within the last year – a figure considerably higher than the national average.

One potential reason for this has been argued that online political participation increases individuals’ political efficacy (the confidence they have in feeling they can influence politics). This is something which has been shown to have a strong correlation within research by the Oxford Internet Institute, which suggests that those with low political efficacy are less likely to participate overall in engaging in politics, and when they do participate, it is entirely offline (10% offline to 0% online). This is compared to 60% of internet users with high political efficacy participating politically online.

Personally, I love the way that social media allows not only better engagement with political parties and politics in general, but also a greater scrutiny (and mockery) of MPs and their views. Twitter for example is a common tool in this with, for example, Conservative MP Karl McCartney being left red-faced last year after being caught ‘favouriting’ an image of a naked and tied-up woman with a pillow over her face by the Labour candidate he was standing against in the next general election.

PoliticalOops

Understandably, Mr McCartney quickly explained the situation: He’d been hacked, as he “doesn’t use the ‘fav[sic] button”… despite having a total of 56 ‘favourited tweets’ in the above screenshot…. Methinks that was some quick (albeit not very logical) thinking.