The limits of e-campaigning
The Observer had a piece yesterday carrying the headline (in the online edition) "How the 2010 election will be won by blogs and tweets" (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jan/03/labour-tory-internet-campaigns).
I blog. I tweet (a little bit). I spend far too much time on Facebook.
But none of these activities will have any meaningful impact on my re-election as a Councillor or on helping Labour to win the General Election.
The only way I can usefully do that is by talking to voters. I used to do that on their doorsteps, but now that I'm (hopefully temporarily) in a wheelchair it's phone-canvassing. And writing leaflets and direct mail for other people to deliver.
I'm not a Luddite. I really enjoy new technology.
And it has a great role to play in finding volunteers, organising campaigners through Facebook groups etc, facilitating debate within and between parties, maybe in fundraising, certainly in spreading messages that the mainstream media aren't willing to carry.
But at the end of the day it has two fatal limitations:
- you have to vote by walking to a polling station or post box to post a postal vote. You can't do it online. So online supporters are only any use when it comes to the electoral crunch if a real person can find them at their home, on polling day, to get them to vote. Or if they are prepared to switch their computer off and help with Getting Out the Vote.
- e-communication is hopelessly un-targeted in a political system that is based on geographical wards and constituencies - unless you can get voters email addresses and match them to a geographical database. Otherwise you could spend a good chunk of your election expenses limit on a web campaign and then discover that the people who had been looking at your website and joining your Facebook group didn't live in your ward or constituency or were not registered to vote. There is no substitute for delivering leaflets, mailings or a conversation from a living breathing campaigner direct to the voter. You simply cannot guarantee electronic communications will reach the right electors.
E-campaigning will play a big and important part in the 2010 Election Campaign. But it won't be what wins it. Knocking on doors will win it. Or our record. Or our vision. Or even our policies, though more often these are what lose elections.
Blogs, tweets and Facebook are actually more likely to be what loses a party the election than what wins it. Because as the Damian McBride affair showed, one ill-considered email or tweet or blogpost or Facebook status upset by a candidate or campaigner can provide a lot of ammo for the old-fashioned media to shred a party's campaign with.