9:35 am - December 22nd 2008
So, last week New Labour’s Derek Draper hosted a breakfast at party HQ, inviting some left-leaning bloggers, party members and technology people to hear what two senior execs at Blue State Digital had to say about working on the Obama campaign. Thanks to hilarious spinning by Guido and Iain, this non-event has taken a life of its own and, since I attended, various people have been asking how it went.
Two points are worth making overall: (a) the Tory bloggers are more deluded than I thought; (b) Derek Draper’s online initatives are misguided.
First, a brief description
Blue State Digital mostly developed the My.BarackObama.com platform that allowed the campaign to roll out customised social networking for the campaign’s supporters. BSD are a very political company; they focus on working with progressive organisations. The event was mostly a Q&A, with the execs recounting their experience in online campaigning, and questions arounf how the model might work here.
The short answer is: with great difficulty. BSD sell platforms rather than small, cheap tools, so they’re out of the league of individual bloggers. They did develop the platform for the successful Firedoglake, and have tools that plug into their own platforms but it’s largely useless for us.
BSD are pitching towards NGOs and political orgs that want to use their flexible VoteBuilder software, which the Democrats use, to gather info on subscribers and hit them with highly targeted emails. The Labour Party is unlikely to use that since it already uses Contact Creator. I’ve heard some trade unions are looking into it, and that is no bad thing since its a good tool.
That is pretty much all that needs to be said of the event. It was Draper’s second event and there’s another planned in January. I doubt I’ll be invited – I asked the BSD people if they had to persuade the Obama campaign to become more open and allow grassroots members to self-organise without trying to assert control over everything, since the Labour Party was anything but democratic at local level. Draper laughed and invited me to join the party and contribute from the inside. I said ‘thanks but no thanks’.
Compass had held a similar, smaller event the day before. BSD are doing the rounds because they are opening an office in London and putting themselves out in there in political / NGO circles.
When self-obsessed right-wing bloggers such as Guido Fawkes think Labour’s strategy is to win the blogosphere battle, they’re more deluded than I thought. Same goes for Harry Phibbs and Iain Dale. Labour wants to win the next election and Derek Draper has enough brain cells to rub together to realise blogging dominance doesn’t mean electoral success. Sure, the Westminster bubble press hacks worship Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes but that doesn’t translate into votes since they preach to the converted.
Tories have nothing to crow about anyway; ConservativeHome is the only project worthy of note and scale, but its externally funded and frequently runs stories the party wouldn’t want out there.
The Conservative Party operations have failed miserably too. Their Stand Up Speak Up help us shape the manifesto website has been quitely ditched. Their new online blog is pretty lame, and going by the examples offered by their new spokesperson, it will remain as such. And that is the extent of the party’s online operations. Even Platform 10 has tumbleweed all over it.
Deluded New Labourites
I get the feeling many within the Labour party, including Derek Draper, think implementing the online technology used by Obama alone can give them the edge. This is deluded. The technology makes it easier for voters to do existing activity: donate money and organise with others to support their candidate. It also allows the campaign to reach voters cheaply and, in certain cases such as micro-targetting, it also offers an edge above traditional voter contact.
But New Labour has to overcome biggers problems first: they need a charismatic leader who can communicate well; they need policies that will appeal to an energised base; they need to reach out to people through grassroots mobilisation. The party isn’t doing enough of it, so even if they bought the entire BSD range of software – it would have little impact.
Saying that, its likely New Labour will launch some sort of a group blog anyway. It will undoubtedly be rubbish. My advice is: forget trying to engage bloggers, spend more effort trying to voters instead.
Other than that it was a decent chinwag. There are plenty of Labour bloggers I get on with and there’s plenty of intelligent people who understand what’s needed, but don’t have access to the upper party hierarchy.
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
· Other posts by Sunny Hundal
Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Labour party ,Media ,Westminster
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