Are you a twitter, Lord Mandelson?

With some delay, back to the Labour Party’s new media strategy as laid out at the slightly tongue-in-cheekily named “New Labour, New Media” bloggers’ breakfast on Thursday. It wasn’t just for Labour activists and politically motivated bloggers – there were some trade union officials in the audience too.

First speak was Draper, who insisted that LabourList was independent, and that no-one’s ever told him what to write/not write and who to use/not use. That may be, but the independence claim was slightly undermined by the fact of holding a bloggers’ breakfast at Labour Party HQ to talk about LabourList, complete with high-resolution LabourList.org logos on the LCD screens. Next was Sue McMillan, the Labour Party’s head of new media, who spoke far too quickly and monotonously to grasp what she was saying. The plethora of jargon (“sophisticated platforms”, “strands of thinking”, “new opportunities” etc.) didn’t help.

Greg Jackson of Tangent Labs, the web development firm behind LabourList and Go Fourth, was much better to begin with: “The revolution will not be televised, except it will be – it’ll be on YouTube… and afterwards people will catch up on iPlayer…” Oh dear. He’d obviously written out a cheesy speech in advance and didn’t try to adjust it to suit the occasion or the other speakers. Still, he made some interesting remarks – affirming, for instance, that “Labour lag behind the Tories in the blogosphere.”

After John Prescott and his cheeky video, it was Peter Mandelson’s turn. Mandelson, who (perhaps in a nod to Geoff Hoon) was tapping away on his BlackBerry while Ray Collins spoke, didn’t seem to have prepared many speaking notes: he was hesitant with not a lot to say. What he did say was to backtrack on his earlier assertion that “in new media command and control doesn’t work” slightly. Apparently the distinction between command and control and “inchoate online anarchy” was a “false choice”. “We still need our slogans, we still need our soundbites.” But should they be on the ‘independent’ LabourList? Not clear.

Then came Douglas Alexander, Minister for the General Election, who did his usual thang of talking about campaigning technique. There was “strong academic research”, he said, that people who get texted by party activists on election day are much more likely to vote (and vote the right way, presumably). He spoke approvingly of how the Obama campaign got hold of lots of names and phone numbers (“text numbers”, he called them) by offering the bait of being told – in advance of the media – who Obama’s vice-presidential choice would be.

Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson was interesting on NetMums, the ‘local network’ site where some 550,000 mothers come together to check listings and chat. Their “collective wisdom” was worth pursuing, he said, and any such real-life audience would have MPs and ministers chasing after it.

So – where does this leave Labour? Not all in one place, perhaps. Mandelson’s approach to Web 2.0 sounded frostier than John Prescott’s or Tom Watson’s (both of whom blog a lot more than he does). Sue McMillan said that the Labour Party website wasn’t the place to attract floating voters – so where is it? Is it LabourList, which we were told was independent by its editor? Or is it GoFourth, which is nominally a “Campaign for a Labour Fourth Term” but which seems to be getting caught up on campaigns such as an anti-bankers’ bonuses one, and on trivia about John Prescott? What happens to all the online feedback – can it translate into new or different policies? Douglas Alexander cited the road pricing petition that got over 1.7 million signatures, but acknowledged that online feedback and the wheels of government don’t yet move at the same rate (will they ever be able to?) And just how close to the party and government can a successful Labour-supporting website be? When Greg Jackson said the Tories were ahead of Labour in the blogosphere, I think he meant the likes of Iain Dale and ConservativeHome, not the official Conservative Party Blue Blog.

I mentioned trade unionists, and TUC new media man John Wood has already blogged about this event. One trade unionist noted how their union only has e-mail adresses for a fraction of their members – and that many of those are probably defunct. If those unions are to persuade their members not to vote BNP and to vote Labour instead, that doesn’t bode well.

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4 Responses to “Are you a twitter, Lord Mandelson?”

  1. ash Says:

    useful this.
    tks.

  2. John Says:

    Hey Rene – it was nice to see you there. I think you’re right about the differences of approach here – Alexander and Watson’s 2.0 vs Mandelson’s 1.75, but it’s all an improvement on where we were not too long ago.

    I actually found Sue MacMillan’s piece pretty clear (possibly geek genes or something) in terms of laying out how she was going to spend her limited resources (the party seems to be buying into US style tech, but not into the more expensive US style staffing levels). I do agree with her about the point of the Labour site not being the best place to convince non-Labour people to switch – the visitors are the already converted, it wouldn’t occur to others to check it out – but I don’t think she was meaning any of the other sites would do this themselves either though. Better to empower supporters to do that themselves with their friends and communities – through giving them tools and appropriate materials to make it easier for them to talk politics to people on the web.

  3. Hong Leinhart Says:

    Thank you for the great tip, i need some time to think about this. Are there any forums that you recommend I join ?

    Follow me on Twitter

  4. naeredi Says:

    “Mandelson, who (perhaps in a nod to Geoff Hoon) was tapping away on his BlackBerry while Ray Collins spoke, didn’t seem to have prepared many speaking notes: he was hesitant with not a lot to say. What he did say was to backtrack on his earlier assertion that “in new media command and control doesn’t work” slightly. Apparently the distinction between command and control and “inchoate online anarchy” was a “false choice”. “We still need our slogans, we still need our soundbites.” But should they be on the ‘independent’ LabourList? Not clear.”
    Can about it more?

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