The Conservatives are having their conference in Birmingham this week, and despite Brown’s speech last week closing the gap the Labour Party is still on course for the worse drumming in an election since Michael Foot was leader in the 1980s with a manifesto described as the longest suicide note in history.
However, it is easy to be popular when you tap into people’s resentment. The real question is what policy alternatives do you have? Whether this is just a gimmick to engage the public or they really do not have a clue on this is unclear. They have opened up policy discussion on their blog to make suggestions for what policy might be on the Conservative Website. Just as Gordon Brown borrowed from America his wife introducing him before his speech, this idea comes from Obama’s website.
George Osbourne (Conservative Shadow Chancellor) made the point in 2006 on blogs:
In politics and in the media we’ve both assumed that we do the talking and the people listen. Now the people are talking back.
It’s exciting, liberating, challenging and frightening too.
There are 57 million blogs and the number increases by 100,000 every single day.
Over 125 million people have created their own MySpace page – and 250,000 new people do so each week.
This is not quite virtual democracy, uniting the world. The majority of the world’s inhabitants do not have access to global communications. In 2006 only 57% of UK households had access to the internet. The other point is the impact by which using this medium has on the political process. Organising could not be easier – just start a facebook group, send some chain e mails around. Contacting elected representatives is as easy as a few key strokes. You can write a blog, with no one to edit your content. Political parties are encouraging people to target blogs with comments.
I can see where this is heading. Regime change by blogging, and commenting. It could even be used to encourage dissent, rather than by supplying money or arms, by positive comments to a blogger to keep on undermining a government with their criticism. Or creating blog accounts to coordinate rumour mills in the digital internet age to shape events in the real world through cyberspace. Blogs written by covert agents of the state to influence people both foreign and domestic.
On the one hand a force for good, but also one for conspiracy. Just another medium for the propaganda war. The real significance of what the Conservative Party is doing is making existing activists feel more motivated to take part, and garnering publicity. They can perhaps dream of the website contributing to party funds the way it did for Obama. Cameron lacks the inspiring qualities that make people jump up from their seats and extend their wallets to be part of a movement for change.
Are we too cynical to think change is ever going to happen, or do we just lack a charismatic leader that could inspire us that way here in the UK? Well we did have such a politician that knew how to raise the roof, and in many ways it made me a political activist because I could see the things that needed change. That was Tony Blair, and in many ways I think it is easy for us to forget how popular he was when first elected as we remember him now for Iraq and unfounded public loyalty to George Bush defending the indefensible.
In a world full of bloggers you will not please them all, but you will get widespread opinion out there. But the person busy typing away is still a human being. One motivated to get their message across to people, or vain enough to think people will read and take notice of what is said. The internet offers new opportunities – it does not however change the nature of the political animal.
If politics has taught us anything though, it is that governments have their own agendas often shaped by things beyond the public’s control. It is not so much us the people that influence policy as legitimise a group to formulate and enact them on our behalf. We have the power of veto by removing a government for a particular bad policy. However, with George W Bush and Tony Blair reelected after sending troops to Iraq and the incompetence and human rights violations that entailed I do not have the confidence in the electorate being relied on to exercise that veto. But if it is business as usual when you change the faces then what real power do you have?
If you want change it is not enough to just change the people in office:
‘Those who have changed the universe have never done it by changing officials, but always by inspiring the people.’ (Napoleon)
It is often said that power ultimately rests with the citizen if only we exercised it. Perhaps that is where blogging may work in communicating ideas. The change it gives birth too though may be as effective as writing down your frustrations and grievances in a notebook which you keep under your pillow. It makes you feel better having got it off your chest – but are you actually using it as a call to action on others, to inspire others to change the universe?
It is a battle of ideas, with cynicism being the barricade on the way to progress. But that cynicism is not just other people, but what we can have ourselves. Because sometimes we may think even a small thing will not make the difference, and that a blog is no more an instrument for change then a notebook under a pillow. Yet we can do more then dream on them:
Each time a person stands up for an ideal,
or acts to improve the lot of others…
he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope,
and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring,
those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. (Robert Kennedy)
I suppose the real secret if you can inspire people is not to get killed for doing it.