Politicians and the internet

I’ve been looking at the various political parties’ web sites for next week’s elections, and while they’re all fairly boring things the Scottish Tories site was particularly bad: the manifestos available were for the 2001 and 2003 elections, the “find out about your area” link didn’t include the new constituency names, etc etc etc.

Being a cheeky chap, I sent a very sniffy email to the Scots tories’ central office yesterday morning, suggesting that their web site was a pile of pants and that they might want to consider, y’know, actually telling people what their policies are.

This morning, the site has been changed dramatically – and by the looks of it, by someone who actually knows what they’re doing.

[Incidentally, I’d have sent the same email to labour central office, or the SNP, or the Lib Dems, but their sites are all pretty good. It’s not a political thing for me, it’s irritation: I get really annoyed when I want to read something and can’t find it.]

I’m sure it’s a coincidence rather than the result of my email, but if I were a web-savvy tory I’d be shaking my head and wondering why it took them so long. Until this morning, the site’s message was “we can’t be bothered” – hardly the most inspiring way to campaign in a country that’s pretty much a guaranteed labour stronghold.

There’s a certain irony to all of this when you consider that again and again, we’re told that the problem with politics in this country is voter apathy – and some of the parties can’t be arsed to update their web sites.

For any political party, the internet matters. So far I’ve received a grand total of one election leaflet, so if I want to hear the parties’ own words without them being filtered through the media then I have to go online. If I go online and get a four-year-old manifesto (hello tories!) or one that says “it’s pretty much the same as the 2003 one, which you’ll find here” (hello greens! Although I suspect that maybe they’re trying to recycle pixels) I’m not going to come away with a particularly strong impression. After all, how can you be trusted to run a country if you can’t even run a web site?

There’s more to this than mere sloganeering, though – there’s also the way in which special interest groups (positive and negative) use the internet to incredible effect. We’ve seen the results of co-ordinated campaigning by whack-jobs such as Christian Voice, and the white power mob are particularly good at this internet lark. If someone wants to find out about, say, labour’s immigration policy or the Tories’ plans for the health service, it would help if they could actually read the parties’ policy rather than rely on second-hand reportage from racist nut-jobs or religious extremists. By not paying enough attention to their online presence, political parties are effectively playing into the hands of the lunatics.