The lady's not for YouTube-ing? Says who?

With the long Bank Holiday weekend behind us, Sunday’s Observer piece by Hazel Blears already seems like a distant memory. ‘YouTube if you want to,’ she wrote – somewhat provocatively, on the weekend we recall Margaret Thatcher’s ascension to Downing Street. Quite a soundbite, especially considering her reflection in that same piece that: ‘No government after 12 years in office can compete on slick presentation and clever soundbites.’
Having finally read the piece, it seems much more reasoned and balanced than the coverage would have you believe. The opening clause – ‘When Gordon Brown leads Labour into the next general election’ – wasn’t sufficient to stop ludicrous leadership speculation. Nor were the words ‘I’m not against new media’, nor indeed her previous statements on the subject, enough to prevent people seeing it as anti-YouTube per se.
Blears’s fundamental point, surely, was this: ‘Labour ministers have a collective responsibility for the government’s lamentable failure to get our message across… We need to have a relationship with the voters based on shared instincts and emotions.’ She does not say that YouTube – or any other new media/social tools – aren’t part of this. What she says, correctly, is that they are ‘no substitute’ for proper, face-to-face politics.
‘We need to plug ourselves back into people’s emotions and instincts and sound a little less ministerial and a little more human,’ she writes. I couldn’t agree more. Talking to people in the street is certainly one way to do this. Talking to them online, via a blog or Twitter, is another. Talking down a camera lens can also work. But some methods will work better with certain audiences – and for certain politicians. Not all politicians are gifted writers, or on-camera performers.
Hazel Blears is hitting the nail squarely on the head here. In a year’s time, presumably, we’ll be asked to give this government another 4-5 years in office, on top of the 13 they’ll already have had. Why should we? They need to find a good answer to that very simple question, fast – and then get it out via every channel at their disposal.

6 thoughts on “The lady's not for YouTube-ing? Says who?”

  1. I cringe every time Hazel Blears opens her mouth. Ms Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, while no doubt a trooper, is not and never has been ministerial material. It is a poignant reminder of Blair’s tenure that such second and third rate politicians rose without trace.
    Both Blair and Brown have been badly let down by ministerial dross. Presidential governance sits uneasily in parliamentary systems of government.
    We have been badly let down by the baby boomer generation of politicians, self absorbed and self obsessed, the Tory baby boomers offer little different.

  2. Good points, as ever, Simon and I agree with you about the original article. But I wonder how many activitists Labour have who are prepared to knock on doors. Media – new and otherwise – may be all they’ve got.

  3. Good point yourself, Andrew. A new media approach could certainly be more efficient: a skilled individual could do great things in a couple of evenings, reaching hundreds, thousands, millions. That’s many times more people than you could reach in a couple of evenings knocking on doors. (The key word there, of course, is ‘skilled’.)

  4. Behind Blears’s words there is the assumption that elections are still *only* won and lost on the traditional doorstep, and that hard graft is the only way to make headway with the electorate (and, by definition, as an activist within the Labour Party). Political parties need to be open to online activism too, and Labour is quite a long way away from embracing this…

  5. Probably worth mentioning the hundreds of thousands (possibly millions?) of email addresses that remain at Downing Street’s disposal via epetitions. The project should have been a gateway to further engagement, but it’s languishing. Shame.

  6. Good points by Andrew, Simon and Jon. The tragedy of “new” Labour is that it failed to build on, encourage and support the 450,000 members it had in 1997.
    In 1998 I supervised the MEP candidate selection process for Central London. Already, at that date, membership was in freefall. Largely because loyal local activists were being sidelined by young, bright eyed and bushy tailed new activists who had little time for knocking on doors, telephoning, leafleting etc.
    Many of the older members, who stuffed the envelopes and canvassed door to door, left the party in droves because they felt undervalued and not wanted. Many were wrongly tagged as old Labour leftists. Most were white collar public sector professionals, in their 30s and 40s, who felt marginalised and sidelined by a younger clique emergent in CLPs.
    Neil makes a good point. It was its mailing lists that Obama’s team used carefully, judiciously and in a targeted way. The Downing Street and other departments’ e-mail lists are an invaluable tool and could be more carefully used.

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