I’ve written here before about the British National Party’s website, and its impressive use of WordPress – and more recently BuddyPress, the add-on which turns it into Facebook. So it’s only fair that I note how things have changed in the past few weeks: the site now appears to be running on Drupal, and has – for now at least – abandoned most of the social features which made it so interesting.
The circumstances of the migration seem somewhat, well, chaotic. Webmaster Simon Bennett reportedly pulled the website down a couple of days before polling day – why? It very much depends which account you read. Intellectual property infringement, personal vendettas, a jar of Marmite, commission payments, far-leftist collaboration, a South West Conspiracy… make of it what you will. I’m staying well out of it.
The Conservatives won plaudits for the MyConservatives social networking platform they launched at their annual conference; and now the LibDems are slowly getting their own Act together (ho ho). Labourspace remains a bit of a joke. But one UK political party has been quietly developing its own social network for a few months now, with a membership now well in excess of 4,000 – and impressive open-source technology to boot. It’s the BNP.
There was some amusement across the political divide a couple of weeks back, when the BNP unveiled a new website design bearing more than a mild resemblance to BarackObama.com. But I haven’t seen any reference to the addition (or perhaps more accurately, the increased visibility) of its social networking functions based on BuddyPress, the free WordPress add-on often described as ‘Facebook in a box’.
To date, the site has attracted 4370 members – not necessarily party members, as it’s an option (defaulting to ‘no’) on the sign-up form. And as its RSS feed shows, it’s a fairly busy site. Once you’ve joined, you can sign up to any of the 225 groups which attract your interest, many of which have memberships in the hundreds. You can fill out your member profile, as site admin Simon Bennett has done. And just like Facebook, you can look at his friends, the groups he’s joined, and what else he’s been up to on the site. (There’s also a live chat widget on the profile page, if you want to watch site members conversing in real time.)
Looking beyond their politics, if you can, it’s impressive stuff. The BNP’s web activity has long been cited as several times more popular than the other mainstream parties; and if you put any faith in Alexa rankings, it still leaves them for dead. Indeed, Alexa currently ranks the BNP’s site as the 753rd most popular in the UK. There are many possible reasons for this – the BNP’s lack of mainstream media exposure, the inclusion of those social functions within the main party site, possibly also deliberate efforts by party members to boost their rankings. But that doesn’t take away from the achievement.
The fact is, they’re building and nurturing an active online following, which will inevitably help them mobilise – and raise money – come the election. If the mainstream parties could boast such statistics, we’d be talking about a new media revolution in politics.
Late last year, I noted that the British National Party’s website was (by some degree) the most popular among UK political parties – and got dissed by the Telegraph for not linking to it. I wrote at the time that the site wasn’t exactly up to much, and I don’t have reason to visit it regularly. But, in the process of gathering some data on parties’ online activity, I dropped by yesterday… and got quite a shock.
At the start of the year, the BNP relaunched its website. ‘Making the maximum use of the Internet has always been a priority for the BNP because the Party is censored and so misrepresented by the establishment media,’ said an article in their newsletter, Freedom. (Well, yeah, OK, carry on.) ‘The updated website helps fulfil this ambition with the sites new web pages matching and even bettering the traditional news and politics outlets.’ You know what? They’re not entirely exaggerating.
The new site is based on WordPress, and is managing to turn over half a dozen stories daily: a combination of news items and columnists’ contributions, all attracting decent numbers of reader comments, with sharing buttons included. They’re using a well-established, off-the-shelf theme (The Morning After), with a bit of (less than subtle) customisation. The overall effect is very slick, very professional… and yes, their claim about ‘matching and bettering’ probably does stand up.
There’s a wider lesson here. Blogging – by politicians, activists, journalists and amateurs – is now an established part of politics. I know of at least one major government website which is about to relaunch itself in a blog format; now here’s the first political party site to throw itself properly into that game. I dare say it won’t be the last.
PS: The theme they’re using? Designed by an Indian chap. 🙂