Only my most dedicated stalkers will remember my rant a year ago, regarding a by-election in Thatcham South and Crookham, the council ward where I live. I was complaining about the lack of information on the contest, which was eventually won by a lady rejoicing in the name Marvellous Ford. I wrote at the time:
A name you won’t forget, although not ideal for search engine optimisation.
… and right enough, I didn’t forget the name. Which is why it came as quite a surprise to see this in the first Lib Dem leaflet of the Campaign Proper:
A selection of typical local people voicing their support for former MP David Rendel, standing in – gulp! – his sixth successive general election (plus the legendary 1993 by-election). But just a minute, who’s that typical local person second from the left? Marvellous from Thatcham? Really?
Now it’s not as if there are many people called Marvellous in the country, never mind in a small – and for the record, not very ethnically diverse – town like Thatcham. But if you felt the need for total confirmation, a quick check on the local council’s website will instantly confirm that our ‘typical local person’ is indeed the Liberal Democrat councillor for Thatcham South and Crookham.
Every election brings its own fair share of crimes against design. But seriously, if you’re going to pad out your leaflet with senior members of the local party pretending to be The Average Voter In The Street – I’d probably suggest you choose people who are a bit less Google-able.
When it eventually came, after two and a half years of speculation, the announcement of the general election almost felt like a disappointment. But the welcome news finally came this morning: it’s ‘game on’.
Or rather, if you’re a civil servant – off. The day has seen a steady stream of tweets from civil servants (including the guv’nor), plus the odd blog post, warning of a period of ‘radio silence’.
In fact, when it finally came this morning, the official Cabinet Office guidance was pretty light on detail regarding online activity: I’d heard suggestions that some quite detailed rules were being circulated.
I spot a couple of points worth highlighting:
- ‘Films, videos and photographs from departmental libraries or sources should not be made available for use by political Parties. Tools for sharing videos and photographs, such as Flikr (sic) and YouTube should not be updated with new content [but…] material previously published can stand.’
I can see some potential for conflict there: if, let’s say, a photo of a Ministerial visit has gone on Flickr with a CC licence, is that ‘fair game’ for a political leaflet?
- ‘News sections of websites must comply with the advice on press releases… News tickers and other mechanisms should be discontinued for the election period.’
Eh? My assumption is that they mean ‘push’ apps, as opposed to an on-page animation technique; but even so, the wording is a little curious. And I can’t actually think of any specific examples of ‘push’ apps anyway. (Does Twitterfeed count?)
But whilst there’s a requirement to limit ‘civil servants’ participation in a professional capacity in social networks’, I don’t necessarily read that as the draconian ban it might have been. So whilst the government online community’s unanimous decision to go quiet is perfectly understandable, and unquestionably the safest thing to do, I’m not sure the guidance actually demands it.
The calm before the storm, perhaps. Enjoy a couple of weeks’ rest, gang; things could get very busy on 7 May.
It’s been formally announced that BIS (the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) is to move its corporate website over to Sitecore by March next year. Of course, it’ll be a shame to see them moving away from WordPress for the ‘shop window’: but I can say with some certainty that there will still be plenty of WordPress-based activity after the move. 😉
But that March launch date? As you may have noticed, there’s going to have to be a general election in the first half of next year. There are local elections scheduled for 6 May, making it the obvious date to pick for a national poll; although it could be as late as 3 June, and there have been rumours of a date as early as 25 March.
Check your calendars, folks: we’re now into territory where the election date is a factor in even medium-sized web projects. The Cabinet Office’s election guidance isn’t specific about website redesigns, but the thrust of all their advice is to reduce communication activity to a bare minimum during the ‘purdah’ period immediately before polling day. So in the admittedly unlikely event of them calling the election for March, the BIS Sitecore site might have to be mothballed until after Election Day – even if it’s bang on schedule. And then you’re into awkward questions as to whether the behemothic BIS would survive in its current form. It might never see the light of day..?
Sky News has launched a high-profile campaign calling on the leaders of the main political parties to commit to a televised debate – or strictly, several – at the next election. They make a compelling case – pointing out that even Afghanistan managed it. Why on earth, in the year of our Lord two thousand and ten, can’t we?
David Cameron responded almost instantly to Sky’s letter; Nick Clegg has also backed the idea in the past few weeks. Then again, of course they would. So ultimately, it all comes down to the Labour response – although Sky don’t seem to be ruling out the ‘tub of lard’ option.
I find it quite remarkable that we’ve made it to 2010 without TV debates becoming part of the British electoral process. How dare they refuse the electorate a neatly packaged opportunity to ‘compare the market’? (Sorry.) It shouldn’t be about whether each leader thinks it’s strategically advantageous to him or her. Doesn’t the electorate have an absolute right to expect those who wish to lead it to come before them, and present their case using the electorate’s preferred communication medium? And isn’t it reasonable, in a world where media profile is all, for those leadership candidates to demonstrate their competence in that regard?
For once, I think it’s in everyone’s strategic interests to have the debate this time round. Cameron’s good on camera. Clegg needs the exposure. And Labour can’t do any worse. Actually, if I were Labour, I’d be saying yes, specifically with a view to the long term. If we have a debate this time, it’ll be nigh-on impossible not to have one at every future election. And whilst it mightn’t actually help Labour on this occasion, they may well be grateful of the opportunity to embarrass Cameron (or whoever) in four or eight years’ time.
But you know what? I almost think the most compelling reason for doing it, is simply to do it. Because it’s never been done before, and it might spark a bit of interest among the disinterested. And because it means we’ll never have to have this argument again.
PS: Do I need to note that Sky might not be launching this campaign this solely out of a belief in the democratic benefits? It’s in their interests to ‘own’ the issue… otherwise the event would undoubtedly go to the BBC. (And probably still will.)