If the Conservatives’ plan was to set the news agenda on the eve of their conference, they scored a spectacular success this morning. The Guardian leads with a puff for the party’s new website, webcameron.
But if webcameron does turn out to be a significant step in moving political debate away from the mainstream media agenda, “puff” may turn out to be too strong a word.
The Guardian intro reads: “David Cameron will today unveil radical plans to harness the power of the internet by reaching out to a blogging generation that is disaffected and disconnected from mainstream politics.”
All the parties see the web as a way of re-engaging with the electorate long after they gave up on the big rallies and even local hustings meetings. They gave up on meetings partly because of fear that hecklers would steal the TV airtime but largely because they realised that it is a very small number of swing voters who affect the results.
Now they are realising that not only are voters fed-up with being ignored but they have lost much of the power they had to influence the news agenda that the rallies used to give them.
So all the parties are looking to the web as their salvation where they hope they can set their own agenda and, at the moment, the Conservatives are ahead of the game.
Webcameron with its home video quality is impressive. David Cameron, filmed at the kitchen sink with background interruptions from the children, even forgets the name of his own website. Whether that is an artful contrivance or an honest mistake, we do not know.
There is a link to an “open blog” but that is not yet operational. Nor can I see anything about how it will be moderated. In other words, we need to see whether the spin doctors and control freaks in the party HQ are going to allow the “hecklers” back into the political process.
The Guardian story talks about the site taking on “ideas on sharing video and images from YouTube.com and flickr.com, and also social networking sites such as MySpace.”
That sounds rather like trendy political hype for the new site. But the Conservatives have been giving us a lot of surprises in recent months. The Labour party which faces many more months of stagnation before it can have clear leadership and strategy is allowing the Tories plenty of time and freedom to colonise cyberspace.
In the meantime mainstream media also is going to have to give a lot more thought about how it can engage the electorate in political debate.