The Party of European Socialists’ brave and seemingly successful foray into the world of Web 2.0 with the Yourspace blog remains by far the most impressive web initiative I’ve seen by any European party or political group. Why is it so good? It’s a platform aimed at galvanising active supporters, not one where party bigwigs can strut their stuff: it gives them space to write and engage, and promises them something concrete in return – a chance to influence the content of the PES manifesto for the 2009 European elections. Result? Very Obama’esque: excited, active supporters, eager and able to help spread the PES mantra (aided by Yourspace’s multiple outreach channels e.g. a YouTube channel and very active Facebook Group).
The Socialist Group in the European Parliament (PSE) have not been quite as daring, but they do have a section on their site entitled Interactive which contains posts by PSE members, a portal of blogs by PSE members who do not write on the site itself, a forum, and a so-called citizen’s room where people can submit their opinions. The tools are all relevant and I’m especially impressed by this one line from their terms and conditions (assuming it’s true): “The Socialist Group interactive pages are an area for free expression. Only views that are ethically and legally unacceptable are excluded”. However, the section has been hidden away and is not properly introduced. For it to really work, the PSE should make a real splash, sell it on their homepage and in all their other outgoing communications, and explain why they’re doing it e.g. we want to speak directly to you, we need to know where we stand with you, like out parent party, the PES, we want to promote your ideas and concerns, not our own; and so on.
The site of the EPP-ED (the centre-right political group of the European Parliament) is far more static and dull. They present positions, latest press releases and members (Zzzzzz), while the only remotely innovative feature is the online “TV” channel. I did a search on YouTube, where the EEP-ED also have a channel,which appears to show the exact same footage even though there is no link between it and their site. It’s not bad, but I have some objections:
- Why have the channel in two places? Seems like totally pointless duplication.
- It’s all one way. Comments are allowed on both channels, but the moderators are obviously very strict. The only comment on the YouTube channel homepage itself reads “Just wanted to say that you’re doing really good job there” while none of the videos I saw had any comments (even where there were 100s of views). Same on the other channel: I had to look really hard to find one video with a couple of comments.
This approach seems to reflect the French Presidential elections last year, when Sarkozy’s campaign site became little more than a video vault, while Segolene Royal’s approach was far more inclusive. Sure, he won the election, but as Obama’s triumph last month showed, an approach which embraces the web as a tool of engagement and mobilisation, rather than just another one-way broadcast medium where you show yourself in your best light, can work wonders. In an era where the electorate demands a voice, politicians need to show that they’re listening and care; and the best start is to provide a platform where you allow people to openly engage and then actually respond.
Is the left more open to new tools and politics of engagement because it fits their political philosophy? To some extent I do think they are more comfortable with open engagement with constituents, but the main reason why the left on both sides of the pond has been quicker to adopt new tools is clearly born out of need, seeing as the centre-right has held power in the US and most European countries (and thus the EP) for a number of years. It’s a political reality that incumbents are less innovative: their approach won, they’re in power, so why change? In addition, the Conservatives in the UK have a new website which embraces blogging, integration with social networks, online donation, and supporter mobilisation features to the same degree as the Obama campaign did in the US, so it’s not as if parties of the right don’t have it in them. Despite the need to find some better supporters to populate the Show your support page than the current weirdoes on display, it’s really quite an impressive showing.