There is no doubt that politicians around the world are getting wise to the benefits of using new media and in 2007 we’re likely to see this phenomenon truly take center stage. Just recently, John Edwards announced his presidential candidacy on YouTube and many of his US counterparts are quickly trying to harness their own online campaigns in a variety of ways.
No better example exists of a modern politician using the internet to get his message across, than with the UK Conservative Party Leader, Dave Cameron.
Last September, Mr Cameron launched his own website: Web Cameron. Featuring both a guest and an open blog, the site’s biggest attraction is its library of videos, mainly featuring the regular podcasts done by Mr Cameron himself. Here is his latest one-:
Only 40 years old, Mr Cameron is the first UK political leader to come from a generation that can truly call itself internet-savvy. As Leader of the Opposition, and with Tony Blair imminently stepping down as Prime Minister, many feel that all Cameron has to do in order to win the next election- is not be Blair or New Labour. The likely successor (albeit temporarily) to Blair’s throne is Gordon Brown, the current Chancellor- a hardened, political realist. But Brown has none of Blair’s charisma or ability to charm the media, and would sooner jump off a cliff than have live podcasts streaming from his personal website every week!
The British voting public is tired and cynical over “political spin”. They feel used and abused by Tony Blair and his spin doctors, most infamously Alistair Campbell, who have twisted and turned one too many a truth into a juicy tabloid headline- leading to an almost complete meltdown of voter enthusiasm or trust. This represents a danger to all parties, including Mr Cameron, with voters no longer willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to politicians in general.
The other dangers that Mr Cameron faces with the voters is that he is perceived as “elitist” and “inexperienced”. From a wealthy family, he graduated from Eton and Oxford, while his wife, Samantha, is an Astor by birth (Waldorf Astoria, Winston Churchill…) and there is no arguing about the fact that the Camerons are “aristocrats”. In modern Britain, this soon translates into “snobs” who are “out of touch” and unable to identify with the common folk’s everyday problems. His work experience has been largely limited to one job- under Michael Green, at Carlton TV.
There is no doubt that Mr Cameron uses his podcasts as a way of soothing the voters’ fears on these three points. His opening podcast, done from his kitchen- while he is washing the dishes and kids screaming in the background – is ALL about saying “hey people- I’m like you – an ordinary guy..”. His site then has a “Ask David” section, where readers send in their tough questions, which are displayed unedited, and answered by Mr Cameron “live”. In other words: “I’m not like Tony Blair- distorting and spinning everything through my PR team- I’m here to answer your concerns head on.” And with his trip to India and the subsequent podcasting and blogging coverage- Mr Cameron is answering his critics again: “I may be young, but I’m a man of the world with new, fresh ideas…”.
Political manipulation, using new media, taken to a new level? You decide. It’s working for Mr Cameron, though, so far…..just see the latest polls in the UK.
We’ll leave the last words to Dave Cameron himself, and his take on blogging and new media-:
Blogging has been a real revelation. Itâ€™s been so exciting for me to feel I can talk directly to you through words and video. Even more exciting was logging on and seeing all your comments day by day. Iâ€™ve got no doubt it will be a central part of our activities over the next few years. The challenge for me personally will be to build in enough diary time to do it properly.â€¦