Politics! The New Internet Sensation!

Posted on April 11, 2009. Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , |

When I last wrote about politics, the global political landscape was in a state of flux, and the full force of the ‘economic downturn’ was yet to be realised. Barack Obama was still Candidate Obama, and Hilary Clinton had a shot at being the first female President of the United States.

That particular political battle, both in the primaries and in the actual election, saw an explosion in the use of different media to engage with the electorate. Blogs (video, standard, and micro variety), social networking groups, photostreams and large scale online donations all made a telling impact during the campaign; so much so that many of the websites and web tools used by the candidates first became known to the wider public through their mention on news channels.

This use of technology by the wider political system has become much more common in the UK in the last two years as well. There have always been political communities on Usenet and websites, and in the last few years there has been a slow spreading of political blogs from commentators like Guido Fawkes, to reporters like Nick Robinson (part of the BBC’s commendable attitude to spreading access to content) and MPs such as Tom Watson.

It used to be that those blogs were written by people who wanted to express themselves online and also happened to be involved in politics. But the tide has been shifting and it seems like the power of being able to connect with people both within the electorate and in the wider world has changed that. More and more politicians and commentators seem to feel that, because of *what they do*, they should be involved in social media. The political web has come of age.

You want a good example of this? How about Daniel Hannan, the Conservative Member for the European Parliament (MEP) representing the South East of England. Despite having written for the Daily Telegraph newspaper for some years, Hannan is not a well known politician; in fact very few British MEPs are. Two weeks ago he posted a new video to his YouTube channel (which he’s been steadily updating for the last year), which was a response he made in that Parliament to Gordon Brown.

The British Prime Minister was in the European Parliament chamber in advance of the G20 meeting held in London a week later (two weeks ago as I type this) and so naturally his speech revolved around the current global and British economic situation. This was Mr Hannan’s response:

His speech has sparked interest across the world, both online (see the YouTube comments), and offline, getting coverage in national media in the UK and the US . This has both raised Mr Hannan’s profile, and also given his arguments a wider audience. Why did the speech get such reaction? I guess there are a number of reasons: it’s unapologetic in it’s criticism, it’s uninterrupted, it’s eloquent, it’s direct and it speaks to people who don’t think their opinions are being heard.

Those people listening who feel it’s the first time they’ve heard someone voicing these opinions have clearly never heard Mr Hannan’s speeches before, nor indeed listened to George Osbourne, the British Shadow Chancellor, speaking at Chancellor’s questions in the House of Commons. But that is the point: YouTube reaches people that newspapers, BBC Parliament and Radio 4 don’t. This is great news for everybody involved in politics, no matter what their affiliation.

At every UK election over the last 10 years, commentators have worried about the apathy of youth in the political process. As more politicians of every stripe engage with commentators, the public and themselves online, political debate will once again spread to cover more people. And that can only be a good thing.


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