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20th November, 2011

I walked past the Occupy camp at St Paul’s Cathedral last Monday for the first time. It’s probably just as well I did as the camp has been served eviction notices and soon will likely suffer the same terminal conclusion as its sister protest in New York.

But despite the bumbling right wing propaganda spouted by Boris Johnson last week, the abiding thing that struck me as I walked past the tents was respect for those that believe in a cause so much that they will resort to taking action. Because the fact remains that, despite your politics and whether you agree or disagree with the arguments, the protest has raised a global debate. The largely peaceful demonstrations have brought to the fore an argument that, since the global economic crisis started, has been largely ignored by our politicians and the mainstream media.

Boris’s rhetoric and Bloomberg’s violence has so far been able to quel the column inches this debate has generated. The challenge for the protesters now will be two-fold. Firstly, to continue the debate now that the camps have gone and, secondly, to try and bring about long-term change.

What Occupy challenges us to do is reassess the flavour of capitalism that we think is right and proper. I don’t see this as an anti-capitalist argument, but a question about how we should operate as a capitalist society. That means deciding whether we should take action to ensure fat bankers and immoral rulers are unable to get fatter and more immoral anytime soon.

And, talking of immoral rulers, it is not just capitalism that is under the spotlight but democracy itself, with technocrats talking over across Europe as Peter Beaumont highlights today.

2011 could be a defining year. The year when large swathes of public backlash took rulers and politicians by surprise both in the spring and the autumn.

For us in the western world, it is a time to celebrate our right to freedom of speech and our ability to start a debate that flies in the face of what those in power want us to think.

continue reading: Occupy: a triumph for a belief in a cause...

15th August, 2011

Sometimes I do feel sorry for politicians – of all creeds and colours. Sometimes it must feel like a totally thankless job.

But sometimes they don’t half make things tough for themselves.

Last week, as chaos descended on the country’s capital, David Cameron faced perhaps the first major ‘national crisis’ of his premiership.

Did he pass the test? Here are three reasons why I think his PR strategy last week failed to convince.

Staying away

August is holiday season but as the strikes hit there was a deathly silence from the nation’s politicians.

Cameron did not return to the UK until Tuesday. He did not make a statement in public until Tuesday. And he did not chair a meeting of the country’s emergency council Cobra until Tuesday.

London mayor Boris Johnson had more of an excuse as he was on holiday in the US, but Cameron was only a few hours away on the continent.

This shows a lack of responsibility, a lack of leadership and an inability to properly read the public mood.

Hitting the police

Cameron’s main rhetorical riff when the Commons resumed temporarily on Thursday was to criticise the way the police handled the riots. Blaming the police for what happened was always going to be an easy and perhaps attractive route for Cameron to tred.

But it lacked foresight. At this stage, with riots still fresh in the mind for most, the only criticism coming out of the mouth of any politician should have been directed at the rioters themselves. The time for reflection would come later. (And I should add that the behaviour of some Labour politicians, using the chaos for political gain was also poorly thought through.)

That’s not to say the police are blameless. Much of what has happened last week was mismanaged. There was often a lack of effective communication and I fundamentally believe there are deep-rooted problems with the relationship between our security forces and the communities they are tasked with protecting. But this is another debate for another day, not at a time when most people were merely concerned about the level of protection they, their families and their homes would receive.

Social faux pas

The final mistake from Cameron was his attack on social media. While this perhaps pales into insignificance compared to the first two points, it was still a poor judgement call.

The premise that because the rioters used social media, the technology itself is therefore akin to a force of evil, is so fundamentally flawed it is embarrassing. While I might expect this lunacy from the Daily Mail and other right wing media, I thought educated politicians (and the advisers that work for them) might have more sense.

It seems not. Perhaps Cameron was still in holiday mode as he spewed all sorts of crazy in the commons on Thursday:

“Mr Speaker, everyone watching these horrific actions will be stuck by how they were organised via social media. Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill. And when people are using social media for violence we need to stop them. So we are working with the Police, the intelligence services and industry to look at whether it would be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.”

I don’t like some of the topics and opinions that are aired as a result of social technologies, but that doesn’t mean any government has the right to reduce or restrict freedom of speech.

I hope this was Cameron trying to find (yet another scapegoat) for what has happened, rather than a sign of future Tory party policy.

A losing game

The public haven’t been fooled by Cameron’s PRing last week. A Guardian poll at the weekend found that only 30% thought he did a good job compared to 45% that support police chief Tim Godwin. A further 56% feel the police are currently understaffed. How different this could have been.

By panicing with stuttering, badly thought-through attacks on the police and social networks, Cameron has weakened his own position now and for the debates that are still to come.

So, a tough week for Cameron and, in an age where the media (both traditional, new and social) demand answers and reflection sooner rather than later, it would be legitimate for his staff to argue that he was faced with an impossible situation. But by acting quicker and in a way that resonated more with the man, woman and child on the street, I fail to believe there wouldn’t have been a better outcome for the Dave brand.

photo credit

continue reading: A rock but no hard place: Dave’s riot of a week...

9th May, 2011

As Nick Clegg found out last week at the local elections and AV referendum, the British public doesn’t forget easily.

Clegg portrayed the AV vote as the big concession the Tory party made in joining the coalition. But the truth is that, as with all elections, the electorate simply refuses to focus on the issue in hand and forget everything else. If Nick hoped progressive voters would come out and put their beefs with him to one side in order to support AV, then he was wildy mistaken.

So it is a sad time for progressive politics in this country as a proper debate (we didn’t have a proper debate, only a childish squabble) on electoral reform looks dead in the water for the foreseeable future.

That just leaves Nick to focus on the plight of the Liberal Democrats and here he needs to quickly redefine his narrative and rediscover his voice.

His problems all stem from what was (probably the right) decision to form a coalition with the Tories but fail to get anything like a fair coalition agreement. As Steve Richards says, writing in the Independent: “As so often in politics, the seeds of near destruction were sown at what seemed like a moment of swaggering triumph. In the aftermath of the election Clegg was hailed for negotiating a brilliantly ruthless, cunningly executed deal with the Conservatives. In retrospect he was exhausted, anguished, slightly bewildered, and in the grip of fast-moving events. The Conservatives got all that they wanted…”

All is not lost for Nick. We are only a year into this parliament and four years is a long time in politics (I hope that’s what Mr Milliband is banking on too). He has already made good progress with social mobility and reforming the house of Lords will be another priority for him in the months ahead.

The success he and the Liberals have at the next election will depend on how progressive they can be (or the Tories will let them be) in this coalition and how they can successfully communicate the work they are doing to the electorate.

Good PR depends on communicating the right narrative effectively to you target audience. Clegg hasn’t been able to do this so far (although there are signs this weekend this might be changing). Partly because he has been hampered by the decisions he made in May last year and partly because of the focus on the AV referendum. It’s now time for him to move on from both of these and begin to become a strong voice again in British politics.

Unfortunately for him, this won’t be entirely under his control. Does he have the guts, inclination and drive to succeed?

picture credit

continue reading: Clegg needs to find a new narrative and quickly...

15th March, 2011

I had an interesting chat with Alastair Campbell yesterday. Yes, that’s right, THE Alastair Campbell.

Ok, it was on Twitter and was part of #commschat (the weekly Twitter chat session for the PR industry), but was still a fascinating chance to speak with one of the infamous communication professionals of the last 10 years.

Can digital and politics mix?

The session kicked off by asking whether, in the light of the Coulson affair, we’d seen the last of journalists getting top comms jobs in major organisations. Campbell thought we hadn’t and I asked whether he thought digital might change that.

We had a bit of back and forth where we discussed whether politicians could every truly engage on social channels or whether their tweets and status updates would always been glossed with spin and PR.

Campbell thought this wasn’t the case. I’m not so sure.

The social opportunity?

I’m pretty fascinated by both politics and social media, but I think the way political parties (and some politicians) do (or don’t) use social media is pretty depressing.

The current Government’s attempts to crowd-source policy is merely a limp wristed attempt to seem ‘down with the hoodies kids’ and, for me at least, feels vapid and insincere.

Brands have been (and still are) struggling with the fact social media challenges them to actually talk to their customers in open public forums and even answer the questions they wish weren’t asked.

But forward looking brands are seeing this as an opportunity. An opportunity to answer the critics, to debate and to create positive communities of likeminded individuals that produce advocates and evangelists. It’s not too much of a stretch to see how this could be appealing for politicians too.

Grassroots advocacy

Of course, political diehards will point to websites like ConservativeHome and LabourList to show social media activism at work. And No.10 will point to the PM’s blog, Twitter account and even the Flickr stream. But this ‘arms length’ approach to engagement doesn’t do it for me.

Others will point to the recent so-called social elections in the US and here last May. But, social media didn’t elect Barack Obama and, in the last general election, it didn’t really have that much of an impact. And again, any impact it did have didn’t come from the top, but from grass-roots support.

Maybe it will always be thus. Maybe there is no room in politics for people to be people and to properly engage with others in two way dialogue (except that is when they retire or sit on the backbenches).

Will any senior politician be brave enough to take the plunge or will the modern day Alastair Campbells continue to exert their iron fisted control?

continue reading: My chat with Alastair Campbell; will the PM ever engage social media?...

11th May, 2010

We are living through an unprecedented period of political history in the UK. All three of the major political parties are doing their very best to form some sort of coalition government with the Lib Dems operating as the all important missing link.

As a (relatively) loyal Labour voter (who actually voted Lib Dem this time round due to the tactical voting niceties of the first past the post system), I’m fascinated by the apparent eagerness for the Labour party to try and hold onto some sort of power.

I’ll admit that constitutionally, there is no reason why they shouldn’t. In this country, we don’t vote for our prime minister, we vote for the party in government, so arguments to the contrary by the Tories are just plain stupid.

However, there are a number of reasons in my mind, why a Lab/Lib coalition is a bad move for the Labour party:

  • Lab/Lib would be doomed to fail - the numbers just don’t add up and, even if the Queens Speech and Budget were passed, it wouldn’t be long before the backbenchers started to revolt, let alone the DUP or SNP
  • Public sentiment – whilst it wouldn’t lead to a demise of the government directly, a Lab/Lib Dem coalition is likely to be very unpopular for a number of reasons. This wouldn’t put Labour in a very good position at a future election
  • Time to regroup – the Labour party has suffered greatly at this election (OK, perhaps not as much as was feared, but still not great) and it needs time to rebuild and select a leader that can make a clean break with the past and move forwards
  • Unpopular decisions – whoever enters into government next will have to make a number of really unpopular decisions in what is likely to be a very weak position, not matter what colour the coalition takes
  • Imminent election – again, whoever is in power will not survive very long. Another election is round the corner and the opposition party is likely to be in a stronger position next time round

I have a lot of time for Lib Dem policies and genuinely believe we absolutely need voting reform. But that is not really enough to justify a cobbled together government (at least from Labour’s standpoint) that wouldn’t really survive in any case.

I firmly believe that the best bet for Labour is to enter into opposition, choose a charismatic leader that can really take the party forward, put in place strong opposition to what are likely to be unpopular moves by the tories (and Lib Dems) and get ready to take a running jump at the next election, which is likely to occur in the near to mid future.

continue reading: Why opposition should really be the prize...

14th April, 2010

Following on from my post last week about the digital economy bill, I came across this really interesting infographic from Information is Beautiful, which presents a fascinating side to the debate.

The conclusions are, I think, quite self-explanatory, but it still doesn’t make the bill itself any more justified…

hat tip to Max :)

continue reading: How much do musicians earn online?...

12th April, 2010

I watched with interest the progress of the digital economy bill last week. If you missed the news about it, the Government succeeded in pushing through the bill in the ‘wash-up’ period – the days before parliament is dissolved in preperation for the election.

The DEB brings about a range of new laws and legislations, but the most controversial are the actions that ISPs can now take against illegal file-sharers. ISPs must now send a series of letters to any internet account holder whose line has been used for illegal activities. If the activities still occur, the ISP will be permitted to terminate the account for a certain period.

For me, the bill is a great example of how badly technology is still understood and how difficult this issue is to solve. This bill is clearly intended to root out the worst file-sharers and stop the downloading and sharing of illegal material; but it will do nothing of the sort.

File-sharers will always find ways round the system – the use of VPNs or FTPs have already been touted by many as a way of encrypting the flow of content.

The people this bill will potentially hurt is those who don’t know that illegal activity is happening on their account – parents, small businesses, hotels etc.

Could this even see the end of free Wifi?

For me, this is an incredibly short-sighted bill. One that has come about through intense lobbying by a body that is shit scared of what will happen to it in the future – the music and film industry. And both of the main parties (excluding of course Tom Watson and a few others) are equally to blame.

I have much sympathy for content creators, indeed I used to work in the music industry so know the problems inside out. This is just not the way to deal with it.

When technology is concerned, there is often no quick fix, but there is often plenty of ignorance.

picture credit

continue reading: Technological ignorance and the digital economy bill...

10th March, 2010

Last night I attended a debate on social media and the election hosted by our frenemies, Lewis PR, over at the very flashy Lewis media centre.

Alas it was, I regret to report, mainly a dull affair with the highlights for me being a delightful little montage of ‘thoughts from the general public’ fronted by the very smartly dressed Eb Adeyeri and some entertaining shenanigans with the Twitter wall.

Despite these amusements, in a great example of how not to chair a focused seminar, the event started thirty minutes late, the four speakers (Evening Standard Editor Paul Waugh, Tory MP Jeremy Hunt, Labour ex-minister Tom Watson and Dan Burton from Salesforce who apparently didn’t have a Twitter profile) were given a ludicrous 40 minutes to pitch (it was advertised as 5 minutes each) their pretty mundane and predictable thoughts (including a tedious sales pitch from the sponsor, Dan from Salesforce, on cloud computing of all things! A guy who I hasten to add didn’t then contribute anything further and had to leave halfway through to catch a train! – ouch #whydidyousponsor), leaving very limited time for questions.

The unfocused discussions crawled their way through the predictable traditional versus social media quagmire and much to and froing about whether MPs should be tweeting at all.

The advertised title of can “social media make or break and election” was largely ignored.

So I regret to inform that it therefore falls to me to use the obligatory ‘report on an event I’ve been to’ blog post to give some of my thoughts on the theme of “the impact of social media on the general election”.

TV is going to play a big role

As Tom Watson quite rightly observed, the TV debates will have the biggest effect on this election. Business Zone editor Dan Martin made a good point (on Twitter) when he questioned why it’s taken us so long to even get to this point. And with this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that social media usage by the main political parties is at such a base level.

Social media is not enough on it’s own

Many forget that social media wasn’t really what won the election for Obama. It played a part, but a relatively small one. That’s not to say it couldn’t be a winning formula, but just ‘doing it’ isn’t enough. What Obama did teach us, was that a carefully thought out and executed strategy from day one (take note Mr Cameron) is vital.

Don’t forget Facebook

The debate raged limped around the various merits or not of tweeting and blogging but, as anyone who knows their stuff will tell you, Facebook is where the war can be won or lost. Twitter is the media’s shiny new plaything, but Facebook is where the majority of voters are to be found.

If social media has an impact on the election, it will be from the grassroots

So in the absence of any real strategic planning in terms of social media from any of the main political parties so far (happy to be proved wrong about this), any innovative social media action in terms of the election is likely to come from ‘below’. We’ve already seen Mydavidcameron.com and I expect more grassroots movements like Invincecable before May 6th has been and gone.

If this event taught me anything…

…it’s that the traditional media, despite the valiant efforts of the Paul Waughs and Rory Cellan-Jones of this world, still don’t ‘get’ social media. And similarly, the vast majority of politicians, despite the valiant efforts of the Tom Watsons and Jeremy Hunts of this world, still don’t ‘get’ social media.

If they did, they would realise exactly why spending time using social tools wouldn’t be better spent dreaming up policies that no one knows about.

Winning elections is all about winning the hearts and minds of the punters on the street. And, despite the fact that the Tories are intent spending more of Ashcrofts money on it, billboard ads are no longer cutting the mustard.

What do politicians need to get over the crisis of the expenses scandal?

They need to start engaging with the voters again. And I just wonder whether arming MPs with (cheap) laptops with Tweetdeck (other desktop apps are available) and iPhones, might just be a good starting point and the wake-up call many of them need.

That’s how I’d use social media to win the election. Simple really.

picture credit

continue reading: Why social media won’t but could win the election: #LEWISSMS...

14th January, 2010

If there was any doubt about whether social media would play a big part in the forthcoming general election then mydavidcameron.com is proof.

Last week some spoof images of the Tory’s latest campaign posters started appearing on the Go Fourth Labour blog. This led to Clifford Singer – a creative director at Sparkloop graphic design agency and creator of the Other TaxPayer’s Alliance website – to build mydavidcameron.com (itself a play on the myconservatives.com site) to encourage grassroots supporters to create and upload their own spoof posters.

And today, the Labour party has officially adopted some of the posters as part of their election campaigning by posting them on their website.

This move has got some Tory bloggers up in arms, but as Gordon Macmillan points out, they are all largely missing the point!

What this demonstrates is good engagement with the grassroots of the party and driving engagement from the bottom up – a strategy that is very effective in all forms of social media marketing, but in particular in political campaigning as a certain Mr Obama clearly demonstrated.

Yes, it’s pretty negative, but unfortunately that is UK politics for you and at the moment you feel the Labour party has to play hard to even stand any chance of changing the polls…

continue reading: Mydavidcameron.com – the social election starts...

16th September, 2009

With a general election in the UK less than a year away, I’m fascinated to see how it will play out online, with digital media and social media at a vastly advanced stage compared to 2005, and with Obama’s ‘social media victory’ still fresh in our minds.

As Jon Bernstein points out “remember that when the 2005 General Election campaign kicked off, YouTube was barely a month old.”

So, it was interesting to see the above video as a taste of things to come. It’s going to be an interesting 10 months…

hat tip

continue reading: How the (online) general election will be fought?...