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e-democracy

When is a politician like a radio alarm clock. . . ?

MPs are getting better at using the internet, but the conversation tends to be one-way, reports the BBC today. I came to with this report emanating  from my radio alarm clock this morning, via Radio Four’s Today programme.

The report found new media remained an “untapped area” for political engagement. And Andy Williamson, director of the eDemocracy programme of the Hansard Society, who wrote the report said “MPs are transmitting and not receiving.” Just like my radio alarm clock.

It seems politicians are using the web for organising supporters and for campaigns but not for opening up communication with people. Perhaps they are just not used to that and nothing, not even cool new online tools like Twitter will change that – at least not for a few more years.

While we can’t expect all MPs to be interested in using the internet, it seems like a wasted opportunity for those politicians guilty of “talking not listening” on the web. Using blogs or Twitter is a really easy, quick way to ‘do’ consultation and quickly receive feedback from people. I mean is face-to-face contact with MPs that important? Who goes to MPs’ surgeries anyway. I’ll bet the turnout is much lower than daily user of the ‘www.’

On the other hand, you can understand fears that blogs will become a forum for abuse as Hansard notes, but blogs can be set to send an email to administrators to before responses are published. As Paul Perrin on the MySociety general purpose discussion list so eloquently put it today: “I think the problem with MPs is that they are oily rags, not
mechanics. Most of the things people want changed/sorted are handled at a higher level. They can be a conduit, but a direct FoI request is probably quicker.”

Another factor is perhaps MPs aren’t in the habit of successfully reaching out to new voters and instead adopt a ‘better the devil you know’ stance in this respect. But for those who want to reach a new electorate – and not necessarily a more youthful one – I can think of no better place than the web.

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