Politics is a sphere of social life which utilizes a plethora of instruments. Ingenuity mobilization usually occurs on the eve of elections. The task of political technologists is to design such a campaign for their candidate that would meet the local demands and political peculiarities of the country and at the same time to be attractive and persuasive for the body of electors. Mass media are actively involved in this activity.
Means of mass communication began to play a significant role in politics since the publishing of the first newspaper. Throughout history they advanced, and the 20th century presented a rather radical innovation – Internet. The speed of information flow is immense there, as well as the amount of recipients. Almost every sphere of social life can be mirrored in the web and even add new features inaccessible offline. Naturally, political technologists began actively to implement the Internet for various purposes. The contribution of the World Wide Web is especially essential during electoral campaigns. Its peculiarities have not been investigated to the fullest measure, but the potential and effectiveness of this medium can already be stated. One of the examples of successful use of Internet in politics is the appearance of blogs of politicians. With the help of personal blogs the candidates make a statement of proximity to common people; blogs help create the illusory sense of camaraderie between the political figure and potential electors. At the same time, however, every wrong step of the public person can easily be traced and spread through the whole web extremely rapidly. In this regard, one of the major concerns of politicians should be keeping their unblemished image as well as securing the appearance of truthful materials on the web pages associated with them.
Great Britain as a part of the UK is one of the most advanced countries in the world. Nevertheless, in a lot of aspects of its social life, including the political sphere, this state is characterized by strict traditional approach. With the present changes in the political landscape of the country, it appears essential to investigate the impact of traditionalism on digital campaigning in Great Britain. This national feature can be considered as the major factor in defining the advantages and flaws of the online presence of MP candidates and parties running in the elections.
The purpose of the given paper is to define the role of Internet for General Elections which took place in Great Britain in 2010. In this context, prior to approaching this specific topic it is crucial to analyze the general impact of Internet on modern politics and reveal its influence on Great Britain’s internal affairs in particular, with regard to the peculiarities of the British political system. The main applied methodology of the paper is content analysis implemented in order to investigate the qualitative aspect of the online presence of various political parties in Great Britain. The overall picture can only be obtained by the engagement of data on all participants of 2010 elections in spite of the results achieved by them. In this light, the paper will investigate the effectiveness of the parties’ websites and other technologies of digital campaigning both for the major parties and for the minority ones. Alongside with the data analysis, the paper will offer some practical recommendations for the British political parties to improve their online presence.
1. Internet as a Tool in Politics
When Internet appeared, it was hard to predict to what extent it can evolve but it was also clear that this invention is likely to change the world. However, it should be said that a fair share of positive predictions cannot be justified. Levin (2002) mentions, for instance, that a democratic America was ready to even deeper democratization at the verge of Internet era, with experts predicting immense expansion of voter’s participation and elimination of corruption in politics. It goes without saying that disappointment resulting from such high hopes is rather overwhelming. Nevertheless, over a decade after publishing the article by Levin Internet changed dramatically. Cyber-utopias were not fulfilled, but, at the same time, Internet is much more developed, sophisticated and interactive than it was in 2002. In a decade from 2000 to 2010, the growth rate of Internet users grew by 445%, and now the number of people who use this technology is almost 1.97 billion, one third of the global population (Azab, 2012). Such statistics allows stating that the hypotheses suggested at the beginning of the twenty first century could not even nearly predict such a growth. It does not mean that the experts of early 2000’s were completely incorrect and that Internet proved to be much potent tool than expected; it simply implies that severe criticism of those years should be treated with careful elaboration.
Another group of experts was skeptical from the very beginning and at least found themselves not disappointed when their low expectations were realized. The basis of such skepticism is in the fact that they largely treated Internet as simply another technology. Such scholars did not believe that a new medium is capable to either enhance or deteriorate democratic endeavors or introduce any radical changes into the power allocation or political structures. It was also pointed out that Internet would continue to be a limiting means creating new elite strata of society and empowering it instead of embracing all citizens (Lilleker, Pack & Jackson, 2010). This attitude was supported by the results of research stating that Internet does not even influence on the citizens in the measure it was predicted: people who are actively politically engaged in Internet exhibited the same interest in this sphere before the appearance of this new medium (Van Aelst & Walgrave, 2002). The authors also argue that Internet as a kind of information and communication technologies (ICT) helps achieving a certain international gathering but as a tool of creating long-lasting movements it is potentially weak. Besides, in regard to mobilization, global experience shows that the web was a supplementary technology and not the main driving force.
The same idea is supported by Azab (2012) who investigated the role of Internet in evolving of the “Arab Spring”. The scholar claims that citizens of Egypt treated Internet as a potential tool of facilitating the political change, but experts still assess its potential only in terms of information service and means of mobilization. However, the report of Canadian Security Intelligent Service, Van Aelst and Walgrave agree with the idea that Internet will continue to be used in globalization movements and serve collective aims in many ways, from defining the targets of social protest to raising the needed money.
The interactivity – one of the most important feature of Internet in politics
Most of the citizens, however, find it hard to differentiate between human interaction and media, basic functional constituents of Internet (Cwalina, Falkowski & Newman, 2011). To this purpose, American scholars conducted an experiment in order to define the way citizens understand the role of Internet in electoral campaigns and the impact they have on this process as users of Internet. The participants were asked to browse through the websites of the candidates and leave their comments. The study revealed that Americans see a definite potential in Internet as a political tool but at the same time do not consider it to be an effective means of communication because the politicians do not use this feature to the full capacity.
In regard to the role of Internet in electoral campaigns, it should be noted that this medium is mostly used for advertising. It means that candidates rather use Internet as a tool for political marketing, not as a means of increasing political awareness of the constituents. Practically all sites developed especially for the upcoming elections prove to be directed at dissemination of information and persuasion. Considerably smaller amount of them is devoted to delivering facts about politics in general or encouraged political discussion (Cwalina, Falkowski & Newman, 2011). On the other hand, such peculiarity can be justified by the nature of the electoral campaign: it is aimed at gathering the votes, and the additional components of communication between the candidate and the voters come out of focus.
Cantijoch, Cutts and Gibson (2011) connected the aspect of the subjects of politics and their civil activity. The results of their findings reveal that political participation of the citizens can be expressed in numerous ways depending on the level of involvement in the political life of the country and behavioral patterns (marked by various formality degrees). It enabled them to delimit e-formal, e-expressive and e-information gathering activities. E-expressive ones are the most interactive as they facilitate the political dialogue and create favorable conditions for the exchange of ideas. The findings of the scholars reveal one important aspect: the access to information actually increases the citizens’ stimuli to voting. Political technologists of the digital campaigning as well as common candidates should take this valuable note into account. Their main goal is to achieve maximum support from the constituents, and the availability of information about them and their political platforms in various media, including the most recent and popular one, will certainly be beneficial for chances to succeed.
Blogging differs from websites of political parties in terms of strategy. Scientists claim that as opposed to the other form of Internet campaigning, they do provide bilateral communication. They seem to be more appealing to the voters due to informal writing style; it is one of the means of approaching the electorate. Unlike websites, blogs do not present the candidate’s political platform and his competences for the position. They serve as ice-breakers because of their ability to facilitate interaction through the use of conversational tone. As a result, blogs are rather aimed at building relations, which is a beneficial and more effective factor compared to electoral websites which are usually limited in their operation time. Bloggers are not necessarily hired by the candidates. The peculiarity of Internet is its independence spreading to the ability of common people knowledgeable in certain spheres to act like agents of citizen journalism (Storck, 2011). With a prudent blog promotion a skillful citizen journalist can earn more respect among the voters than formally speaking political technologists.
The role of Youtube
Web 2.0 enabled combining different types of media online. Another influential resource for politics is YouTube. 2006 elections due to the extensive use of this video sharing portal were marked by the analysts as “the YouTube elections” (Lizza, 2006). On the one hand, this website presents an opportunity for immediate interaction, but, on the other hand, it is impossible to control information appearing on it. Staff members hired by the 2006 campaigners, as Lizza reports, could only partially oversee the videos uploaded by bloggers. Thus, politicians who refer to this popular resource must be aware of negative campaigning (Cwalina, Falkowski & Newman, 2011).
The role of YouTube for politics is especially significant due to the nature of this web resource: videos posted there can acquire a form of live broadcasted reality shows, which will have a significant impact on the privacy of political figures. Probably, it outlines the trend existing in the democratic society and implying that political life should become maximum transparent and accessible for the public.
YouTube is aimed at the young audience which tends to be politically passive. This feature of the website provides two polar conclusions. Firstly, campaigning with the use of videos posted online makes it possible to get the youngest of constituents interested and, thus, win their support. Secondly, low amounts of interest partly eliminate the possible negative advertising and loss of voters due to some unflattering exposures of the candidates (Lizza, 2006). It should be noted that younger voters are in focus of any digital campaigning involving the use of Internet and social media (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, 2010). YouTube is effective in this regard due to its popularity among the youth and passive perception of the content. Thus, age factor must be taken into consideration while designing digital campaigns.
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The role of Internet for politics
As Cwalina, Falkowski and Newman (2011) mention, when this medium appeared, politicians were not active in utilizing it and the absence of Internet strategy for a campaigner was a usual deal. The scientists call the modern electoral campaigns “hypermedia” due to the extensive use of mass media, and mention the 2008 elections in the USA as a bright example. The authors mention that a large share in Obama’s victory was contributed by the rational use of social networks. Summarizing the impact of Internet on politics they maintain that it has made “politicians more accountable, campaigns more interactive, and the public more engaged”.
2008 elections in the USA changed the attitude towards the use of Internet for political purposes. The Obama campaign is considered to be unprecedented. The financial support of the campaign granted by Internet equals hundreds of millions dollars. All the contributors had a chance to get the latest news on the pre-electoral events through social networks (Cwalina, Falkowski & Newman, 2011). The prudent policy of Barack Obama whose appeal for changes in society was tightly connected with the use of new means for achieving these transformations brought him a victory over McCain. The outcome of 2008 elections in the USA brought another important insight concerning the future of political use of Internet. Analysts believe that the use of social networks in an electoral campaign has a great potential of becoming an indispensable part of political life in democratic countries.
The Role of Internet for Non-Democratic Regimes
Political use of Internet seems to be characteristic to the states with democratic regimes. Close connections between the development of the World Wide Web and democracy have been established (Groshek, 2009). In this regard, it is necessary to refer to the use of the web in the context of authoritarian countries. It should be noted that this sphere of political studies has not been given enough scientific attention. Most of the researches of political scientists have been devoted to the study of E-democracy and such aspects as online voting and interaction of citizens with the representatives of the authority with the help of Internet technologies. At the same time, a very important aspect of E-authoritarianism has been given little investigation (Snyder, 2006).
The peculiar feature of such regimes is tight governmental control over all the spheres of social life, including the use of Internet. It derives from a popular idea of the destination of this medium: it enables the circulation of information and free expression of one’s thoughts (Michaelsen, 2011). Information is acknowledged to be the main facet of control and political power. Notably, this peculiarity can be observed in both democratic and authoritarian countries (Snyder, 2006). Logically, it can be assumed that in non-democracies control over Internet is one of the manifestations of the overall limitations of the freedom of speech. However, not all the experts have pessimistic on this point. Boas (2006) claims, for example, that together with strict control authoritarian governments manage to promote the development of this medium. This evidence proves the falseness of the idea that Internet is effective in democracy only. Such attitudes were widespread in 1990’s when the digital revolution only began to unfold.
The study by Boas presents value due to the presence of comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon of political use of Internet. The scholar argues that this medium is a tool of a neutral kind, and its utilization largely depends on the ones who operate it. Storck (2011) agrees with him referring to the wrongness of the assumptions of cyber-utopians who anticipated Internet to either promote total democracy or to breed global xenophobia. The scholar also states that every authoritarian country uses the web differently, thus no general conclusions on the issue can be made. It means that the conviction that Internet is purely a democratic invention is fundamentally incorrect. Besides, democratic regimes can also resort to control of the medium, and the policy of the USA after September 11 attacks is a bright illustration to it. The government justifies this partial surveillance by security considerations, and in this case one cannot speak about the non-democratic nature of this approach.
Internet – carrier of democracy
On the one hand, as long as authoritarian leaders continue to censor the web and introduce various technological and content limitations, it will continue to present obstacles for democratization (Groshek, 2009). It proves that the role of Internet for developing civil freedoms is rather significant. Groshek also presents arguments for the opposite approach claiming that in order for Internet to achieve its full democratization potential the environment where this process should take place must already be on the way to liberalization. This idea supports the theories of the scholars who consider the web to be rather a catalyst than a guarantee of social changes.
A feature connecting the use of Internet in democratic and authoritarian countries is the fact that both regimes refer to “virtual mobilization” (Snyder, 2006). It proves to be efficient in America with Howard Dean’s campaign (Lusoli & Ward, 2005), and its potential in non-democratic countries is also immense. This facet has been acknowledged by the experts already at the verge of Internet era. It allows concluding that the most potent power of the web, that of gathering large masses in short terms, is an undeniable asset of the technology regardless of the regime where it is implemented.
Introduction of Internet into politics already breeds serious concern. They are connected both with general and specific issues like its impact on the election process. For instance, opponents of YouTube and social media as political tools claim that nowadays it is hard to predict the possible outcomes of extremities in keeping the approach of “the open elections”. Thus, some of the experts anticipate that the loss of spontaneity produced by permanent readiness of the politicians with all the speeches prepared beforehand will significant harm the diversity of political discourse (Lizza, 2006). Internet also troubles political scientists due to the fact that it is likely to lead to intellectual isolation of the citizens, elimination of privacy and excessive haste in political decisions (Levin, 2002). The latter comments are related to the USA, i.e. the country that nowadays is the most active and efficient in using Internet technologies in politics. Thus, the outcomes of Internet politics are hard to predict, for this medium changes very rapidly due to constant development. With this regard, attitude towards it should be unbiased and devoid of undue dramatizing.
The role of Internet is clearly revealed in democratic countries. This tool is used in order to facilitate transparency of politics and promote more communication between the politicians and citizens. The use of Internet during campaigning appears to be especially effective for the focus group of young constituents.
2. Political System in Great Britain
In order to understand the influence of various media, including Internet, on the flow and outcomes of the elections in any country, it is crucial to understand the political system of this country. Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights outlines the peculiarities of the political system of Great Britain in the background and political context section of its election assessment mission report (2010).
Great Britain is a part of the United Kingdom, a constitutional monarchy with the royal being the official head of the state but the functional responsibilities resting with the parliament guided by constitution. This is a democratic form of rule. General Elections present a procedure of choosing the political content of the Parliament by the subjects of the monarchy. Prime Minister, who is the leader of the party which gained the most efficient support at the elections, becomes the head of the British government which represents the executive power. The legislative state authority is vested upon the bicameral parliament consisting of the House of Lords (740 peers on lifelong hereditary service) and the House of Commons (650 MPs appointed in the outcome of the elections). The decision power is unequal for these chambers; in disputable situations the final word belongs to the winners of public elections. Although this modern monarchy is a democratic country with political plurality, in practice only two major parties are more likely to gather the majority of votes in Great Britain. They are the Labor and the Conservative parties.
A voter in the UK is the subject of the monarchy who is 8 years old at least on election’s day having previously registered. Citizens who live abroad may vote by post or proxy, but prior registration is also obligatory to them. The elections in Great Britain are held in single member constituents (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, 2010). Currently Great Britain uses first-past-the-post system implying that the seats of the parliament are allocated according to preference to the winning party (Hix, Johnston & McLean, 2010). Single-member system is politically opposed to the proportional one and is referred to as majoritarian. Such an election feature produces a balanced party system and promotes the general predisposition of Great Britain to two-party system, for it enables the main power-holders alternate (Birch, 2005). The elected MPs can hold their positions up to five years; prolongation of this term demands a special query of Prime Minister to the monarch. It should be noted that Northern Ireland which together with Great Britain forms the UK is also separate in terms of electoral system. Thus, seats in the Irish parliament are never contested by the British MPs, and in the same way nationalist parties of Ireland do not run in the election of Great Britain (Hix, Johnston & McLean, 2010).
It should also be understood that the domains of formal obligations and that of the real situation vary greatly. As quoted by Lilleker, Pack & Jackson (2010), the ultimate goal of every political force is to gain and maintain power or influence on the power-holders. The scholars emphasize that the ideal representation of the MPs as “developers of ideas, recruiters of political leaders and enhancers of parliamentary government” becomes outdated and yields to modern considerations.
New trends in the British politics investigated by Lusoli and Ward (2004)
Some of the notable findings of the scholars include growing oppositions within the parties triggered by the refusal of some MPs to lobby the interests of their party in the Parliament, the increase of loyalty to the local constituencies of MPs and the general growth of professionalism (implying the appearance of the so-called “career politicians”). All these tendencies gradually lead to the shift of representational role of the Parliament reinforced by the technological progress of the society.
Political system in Great Britain is a result of centuries-long traditions. No major alternations have been introduced to it for ages. However, technological revolution already influences on some aspects of the British political life. It offers the use of new technologies and enhances the involvement of the subjects of the monarchy in state issues.
Political positions of the British parties find their reflection in their Internet activities. A notable aspect which link offline and online political presence of the parties is the existence of the same disposition of powers. This fact was marked by Lilleker, Pack and Jackson (2010) who claim that disparities in real life in terms of accessibility of resources and media continue in digital politics. Such a situation favors more extended and effective online presence of two major parties. With respect to smaller parties, they are less likely to be active in the web regardless of their history of parliamentary work. The scholars maintain that the opinions of their colleagues divided to form two approaches to the expression of the party’s status by its online activity. Politics-as-usual hypothesis implies that the balance of political powers is retained in Internet. Adherents of the equalization hypothesis claim that smaller parties have the same access to communication channels offered by this medium as the large ones. The second approach is also supported by political technologists of the smaller parties who approach Internet as their chance to obtain seats in the Parliament. Such an opportunity was absent before the web era. These reflections will be the subject matter of the next chapter.
3. Usage of Internet Politics in Great Britain
As Internet developed, it began to play more important role in the world politics. Traces of the digital influence on this sphere of social life can also be found in Great Britain which has an experience in E-politics of more than a decade. Of course, it would be incorrect to suggest that the first digital movements in British politics were original and ingenious. The country entered a new phase in its social life followed by the successful examples of other states. Experts claim, for instance, that communication in Internet as a part of E-politics in Great Britain was considerably contributed by the bandwagon effect of the foreign colleagues of the British politicians (Lilleker, Pack & Jackson, 2010). It implies that observing the active actions of the opponents encourages to one’s own actions. Such a healthy competition in the politics of the country turned out to be beneficial for it enabled to develop new strategies and apply new technologies. Discontent of the scholars, however, stems from the comparison of the British E-politics activity to the one of other countries. For instance, Lusoli and Ward (2005) claim that participation of the UK’s citizens in online politics in rather low, and in 2005 campaign only 3% of the voters visited the sites of the parties or the candidates.
As if has already been mentioned before, all the experts tend to measure the effectiveness of digital campaigning by the one achieved by Obama in 2008. Naturally, it is difficult to create something compatible under such an international pressure, and the analysts should take it into account while expressing too harsh criticism towards the candidates of Great Britain’s General Elections 2010.
The analysis of the experts’ opinion reveals that before the expectations about the web becoming too high, the general role of this medium for political life of the country was assessed positively. Some of the experts, for example, claim that the use of e-mails exerts some impact on the political life in Great Britain. It is explained by the greater availability of e-mail addresses of the members of the Parliament to the general public (Jackson, 2003). The politicians, however, tend to resort to it more as to a channel of distributing and not exchanging of information during the campaign. Generally, agreeing with the colleagues, Jackson also states that the level of involvement of Internet technologies in Great Britain is at the initial level, and it would take much time and resources in order to increase the impact of the World Wide Web on politics and participating in elections.
Lusoli and Ward (2004) claim that the level of the online presence of the British politicians is still low. According to them, the Parliament has not yet adapted to the new information communication technologies, which considerably damages its performance. The scholars investigate the new trends such as increased role of constituency service and introducing a new approach to political representation based on more individualized and proactive attitude. The way the Internet can influence on the work of MPs is threefold: relations between the constituency and MPs (which became more interactive and close with application of Internet technologies), relations between MPs and their parties (the web allowing increased individualism) and policy campaigning. Based on this approach, Lusoli and Ward offer three scenarios of interaction of MPs and ICT: modernization, reinvigoration and erosion. Having conducted a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the online presence of British MPs, the scholars conclude that E-politics is rather a modernization step than the paradigm-altering phenomenon. Like a lot of their colleagues, Lusoli and Ward are more inclined to the idea that Internet cannot compensate for low interest or consistent mistrust to the institution of national politics. Besides, public perception of political figures has hardly undergone any crucial changes in Britain with the beginning of Internet era. The overall impact of the web on parliamentary democracy is assessed as marginal. These findings prove that Great Britain is rather a perspective than an active country in terms of effectiveness of E-politics.
Disappointment in digital campaigning
One of the common ideas spread among the political scientists explains the disappointment in digital campaigning in Great Britain by incorrect usage of Internet technologies. It is maintained that as long as British politicians, especially Conservatives, continue addressing “marketing driven concepts of online campaigning”, digital electoral technologies will bring no success (Williamson, Miller & Fallon, 2010). In such a way, a right choice of the approach to digital campaigning is crucial. Hence, Britain with its stable and traditional political history does not seem to be ready for accepting the simple truth that in order to attract large masses of supporters it is necessary to treat them like citizens, like voters. Instead, the MPs continue resorting to downright marketing strategies dictated by the market-oriented worldviews. Probably, such an approach is enrooted deeper than it may seem at the first glance. Moloney(2004) mentions that political marketing is the logical result of the overall “marketization” of the British culture. It is understandable that such serious social tendencies are not easy to eliminate, but regarding the future electoral campaigns it is useful to remember that in 2008 Barack Obama proved the advantages of the opposite approach, and the British political figures should also consider it.
Develop of E-politics
Assessing the role of the internet for political life of Great Britain, experts claim that it has already found its place in the paradigm and became an irreplaceable necessity, especially at the verge of the elections. On the one hand, the scope of changes it has introduced to the political landscape of the country may be deemed insignificant, thus, disappointing, with regard to great expectations vested into this new medium. On the other hand, some analysts argue that the phenomenon of digital campaigning have not been thoroughly investigated yet. In other words, means for the study of the role of the web in E-politics might not yet be developed to the fullest measure, as Andy Williamson (2010) suggests. The scholar maintains that the research of the internet within the domain of politics may be subjected to the same difficulties as the phenomenon of the web itself at the period when it just entered the lives of people. According to Williamson, the effects of E-politics may simply be subtle, but this fact does not eliminate the existence of the notion.
Summarizing their analysis, Williamson, Miller & Fallon claim that the effect of Internet on electoral campaigning is insignificant and it is unlikely to gain in value in the nearest future. They offer to treat the World Wide Web as a supplementary tool for supporting the existing channels of communication between the candidates and the electorate.
Since 2003, Internet has advanced greatly as well as E-political technologies. E-mails, mentioned as relation-enhancing technology for MPs, are now considered to be an outdated means of communication. In Great Britain there are a number of reasons hindering active development of digital campaigning compared to the other countries. These causes are to be analyzed in the subsequent chapters. Particularly, the results of the digital campaigns of the political parties presented at the elections of 2010 in Great Britain will be analyzed from the view point of adherence to either politics-as-usual hypothesis or equalization hypothesis. These findings will help establish certain trends in the modern political life of the country and elaborate recommendations for improvement of digital campaigning.
4. The Overview of 2010 General Elections
The situation in Great Britain prior to the beginning of the electoral campaign was rather tense. Unfortunately for the candidates, the topic of MPs expenses prevailed in the headlines of British and world press again presenting the elective representatives of people in very unfavorable light. The Telegraph reported that the civil indignation reflected in the emergence of 47 independent candidates to compete with MPs whose expenses claims were compromised (Evans, 2010). The essence of the challenges was typical: members of Parliament spent the state money for their own needs, and common citizens strived for “returning politics back to people”. It was an issue of shaken public faith; people wanted to feel that something was really done, and the best way to secure it was to propose themselves as candidates. In this regard, the problem of winning the votes of the constituents became acuter. Consequently, mobilizing powers of Internet were indispensable in these conditions.
Political debate over the 2010 elections comprised not only arguments supporting certain outcomes of the event but also predictions on the future of the British political system in general. The outcome of the General Elections 2010 proved the absence of the overall majority. It has already become a British trend, with Liberal Democrats venturing considerably to increase their positions towards two major parties (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, 2010).
Traditional disposition of political powers is not the only aspect in Great Britain of the 21st century that has become a subject to changes. The experience of 2010 proved that the electoral system itself can and should soon be changed. Of course, such a step will demand the participation of all the citizens in the national referendum. The reasons for such issues to arise can be explained by the differences in the electoral systems of four countries including the UK. Prime Minister himself, Gordon Brown, offered such an initiative; it implies establishing the alternative vote for the whole country (Hix, Johnston & McLean, 2010).
The traditional monarchy actively introduces new landscapes into its political life. Thus, for instance, General Elections 2010 witnessed the holding of pre-electoral debates for the first time. The representatives of the Labor, Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties gathered in order to discuss the upcoming elections in front of television cameras. The merit of the event was that it inspired significant amount of public interest to the elections (Electoral Reform Society, 2010). Debates of the candidates are an established practice in the USA, and for European country such an event was unprecedented. The event proved that Great Britain moves in the direction of deeper democratization of the society and actively applies media technologies in its political life. Besides, as the main aim that of attracting public interest was achieved, one can assert the bold step of the British political technologist who initiated the debates as rather prudent and fruitful.
The Conservatives won 307 seats in the Parliament, followed by the Laborites with 258 seats and Liberal Democrats with 57 seats. The share of nine other running parties was comparatively insignificant taking into account their number and totaled in 28 seats only. In the Manchester Central Parliament constituency the victory was celebrated by the Labor party. Thus, the results of the General Elections 2010 once again manifested the traditional allocation of the political powers in the British Parliament, with the obvious dominance of some and considerable lag of the others. However, the official report of the House of Commons manifested that the combined share of the two largest political parties in Great Britain was the lowest in the history (57%), which allows assessing the situation as the “collapse of two-party system” (Electoral Reform Society, 2010).
Controversial victory of Troy
The analysts tried to legitimate the victory of the Tory in 2010. Some of them refer to the objective demographic factors influencing on the run and outcomes of the elections. Thus, Porter (2010) claims that the system itself is mostly advantageous for the Labor party. It is achieved through more effective distribution of the seats for this party. Generally, one seat takes fewer voices for the Labor party than for Tory. It can be explained by the peculiarities in the focus groups of two political powers: while the platform of Labor is aimed at urban electorate, the Tory find more supporters in rural areas. Due to this fact the constituencies of the Conservative are larger in size, and winning the 2010 elections proved that only with high voters’ turnover it became possible to achieve such results. Nevertheless, a problem of unequal opportunities for parties still exists, and the British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to consider this discrepancy and overcome it by equalizing the constituencies in size (Porter, 2010). Such measures will also have the overall beneficial effect, as it will help save money, introduce fewer MPs to the elections and secure the voters’ belief in their legitimate rights.
In terms of voters’ participation, some constituencies noted unexpectedly great presence figures. The British press reported that people stood in lines to give their votes, and even ballot papers were lacking to cover the demand (Laing, 2010). Due to strict office hours of the constituencies not all the comers could vote, especially in large cities including Manchester. Even the officials of the Electoral Commission admitted that legislation should be amended in order not to allow the situation repeat during future elections. It should be noted that it can be rather challenging in the country so attached to its traditions of Victorian past. However, if this measure is taken, Great Britain will have the chances to become fully modern and democratic country of the 21st century. Taking into account Cameron’s claims, it can be concluded that General Elections 2010 turned out to be rather determinative in the aspect of reviewing the voting system in Great Britain.
Returning to the number of voters, 2010 broke all the anticipating records. Analysts made forecasts of the highest voters’ presence since the beginning the period of previous 20 years (Rayner, 2010). The last incident of such high figures occurred in 1997 when the Labor party won with a landslide (71% turnout was registered). However, the experts claimed that 2010 was unlikely to surpass 1970s in terms of voters’ turnout because of inconsistent electoral campaign of the Labor party. The official data maintains, however, that the electorate of 2010 totaled almost 45.6 million, which made it the largest in the history. Notably, increase in voters was registered all over the country. The capital also experienced the largest turnout of the voters ever. The constituencies with the record amount of voters can be defined on the basis of such features as the size of urban areas and concentration of students (Ralling & Thrasher, 2010). All the abovementioned data leads to contemplating over the reasons of such a high election attendance. Probably, political conscience of the residents of the country is not the only cause. In this regard, it is crucial to investigate the contribution of Internet to such a high civil activity during the General Elections 2010.
5. The Impact of Internet on General Elections 2010 in Great Britain
The experts assess General Elections 2010 in Great Britain as highly pluralistic and presenting sufficient covering of events prior, during and after the election’s day (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, 2010). In 2010 the local press devoted much attention to the role of Internet for the elections which were held in the country. The analysts actively debated on this subject both prior to and after the elections. Nowadays experts have the advantage of comparing the anticipation with the actual outcomes.
In March 2010, The Chartered Institute for IT held a debate on the potential of Internet for determining the outcomes of 2010 General Elections. Among the speakers were notable political advisers and civil activists. The most essential question being posed was related to the chances of returning the electorate group of 18-24 years old to the elections (Pullin, 2010). The panelists also mentioned that the experience of the anti-war internet campaign in the US turned out to be rather frustrating because, despite the great social commotion, the reaction of the government was minimal. It is supposed that the same decadent moods conquer the younger category of the British voters resulting in their complete ignoring of the event. An idea of internet-voting was also discussed, but it was admitted that such a radical transition demands careful elaboration. It might also be problematic to introduce such an innovation due to the fact that a large share of the British residents do not have Internet access (reports manifest that one third of the UK population is deprived of this benefit), which would result in severe inequality of voters if e-voting is implemented (Pullin, 2010). Some political powers actually tried to engage this part of the argument in their electoral platform. For instance, apart from planning to register every MP’s expenditure item online, the Conservatives made a promise to introduce “the fastest broadband across most of population” in its “Technology Manifesto” (Mabutt, 2010). In the end, results of the discussion turned out to be rather vague. However, referencing to the problem of week’s political participation of the youth in Great Britain is a topical one. Moreover, it reveals that the impact of Internet might have on the improvement of the situation. The discussion brought a valuable insight: the World Wide Web has provided the politicians with new possibilities, and it can be an effective tool of engaging all the population strata, especially the young voters.
In regard to the outcome of the elections, it should be mentioned that the reviews of the analysts tend to be unfavorable. Dale (2010) states, for instance, that Internet failed to meet the expectations of the analysts. While it had been predicted that Internet would be the dominant medium for the course of four or five days prior to the elections; its role proved to be rather insignificant, thus, disappointing. One of the drawbacks of digital campaigning 2010 in Britain implied that the politicians, having access to all the useful and advanced technologies, failed to use them interactively (Lilleker, Pack & Jackson, 2010). Experts claim that the reason of such an outcome was the conservative desire of the candidates to control the messages sending online. It once again proves that the remnants of traditionalism in Great Britain in all aspects of life, together with politics, are not so easy to conquer. In regard to E-politics, low activity online proves that in this country digital campaigning is not so highly developed.
Different impacts of various Internet technologies during 2010 elections
Particularly, Twitter turned out to be a failed tool for campaigning for it did not provide the expected amount and quality of communication with voters. Nevertheless, it is reported that MPs tend to use various sources for keeping contact with the electorate (Pullin, 2010). On the other hand, Dale (2010) maintains that blogging during the campaign is a rather risky business for the candidates might accidentally share some information which would irretrievably harm their image. It is especially topical for the Conservatives who insist on careful inspection of any material relevant to their party which appears in the World Wide Web. Representatives of the other parties are also anxious about their public image and do not want to be internet-active during the campaign. Laborites, Liberal Democrats and Tories go as far as claiming that they “do not want to be blamed for jeopardizing victory of their parties” (Dale, 2010). This fact proves that in spite of being passively used, the impact of Internet media on the course of elections has a considerable potential.
This point of view is not shared by the British experts who analyzed the campaign of 2010 in terms of Internet involvement. The artificial commotion around the Internet politics has already led to the opposite effect. Williamson, Miller and Fallon (2010) quote an engaging statement of some British politicians who claim that “offline is the new online”. It signals that Great Britain is experiencing the overflow of Internet exposure in politics. Even the analysis of funding of campaigns presented by the scholars reveals that the sum of money spent on digital elections is not always reflected in qualitative aspect, for the delivery method of information appears to be secondary to the message that the candidates try to convey. Such claims are similar to the ones expressed by Boas (2006) who largely saw Internet as simply as medium and not a determinant of success. It should also be mentioned that the scholar did not even refer to democratic countries in his analysis, which considerably reduces the political role of Internet for a modern monarchy like Great Britain. Digital revolution, thus, proves to be overrated as politicians continue to spend considerably more on traditional mobilization of voters involving mainstream broadcasting.
Gibson, Williamson and Ward (2010) also maintain the idea that the role of digital campaigning during the General Elections was unreasonably hyped. The scholars see some historical tendency in this situation, for the first net elections were meant to be held a decade ago, in 2001. Notably, unfulfilled expectations of the expert did not leave them discouraged, and the next elections, held in 2005, were ascribed the same fate. Predictions for the year 2010 were largely based on the success of Obama in 2008. Blogs that were supposed to continue the innovative direction commenced by the first televised debates, but fear of staff bloggers to think and express themselves in a free and original way marked the failure of this strategy. Williamson with his colleagues Miller and Fallon emphasizes that the British political internet technologists failed to be as successful as Americans due to characteristic features that almost derive from the national mentality; the scholars tend to describe them as “largely followers not innovators” (2010). In this regard, it is difficult to predict any positive dynamics in the role of Internet for British politics unless the candidates start developing their own fresh ideas and not copy the premises of someone’s success.
The fact of artificial commotion around the role of Internet in General Elections 2010 is acknowledged also by Cantijoch who co-authored Gibson and Ward in their article on citizen participation during this event (2010). The press dedicated much time to expressing high expectations regarding the social media. The hype was so overwhelming that only three weeks after the beginning of the campaign Internet was already branded as a useless tool in elections. The scholars defend the web by claiming that the disappointment over unrealized expectations inhibited the analysts to identify the real role of Internet and, particularly, the way it engaged the constituents. Their analysis on the issue will be presented in the next chapter of the paper.
The scholars try to define the reasons of such a failure comparing British elections 2010 to the ones held in the USA in 2008. One of the causes of such irrelevant internet participation in 2010 elections in Great Britain implies the fact that political and media peculiarities in these countries differ greatly. Another possible reason of such a low internet performance can be explained by the temporal gap. The experts claim that the situation in America could not be repeated in the British environment because the citizens were given more time to accommodate themselves to Internet. In other words, the World Wide Web failed to bring much effect to the General Elections 2010 due to the fact that Internet has firmed its positions “in everyday political and social landscapes of Britain” (Gibson, Williamson & Ward, 2010).
Positive aspects of the internet
Positive reviews on the role of Internet for General Elections 2010 in Great Britain are considerably less in volume. They are connected with the fact that the bourgeoning impact of Internet on the elections in UK can be viewed in another aspect. The whole society strives for transparency of politics, and Great Britain is not an exception. Continuous scandals connected with MP’s expenses encourage the representatives of the political world to persuade the citizens that they have nothing to conceal from the general public. Internet proved to be a valid tool of securing this transparency. For instance, site visitors of the online version of Manchester Evening News (positioned as “the UK’s No. 1 regional newspaper and website”, which implies the presence of wide audience) were enabled to observe the flow of elections live and enjoy live footage from the polling station. The designers of this feature also took care of those who would like to stay in touch with the events being out the reach of PCs: such site visitors were presented with the opportunity to access live broadcasts on the cell phones. This situation does not only prove the importance of Internet for General Elections 2010; it also allows making conclusions about the political participation of the British citizens and the residents of Manchester, in particular. The fact that Manchester Evening News expected such a large audience means that in the UK people manifest keen interest in politics. It also proves that political journalists admit that Internet became faster and more convenient means of mass communication than the traditional ones that is why it is preferred by the majority of people. At deeper level it appears to be a sign that Internet gradually changes the face of political campaigning. Increased transparence is definitely a positive innovation in the run of elections which was unthinkable two decades ago. However, this positive effect is leveled by the scope of negative reviews of E-elections 2010 in Great Britain.
A dispute over the role of Internet for General Elections 2010 in Great Britain is rather complicated and multilateral. Both sides of the argument find sufficient support. The aim of the present paper is to define the nature of internet involvement for the election held in Great Britain. Further analysis is to be found in the practical section of the paper dedicated to the qualitative analysis of the internet technologies referred to by separate political powers.
6. Analysis of 2010 Digital Campaigning in Great Britain
The results of General Elections 2010 in Great Britain were predictable from the point of view of power disposition. They featured the expectable alternation of the Labor and the Conservative party with the latter gaining victory this time. However, these elections were unprecedented by the forecast role that Internet was going to play in them. Such high hopes were to a large extent connected with the success of Barack Obama and his prudent digital campaign of 2008. As no internet electoral sensation was to register, it seems appropriate to analyze the gains of different political parties during their digital campaigning and offer some recommendations for increasing the effective online participation for future electoral events.
The methodological approach to this analysis is based on qualitative assessment of the elements of digital campaigning of the major political powers.
Regarding the effectiveness of the parties’ websites, it should be said that almost every MP has a personalized page. According to Lusoli and Ward (2004), almost 75% of all MPs had the associated websites, but a large share of them were outdated and no longer working since the previous elections. This fact of the lack of political inheritance and consistency can be assessed as a negative trend in the British E-politics.
In order to assess the effectiveness of the online strategies of political parties, it is important to refer to the statistics on the most preferable types of Internet activity exercised by the constituents. Naturally, in order to gather more votes it is crucial to stay in touch with the latest trends of citizens’ participation in E-politics. Gibson, Cantijoch and Ward (2010) claim that during campaign 2010 people mostly used Internet for updates on news resource sites. The sites designed by the parties presented the second most popular form of Internet engagement of the citizens. Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook are on the third place but considerably lag behind the first positions; the amount of people who addressed them during the campaign is disproportionately small. Low participation figures can also be traced in watching unofficial videos on YouTube or involvement in mobilization and political discourse through blogging. Probably, the famous “Obama effect” is doomed never to be repeated in the conditions of Great Britain E-political landscape. In such a case, political technologists should pay more attention to the means which actually work within the country presented by news sites and sites of the parties.
This factor is very important for explanation of the unrealized expectations connected with digital campaigning in 2010. First of all, low social media activity in practice should mean low levels of constituents’ mobilization. In practice, however, voters’ quantitative participation turned out to be record for Great Britain in 2010. It allows concluding that such an engagement of the British citizens was dictated rather by the effectiveness of the traditional communication channels during the electoral campaign, with Internet playing only a marginal role. Secondly, it was the major difference between 2010 electoral campaign and the “Obama effect” of 2008. Social media failed to stay in focus of internet endeavors of the candidates, which explains the absence of the striking results of the digital campaign of the American president in terms of mobilization.
Gordon MacMillian about the internet for eletions
The obvious drawbacks in the online campaigning by the major British parties can also be documented by the internet technologies themselves. A popular blogger Gordon MacMillan cites the results of the Digital MOT report (a tool tracing online activities) ordered by one of the advertising agencies. The analysis took into consideration such criteria as effectiveness of websites, involvement of social media resources, availability and activity in search engine domain. Notably, the Conservative, the Labor and the Liberal Democrat party failed to score at least above the pass rate of the Digital MOP (2012). MacMillan outlines several flaws of the leading parties. They include insufficient connection with voters through the use of Google, lack of attention to Mobile Web, unengaged social media and disregard to guidelines of disability discrimination. In order to rank among the digital countries Great Britain should take these drawbacks into consideration. The report, however, also revealed some positive dynamics for each of the major parties. It included such points as the effective blog activities of the Liberal Democrats, quality video content promoted by the Conservatives and website interface advancement of the Labor party. However, as the flaws were more evident and numerous, the commissioner of the report, David Bell, encouraged the British parties to become more active in use of the digital media because of its progressive characteristics and enhanced popularity. Obviously, with its adherence to old-school campaigning methods, Great Britain is likely to lag behind other countries in terms of E-politics literacy.
Flaws of the conservative party
The Conservative party managed to attract the largest amount of the votes. However, its digital campaign can also be characterized by certain flaws. For instance, unlike the Labor, this political power does not encourage online activity of the separate MP candidates (Williamson, Miller & Fallon, 2010). On the one hand, it secures the party against some risks connected with the online presence. On the other hand, decreased online representation compared to the opponents considerably limits the opportunities of this political power. Analysis of activities in social media presented by size of Facebook group members proves that this aspect of digital campaigning of the winning party is also underdeveloped; the party ranks third after the Liberal Democrats and the Labor party. Such low social media activity can be explained by the fact that the target group of this political power does not include active Facebook users. Such a situation derives from the political platform of the Conservatives itself. It allows concluding that digital campaign was not the definitive one in securing the victory of the Conservative party. In this case, there were obviously traditional campaigning technologies which brought the positive results. It again proves the role of Internet as a supplementary, not the main tool in politics.
The Labor party
The party which can be considered as second best in the General Elections 2010, the Labor one, is a subject of criticism for its online campaigning. It can partly be explained by high competition of MP candidates existing within the party. In such a way, personal sites of some of them, especially, Ed Balls enjoyed greater number of visitors than the others. It was registered by Erickson and Lilleker (2011) who traced the activity of this MP candidate for 100 days prior to the election’s day and noted the online traffic of high figures. This fact, however, is paradoxically downplayed by the factor of inner-party rivalry: Balls managed to attract people to his party but not to himself. The choice of social media instead of focus on the search engines led to a classical situation when the visitors of the site cannot be “converted” to a certain platform because they already constitute the focus group of the political power. In other words, this MP failed to attract supporters of other parties of some undecided constituents. It may trigger the already mentioned reflection over Internet as only a supplementary tool of politics.
Some scholars, however, give positive reviews to the internet campaigning of the Labor party. Indeed, it actively implied the capabilities of the web for mobilization of their constituents. Such technologies were successfully implemented locally. However, it should be noted that web mobilization had a sporadic character and only supplemented more consistent traditional activities. This fact considerably deteriorates the effect of these endeavors. The aspect of inner leadership within the party is a peculiarity of the Labor. It may create some difficulties in disposition of inner power and even lead to rivalry between the party members, but from the point of view of internet campaigning it can even be assessed as an advantage. Leadership campaign encourages MPs to apply more diverse internet technologies, the number and quality of personal sites increases, which results in the growth of the online presence for the whole party.
As much as the Labor party was criticized for inconsistent online campaigning, the potential treat to the British slowly degrading two-party system, the Liberal Democrats, were also accused of insufficient activity. This political power was unlikely finally to dispel the hegemony of the two major British parties; at the same time, this fact enabled them with the opportunity to be more innovative in their campaign. Traditionalism of two major political powers in Great Britain limits their capabilities due to fear of making a wrong step online. The Liberal Democrats could use this bias to their advantage, and that is why they deserve special attention compared to their more successful opponents.