Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Issue section: 

The web has a selective view of the election.

During last year's US election the two main parties put massive resources into 'new media' - websites, blogs and email. While the forthcoming general election in Britain will not have anywhere near the same amount of resources poured into the internet side of the campaign, there are some interesting plans afoot.

Both sides in the US election attempted to get voters to upload their films, debates and questions. For instance both sides put huge amounts of time and resources into short films to be downloaded and forwarded.

By contrast the British online presence seems to be totally passive - requiring surfers to know what they are looking for on each site, rather than being drawn into things. Even Tony Blair's campaign seems unlikely to match Bush's election machine, which apparently gathered over 7 million email addresses of potential voters.

While some mainstream politicians have embraced the online blog as a tool for talking to their constituents, it's doubtful that they will transform the political scene as radically as some would like. Writing in the Guardian in February, Iain Duncan Smith claimed that online blogs would herald the end of the mainstream media and 'ignite many new forms of conservatism'.

For those of us opposed to any new or old forms of conservatism, there are a number of websites dedicated to punishing Tony Blair and his loyal New Labour warmongers.

In conjunction with the launch of John Harris's book So Now Who Do We Vote For?, his new website aims to provide 'a database of parliamentary seats, sitting MPs, and tentative, constituency by constituency advice for disaffected Labour supporters'. Each seat has a forum where readers can debate the pros and cons of each candidate, and offers advice on how to vote. The site suggests a vote for Respect in both Tower Hamlets seats to help remove pro-war MPs and the forum debate appears to favour Respect as well.

A second, similar site is Backing Blair. It claims the name is 'Orwellian' satire, but its strategy is more complex than this: Backing Blair argues that 'we want you to vote strategically. Ruthlessly. In "safe" Labour seats and marginal seats we want you to vote for the candidate most likely to beat the Labour candidate.' The site calls for votes against all Labour MPs, including ones with a good record. It also advocates a vote for the Tories if it helps to stop a Labour MP being re-elected.

But for all its bluster it appears to have little information about the details of some constituencies. Respect doesn't get a mention, and it calls for a Conservative vote in both Tower Hamlets constituencies. Though the site has had lots of publicity, it smacks of an individual's project with an automated database looking at the last general election's results and extrapolating from them.

Finally, the Vote for Peace website aims to do just what it says on the tin - encourage a vote for candidates who have opposed the war with the aim of building a majority for peace in parliament after the election. According to its website, Vote for Peace has 'picked people we think are honest, brave and sensible regardless of party. They come from Labour and the Liberal Democrats equally, plus a few nationalists. War and peace is bigger than partisan politics.'

War and peace may well be bigger than partisan politics, but once again they ignore Respect's efforts - strange given that the national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition is standing in West Ham. Unfortunately I didn't receive an answer to my email asking for an explanation.