Wyatt Suggests Internet For Election Campaign

Labour prime minister Gordon Brown should deliver a series of weekly addresses on the internet in a regular time slot, according to Labour MP Derek Wyatt.

Wyatt, who paralleled the idea with a weekly radio address given by US president Barack Obama, said politicians could make more use of the internet in their campaign.

He said he would run his own re-election campaign "almost exclusively online", if he wasn't standing down as MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey this General Election, which commentators are predicting will be on 6 May.

Wyatt said he would invite constituents to an online meeting in the evening, instead of knocking on doors between 9am and 5pm, when hardly anyone is in.

Wyatt, who billed himself as the first MP to have a mobile app, was on the panel for the debate "Will the internet determine the outcome of the next election?" hosted by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.

The debate's general conclusion decided the internet would be important in this election, but mass media, especially in the form of the televised debates between the party leaders, would have the most influence.

It was a view held even by political blogger Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, who highlighted the small circle of people who actively blog and tweet about politics. His blog typically has a 50,000 to 100,000 daily audience, which surges when referenced by papers like The Sun.

The internet's influence on this election, Staines claimed, lies in driving fundraising campaigns in marginal seats and giving politicians access to cheap continuous polling. He doubted Wyatt's idea for Brown to give a regularly scheduled internet address would happen, saying internet users wanted content on demand.

Jag Singh, another pannellist, predicted politicians would shift to using mobile and video to reach people.

Singh, who founded online media agency MessageSpace and advised US politician Hillary Clinton, brought up the example of Tom Watson, an MP who allowed his constituents to provide feedback on issues via mobile text shortcodes.

Singh made a number of observations about how US politicians harness the internet for campaigning, but other panel members remained doubtful as to their relevance in the UK political scene.

In a theory unlikely to be tested, Singh claimed Gordon Brown and David Cameron would be able to fill Wembley Stadium with a rally. Other panellists disagreed and Staines remarked "You could sell tomatoes outside".

On a more serious note, panellists also attacked the Digital Economy Bill, currently in the House of Lords, claiming it was slanted in favour of the interests of copyright owners.

The bill contains a clause which allows a high court judge to issue an injunction against a website accused of hosting a "substantial" amount of copyright material.

Mark Thompson, a Liberal Democrat blogger, said it did not give enough weight to the voice of internet users, observing that when the printing press was invented there was much political interest in trying to protect scribes.

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