Internet will influence UK General Election

This morning TechEye was invited to the BCS or The Chartered Institute for IT, as it is now known, to witness a panel debate on “Will the Internet determine the outcome of the next election”?.

On the panel there were Paul Staines also known as Guido Fawkes, Lib Dem blogger Mark Thompson, Labour MP Derek Wyatt, BCS president Elizabeth Sparrow and former advisor to Hillary Clinton and founder of political ad agency MessageSpace, Jag Singh.

One of the main things discussed was whether using social media in election campaigns will help to bring back 18-24 year old voters.

The panel, whose average age could be described as ‘late fourties’ had a lot to say on this matter. Singh and Sparrow argued that the government should take lessons from the corporate world on immediacy. Singh expressed concern that many would become exasperated with the government as they would feel ignored. Using the Facebook groups and subsequent protests over the Iraq war as an example, he pointed out that there was frustration when the government ignored them. A lot of 18-24 year olds who are involved enough to click something will then think “why bother, nothing changes” and that this would spill over into voting too.

The debate panel

The panel discussed the upcoming televised debate between the leaders and whether that would affect how the younger generations vote.  Staines agreed, pointing out that the Conservative Party already produced weekly videos for its campaign.

The idea of e-voting was also raised, which a poll today found that more than three quarters of electors – 77 percent – would vote on the internet if they could. The idea was put forward that everyone gets an automatic postal vote. This was dismissed by Wyatt who said that anyone would “put it straight in the bin” as we do with all council correspondence. He also voiced his own frustrations that people need to register for council tax and for the electoral roll separately.

However, Sparrow was for the idea of an e-vote saying:  “The internet is a necessity. If you don’t have a connection then you will be at a disadvantage.”

Today the Conservative party launched its technology manifesto in which it pledged to give Britain the fastest high speed broadband network in Europe. On the proviso that it wins the election.

Currently 30 percent of people in the UK do not have an internet connection, according to government statistics. In the Digital Economy Bill, Wyatt pointed out, it originally stated that everyone would get a minimum two megabyte connection, but “where is it?” he asked.

One thing the whole panel could agree on was the Digital Economy Bill, which Staines described as a “car crash” adding that if it were passed there would be a public backlash. Wyatt raised the fears that were reported on TechEye, that the bill would be pushed through with no third hearing. Sparrow agreed adding her concerns that the Bill was “clamping down on freedoms of speech and free debate.”

Thompson described the Bill as unable to work, and likened it to the banning of the printing press shortly after invention due to fears that scribes would lose their jobs. “[the government] have to recognize that it is a different set up now,” he added. “In twenty years time we will realize what a mistake it was.” He said that it would definitely be discussed as an emergency motion at the Liberal Democrat spring conference.

MPs are using more online spaces to speak to the electorate. LinkedIn has posed questions from MPs like Ken Clarke, Ed Vaizey and polls from Harriet Harman in an attempt to engage the voters on their own turf. A virtual door to door, if you like.

The Youth Minister Dawn Butler launched a ‘March on Government’ lounge in the Habbo Hotel, an online space for teens this week. In it issues could be raised and political debate would be encouraged. There’s even a competition in the lounge to speak with the rapper Chipmunk, presumably about his voting tendencies, on the 15th March.

So will the internet determine the outcome of the next election? The panel seemed unsure. Sparrow said she believed this election was a “tipping point” with the panel believing that elections after the one in May including more social media interaction. Although, for the time being, they could agree with Staines, that TV will play a great part in this election.