Some recent research by the Hansard Society has found that although 83% of MPs have a personal website, only 11% of them blog, less than one in four use social networking sites and that the typical ‘digital MP’ uses his or her presence on the web as a ‘digital newsletter’ rather than as a tool to enhance engagement or democratic participation. The report concludes that 'new media' remains an "untapped area" for political engagement in the UK.
Like the iPod, having your own blog is fast becoming a status symbol. It is therefore no surprise that politicians are getting wise to the potential of the blog as a means of engaging with the electorate in a fast and efficient manner. As the Hansard report points out, the problem is that most MP bloggers see the internet as a means of communicating 'their message' rather than a means of engaging with voters about local, regional, national or international issues. It is no surprise that political blogging has become immensely popular in the UK over the past couple of years. Labour List and ConservativeHome are both well established and are beginning to provide a much needed platform for a vibrant and passionate grassroots debate about the future direction of both parties. Blogs take the media out of the hands of the corporate world and put it into the hands of anyone with a computer and an internet connection. Some of the popular ‘tabloid’ blogs like Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale's Diary receive hundreds of thousands of hits each month and are proving to be influential in setting the news agenda ahead of the printed and broadcast media. But all politics is local politics and those candidates and elected representatives who understand this and establish blogs that invite local people to engage in the local issues are beginning to understand the power of the 'new media' in modern campaigning.
What the last US presidential election showed - and the Obama team ruthlessly exploited - is that modern politics and government are changing in a fundamental way. Politicians need to become more transparent, more open in their dealings with the electorate. Interactive sites and tools like Twitter and Facebook, are ways of achieving the greater transparency and openness that a weary post-expenses scandal public not only wants but demands. People all over the world are embracing new technology and unless politicians do the same they risk losing a vital link with the people they are trying to reach, represent and govern.