Pulling voters into the web of Westminster
Communication is key in politics, but how well do MPs perform on the internet? Kathryn Corrick casts her vote
Monday 18 April 2005
Sheffield Hallam (Liberal Democrat)
Standing down at this election. Allan was one of the first MPs to have a weblog rather than a traditional website with a few static pages. He makes entries most days, allowing readers to make comments to entries and writes on a wide variety of issues: technology, his speeches, parliament and constituency matters. The blog entries are written in a personal style and make him very accessible to his constituents. The site is simply laid out using some standard software and contains links to blogging MPs, political websites and parliamentary debates.
Until this election, the Prime Minister didn't have a website; a political discussion group was using www.tonyblair.com and Michael Howard's team had nabbed www.tonyblairmp.com, www.tonyblairmp.net and www.tonyblairmp.org.uk. But the Labour machine has finally set up a campaign diary. It's not regularly updated and it is hard to believe that the Blair himself makes entries. Readers can send in questions to Blair, and answers are then posted on the site. But don't expect to find any information regarding constituency work.
Candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green (Liberal Democrat)
Lynne is a councillor in Haringey (Muswell Hill ward) and a London-wide member of the London Assembly. Her well designed website has news, a regularly updated weblog, lots of campaign fact sheets, a variety of e-mail updates to choose from, a cartoon gallery, an online surgery, an RSS syndication feed, plus masses of information regarding her work and the Liberal Democrats. It is a highly informative website with a personal touch that shows how effective this medium can be. It leads the way for other elected representatives.
Folkestone & Hythe (Conservative)
This small website, with a penchant for stating the obvious, is hardly earth-shattering and will never win an award for it's contribution to democracy but, in comparison to the efforts of Tony Blair, the Leader of the Opposition is light years ahead. Only basic information about Howard can be found here, including the gem: "Michael Howard has since been elected as the new Leader of the Conservative Party." The question is: How long do you have to be a Conservative Party leader before you are no longer considered new, or before someone updates your site?
Boris was persuaded to set up a weblog last year and, as one of the few Tory MPs to engage with the form, must be admired. The site is regularly updated, contains links to other blogs and allows the public to comment. The blonde bombshell's weblog has a definite style and its fans but I am not one of them. The times I have read entries by Melissa (who assists him) and not Boris are too numerous. One recent post started: "This is blogger Boris calling from the slopes" and went on for 900 words about his skiing holiday. Fanzine stuff.
Liberal Democrat (Ross, Skye & Inverness West)
A black and white photograph of a very grumpy-looking Charles Kennedy follows you around this less than inspiring website. The reader can find all the usual speeches, constituency and parliamentary information and links to other Lib Dem sites and MPs. Yet, despite the photo, it is more upbeat, informative and better designed than Michael Howard's efforts. Other than a few rather formal paragraphs from Charles on the home page, the site overall lacks any personal touch. Perhaps Richard Allan could have a few words before he leaves.
Dr Ian Paisley
North Antrim (DUP)
Those seeking constituency or parliamentary information via Dr Ian Paisley's website will be sorely disappointed and possibly offended. The site, showing that MPs do have spare time and outside interests, is home to Paisley's European Institute for Protestant Studies. In place of the usual press releases and "About me" statements, you find sections on the errors of Rome, Vatican conspiracies and the ecumenical movement. It is an enlightening insight into the mind of Dr Paisley. Those wishing for more mundane details should go to www.dup.org.uk.
Moray (Scottish Nationalist Party)
As the name suggests this site is a lot more than just Angus Robertson's website. Here you can sign up for Angus' newsletter (Moray Matters), find surgery times, make a vote on the online poll and search for speeches. Plus, you can find the weather forecast for Moray, admire it's landscape, get the latest Moray news and find details about council benefits services. The site is one of the few MP websites that includes advertising - when we went, they were for the Aberdeen and Grampian Tourist Board and the Moray-Firth Partnership.
Ceredigion (Plaid Cymru)
Initially, this bi-lingual website, with a Welsh and English home page, seems impressive, easy to navigate, with an attractive design and relevant information. Yet read on and the illusion is shattered. Go to the press releases page and you will find an extensive list but none dated since June 2002. The same goes for his speeches index - the last speech listed was in April 2002. Simon is still an active MP but this site goes to show that if you are going to have a website it is not good enough to have a nice design, you also need to keep it maintained.
West Bromwich East (Labour)
Tom was the first blogging Labour MP and, as well as being well read by locals, the site is linked to across the web. He is respected as a blogger in his own right with regular, often amusing, posts (such as: "You know there's an election when ... the catering department declares a cutlery amnesty.") on a wide variety of subjects. He uses his blog to influence serious problems in his constituency and feels it offers him a way of communicating with the world that would otherwise be impossible. Tom received a 'New Statesman' New Media Award last year.
Northavon (Liberal Democrat)
As Steve Webb kindly points out, he is no longer a MP, as parliament has been dissolved. So, what does this tech-savvy citizen do? Set up another site - winwithwebb.co.uk . Both sites are excellent, jam-packed with information. As well as news and a regular e-mail update, Steve has set up a system where he can e-mail or text-message constituents to ask their opinion. Readers can also have the site presented to them in British Sign Language, thus extending its accessibility.
Maidstone and The Weald (Conservative)
The Widdy Web is a simple, fun and light-hearted site. Though it does not contain a blog, it is updated by Ann and contains lots of photographs of her. As well as parliamentary, surgery and constituency info, there is a feedback form, junior section, lots of photos of cats and details of her books. It lacks any information about the Conservative party and there is no mention of the party leader. Are you trying to tell us something, Ann?
Kathryn Corrick is Online Manager for the New Statesman
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