Mary Dejevsky: It really won't be the internet that wins it

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Not a day now goes by without someone dubbing the coming election the e-election, the Twitter election, the Facebook election, the first British election that will be won or lost in the virtual world. My inbox is stuffed with invitations to hear stars of the youthful e-establishment and their older acolytes expatiate on the theme. So far as I can judge, our revolutionary e-election has eclipsed climate change as the belief of the age – and it is being preached with similar evangelistic fervour.

For the benefit of anyone who remains sceptical in the face of this onslaught, believers play the Obama card. The US has its first black president thanks not only to his charisma, but to the way he harnessed the internet to mobilise his millions – of voters as well as dollars. It worked there, the inference is, and for whichever British party gets its internet act together, it will jolly well work here, too.

Well, I may be a dinosaur – on a moonlit night I even tend to the view that newspapers have a future – but I'm not so sure. How far the last US election was an e-election is not as cut and dried as you might think. Yes, the Obama campaign used the power of the internet in a highly professional way. But its main benefit was in the area that most conspicuously does not cross the Atlantic: fund-raising.

Even if you look at the US by itself, Obama was not the first to tap ordinary voters for contributions. Howard Dean – remember him? – was the pioneer. And the many small contributions Obama raised from enthusiastic voters were still not enough to replace the need for big donors. "Obamania" was whipped up at least as much by word of mouth, traditional phone campaigning (now via text) and the televised debates, as it was by use of the internet. Email and websites facilitated communication, but it is largely those already engaged and e-capable who seek out the websites. In Britain, for all the political genuflecting before Mumsnet, this means a coterie of mostly young and young-ish men.

The big difference between this UK election and the last will be the televised debates. Television is still where the mass audience of voters is to be found – as indeed it still was in the US in 2008. A good or bad performance, a single gaffe, the personal impression – all these will count, even when the only vote people cast is not for prime minister, but for their local MP.

What may well count even more, though, is popular contempt for what is widely seen as the political "class" – generated in part by press revelations about MPs' expenses. The future of political advertising may indeed be jeopardised by the fact that anyone e-literate may "edit" the best of the parties PR efforts online – remember the witty hatchet jobs on David Cameron's NHS poster – but the efforts of amateur e-editors reflect the rebellious mood that is already out there. They are mirrors, not creators, of the political climate. No one here has come close to conjuring up an Obama-style sense of hope.

Our uneasy romance with rural life

Sad to say, I'm pining already for Lambing Live, which – like Spring-watch and Autumnwatch before it – proved so popular that it was accorded an omnibus edition of highlights the following Sunday which, so far as I could see, was not billed in advance. I came upon it, alas, when it was already half-way through. Given that spring is so late this year – the daffodils are still not out in St James's Park – there is surely a case for an instant repeat, even if the lambing won't be quite "live" any more.

Glorious as it was to wallow, even briefly, in the world of woolly, wobbly, all-dependent animals, however, I was still not entirely convinced. Was this the countryside trying to make its peace with the town, or the town taking a voyeuristic peep at the countryside? While clearly delighted with the lambs, Kate Humble, seemed not altogether comfortable trying to straddle the two worlds. And I could never quite banish the thought of what a French audience would make of Lambing Live. I suspect they would draw a rather more direct connection between new lambs and – I'm already sorry to mention it – dinner.

I've come to see the art, not make friends

My heart sinks on noticing an advert from the Tate – Britain and Modern – for "visitor experience managers". Spelling out the role of these new employees, the advert says they are to be "champions" for the visitor. "Seeing Tate through our visitors' eyes," it says, "you'll take ownership of their needs and lead a team... ensuring that every aspect of the experience is taken into account."

Now I have a shrewd idea of what awaits: more or less cheerful staff, identified by cheap, coloured waistcoats, accosting me when I arrive to sing the joys of the latest special exhibitions (£12 a go). The same waistcoated beings will offer unsolicited recommendations as to what I might enjoy (regardless of what I have come for), and hover over me when I make to leave to ensure that I drop my "voluntary" contribution in the transparent box. They will be blind to the poor maintenance of the loos.

Well, let me say, as a visitor, what I would like from my "champion", whether at gallery, museum, art-show or anywhere else. I would like short queues, preferably none at all. I would like there to be no fee to leave my coat. I would like the loos to be plentiful and clean. I would like the lifts to be signposted and to work. I would like the print on the labels to be in proportion to the pictures, so you don't have to keep putting on and taking off your glasses.

I would also like to be able to buy something – a picture, say – without having to divulge my whole biography, which is then used for "feedback" or "follow-up" in the form of surveys, promotions or invitations to meet the artists. I'm delighted to leave artists in all disciplines to do what they do best, and I would be happier left alone with my enjoyment, too.

* Opening the box of my new, sleek, slim, silvery laptop, I was horrified to find a bulky cable and three-pin plug that negated many benefits of my lightweight powerhouse. A Korean student in London, Min-Kyu Choi, had the same experience. Unlike me, he did something about it. The ingenious result won this year's Brit Insurance Design Award. It's a three-pin plug that folds. I can't wait for it to go on sale.