How the internet will impact the 2010 election

Money, gotchas and independent sensations . . .

To a Demos/Prospect debate last night to discover (once again) whether the internet is changing politics. The answer (once again): sort of, but perhaps not as much as you might think.

Towards the end of the night the four panellists were asked what impact the web will have during the forthcoming general election, and this solicited perhaps the most interesting replies of the night.

For John Lloyd, contributing editor at the Financial Times, it was all about the money. As Barack Obama showed during 2007 and 2008, small(ish) internet donations add up. "Forty per cent of the biggest take ever is a lot of money," said Lloyd, who expects the UK parties to follow suit.

Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East and noted blogger, said he expected that an "independent candidate will become an internet sensation, probably in a university town, probably from the Pirate Party".

In a similar vein, Evgeny Morozov of Georgetown University said one of the biggest beneficiaries of the web will be fringe movements: "These are the ones most often shut off from the mainstream media."

And Risha Saha, the man who will lead the Tories' online campaign as head of new media, predicted that there will be "two or three 'gotcha' moments that will carry the news media for two or three days at a time".

Get ready, he said, for our very own Joe the Plumber.

Saha -- who also outlined his party's net strategy -- claimed that during the 2005 general election, "every party seemed to make a tacit deal that the internet didn't exist". Not so this time.

As Watson noted, "The parties will be on broadcast mode." The trouble for them, he added, is that the voters "will be in 'right back at you mode' ". Bring it on.

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

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“I felt very lonely”: addressing the untold story of isolation among young mothers

With one in five young mothers lonely “all the time”, it’s time for employers and services to step up.

“Despite having my child with me all the time, I felt very lonely,” says Laura Davies. A member of an advisory panel for the Young Women’s Trust, she had her son age 20. Now, with a new report suggesting that one in five young mums “feels lonely all the time”, she’s sharing her story.

Polling commissioned by the Young Women’s Trust has highlighted the isolation that young motherhood can bring. Of course, getting out and about the same as you did before is never easy once there’s a young child in the picture. For young mothers, however, the situation can be particularly difficult.

According to the report, over a quarter of young mothers leave the house just once a week or less, with some leaving just once a month.

Aside from all the usual challenges – like wrestling a colicky infant into their jacket, or pumping milk for the trip with one hand while making sure no-one is crawling into anything dangerous with the other – young mothers are more likely to suffer from a lack of support network, or to lack the confidence to approach mother-baby groups and other organisations designed to help. In fact, some 68 per cent of young mothers said they had felt unwelcome in a parent and toddler group.

Davies paints what research suggests is a common picture.

“Motherhood had alienated me from my past. While all my friends were off forging a future for themselves, I was under a mountain of baby clothes trying to navigate my new life. Our schedules were different and it became hard to find the time.”

“No one ever tells you that when you have a child you will feel an overwhelming sense of love that you cannot describe, but also an overwhelming sense of loneliness when you realise that your life won’t be the same again.

More than half of 16 to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they felt lonelier since becoming a mother, with more than two-thirds saying they had fewer friends than before. Yet making new friends can be hard, too, especially given the judgement young mothers can face. In fact, 73 per cent of young mothers polled said they’d experienced rudeness or unpleasant behaviour when out with their children in public.

As Davies puts it, “Trying to find mum friends when your self-confidence is at rock bottom is daunting. I found it easier to reach out for support online than meet people face to face. Knowing they couldn’t judge me on my age gave me comfort.”

While online support can help, however, loneliness can still become a problem without friends to visit or a workplace to go to. Many young mothers said they would be pleased to go back to work – and would prefer to earn money rather than rely on benefits. After all, typing some invoices, or getting back on the tills, doesn’t just mean a paycheck – it’s also a change to speak to someone old enough to understand the words “type”, “invoice” and “till”.

As Young Women’s Trust chief executive Dr Carole Easton explains, “More support is needed for young mothers who want to work. This could include mentoring to help ease women’s move back into education or employment.”

But mothers going back to work don’t only have to grapple with childcare arrangements, time management and their own self-confidence – they also have to negotiate with employers. Although the 2003 Employment Act introduced the right for parents of young children to apply to work flexibly, there is no obligation for their employer to agree. (Even though 83 per cent of women surveyed by the Young Women’s Trust said flexible hours would help them find secure work, 26 per cent said they had had a request turned down.)

Dr Easton concludes: “The report recommends access to affordable childcare, better support for young women at job centres and advertising jobs on a flexible, part-time or job share basis by default.”

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland