The internet, the telly and the coming election

When it comes to politics, newspapers and television still trump the net.

In the mid-1990s people started to think and write about the impact the internet was having on all our lives, and to help them they appropriated an ugly old word: disintermediation. That's "cutting out the middleman" to you and me.

From holidays to car insurance and, yes, politics, the internet would let A do business with B without C. So no more insurance brokers or travel agents adding their 10 per cent, and no more mass media distorting the political message.

Things are never quite that simple. For example, aggregators that compare the cost of cover for a Ford Focus or two weeks in a Tuscan villa make a living by charging a premium for prominent "sponsored" placings. Nothing wrong with that, but it's far from disintermediation in its purest sense.

Meanwhile, TV and newspapers -- despite falling audiences and apparently broken business models -- still trump the internet in terms of impact and reach. In other words, most people will get most of their election coverage in mediated form between now and 6 May. And we're not just talking the ten million who claim never to have accessed the internet.

All of which means that when you ask, as the BCS did in an ultimately fascinating panel debate yesterday, "Will the internet determine the outcome of the general election?" the obvious response is: "No, don't be so stupid." (In reality, the internet will have an impact on the general election in how it helps parties mobilise their activists and co-ordinate their volunteers, but that's for another time.)

Take the recent "airbrushed" Cameron poster campaign. This was the blogosphere at its most creative and acerbic, led by Clifford Singer's excellent MyDavidCameron.com.

"I think it's probable that the fun we've had with those Cameron posters online has caused the Tories to stop them," claimed Derek Wyatt, the outgoing MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey.

Jag Singh, a former new media adviser to Hillary Clinton, wasn't so sure. Look at the numbers, he said. "[They] show 100,000 visited the site and -- if you dig further down -- they show that people only came to the site one and a half times each on average. So, you'd come to the site, see the poster and never come back. That's not really the kind of digital engagement that parties or campaigns want to aim for."

Yet those posters did have an impact. Why? Because they were picked up by old media, with their millions of readers and viewers. (It's worth looking at Singer's latest analysis of traffic to his site to see the role celebrity tweeters played in spreading the word, helping it reach the attention of the mainstream media.)

Of course, this has happened before, notably with the infamous Alan Duncan "rations" rant last summer: filmed and posted online, picked up by the Evening Standard one lunchtime, leading the BBC's Ten O'Clock News that evening.

In the words of Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes: "You leverage new media into old media."

And sometimes it works the other way around. Take Carol Vorderman's appearance on Question Time last week. It was car-crash TV and people were looking for a place to talk about it. Enter the blogosphere. Neatly completing the circle, the newspapers then picked up the online buzz.

So rather than treat the internet as a tool for disintermediation, perhaps it's just another medium feeding off, and providing sustenance to, the rest.

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

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Unite stewards urge members to back Owen Smith

In a letter to Unite members, the officials have called for a vote for the longshot candidate.

29 Unite officials have broken ranks and thrown their weight behind Owen Smith’s longshot bid for the Labour leadership in an open letter to their members.

The officials serve as stewards, conveners and negotiators in Britain’s aerospace and shipbuilding industries, and are believed in part to be driven by Jeremy Corbyn’s longstanding opposition to the nuclear deterrent and defence spending more generally.

In the letter to Unite members, who are believed to have been signed up in large numbers to vote in the Labour leadership race, the stewards highlight Smith’s support for extra funding in the NHS and his vision for an industrial strategy.

Corbyn was endorsed by Unite, Labour's largest affliated union and the largest trades union in the country, following votes by Unite's ruling executive committee and policy conference. 

Although few expect the intervention to have a decisive role in the Labour leadership, regarded as a formality for Corbyn, the opposition of Unite workers in these industries may prove significant in Len McCluskey’s bid to be re-elected as general secretary of Unite.

 

The full letter is below:

Britain needs a Labour Government to defend jobs, industry and skills and to promote strong trade unions. As convenors and shop stewards in the manufacturing, defence, aerospace and energy sectors we believe that Owen Smith is the best candidate to lead the Labour Party in opposition and in government.

Owen has made clear his support for the industries we work in. He has spelt out his vision for an industrial strategy which supports great British businesses: investing in infrastructure, research and development, skills and training. He has set out ways to back British industry with new procurement rules to protect jobs and contracts from being outsourced to the lowest bidder. He has demanded a seat at the table during the Brexit negotiations to defend trade union and workers’ rights. Defending manufacturing jobs threatened by Brexit must be at the forefront of the negotiations. He has called for the final deal to be put to the British people via a second referendum or at a general election.

But Owen has also talked about the issues which affect our families and our communities. Investing £60 billion extra over 5 years in the NHS funded through new taxes on the wealthiest. Building 300,000 new homes a year over 5 years, half of which should be social housing. Investing in Sure Start schemes by scrapping the charitable status of private schools. That’s why we are backing Owen.

The Labour Party is at a crossroads. We cannot ignore reality – we need to be radical but we also need to be credible – capable of winning the support of the British people. We need an effective Opposition and we need a Labour Government to put policies into practice that will defend our members’ and their families’ interests. That’s why we are backing Owen.

Steve Hibbert, Convenor Rolls Royce, Derby
Howard Turner, Senior Steward, Walter Frank & Sons Limited
Danny Coleman, Branch Secretary, GE Aviation, Wales
Karl Daly, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Nigel Stott, Convenor, BASSA, British Airways
John Brough, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
John Bennett, Site Convenor, Babcock Marine, Devonport, Plymouth
Kevin Langford, Mechanical Convenor, Babcock, Devonport, Plymouth
John McAllister, Convenor, Vector Aerospace Helicopter Services
Garry Andrews, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Sunderland
Steve Froggatt, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Jim McGivern, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Alan Bird, Chairman & Senior Rep, Rolls Royce, Derby
Raymond Duguid, Convenor, Babcock, Rosyth
Steve Duke, Senior Staff Rep, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
Paul Welsh, Works Convenor, Brush Electrical Machines, Loughborough
Bob Holmes, Manual Convenor, BAE Systems, Warton, Lancs
Simon Hemmings, Staff Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Mick Forbes, Works Convenor, GKN, Birmingham
Ian Bestwick, Chief Negotiator, Rolls Royce Submarines, Derby
Mark Barron, Senior Staff Rep, Pallion, Sunderland
Ian Hodgkison, Chief Negotiator, PCO, Rolls Royce
Joe O’Gorman, Convenor, BAE Systems, Maritime Services, Portsmouth
Azza Samms, Manual Workers Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Dave Thompson, Staff Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Tim Griffiths, Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Paul Blake, Convenor, Princess Yachts, Plymouth
Steve Jones, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Bristol
Colin Gosling, Senior Rep, Siemens Traffic Solutions, Poole

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.