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

"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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Something is missing from the UK’s draft transition agreement with the EU

The talks could go to extra time.

The European Union has published its draft transition agreement with the United Kingdom, setting out the terms of the standstill period after March 2019, when the UK will have formally left the EU, but its new relationship with the bloc has not yet been negotiated.

There is a lot in there, and the particularly politically-difficult part as far as the government is concerned is fishing: under the agreement, the United Kingdom will remain subject to the Common Fisheries Policy during the period of transition, and two Scottish Conservative MPs, both of whom have large fishing communitiesin their seats, are threatening to vote against the deal as it stands.

But the more interesting part is what isn’t in there: any mechanism to extend the transition should the United Kingdom and the EU be unable to agree a new relationship by 2020. This is something that people on both sides believe is likely to be needed – but as it stands, there is no provision to do so.

The political problem for Theresa May is that some pro-Brexit MPs fear that transition will never end (which is why she persists in calling it an “implementation period” in public, despite the fact it is as clear as day that there will be nothing to be implemented, as the future relationship will only have been agreed in broad outline). So finding the right moment to include the ability to make transition open-ended is tricky.

The danger for the government (and everyone else) is that the moment never arrives, and that the United Kingdom either ends up making a agreement in haste, or not at all, in 2020.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.