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.