Rosie Parkyn is Senior Projects Manager, Africa Programme at BBC Media Action
(We asked one of our guests at this week’s debate, Policies or Personality: Can the internet change the way we think about voting?, to write up their thoughts on the evening, and Rosie very kindly stepped up to the plate – thank you, Rosie!)
There’s another personality quiz doing the rounds on Facebook. Vote for Policies may demand more than average levels of effort from your ever-decreasing attention span before revealing your core political identity to yourself, but it may also be marginally more useful over the next 40 days than knowing which 00s rapper you are. Although I have walked taller since learning of my innate resemblance to Andre 3000.
As someone who studied Politics in order to decide which way to cast my precious vote, I’m the obvious advocate for a service which presents each party’s policies in their original, unmediated language, unencumbered by spin.
I’m also the obvious punter for a discussion on whether the internet can change voting by focussing attention on policies instead of personalities. The VfP team clearly see the opportunity their site creates to get people talking about the nature of British politics more broadly. Perhaps inevitably given the internet’s ability to foster people power, the debate was as much about Direct versus Representative Democracy as the internet’s role versus legacy platforms in supporting political communication.
The discussion worked because of the diversity of disciplines and perspectives on the stellar panel, but also because of the humility with which VfP operates. So often the tech community presents its impressive solutions as the ‘game-changing’ panacea, whereas they tend to work best in context and collaboration. It’s refreshing to see a tech team willing to open up the debate around their tool.
Here are the discussion points I found most noteworthy in a gem-packed debate:
- Policies are important. When encouraging people to review a shopping list of policies, we need to avoid the impression that the political system can deliver to order. Politics is about compromise and deliberation.
- Finding yourself influenced by personality doesn’t make you shallow. It’s natural that your impression about whether a candidate is actually up to most challenging aspects of the job and the unforeseen crises will inform your decision.
- The internet can support informed and rational voting behaviour by making policies more accessible and transparent. It can also dramatically skew the public’s impression of particular politicians by amplifying their gaffes on an endless loop.
- Sometimes politicians don’t deliver on manifesto promises because they had no intention of delivering on them. Sometimes it’s because the policies were never going to work in the first place. A useful means of creating much-needed trust around proposed policies is by exemplifying how they have worked elsewhere, if the conversation with the electorate ever gets that far.
- The three main parties look the same because their leaders look the same. Those leaders are all failing in equal measure to present a compelling narrative for their post-2015 Britain. People will, however, see striking differences if they look more closely at each party’s economic policies, the household-level implications of which will be far greater than the expenses scandals which monopolised so much public attention. Maybe it’s easier to be angry about the past than a future which hasn’t yet happened, but it’s the future which is up for grabs.
- Parties could make better use of big data to target potential voters directly on their specific needs and values, or involve constituents more directly in decision-making. That said, the purpose of Obama’s lauded digital strategy was to find the right people to have face to face conversations with.
In the end trust and emotional connection are most effectively created in the real world. Vote for Policies is a fantastic tool in the voter’s arsenal, particularly while that voter waits for someone – anyone – to turn up on their doorstep and try and win their vote.