Balancing the internet
British conservatives have long prided ourselves on our dominance of the blogosphere. Sites like ConservativeHome, Platform 10 and Guido have been providing comment, opinion and analysis from a centre-right for longer than have their left-wing rivals, and have proven incredibly successful in doing so. Britain’s centre-right papers – from the Telegraph to the Daily Mail – have thriving blog offshoots that offer an array of mostly (though not exclusively) conservative voices and the Conservative Party’s targeted email system has helped to galvinise voters and supporters. But this advantage is – according to Robert Halfon MP – an illusion.
He has founded a new right-of-centre (but party politically neutral) campaign group called Right Angle. And its aim to launch conservatives into the side of online politics at which, in his estimation, we are losing. The group aims to be a campaign orientated platform – serving less as a place for comment and more as a motivator for action. Anyone suspicious of the capacity of a group headed by a Tory MP to be non-partisan ought to check out their first campaign – lifting the tax threshold to £10,000 a year – which is to promote the implementation of a Liberal Democrat manifesto promise!
I think Robert’s right to think that the centre-right has been missing a trick. If you look at the success of campaign groups of the Left such as 38 Degrees you can see that there is much to be gained from providing the public with easy-to-use campaign tools to aide their political engagement. What is true in the UK is also clear from the US - where the early-adoption of social media and web 2.0 helped Obama to energise his youthful and online-savvy base. The Left has been aided in its more active online presence by the leftist bias of early adopters - those who are quickest to use and understand new tech and new platforms - and use of tools such as Twitter (which are arguably perfect for this kind of grassroots action) have been imbalanced to favour broadly leftist views. But that imbalance rectifies over time and, as more and more ordinary people make social media part of their everyday lives, the opportunities for the Right broaden.
And this shouldn't merely be about political advantage. Whilst I disagree with (almost) everything that 38 Degrees have argued for, few can dismiss the good that has been done by shaking the apathy of their members and inspiring political engagement and action. We want people to be less apathetic? Help them to be!
And most important has been these centre-left group’s ability to keep their leadership on side with their grassroots. On the NHS bill, campaigners have arguably pushed Labour far out of their comfort zone in the level and volume of their opposition (after all, the changes are ones scripted by the last Labour Government). Keeping the Conservative Party onside with its members has never been more important than it is today – with Lib Dem influence seen by many voters as rendering conservatism practically impotent. So three cheers for Right Angle and for its efforts at galvinising small-c conservatives and giving them real voice.