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Webbed-Up UK Elections Find Brits Taking the Mickey, Sampling Alinsky

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, April 5 2010

The Times of London's Jonathan Oliver has a extensive piece detailing the Obamafication of the upcoming Parliamentary election in the UK, or at least the attempt by both Labour and the Tories to put a little more zazzle into the race. Oliver's is a solid lay of land piece, and difficult to categorize, but for many of us in the U.S. what's going to go down in Britain over the next few months is going to be a fascinating control group sort of experiment where a country that shares many (though, by all means, of course, not nearly all) of the U.S.'s political characteristic works through what new media and new media management techniques are actually good for, come election time, when you don't have a fellow like Barack Obama skewing the field.

Conservatives, Oliver tells us, are super excited that they now have something like Twitter should Labourites say something damaging enough to spread wide and far. Labour, for their money, are excited about the openness that the web makes possible. Says their campaign coordinator, “This week we have put up our policy guide on our website. That is a radically more transparent approach. These details used to go in a physical copy to all Labour candidates but we wouldn’t hand it out to journalists or anyone else. At some point in the campaign someone would leak it and the headline would be, ‘The truth revealed about Labour policies’.”

Particularly interesting, though, is not the how of new media in the UK election, but the why. Oliver reports that both the left and right are dueling over the mantle of Saul Alinsky. Yep, leftist social organizer and theorist Saul Alinsky, a distinctly American gent. Tory leader David Cameron's dropping his name in speeches, to the consternation of both his allies and adversaries. The pitch is that an embrace of new media isn't just about fancy marketing. It's about reorienting the relationship between the people and the state, or at least the people and those who serve them, to refocus attention individual agency and collective promise. Alinsky, of course, was an inspiration to some in the Obama campaign, but his model was more of a touchstone that anything else. Perhaps the Brits can carry through the transformation of that political calculation from campaign to government, something that arguably has progressed in fits and starts in the U.S.

Relatedly, the Guardian's James Robinson reports on how the cash-strapped Labour is turning to the web to "take the mickey" out of the Tories. A recent online campaign run by the ad giants Saatchi & Saatchi spread virally a web ad created by a 24-year old Labour supporter from St. Albans that only makes sense if you're really well versed in British TV programming from the 1980s.

Stay tuned, the UK election is expected to be called tomorrow.