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Cameron and Brown Jostle for the Mumsnet Vote

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, April 9 2010

Credit: Mumsnet.com

The upcoming elections in the UK that finds Gordon Brown attempting to hang onto power and David Cameron trying to take it from him has become something of a referendum, reports the New York Times' Sarah Lyall, on the family-friendly credentials of the two candidates. And what better place for the perfectly modern British politician to mix it up with UK parents? The social-network for mums, Mumsnet.com, it seems:

Commentators are calling it the “Mumsnet election,” a reference both to the Web site that has become a new station of the cross for Britain’s politicians and to the added significance, in a tight race, of the amorphous thing known as the women’s vote. With the polls showing that many women are still undecided, the parties are working all the angles to seek their support.

“Mumsnet is totemic of the modern mothers who will be the key political battleground at the election,” Deborah Mattinson, a pollster for Mr. Brown, told The Times of London recently.

Actually, the site isn't just for mums; Cameron and Brown would be welcomed as Mumsnet members, explains the site's FAQs, "If it doesn't sound too pompous we think the concept of 'mumming/mothering' goes beyond gender." With a membership said to number more than 800,000 (where Britain's a country of just 62 million people), Mumsnet has earned itself a spot on the prime ministerial tour:

When Mumsnet celebrated its 10th anniversary at a lavish party at the Google offices here last month, the prime minister himself turned up to pay tribute, telling the guests that the site was part of a “social revolution” that was “changing the way Britain lives.” (In her own speech, Mrs. Brown said that Mumsnet was “like having a new doting mum, a new no-nonsense mother-in-law and a new supernanny all rolled into one.”)

A sign of the times, for sure. But at least some commentators are seeing in the "Mumsnet primary" a new kind of the old kind of tribal politics, and not all of it pretty. This being British politics, it's not surprising that there are class undercurrents at work. Sarah Chalmers in the Daily Mail is aghast at a Mumsnet incident where Prime Minister Brown drew fire for failing to name his favorite type of biscuit.

Petty? Certainly. More than a whiff of playground bullying? Absolutely. But this is all part of the weird, prescriptive and downright boring world of Mumsnet.

BBC News dutifully reported on cookie-gate: "Gordon Brown has revealed that he is partial to a chocolate biscuit, after he was accused of sidestepping a question during an online chat."