Nick Jones

Election Campaigns

While the ability of pro-Conservative newspapers to manipulate and often dictate the news agenda far outweighed the political impact of a burgeoning online discourse during the 2015 general election, there was no doubt that the power and reach of social media did have a profound effect on the conduct of the campaign.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and host of other inter-active services became the top destination for instant news and comment.

Political journalists complained that they had been deprived of the chance to question politicians with the thoroughness of previous elections, but in many ways they had been complicit in allowing the internet to become a pivotal channel of channel of communication.

All too often correspondents and presenters had themselves become slaves to social media, jostling with each other in cyber space in their clamour for attention.

Electioneering via the internet had led inexorably to a reduction in the opportunities for journalists to hold politicians to account.    

The Election A to ZSelfies with the party leaders were the breakout craze of the 2015 general election – and the must-see location was definitely the kitchen!

A post-election thesis might well seek to establish what proportion of the thousands of people who took selfies actually voted for the political party of the candidate with whom they had chosen to photograph themselves.

Judging by the way the leading contenders were photobombed by a sea of mobile phones and tablets, onlookers obviously had an overwhelming desire to capture their moment with a celebrity politician.

Was the rush for selfies a passing fad? Did it – and will it – have political dividends? The same can be asked about kitchens: why were photo-opportunities all the rage? Were politicians taking advantage of the great popularity of shows like the Great British Bake Off or MasterChef?

All these trends – and many more – are addressed in The Election A-Z, my latest book reflecting of 50 years’ of political reporting.

 

German politicians have much to learn from the unprecedented level of online engagement during the British general election of May 2010 and the American Presidential and mid-term elections.  In a lecture in Berlin to the Deutsch-Britische Gesellschaft (17.11.2010), Nicholas Jones said that online discussion of politics came of age during the British election.  He was convinced that German political engagement via the internet will have the same unpredictable results in the run to up to the Bundestag elections in 2013.  

What greater challenge could there be for a political enthusiast than to be given ten minutes to tell twenty sixth formers the ten most important facts about the 2010 general election.

Campaigning on the internet during the 2010 general election did not achieve the breakthrough which the political parties were hoping for but communication via the web ‘came of age’ for both the public and the news media.  Speakers at a London conference agreed that voting intentions were influenced by the rise in social networking and the emergence of Twitter as a significant source of information for journalists.

Just as the 2010 general election was a game changer for the political parties of Britain – paving the way for the first peacetime coalition government since the 1930s – so it was for the news media.  But not quite in the way the pundits had been predicted.

Come the next British general election leading broadcasters say they will do their best to ensure that the political parties impose fewer restrictions on the format for any future televised debates between the party leaders.

Online participation in this year’s general election is certain to set a new bench mark for the web’s influence on political debate but the British blogosphere will be hard pressed to match the impact achieved in the campaigning for and against President Obama.

Almost lost amid the United Kingdom’s minimal news coverage of the election campaign for the European Parliament and the English county councils were some significant developments within the British media landscape.  Newspaper websites broke new ground in their bid to challenge other news outlets and showed they could compete head on with mainstream television and radio services.

All too often elections to the European Parliament have been reduced to not much more than a snapshot of the popularity of each national government.  When the United Kingdom votes to elect 72 MEPs -- in what The Times says is the election that “never happened” -- British voters seem destined to give a good kicking not just to the Labour government of Gordon Brown but also to the entire political establishment.