Election 2010: Do Ealing’s candidates have a good online presence?

This is a very brief, and, I admit, not in-depth look at the way the candidates in my constituency (Ealing Central & Acton) belonging to the three largest parties are presenting themselves online in the run-up to the General Election, because I find it fascinating. Please let me reiterate that this is my blog and these are my words; my employer is not relevant to this post and the organisation is strictly non-partisan.

I’ve only included the main three because they’re the only ones with a hope in Hell of winning. Besides which, lovely as it is to have the widespread choices of a Libertarian, an independent, a Green and a UKIP representative, I was never going to vote for any of them anyway. The constituency is new, but is considered a Labour-held area as until recently it was partly Ealing North (under Stephen Pound) and mostly Ealing, Acton & Shepherd’s Bush (under Andrew Slaughter, who has gone with the White City / Shepherd’s Bush chunk).

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Labour: Bassam Mahfouz

His website is a bit DIY, but obviously I approve of his use of WordPress.  He’s obviously embraced the web in some way for some time as there are posts going back to 2008, but an awful lot of the monthly archives have just one post.  This picks up considerably at the beginning of this year, but is it too much to ask for someone who cares about the area to be updating on a regular basis all year round, and not just when election fever strikes?

The blog posts that are there, however, tend to stick to active campaigns in the area rather than relentless slagging off other parties (there’s a dig at the Conservative uncertainty over Crossrail, but given how big an impact that would have on Ealing I call that allowable), which is refreshing.

There’s no whiff of a Twitter feed, but there is a Facebook group. I await my request to join to be confirmed so that I can see if it’s particularly active or interesting; disappointing that it’s not a page as it suggests a rather closed style of communication. So close to an election, should I have to wait to communicate? There’s also a feed of general Labour news.

I’d probably characterise this approach as cautiously open, which is a start.

Liberal Democrats: Jon Ball

If I’m not mistaken, Jon’s blog has undergone a design change (mainly for the better, though it’s made the header unreadable) in recent days. Again he’s a bit of a fairweather blogger, but in fairness he does explain that he had let the blog lapse and is re-starting it after mainly spending his time on Facebook.  This time it’s a profile instead of a page, which again I find disappointing; I don’t want to be best mates with my MP, or to have them see any of my information, I just want to be able to access them easily online.

Jon does have a Twitter feed, though, which is properly streamed into his Blogger-based site. I would love to see more about him and more about Ealing on it; again I suspect this is a symptom of the election, but I’m tired about hearing why Labour and Conservative parties are wrong or old hat – there’s been enough of that from Saint Nick. I want to know about Jon Ball and his campaigns in Ealing. His blog is considerably better at communicating these, in between the press releases about Nick’s surge (which just makes me think of childbirth – ‘surges’ are what hypnobirthing practitioners call contractions) and what the Evening Standard said about the Lib Dems.

Given he works in TV and film, I would have expected Jon’s online offerings to be the most media-savvy and marketing-savvy and so, to give him credit, they are. It’s not always appealing, but it is always open.

Conservatives: Angie Bray

The only candidate for whom I haven’t received a leaflet in the post, so the only one I would judge entirely online, Angie goes for the middle ground with her website. It’s not a blog, but it’s not impersonal. Because it’s not a blog, it gets away with the irregularity of news additions, though it’s a shame they’re in stilted third person. She does get full marks for being the only one with a boundary map of the new constituency (the council’s own website still hasn’t been update to reflect the boundary changes, and there were no mailings of any sort to explain the changes to a perplexed electorate).

There’s a survey section, which is promising but sadly doesn’t deliver a great deal; one active poll has been running for a while and there’s only one previous one.  There are some personal areas, such as ‘How I See It’ and plenty of opportunities to get in contact, but aside from the polls no public spaces for doing so. There are no Twitter, Facebook, thread comments or similar.

It’s the most professional looking offering – and the least likely to snark at the other parties – but sadly the most distant (ironically enough, since locally I’ve been told by people in the area that Angie’s very approachable by email; it would be nice if she lived up to that online).

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I can’t say that online representation would ultimately sway my hand from one party to another in the polling booth. I’m also not nearly simplistic enough to believe this tells me much about the general parties. In hack’s hands, I could see the headlines: Labour “a bit DIY”, LibDems “media savvy”, Conservatives “a bit distant”. Chortle, chortle, and everyone returns to their preconceived tribe. But it does tell me a bit about how the candidates want to be seen, and that in itself is very interesting indeed.

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