This post isn't just directed at this morning's meeting at Labour HQ, it's directed at UK political parties in general. They're all obsessed with harnessing the power of the Internet; they're all convinced that America holds the answer, be it Ron Paul or the Obama campaign.
Reality check time. We are not America and what works there won't work here because the political system and rules are so massively different. Take the last Presidential election as an example. It's an individual beauty show for a start, and this time it has lasted for almost two years. The UK political system cannot compare to that. True, we did have the "permanent campaign" strategy that appears under Messrs Campbell et al, but even that is now becoming weary and tired.
You know what the biggest problem they're missing is though? The vast majority of people couldn't give a rat's arse about politics. Try this little parlour game in a pub, go around and ask people if they care about politics and see how few say they do. I can recall sitting in St Stephen's Tavern once (that's the pub next door to Portcullis House and within spittig distant of Parliament if you didn't know). I was with Devil's Kitchen at one of the early embryonic gathering of the Libertarian Party.
DK decided to play the game himself and wandered off around the pub. If I recall correctly he asked 20 people if they cared about politics. Less than a quarter said they did, and this was in the nearest pub to Parliament, one frequented by SpAds, researchers etc. It wasn't late, it was about 6.30pm on a Friday. So you tell me this, how does Derek Draper or whoever think that they're going to have a sucessful online campaign exactly?
What will happen, and this I guarantee, is what is already evidenced today, particularly in the Labour online world. It will become an echo chamber. Activist talking to other activists and very few new people beocming involved. They could of course get themselves a "Left Wing Iain Dale" as we've all been hearing about, the problem is that unlike Iain they're going to start off from a base of "this blogger is manufactured" which will turn so many off.
The reason that the Right is successful - or is at least perceived to be because of sheer traffic figures - is because they are individualist sites for the most part which do not consider themselves bound to remaining "on message". At the same time they also don't just do politics. This idea from Labour that their needs to be a centralised strategy to counter it all misses that point.
The reason the Right has been successful is because it has grown organically and its members have been willing to write in a manner that made them distinct and accessible. This has resulted in inevitable snobbery and sneering at what are considered anti-intellectual tabloid blogs. The trick they all miss is that the majority of ordinary people are not intellectuals and guess what, they like reading tabloids.
The bottom line it seems to me is this. Until the Labour side start to realise (a) that America and Britain are not comparable, (b) that most people don't care about politics, and (c) that having a grand centralised strategy will not trump letting its activist base organically grow, they'll get nowhere. Of course the last assumes a desire to let individual freedom flourish, something which many of them instinctively cannot do.
Reference: Previous post on why America and Britain won't mix.