BethMellor’s Weblog

Postgraduate journalism, news and views.

U-Turn on MP expenses as “first real victory for online political campaign”

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 It is certainly a sign of the times when even BBC Radio Four presenters are talking about FaceBook and Twitter on the Today programme.

Yesterday, however, on the 5th Birthday of the now-iconic site, which was set up by Mark Zuckerberg from his dorm room at Harvard, the programme discussed how social networking sites have so rapidly become a part of our everyday lives.

But in addition to the social aspect of these sites, they are also becoming increasingly important as a tool for political campaigning and protest.

Jo Swinson, Britain's youngest MP

Jo Swinson, Britain's youngest MP

Much has been made of the use that Barack Obama made of social networking sites during the election campaign. Some British politicians, however, are not far behind; Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson is a regular Tweeter, and she partially attributes the Government’s recent U-Turn on the publication of detailed breakdowns of MPs expenses, for which she tabled a Parliamentary motion, to the use of social networking sites. Over 7,000 people joined the FaceBook group and thousands who heard about this story through FaceBook and Twitter sent e-mails to MPs, forcing the Government to abolish its plan to exempt MPs’ expenses from the Freedom of Information Act.

Conservative blogger Iain Dale called it “the first real victory for an online political campaign in this country”, whilst the founder of campaign group mySociety, Tom Steinberg, said: “This is a huge victory not just for transparency; it’s a bellwether for a change in the way politics works. There’s no such thing as a good day to bury bad news any more, the internet has seen to that.”

Most dramatic is the speed at which the campaign gathered momentum. According to Peter Facey, director of Unlock Democracy, the campaign that was mounted in just a few hours would have taken weeks 10 years ago. There’s a great article on what happened by Mike Lowe here.demo

And internet-savvy Swinson is not stopping there. When I interviewed her yesterday she also said that she would like to make  clips of Parliament available on YouTube – with the dual purpose of getting more young people interested in politics and of making the political system more transparent and accessible. She may have a battle on her hands for this one though – even though some European Parliamentary debates are on YouTube, she suspects she will first need to explain to many of her older colleagues in Westminster what the site actually is… See below for YouTube video of Finnish MEP Alexander Stubbs arguing in the European Parliament for “equal treatment for Vodka”.

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