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First Tribune column.

Here it is, a few days late.

Go buy the copy. It’s available in a few places around the UK (Selfridges is the only place I could get it), or online here.

A note from New York

As you may or may not have gathered, my flight was cancelled. I took a trip down to the British Embassy to see if they had anything new to tell me.
Until then, my news flow was mainly coming through Twitter and BBC news.
It was rediculous. There were people everywhere. There was a massive buffet, but thy had run out of Coffee.

Although I was feeling very woeful and upset, I managed to get some comfort from a very, very kind couple from Lancashire. They bought me a three course dinner and then paid for a taxi uptown to get me back to my hostel. In times like this, British people come out of their shells. Everyone in the Embassy that I met was calm and not too uptight about being stranded.

What we can learn from the US Election ’08

After much persuasion at the Fabian Society Conference this year, I pinched a free copy the publication, ‘The Change We Need : What Britain can learn from Obama’s victory’, edited by Nick Anstead and Will Straw. It was a much needed read, after not taking a great deal of interest in the most recent presidential election.

Every chapter is relevant to the battle that the left will be pursuing this election campaign.

Faiz Shakir’s chapter on blogging the election highlights the somewhat insignificance of much of the political blogging surrounding this election. The disparity of many bloggers is causing voices to be lost and for influence to be slow reaching.

Other chapters to note are party funding – with Obama’s Democrat campaign using techniques such as small donations on a mass scale: one dollar from a thousand people etc. This could easily be done in the UK… although we might think about collecting pound coins.

Web 2.0 already has the framework in place: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Apple iTunes, campaign websites and blogs, and in some respects MySpace and Bebo are waiting to be used in this ‘electronic’ election. We have seen campaigns such as Labservative, Slapometer and We Love the NHS

Yesterday, the Labour Party released their manifesto video, available on YouTube.

The Electoral Commission has paid for an advertising campaign in cinemas and on Facebook to ask users whether they are registered to vote, and giving a link to do so.

But the use of the internet in the UK election may be limited. A huge number of people are disenfranchised with the political system and parties. It may just be the conversations that activists, and perhaps people down the pub can have to energise and motivate people into voting on 6 May.

While on holiday, I am reading another Fabian publication. More reviews may come soon…

Labour left red faced after social networking errors

Gone were the days when you could use the internet as a way of letting your thoughts out. Was I naive in thinking that nobody really cares what you have to say online?

In the past seven days, there have been there first ‘Twitter casualties’ of this election campaign – mainly in the Labour camp.

First came Stuart MacLennan, Labour PPC for Moray. Paul Waugh of the Evening Standard blogged a collection of contemptuous ‘tweets’ from over a year ago (before MacLennan was selected, to be fair). This resulted in his de-selection as candidate in the election.

Earlier, I learnt of the hoo-har about Ellie Gellard’s (@BevaniteEllie to Tweeters) past tweets about Margaret Thatcher, and a blog post written in 2008.

Now I know that the Daily Mail are short of stories, after their attack on Sarah Brown’s toes yesterday, but seriously. Are we going to be held to account for every tweet? Do hacks really sit and read tweet for tweet until a speckle of gold dust is flushed out?

As David Cameron put it on Absolute Radio, “too many twits might make a twat” (hear it here).

And as this has taught me – check everything before submitting to avoid embarrassment. Actually I learnt this at Lewis PR Social Media Summit. Enlarged Twitter feeds and name checks do not go well together.

Past embarrassments

It’s a whopper

After catching myself watching BBC Newsround just now, it struck me that this could be the way to report politics in more than just children’s television. All too often, people that I know and meet say that they don’t understand politics and the ways in which the media reports it.

Here’s the link to Nick Robinson on Newsround, explaining the election in  a more easy-access format.

Last week, I tweeted this video from Youtube. Although it may make the more politically inclined cringe, we really need to teach people what politics means to them, what each party is pledging and why they should vote. It isn’t all about political anoraks having a good old natter.

Tell your friends, your family, your colleagues. Tell everybody what 6th May means to them, and why they should get out their and use their most powerful right: vote.

Political debates – it’s a start but could be better

The Chancellors’ debate, televised on Channel 4 on Monday wasn’t as good as I had hoped.

To start with, it was set up like the BBC’s Question Time – letting the audience ask questions, and candidates making petty comments about each others parties.

One reason why our debates will never be quite like those in America is because American debates only ever have two candidates (apart from in 1992 when Ross Perot was present as an independent candidate. Click here for footage from debate). It should also be considered that the candidate is responsible for their policy. Unlike here in the UK, presidential candidates are pretty free to initiate their own policy, without the need for a vote for or have their policy scrutinised.

This is one of the debates from the 2008 Presidential Election.

The presenter puts all of the questions to the candidates. They take it in turns to answer the questions, putting their case to the audience. They don’t talk over each other; they don’t attack each other.

The forthcoming leaders debate will be the first proper face-toface debate in general election history. No dates have been released for the leaders’ debates, but below is Ask the Chancellors’ – incase you missed it.

mephedrone – the new acid? moral panics and the wrong agenda setting

Remember the moral panic of the 1990s “acid house raves”?

I don’t, but I’ve read enough books, newspapers, and talked to enough people to know that the story of mephedrone could be the 21st century equivalent.

Ecstasy was at the forefront. When 18 year old Leah Betts died, apparently caused by contaminated ecstasy (although it is also claimed that her body was flooded by water), the British media started a whirlwind campaign – labelling party-goers as drugged up hippies, and accusing the government and police of being lax. Now, raves are outlawed and ecstasy is considered (politically and socially at least) to be one of the most dangerous drugs available.

Although the media and politicians have a hard line on drugs, such as E, scientists have a different idea.

Professor David Nutt was sacked last year as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. He was outspoken about the trivialisation of drugs such as ecstasy, and compared the dangers to horse riding (in the number of related deaths per year).

Having a hard line on drugs wins political points. The pressure that the press, in particular The Sun, and the reactionary public opinion are possible reasons why governments are keen to be “tough on crime”.

Mephedrone is just the new kid on the block. Something to blame.

Reading the newspaper reports carefully, it is quite clear that no deaths have been purely caused by the drug. Just as with Leah Betts.

Alcohol can kill people. It has already killed people. It is socially acceptable. When are the government going to jump on that bandwagon?

Politicians and the media are silencing the experts, and sacking them if they do not conform to their agenda. Whatever happened to freedom of scientists? Professor Nutt, and those who left the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for the same reason, need to be listened to. Career politicians and civil servants are not experts.