As things presently stand, the next general election will be decided by apathy and anger. The financial crisis has brought long-simmering resentments to the boil. While the government is on the receiving end of much of the resulting vitriol, there is an increasing awareness that the Conservative solution bears a startling resemblance to the policies that got us here in the first place. The result could be an election that sets a new low in voter turnout; though that is preferable to an election that bucks the trend of recent years thanks to a surge in support for the BNP.
In an effort to engage the millions of people who were uninspired by the last election- to say nothing of the 4m or so new non-voters who were too young not to bother in 2005- politicians of all parties have turned to the internet. Impressed by the success of Barack Obama's presidential campaign, and the sheer size of activist groups such as MoveOn.org, they hope that they too can raise funds and mobilise supporters online. They are quickly learning that the internet cannot be treated as just another medium for the message: you cannot 'use' new technologies to catapult people from sofa to voting booth, you can only use them to communicate, and whether people respond depends on what you're saying. So far, the likes of ConservativeHome, LabourList, WebCameron and GoFourth have not been saying anything new. There are many websites out there offering much more to the progressive-minded browser, with newspapers, think-tanks, charities, journals, and bloggers all serving up cutting-edge content.
But the profusion of progressives sites is not without its problems. Political parties run for election; the blogosphere does not, and even if it did, it would probably prove too fractured and fractious to have much of an impact. Disembodied designs need living advocates, and the force of the better argument is even more dilute in the real world than in its virtual counterpart. True, the internet makes it possible to organise petitions and protests on a massive scale, and online activism of this ilk can certainly influence policy-makers. But because there is no relay connecting these single-issue campaigns to the world of electoral politics, politicians feel able to ignore them with relative impunity.
DoSomethingAboutIt.org.uk, a new progressive group, aims to change this situation. The website is at heart a rolling petition, one that enables members to stay connected from campaign to campaign so they can back up their protests with a coordinated electoral response. The organisation aims to work alongside existing think-tanks, charities, pressure groups and discussion forums, combining the expertise, ideas and commitment of political activists with the numerical strength of busy but concerned individuals frustrated by the lack of an electorally viable progressive alternative to a defunct status quo. If enough people join, we can make that progressive alternative electorally viable- empowering progressive MPs and candidates of all political denominations to speak up, and providing tools for progressives all over the country to coordinate their time, resources and votes, constituency by constituency, once an election is called. It's free to sign up, and you can do as much or as little as you want- even just by registering, you are showing politicians that there is a constituency for genuine change in this country, and helping to put a progressive agenda on the political map.
The best cure for apathy is something worth voting for; but we need to act now to choose later. If our leaders won't lead us, we will have to lead them. To do that, we have to organise- fast.
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