Review of week 1: Digital campaigning – lots of noise, no impact.


Some thoughts on why local digital campaigning alone on a campaign from scratch is had no impact in Cambridge – as I move into phase II.

Some of you may be interested in the latest audit of political engagement from the Hansard Society – see here, lots of interesting things.

This feeds off from this blogpost on the first 24 hours of campaigning. In terms of coverage, there has been a fair amount of ‘Yay Puffles!’ Twitter and Facebook chatter given the localised nature of what I am doing. We’ve also been mentioned three times in five days in the Cambridge News (print and online) since the closure of nominations:

  • The announcement that Puffles is standing – see here
  • The announcement ex-mayor Sheila Stuart is standing down – we get a mention at the end of the article – see here
  • My contribution at the European hustings at Cambridge University – see here but also note the context of my comments which was about experiencing racist abuse in childhood – see here.

Next week I have an article in The Guardian about standing as a local candidate, and also a short piece for the BBC. Furthermore, there’s another local election feature on all candidates standing in Cambridge, which will be in the Cambridge News. I’ve got a short piece there.

“What have been the results?”

On the top-line metrics such as questions put to the parties on Facebook, the increase in ‘likes’ and the number of people pledging to take the digital democracy challenge, impact has been almost non-existent.

  • Eight brave souls signed up to the digital democracy challenge (see here). I was hoping for 10 times that number by now, given the simplicity of it
  • Puffles’ Facebook page (see here) has gained more ‘likes’ than all of the other parties that I have been trying to promote – how does that work?
  • People who are passionate about social media in Cambridge are a lot more sceptical about anything to do with politics – as I found out last night
  • Although vague offers of some support have come through from a handful of even more braver souls (which I ***really appreciate*** in this toxic political and mainstream media world), there’s been no one who has said: ‘I’m going to stand by you on this’.

The last bullet point emotionally has been the hardest thing to take. But at the same time that’s part of the learning experience of doing this. As I said to a council officer recently, one of the big reasons for doing this is to establish a baseline/evidence base for Cambridge’s appetite for using social media for community action and local democracy. Does the anecdotally high levels of social media use in Cambridge indicate an appetite for ***how*** people choose to use it? My impression from the excellent #SookioSocial event last night (see here) indicated that this was not the case.

“Has there been ****Anything**** positive following the news of Puffles standing?”

Surprisingly, yes.

The first is that the way some councillors and some local institutions are treating me has changed significantly.


It’s one thing to complain – and complain regularly about things. Even more so if it’s online. You end up being boxed in as a bit of a social media or keyboard warrior. It’s quite another if you can gather enough signatures and stand for election – particularly if you’re being more than a paper candidate. This is not to criticise people like Richard Taylor, who works his socks off scrutinising the north side of Cambridge, the police and all things civil liberties. My point here is that there is more than one way to get involved in local democracy and Richard is a pioneer in this regard. Yes, he sometimes irritates local councillors, but so do I. So do other activists such as the merry band of cycling campaigners at the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. That goes with the territory. It keeps them – and us on our toes!

Crossing the line in the sand

With the institutions and existing councillors, it feels like there is this big invisible line in the sand that very few cross. In a city where (in the grand scheme of things) few people follow closely what happens inside our public institutions on social media, it’s easy to be put in a box – despite the statements from London about how important social media it is. This for me is a reflection of the London bubble – the rest of the country is further behind on all things social and digital media than what’s happening in the capital. Because (bar Cllr Amanda Taylor of the Liberal Democrats), South Cambridge was an open field as far as digital democracy was concerned. And Puffles bounced right into it.

Now that Puffles is a candidate, it’s like we’re part of this unspoken group of those that stand for elections and are active about it. Therefore there’s this ‘respect’ for the others for having bitten the bullet (or ballot box) and taken the stand. Essentially we have to face the same hostile public.

“So…what’s Phase II?”

Phase II is poster phase.

One of the learning points from the SkillsFest (see here) was the need for longer lead-in times with posters. The problem is that no one seems to be advertising that these elections are on. I’ve tried to contact various organisations for posters that I can put up everywhere reminding people that there are elections on, but nothing doing. That alone also won’t work. This is the problem I have with the Hope not hate -style poster campaigns. It’s one thing to campaign against something and ask people to vote for the main parties instead, but there’s little guidance or discussion about the underlying causes of why for some people voting for extremist parties seems like an option in the first place.

“Was this the thinking behind the digital democracy challenge?”

Precisely. Picture the conversation.

  • Activist: “Hello! You should vote because people fought and died for our freedom and you should vote to honour that!”
  • Member of Public: “But all politicians are the same and anyway it’s not as if voting’s going to change anything!”
  • Activist: “But voting allows your voice to be heard!”
  • Member of Public: “OK, who should I vote for?”
  • Activist: “Anyone! Just remember to vote! Yay!”

Actually, I’m stereotyping and poking fun. My point about the digital democracy challenge (See here if you still haven’t seen it) is that I am saying ‘Don’t just vote for anyone – challenge the lot of them to impress you through social media.’ I’m also encouraging under-18s to use social media to question publicly the politicians that are standing in their area. Just because they do not have a vote does not mean they do not have a voice.

Experimenting with a ‘living manifesto’

This is the other subtle change as a result of week 1. I’m not going to have a ‘completed’ manifesto simply because I’m learning all the time from the conversations I’m having as a result of getting out and about. Hence I’m going for a ‘living manifesto’ that will allow me to select some of the best ideas and suggestions that are out there and incorporating them into my manifesto (see here) – and more importantly crediting the person or group that came up with the idea. This differs from other parties taking good ideas and branding them as their own. Give credit where it is due. Otherwise you’ll just rub people up the wrong way.

“What else do you want to do?”

I ***really*** want to have some creativity unleashed. At the same time, I’m almost too shy/anxious to ask. This is the problem with feeling/being alone in driving this. For example:

  • I want to go to the Cambridge Art Salon and have a group of interested people make some things to encourage people to get involved in local democracy
  • I want to get a group of us to make some digital videos – but I feel that I don’t have the skills or confidence to make them alone – and election expense limits mean that I can’t commission anyone
  • I’d love to get the input of people who are more creative than me in designing fliers and leaflets – as well as posters
  • I’ve spent some of my election allowance on things for stalls – but don’t want to be alone in running them or when handing out fliers and leaflets.

“The above sort of looks like phase III”

It is.

Or rather it represents an escalation of some of what I want to do and how I want to do it. Remember much of what I’m doing is testing out slightly different ways of doing things as well as refining some of the more standard face-to-face campaigning to make it suitable for my local area.

One thing I have learnt is that by simply ‘raising the flag’ of standing as a candidate has not been enough to get those supportive of the overall principles or ideas to ‘rally round’ and form a committed group of supporters. That sort of goes with the territory of being an independent, so I shouldn’t be too surprised at this. On the other hand, I am still all ***Eeeek! What have I let myself in for?!?*** with Puffles on the ballot paper.

Over the next week or so I’m going to be approaching some of you and asking for your help on specific things. It’s entirely up to you as to whether you contribute or not. I don’t want to go down the road of ‘guilt-trip campaigning’ – the

“If you care about X then you will do Y or donate £Z to our campaign!” …sort of thing.

It’s more along the lines of:

“If you like the ideas in my manifesto, are interested in exploring digital democracy, want to experiment with new actions and see if we can make a difference, please get involved”

And not just because there always seems to be coffee and/or wine involved whenever we go to somewhere to talk about these things!

Me and Puffles at Cambridge Wine Merchants where we discussed digital democracy with Hester and Al of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign
Me and Puffles at Cambridge Wine Merchants where we discussed digital democracy with Hester and Al of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign



2 thoughts on “Review of week 1: Digital campaigning – lots of noise, no impact.

  1. I decided to follow the Lib Dems on facebook. I then made the mistake of writing a pro-EU comment of several under a few of their recent posts the response was bile from lots of ugly reactionary types (apparently I’m a traitor to my country, don’t I understand how bad immigrants are, only UKIP can save this country). Net effect probably won’t bother doing that again.

    This seems to raise a big question. What’s the point of social media?

    If social media is supposed to help reach out to people that that surely means engaging with such people. (Frankly I don’t have the patience to deal with such willfully ignorant people). If social media is about enabling nice thoughtful small government Tories and Labour Fabians to debate then that’s fine … but it isn’t really contributing much to the debate beyond those who are already quite informed and open minded.

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