May Day in Albion: will future historians declare the 2010 election for social media and the people?

How will future historians look back at the UK election of 2010?

We don’t know, of course, but the primary sources will be more than the letters between politicians, the newspaper reports and memoirs of the politicians. They will probably use the data-mining skills that will be commonplace then, possibly refined for the academic researcher to carry out information archaeology on the Tweets, emails and Facebook messages that survive from the rest of us.

What will their conclusions be about #ge2010?: web obsessives were convinced that this election was different, but in fact the parties and politicians influenced the agenda and the voting in much the same way as usual? This was the beginning of networked democracy as the connected voice of the people refused to adhere to the lines written for them by command and control political leaders and the proprietors of crumbling newspapers?

As I say, we don’t know.

While waiting for the election to be called, people asked whether social media (read a connected electorate) would play a role in this election similar to the US Presidential election of 2008. I doubted it would – the five week election timespan wouldn’t allow the kinds of networks and communities that grew to support Obama, for instance.

I was naive, because I was thinking within the party system. Too simple. What’s happening ?is that a connected electorate is undermining the basis of the media/political party complex which has dominated, sterilised, stifled near to death the political system in the UK.

I agree with John Naughton when he says something feels different about this election:

What?s changed is that this kind of thing ? which used to be the essence of TV election coverage in the old days ? now looks, well, both comical and pathetic. I mean to say, here are these guys telling us how the debate that we have all just watched ?went?, as if we were dopes incapable of having our own responses. Further, they are telling us how we will respond (or have already responded via instant polling techniques) to it. What they don?t know is that I have been watching the debates alongside my Twitter buddies, and I have been attending ? and contributing to ? that backchannel throughout the debate and its aftermath. They don?t know, for example, that at one point someone tweeted that while watching the debate on HD he had suddenly wondered if David Cameron was trying to grow a moustache. In no time at all this meme had flourished and led to this.

To me it feels like – at least more than before – that the game is not the same. The media-party complex is not the sum of the game. I don’t go to the news to find out what they have been up to, the news is trying to keep up with what the people think and then spin a line that it was because of what it has done. It was the media wot set the agenda. As Bernhard Ingham, Mrs Thatcher’s press secretary, once said: the press are the biggest spinners. Always have been.

I am not sure who I am voting for yet, I feel courage to vote for disruption and change, not a vote out of fear of minor change. Something in this election is more vital than 5 years ago – it actually feels exciting.

Image: The opinion "worm" flatlining during the first leaders debate. A metaphor, I suppose, as well as just poor implementation.

By Antony Mayfield

I'm Antony Mayfield - to find out more about me take a look at my LinkedIn profile (see the button on the home page). You can contact me by email at antony [dot] mayfield [at] gmail [dot] com. Google