Media: Weaving a Web of politics

John Major may have pulled out his trusty soap box to help the Tories stave off defeat, but it’s already clear that both election campaigns will be played out as much on the Internet as on the street corner.

John Major may have pulled out his trusty soap box to help the Tories

stave off defeat, but it’s already clear that both election campaigns will

be played out as much on the Internet as on the street corner.



Last week the Labour Party unveiled an entirely new Web site designed for

the election. As in so many other aspects of Labour’s newly effective

electoral machine, inspiration for the Web site came from across the

Atlantic, where the Democrats’ Web presence was credited with helping them

to power in 1994.



It isn’t only the Labour Party that’s using the Web; a survey by the UK

service of America Online (AOL) lists 30 political parties with an

Internet presence, ranging from the Conservatives to the Natural Law

Party.



But Labour has moved fastest to set up a site designed specifically for

this election, under the ’Win97’ banner, it offers news and information

about Labour’s campaign, which can change as fast as events unfold. There

are also statements from supportive organisations such as trade union

Unison, which is a sponsor of the site.



Graphically, the differences between it and the Conservative’s site

highlight the gulf between the two political approaches. Where the

Conservative Party Web site (http://www.conservative-party. org.uk),

designed by On-Line Publishing, has a walnut-and-brass quality feel to it,

Win97 (http:// www.labourwin97.org.uk) is all forward-looking graphics and

visuals.



There’s less depth than on the main Labour site: this is an online ad, it

is not an information centre.



With only a small percentage of British homes connected to the Web, online

campaigning might seem like small beer compared with television, posters

and press. But the two-way communication between the governed and their

would-be governors that the Internet makes possible is changing the face

of politics. Labour’s commitment to the Internet extends beyond marketing

communications; its proposals to encourage the use of Internet connections

in schools are already the subject of fierce parliamentary debate.



In the US, co-ordinated e-mail campaigns have already helped achieve

legislative change. And President Clinton’s own Web site has registered

millions of hits from users who can find out, among other things, what the

Clinton family cat, Socks, does on a typical day.



During that 1994 election, the Democrats’ Web server (http://

www.democrats.org) received so many hits that it crashed and had to be

moved to a series of more powerful machines.



No danger of that for Win97. According to The Wire Station, which designed

Win97, they’re using ’a high bandwidth line and will be served by a number

of high-power servers,’ to make sure the Web site keeps running no matter

how popular it gets.



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