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
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
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.