Actually political parties will need the onliners more and more

After Fianna Fáil’s total screwup last week over Joe Rospar which had them state this

He was also keen to stress that the party took the iniative in inviting bloggers to a talk by Obama’s New Media guy, when they could have just confined it to pol corrs.

you’d think they’d learn. To me and others that line is read as “we didn’t have to invite you”. With their symbiotic relationship with the media, Fianna Fáil and all the other equally useless and backwards political parties might have survived on this alone when it came to communications but it’s not going to be so in the future. Bloggers and Twitterers reacted in seconds to the Rospars event, something which as it built, Fianna Fáil couldn’t slow or direct or what they’d prefer: control.

Photo owned by Duy© (cc)

And their beloved political corrs are getting their news from Suzy Byrne at the Ard Fhéis. In the age of a slow news cycle you could afford not to be open. In an age of only a few people being able to access the eyes and ears of thousands, you could afford not to be open. You could manage the news. The media could manage the news. In the world where everyone has a net connection and is sharing information with each other, you’re going to be open or you’re going to be dead. It’s going to be very interesting in the next few years for even the best truth jugglers to keep the act up. Deception is an expensive and fatiguing business and leaves trails. Watch as people will falter and crash. Publicly.

A good thing done by Fianna Fáil this weekend was inviting people who blog to the Ard Fheis, a bad thing was dumping them in the press area and thinking that was it. Media organisations brief their newbies about Ard Fheis’s yet Fianna Fáil missed a huge chance to develop a relationship with these bloggers if they had down them about and told them how things work in FFland. It’s a different world if you’re not a hack who puts Jackie-Healy Rae before Jesus or someone paid to smile politely as a councillor acts like a dick.

Sunlight is the great cleanser yeah? If Fianna Fáil really opened up and gave access to the public and worked with them they’d not have much leeway to pull as many stunts and crimes as they’ve done. They built an environment that allowed wholesale crookery and thievery and while most of the Irish public didn’t care as they too took advtantage, the teacher is still partially to blame for the unruly class. Other parties need to fully open up too.

Graffiti wall
Photo owned by Damian Kettlewell for Vancouver-False Creek (cc)

Fantastic coverage by Mark Coughlan, Gavin Sheridan, Eoin Bannon and Suzy Byrne.

Another thing not to do is run an event about blogging and snub bloggers who are there. These politicians will have to work and converse with the bloggers who could have met them on their turf.

Without being too harsh, if political parties don’t end their love affair with their beloved traditional media and cop on to where people are going and forming opinions online then some new political entity will swoop in and take over. At best political parties, even the “open minded” ones are Hilary Clinton in mindset and at worst John McCain. There is a huge space right now for someone with enough initial cash to get a lead and then build up enough of a war chest to obliterate the traditionalists. That sounds like someone I’ve heard of.

People seem to think that it was a Democratic Party win in America when it wasn’t, Obama stayed the hell away from the headless main party and Washington itself. Instead Obama and his army of supporters are populated with a lot less hacks. People used to not playing politics. It must surely scare the hell out of the parties here (if they look out at the real world) that within months they and their supporters could be obsolete and with so many pissed off Irish people, 2009 and 2010 is when it has the greatest chance of happening.

Based on the lessons learned from the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, here are some tips for the other parties:

  • Invite bloggers. Don’t care if they hate you or not.
  • Brief them and be open with them. They’re nervous too.
  • Have them meet and greet the decision makers and influencers in your party.
  • Don’t lecture them, converse with them. Take their instant feedback on board. Ask for it.
  • If the traditional media get pissy cos bloggers are getting access to your people, remind them that these bloggers aren’t salaried to be there.
  • Don’t start a bloody blog or Twitter account or Facebook Page just for the local elections. All these are about building longterm relationships, not shortterm ones.

Nice guide from Suzy on suggested Dos and Don’ts.

7 Responses to “Actually political parties will need the onliners more and more”

  1. Tony The Throat says:

    Joe Rospar has been busy removing “developer friendly” material from the FF website but the google cache still has this one

    Freeze rates and lower development levies – Flynn
    Local authorities should consider re-examining commercial rates and reducing development levies, according to Mayo Fianna Fáil TD Beverley Flynn.

    Press Release by Beverley Flynn at 08:45 03/12/2008

    Speaking on the Finance Bill in Dail Eireann Deputy Flynn called on local authorities to support local businesses by looking to rates as a potential deterrent to small businesses.

    “Rates should be frozen for this year and development levies should be reduced in local authorities, because the level of development, not only in County Mayo, but throughout the country is so small at present,” she said.

    “The development levies charged in the past are unsustainable.”

    “I understand that local authorities are also experiencing financial difficulties, but there is no point killing off potential development by imposing onerous development levies. Any measure to stimulate growth at this stage should be welcomed,” she said.

  2. The bloggers seemed to get along fine and mingled and mixed around the conference just like the mainstream media. I saw several journos mingling, chatting (even drinking!) amongst the crowds, presumably (and by sounds of things from posts) the bloggers were doing the same thing and enjoying it. Re the talk mentioned in Suzy’s tweet there would not have been much in it for the guys in it anyway it was fairly introductory material aimed at newbies. Some more questions might have been generated by having the guys along but there were a gazillion people milling between a gazillion events not every missed session is a ‘snub’. I would say they got as much access as anyone and probably more than most. Hopefully they’ll be back for more the next time.

  3. Adrian says:

    Couple of things, Damien.

    I remember before the last general election ringing up all of the general secretaries (including Sean Dorgan of FF) and press secretaries and challenging them on why they couldn’t make their websites more involving and interactive. I remember, in particular, asking why a simple bulletin web forum couldn’t be included. The response I got was that it just wasn’t worth their time. And also, that they were terrified of “what might be said”.

    Here’s something else they said, too. (I’ll paraphrase.)

    “Blogs, okay, fine. But how many people actually read any of those blogs? I have a situation where I can reach 50,000 people by giving an interview in a local paper, and there are hundreds of those in the country. Then there are the local radio stations, the national papers, the magazines, the national radio stations and RTE. Where do I have time for blogs? As far as I can see, the most any of those blogs has is about 1,000 regular readers. And who are they anyway? And how many of them vote? How many of them, indeed, can vote in elections here? You can see how our resources are stretched…”

    Now I still think (as I wrote at the time) that this is short-term thinking and that you could actually gain a lot more by doing what you’re suggesting above.

    But making the website that gets 20,000 regular readers, all of whom vote, all of whom get into the faces of their local politicians, is the way to prove this to Fianna Fail and other parties.

    Honestly, we can crib all we want. But parties don’t give a shit unless we can deliver something that they can’t afford to ignore.

    You’re right in your analysis of the US situation. But bloggers had precious little impact on this: it was direct activism aimed at people themselves. And mostly, it wasn’t even about policy or discussion forums or opinions, or cultivating bloggers — it was purely a vehicle to get money from ordinary people.

    And you know what Obama’s campaign did with that money? Did they spend it on more online communications? Did they commit it to a citizen effort online? In their ass they did. They spent the whopping majority of it on big old traditional media: TV, radio, newspapers (and yes, online, too). And then they won the election.

    I think you’re right about online’s potential. But it’s a lot more limited in Ireland than it is in the US. They have two parties and a showbiz political cycle. We have six parties, most of which stand for roughly the same thing.

    What’s the magic bullet that will get people to sign up and interact with parties online? Can you think of any examples?

    I can think of a couple of ways to get web-addicts (such as many of the folks on Twitter) more involved with parties online. But ordinary folks is a much harder sell.

  4. “How many of them, indeed, can vote in elections here?”


    You kind of hit the nail on the head there. I’ve been musing on all this stuff lately and I’m not yet convinced the electoral benefits will immediately follow from the online activism. From a narrow electoral perspective it is much harder to reap benefits in a local context than on the huge canvass (300 Million voters) that Obama had. Lot easier for Obama to cast a stone and have it land on the right lily. Whilst a national party could benefit overall from a web campaign (like FF is trying get off the ground here), the Irish system is around multiple individual campaigns in wards of ten mile radii, rather than a two horse continent-wide race. Example I think I’ve over a hundred people on my facebook (politican) page. Great but how many them can actually vote within the confines of my local electoral area, very few as it turns out. Heck I was an Obama supporter on facebook myself kind of proves the point. My college buddies now scattered around the globe, or my work mates domicile across different counties are very kindly supportive but of little electoral assistance in reality. So far it’s close but no cigar.

    Obviously new media has other benefits. Lots. And being a techie I intuitively love this stuff anyway. But from the narrow electoral perspective I don’t know if we’re there yet. Old(er) technologies like SMS and email lists are extremely useful but I’m still struggling to conceive that silver bullet that can be brought to brooke (pun intended) in an Irish context.

    Answers welcome btw.. am just musing…

  5. Adrian says:


    Just checked out your own site (

    I have my own ideas as to what you could do, but won’t bore people here.

    But I’ll give you an example of one offline strategy that seems to work a charm. One of my local TDs is FF’s Noel Ahern (brother of Bertie). Coming up to each election, he dispenses with the usual guff. Instead, he sends around leaflets with almost no intro, almost no paragraphs. Simply, local amenities and € figures on what he (claims to have) got for them. ie ‘This school got €35,000’. ‘That sports hall got €20,000’ etc. It works a bloody charm. He tops the poll.

  6. Did you check out the right site crazily enough there are two James Lawlesses running in this year’s local elections, I am .ie the other is .eu

    I don’t doubt the ubiquity of such ‘established’ offline campaign methods as the one you describe. But if we are serious about realising new approaches we need to understand the challenges as well as the benefits.. as above?

  7. Does it really matter what media FF use to get their tired and untrusted message across? Using Barak Obama’s man will ultimately fail because Mr Cowan is no Barak Obama. Change the message not the medium.