Yesterday afternoon I was part of a panel at the e-Democray conference. Pete Bazalgette (who created Big Brother), Labour MP Margaret Moran and LibDem MP Willie Rennie were the other participants. Normally, this sort of panel is quite tepid because there is a certain amount of agreement across the panel. Not yesterday.
Willie Rennie was the victor of the 2006 Dunfermline by-election. He is also the head of the LibDems Parliamentary Campaigns team (or so it said on the programme). LibDems are normally very switched in with regard to campaigning. Generally, they "get" what technology can contribute to campaigns. Not Willie Rennie, though. His entire web strategy was to have collected 1,500 email addresses from constituents within two years, to whom he sends a monthly email. He doesn't even post the email on his website (which he shares with the local MSP!). He has not blog, no other web presence and derided those who did. He didn't fancy blogging in case he said something against the party line. I didn't think that would be so much of a problem for the LibDems, but there you go. I have rarely encountered a politician so immune to the opportunities which the internet provides.
Margaret Moran seemed obsessed by one subject. If her analysis was right, her Luton constituency is full of wife beaters. The only subject she seemed at all interested in was domestic violence and how she could "outreach" to the victims of it. All well and good, but what about the other 99.9% of her constituents. She had been involved in an online community group for her Asian constituents, which, knock me down with a feather, even has recipes for curry on it! She, again, seemed frightened of the blogosphere and couldn't see any redeeming factor. I think it was her (although it may have been Willie) who described it as full of "white noise". She didn't understand that it's quite easy to filter out the white noise. She alleged all the bloggers were the same people that write letters to the local paper or fill her mailbag. That may or may not be true, but she seemed to want to ignore them, almost as if they didn't deserve a voice if they weren't victims of domestic violence. Extraordinary. She then said that these were the sort of people whose only interest was to comment on her "boobs and shoes". She was indeed wearing a very nice pair of shoes!
Both these MPs were on full 'send mode', without a clue how to switch to 'receive'.
The audience seemed to be shaking its collective head at the views of the two politicians, as well they might. It was profoundly depressing to see two elected representatives who not only did not "get" what the internet can achieve in terms of e-Democracy. They showed no sign of even having an open mind on the subject.
UPDATE: Spartakan provides a comprehensive review of the conference and pays me a backhanded compliment... "an articulate, educated man in a grey suit if ever there was one". I don't do grey suits, but I am sure Saffron Walden County High School will be pleased!