TheStraightChoice.org crowd sources photographs and details of election leaflets in real-time. During the election they collected more than 5,000 leaflets.
Our guest writer is Richard Pope, editor of The Straight Choice
TheStraightChoice.org crowd sources photographs and details of election leaflets in real-time. During the general election campaign they collected more than 5,000 leaflets. Election leaflets are designed to do something very simple – get a message over you, the voter, in the time it takes to get from the front door to the recycling bin. They are targeted, effective and (occasionally) nasty tools in the fight for votes.
The trouble is they are normally pretty well hidden from public scrutiny. We setup TheStraightChoice.org to provide a bit of transparency to the ‘ground war’, catch candidates who are misbehaving and close the loop on what candidates say they will do, and how they actually behave in Parliament.
Here’s a few of the things we discovered:
Targeted and personalised
This may not have been the much sort-after ‘internet election’ but it certainly was the first digital-print and database election. Leaflets targeted at old people, home owners, families – even those with concerns about civil liberties – were printed on demand, often with the name of the voter integrated in the design of the leaflet and could be send out to fit with the news cycle.
Leaflets follow the fights
There are huge differences in the number of leaflets dished out in different areas of the country, with marginals like Islington South and Finsbury and Oxford East being deluged. This makes perfect sense from the point of view of the parties, it’s a simple case of preservation of resources, but what impression does it leave with voters living in the not-spots?
It’s often claimed, without much evidence, that the Lib Dems are the nastiest campaigners. Sadly we found candidates from all parties putting out some very shameful literature, making claims that are unfair or untrue and deliberatly trying to scare voters. So long as there are no untrue personal smears PPCs can say what they like, and often do, without any recrimination.
We are Borg
The leaflets of the Conservatives, and to a lesser extent Labour, revealed how centrally controlled their campaigns were. The Conservatives brought out a new leaflet design about once a week, all printed centrally in Guildford (always amusing when the candidate is pimping their commitment to local business), with the candidates just filling in a few local details and photos.
This combined with the relunctance of Tories to complete the TheyWorkForYou.com questionnaire raises some interesting questions about how the new intake will behave in parliament.
Follow the leader
With the exception of his own leaflets, Gordon Brown was almost entirely absent from the Labour print campaign. In short, Brown was seen as toxic to the electorate so Labour focused on their local candidates, past achivements and attacking the Tories instead. The opposite was true of the Conservatives where David Cameron was often more prominent than both the candiate and the Conservative brand.
The Liberal Democrats arguably went further with leaflets being delivered at 9:00 am the morning after the first debate proclaiming Nick Clegg the winner and referring to the party as “Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats” later in the campaign.
Finally, it seems all parties are involved in an a deliberate attempt to de-educate voters about the local political landscape. Each party will use the poll or election result that says they will win, or failing that just make up some data. This example from Lambeth ignores the Green Party (who were actually second in the previous local election) and makes no mention of where the data comes from. Whilst this Lib Dem leaflet skews the scale to give the result they want.
Changes to the law
There are a couple of very simple changes to the law that would help clean up this little corner of politics and hopefully improve people’s respect for the process. Firstly, if all candidates had to log a digital copy of every leaflet they put out with the Electoral Comission then there would be much more transparency and hopefully less misbehaving.
Secondly, we need a Political Advertising Standards law – any claims made on leaflets or posters should spell out the source for the claim. If we require it of anti-aging cream, we should require it of our politicians. The data collected by The Straight Choice will be made avalible to anyone who wants it, and the website will remains open after the election – the next campaign begins now.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.