After an extended sojourn in our outlying embassy at Lib Dem Voice, we make our triumphal return to the People’s Republic with three of the finest artworks ever bought on the internet for $8.99+shipping. We would like to thank our agent, etc, and are truly feeling rather over-honoured and a bit stunned, although that could be the result of the several well-aimed sticky buns. A shame, given this upbeat homecoming, and in a week when the party has had some of its best media coverage in months (and from some quarters, ever) that we have to begin on a negative note.

But for crying out loud, why didn’t you silly PR pop tarts in Comms think to run this 250,000 phone call survey plan thing past the Information Commissioner? How hard would that have been?

And why make a media splash of it anyway? I’m not necessarily against the idea of an automated phone survey in principle. Every method of information gathering irritates someone, and I probably wouldn’t hang up on something like this provided I was at least peripherally interested in it. But surely the whole point of our talking to directly people and garnering their views is that we don’t have to involve the sodding media.

That’s the main reason why they’re so down on the call survey idea, of course. They know that ultimately this kind of notion, whatever its clumsy shortcomings in early prototypes, renders them irrelevant. Yes, I grow bitter and dark as a bucket of bile, but that’s because I’ve spent all week reading newspapers. God, it’s a sick world those people inhabit. So whose shiny happy idea was it to try to enthuse these blood-encrusted vultures with a plan to – if you’ll excuse me – cold-call the population? You might not think of it like that. I, with a bit of persuasion, might not think of it like that. But what kind of Janet-and-John outlook do you have to have to not see that the media would treat it like that? You numpties.

And this is where Nasty People’s Republican Guard takes a break and Nice People’s Republican Guard comes in with a cigarette and some pictures of their family, because I have some thoughts for the Head of Communications which don’t involve a spike.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a bag of Focus leaflets covered in bar charts must be in want of a campaigning techniques refresher course. But an equally universally acknowledged truth is that we’re running out of track on our successful early 1990s campaign techniques, and ever-subtler refinements to the way we write Focuses, or where we deliver them and in what concentration, are achieving at best tiny increments of improvement. Most people’s solution to this problem is to seek great leaps forward in the national media instead. If we need to shift from “ground war” to “air war”, in Rennard parlance, “air war” translates irresistably for most people into “air waves”.

And that means a perpetual exhausting fight for a decent amount of fair and balanced coverage. People throw whole chunks of their time away on this goal, energy is pissed freely up the wall in the form of impotent rage that we have to scrabble and scream for even a mention of a vast new vista of policy, when the Tory leader, as one LDV wag has it, get full page spreads for saying that nice things are nice and nasty things are nasty. I swear the majority of the press actually thinks we passed the 16p basic rate cut package this week.

I submit that continuing to attempt a balanced relationship with the national media is likely to be  profoundly unrewarding, perhaps destructive, for at least a decade, and render a disproportionately small return to the amount of time and money we spend on it. I submit that we should dump the national media – actually dump them, as in not give them stories – and spend the money on workshops, public information meetings, local information points, websites, local advertising that goes beyond the Focus leaflet (created within the party; party message is too important to be left to professionals) and local campaigning on specific national issues instead. In other words, shoring up what Nick Clegg does himself when he beetles round the country getting shouted at in draughty school gyms. He does it too often and too privately to not find it productive and enjoyable on some level, and he does it deliberately out-of-sight of the national media.

Journalistic writing is necessarily a pigeon-holing exercise. They have to relate one thing to another, make links between different events and concepts, to build up the newspaper’s outlook – a macrocosm of how an individual arrives at their worldview, really. Which is fine, so long as the key political concept you’re trying to advance is something journalists already recognise and have a label for. But they just don’t – en masse anyway – have one for liberalism. Their instinctive, natural grasp of what liberalism means is lacking. I was tickled to learn (though not as tickled as Will Howells) that the Liberal Democrats have finally made it onto the Dewey Decimal system – so journalists may not have an excuse for too much longer. But right now, the outlook for comprehension of what liberalism is all about in the mainstream media is bleak.

Liberalism as a wider political movement has been splintered into environmentalism, pacificism, alternative living and the like more or less since the 1960s, and in abeyance as a high political creed for a century partly as a result. As individuals, journalists have lived through an era in which high politics is dominated by the twin blocs of socialism versus conservatism. No wonder they try to wodge our radical liberalism into mid-20th century Labour and Tory loaf tins. They’ve never known anything else. Most of them have never bothered learning anything else (this is what comes of studying Eng Lit at university instead of history).

That’s why they keep asking Nick Clegg, with repeated, almost desperate insistence, “Aren’t you just like David Cameron?” and then making a headline out of the result. They need the answer to be yes, or they can’t compute what he’s saying. The wellsprings of ideas in two-party politics dried up a decade ago, and that ideological barrenness has infected the fourth estate and invariably saps their powers of reason. That’s why they’re able to make statements, as Cathy Newman did on Channel 4 News last night, like this:

They’re [the Liberal Democrats at conference] a million miles away from reality.

A half-a-second, throwaway one-liner on the end of a report, and to utter it Cathy had to suspend every single rational synapse in her head. Six million people voted Liberal Democrat at the last election. Six million people inclined to a liberal outlook? A tenth of the entire population, a quarter of the voting population? A million miles away from reality? When proportions like that are in the balance, it’s your perception of reality which needs fixing.

When they give us good or fair coverage, it’s sheer chance, a momentary collision of our views with their spin-obsessed binary outlook. Vince has made a joke, Nick has delivered a speech well – therefore the Liberal Democrats must be Doing All Right. The party has created a tax package, or passed a series of measures, which a lemming-minded hack can translate into their weirdly flat and one-dimensional Left/Right worldview – therefore the Liberal Democrats must be Finally Showing People What They Stand For. It’s an accident when it goes well for us in the newspapers, not a sign that they’re developing an embryonic sense of fairness, or suddenly understanding what we’re all about. They never will, until the world has moved on and rediscovered liberalism again (as it may well over the next twenty-odd years) and the media, as is their wont, start following and reporting on that trend.

We know from our experience in local government that people don’t need ideological reference points for liberalism to see that it works. Because devolution and anti-statism are such essential components of the liberal creed, you don’t need a degree in political studies – much less English Literature with Journalism – to make it work for you. It already works for you. It lets you do what the hell you like so long as you don’t harm anybody else.

Simple. But not easily reportable. Liberalism’s strength lies in its acceptance of disparate points of view. That is just far too far a cry from the top-heavy high politics reportage favoured by most political editors, floundering around either in the 1970s or 1980s as the case may be, babbling about new angles and fresh ideas at brainstorming sessions, and all the while totally failing to comprehend the seismic shift in the political landscape. The Westminster Village, if its current course of irrelevance continues alongside a global recession, will eventually topple into a newly-created ravine and mass-participation liberal society will flow into the space left (it’ll have to; they say society is three meals away from revolution – even truer that society is three missed bin collections away from self-government).

Individual journalists might be natural liberals, and they’ll pick up on liberal trends anyway, without needing us to point them out – assuming their editor allows it. But taken as a whole, the media is a shuddering monolithic automaton with two default settings, and our words are wasted in trying to communicate with it. We need to wait for the dinosaurs to die and a more thoughtful younger generation to take over (assuming they’ll do so via the national media at all; there may not even be a newspaper industry in twenty years’ time). And next time the media calls, we need to hang up the phone.

Don’t get me wrong. I love techie geeks. Really I do. I love the open-minded culture and the sophisticated humour and the liberal politics. I’m really just a techie geek in medieval historian’s clothing (there’s a mental image for you). And no-one is more of a fan of pressing quirky little fields of esoteric knowledge into the service of liberal campaigning than I.

But sheesh, you guys don’t arf jabber on. This piece from the good Dr Pack was so brimming with enthusiasm for the future of social networking that he forgot to even mention its relevance to political campaigning. And there may, as I somewhat sarcastically suggested in the comments, be a very, very good reason for that (I’m afraid I may have gone a bit overboard. Bah, I’ll just buy him a Great Big Bar of Chocolate).

Seriously, everyone can see that the internet offers boundless potential for innovative political contact, but any idea which involves the entire voting population wuv-wuv-wuvving extreme techie geekery as much as the average techie geek does is barking up the wrong protocol.

There are three ways you can use technology if you’re hoping for actual things to actually happen in actual real life on a mass scale:

Method 1

Aim what you’re doing at the masses. That means that (a) it has to be VERY basic (baseline: most people are confused by Facebook, have never heard of Twitter and have one email address for home and one for work; harsh but true) and crucially (b) it has to ask them to do something they might consider doing anyway (most people’s natural instinct for filming themselves doing or saying something serious is simply not that high, hence the low and nerd-heavy response to the YouTube hustings during the leadership elections).

In fact, it has to ask them to do something full stop – how many Facebook groups are you in? How many people/organisations are you Fans of? How much practical action has any of this resulted in?

Method 2

Aim what you’re doing at the nerds, with the idea that if enough nerds take it up and it involves some sort of quirky/snowballing/viral element, it will become news in its own right. I came across an absolutely sublime example of this, courtesy of MatGB. If you’ve not yet received your Nerd Induction Pack into the world of XKCD, a quick look here first (we also keep a permanent link on the sidebar of the People’s Republic) will ease you in.

Done that? Now, go here. Take your time – as they say on ebay, you will not be disappointed.

The artist, you will note, is running to be a State Representative for a little town in Kansas. And as a result of that single cartoon strip and the associated fundraising drive, he got into the Los Angeles Times under the national news section. Technology and extremely niche cultural references were successfully used here to drive print media with its far broader audience.

So what do we notice about that comic, children?

(a) it’s highly specialised – ideally you need to already like XKCD to get the full impact.

(b) it’s GOOD. This cannot be emphasised enough. Remember that dreadful anti-Boris viral video  we put out during the mayoral campaign? Gave the word “viral” a whole new meaning. There’s absolutely no point in adopting a technology which normally packages something quirky and filling it with middle-of-the-road dross. The kind of people who were being targeted with that video are the kind of people who like Armando Ianucci. He was therefore our benchmark in that case and there’s no point pretending otherwise (Christ, let’s just give up now…)

(c) it celebrates the culture of the people it’s trying to attract. Yes, even at the expense of Normal People.

Now, a team of Nathan Barleys would have looked at that comic strip and complained that it didn’t have wide enough appeal, I’ve no doubt. They wouldn’t get half the jokes, and those they did get they’d blue-pencil because Normal People wouldn’t like them. Normal People wouldn’t buy a product which associates them with geeks, the Nathan Barleys would say.

Yes. But Sean Tevis wasn’t looking for Normal People, we would reply, before shooting all the Nathan Barleys’ kneecaps off and then firing them. Sean Tevis only needed 3,000 other people like him. And once that was secured, it not only got him his $26,000 – it became a story in its own right in dead tree land. This is cross-media viral transmission at its best.

Note also that the 3,000 was only a story because it hadn’t been done before. It oustripped a previous statistic. This is a vital ingredient to any attempt to use technology to start a dead tree story.

But, you might be grumbling, why use technology to start dead tree stories, however successfully? Isn’t that a cop-out? Isn’t the whole point of innovation and mass online collaboration that it enables escape for the individual from the dead tree media and its associated top-down information flow?

And you’d be quite right. It’s a problem. Method 2 is still ultimately shackled to the mainstream media, which is exactly what we need to get away from, and no-one to my knowledge in any British party has yet pulled off a truly successful mass movement along the lines of Method 1.

Method 3

Ha, if I knew that

After a long period of internal strife in the People’s Republic while we moved house, my revival to blogging is partly inspired by The Call from the party about renewing my membership subscription (“Are you enjoying being a member of the Lib Dems?” Yesyesyes, really, honest, I will blog, I will I will I will! Poor woman never knew what hit her. I felt so guilty I even paid the full recommended membership fee) and partly by a Citizen who has recently claimed, on my Facebook wall, that I am his only source of news, a state of affairs which, if true, induces in me the sort of chronic low-level panic I normally reserve for running late for long pre-booked train journeys.

So to celebrate, let’s relaunch the beleaguered People’s Republic with a champagne reception, a gourmet picnic, live cutting edge music, elegant surroundings and an altogether fabulous party!* Did you enjoy it? Right then, to business, and where better to start after a lay-off than a bit of Tory-bashing?

Make it happen (and if you’re going to click on that link, be ready for the springiness of the hair which will quickly fill your browser) is the handle of the relaunched Lib Dem tax policy With Bells On - as you will already know if you haven’t been living under a rock for the last week or if I’m not your only source of news.

There’s not much I can say about this welcome firming up of liberal principles that hasn’t already been said here and, hehehe, here. But I would add that, as a slogan, Make it happen forms an interesting counterpoint to the Tories’ You can get it if you really want it tagline. In both cases, the “it” is critical. “It” is a flexible word that fills the space in people’s heads marked “What I want/the world needs”. “It” is the common goal shared between catchphraser and catchphrasee. Whether they have the same common goal in reality is another matter – but it’s something the catchphrasee will generally have worked out from the accompanying policies and mood music.

The difference in mood music is, of course, that our tagline talks about what the world needs. It’s a call to action, an exhortation to create and/or better something. The Tories’ tagline appeals directly to individuals’ self-interest (it’s actually the tagline for their recruitment drive, I see. Figures.) As a piece of semantic positioning, this heartens me. You can get it if you really want it always did strike me as preternaturally ghastly, a 1980s Mazda advert throwback of a catchphrase, and our related idea is just well, light years more appealing unless you’re a self-caricaturing estate agent**.

But more than that, an appeal to self-interest is an increasingly nonsensical position for the Tories to take, given that they are on record last week as refusing to rule out tax rises, which is code for fully intending to send them through the roof. If you’re going to set out your stall to the nakedly self-interested, you should make sure you can satisfy their greed. What kind of self-respecting self-interested person doesn’t want to pay less tax? What is there left for people to get if they really want it?

Presumably, only the chance to lock up everybody under the age of 25. And their mums. Expect the Tories to continue majoring on the “You can force everyone you faintly disapprove of to starve in the gutter as a sort of sop to your self-respect as your employer goes down the tube, your living costs rocket and your house plummets in value if you really want to” message.

* Owing to insurmountable technical difficulties, guests are asked to provide their own champagne, gourmet food, music, company, ambience and venue. Dress formal.

** Not that all estate agents aren’t lovely and wonderful people, of course. Particularly those in Devon.

Charlotte Gore is back! Joy! I love this girl – so much so that I once had to hurriedly clarify to her that I wasn’t gay and trying to pick her up on Facebook, I just thought she was a really good egg! That’s how much I love her.

Her first two posts make a fascinating pair of counterweights. The first, basically, says we’re heading into the next election as principled losers with hardcore green policies where the other parties will have ditched them come 2010 and be addressing the needs of motorists. So we should ditch green policies too.

I can’t express how profoundly I disagree with this reasoning. It’s not just to do with principle – although of course I believe we should try to do what is right rather than what is expedient at the ballot box. It’s to do with taking the longer view on positioning – the view that will ultimately prevail.

I’ve been viewing the world through the lens of Maslovian types lately and what Charlotte is basically saying here is that we should be following the Prospectors and Settlers sections of society. The Prospectors, for those who weren’t paying attention at the back, are the upwardly mobile, self-interested, status-driven operators who grew to dominate political discourse over the 1990s, displacing the traditionalist Settlers, whose age of influence was the postwar period and who are now dwindling fast. Between them, these groups account for a good 60% of the population, according to the Maslovian questionnaire stats. So we want to appeal to them like Charlotte says, yes?

No, no, no! Appealing to Settlers is a loser because the Settlers, literally, are a dying breed. Hence the frantic backlash of extreme right-wing activity in the form of the BNP, hence the ever more frothily crazed screaming about corporal punishment and good British values and what have you over at the Torygraph.

From a distance of forty-odd years, this is going to look like the last stand of the Luddites. Like cornered animals, they know they’re dying and they sure as hell aren’t going to go quietly. Appealing to Settlers is a waste of time, and it’s also deeply, deeply unprincipled because security-driven, traditionalist, heriarchical Settlers are about as far from liberal ideals as it’s possible to get. So they’re out.

Appealing to Prospectors can generate tremendous instant rewards at the ballot box. David Cameron is finding that out – actually, he hasn’t found it out, he has been well-advised. Even down to his slogan “You can get it if you really want it”. If that wasn’t framed with the Maslowian Prospector group specifically and nominally in mind then I’m a tin of pears. But appealing to Prospectors ultimately gets you nowhere, because Prospectors only want to mirror other people.

This is what Labour are finding out – and boy, they really are finding out, in the same way that you wake up and think “Hey, I’m not really that hungover,” and then half an hour later whoooosh. Having warped themselves to fit the views of the dominant group of the electorate, Labour became a sort of shell that no-one quite got round to looking inside for ten years. Now the Prospectors are clamouring for “change”, by which they mean a new fashionable talking point, a new mirror image, a new set of cool-but-stamped-with-mass-approval Stuff. Nothing too edgy. They don’t do real edgy - what if no-one else likes it and they look silly? Thus, Cameron provideth.

We should carry on doing exactly what we do best, and that’s not delivering thousands of leaflets. It’s appealing to the Pioneers. The Pioneers are the people the Prospectors, eventually, listen to. Converting one Pioneer is worth ten Prospectors. It’s like Focus delivery routes - spend an hour delivering 100 leaflets, and you’ve delivered 100 leaflets. Spend a quarter of that hour chatting to a supporter and getting them to deliver some for you next time, you still deliver 75 leaflets but you’ve ensured that next time, you’ll deliver 200. The investment in a niche – the one person on the street who might be happy to deliver your leaflets – pays a dividend that the equivalent delivery time would not.

For the purposes of branding and market appeal we’re the political equivalent of tech gadgetry (no coincidence that our ranks are so thickly peopled with techies of one sort or another) and if we let that go, we lose everything. If we keep it, in twenty years’ time we’ll be Bill Gates.

Which brings me to Charlotte’s second post. She’s done what she always does brilliantly – pulled together the potential outline for an edgy, interesting, attention-grabbing GE ad campaign. It’s a positive message while still poking fun at the other side. It says everything about who we are, and why people should want to be like us. Even the rough draft mock-up she has done is streets, miles, light years, parsecs better than anything I saw from any party during the recent local elections. And certainly – oh god, the smelling salts, quick! – in a different dimension to that weepingly awful Village Idiot video for the London campaign.

Charlotte has done Pioneer advertising. For every six Prospectors and Settlers who look at her ad and don’t get it, or say “LOL!!! Liberalz r such a WAIST OF SPACE* who wants 2 B like THEM!”, there will be four Pioneers who never knew they cared about politics who look at it and feel – in the words of Hector in The History Boys – like someone has reached out a hand and taken theirs. They’ll giggle, they’ll maybe vote for us next time they get around to it, and one day some of them will start writing blogs, or contributing to comment forums, explaining why all the Prospectors should be voting for us too.

Sadly, I don’t think the party is ready to accept that Pioneer advertising is the way to go yet. It’ll take this GE and probably the next one to convince Chris Rennard (ok, for me to convince Chris Rennard) that this is the prototype which will win us the air war. We’re still too mired in attempting to play the same game as the other two parties on national campaigns – and of course it doesn’t work because our policy-makers don’t play the same game as the other two. Our policies can’t be advertised in the same way as Tory and Labour policy can be.

Excellent to have Charlotte back, but why this total cognitive dissonance between the “new approach” needed on policy and the “new approach” needed on publicity? I’m not going to bust a gasket supporting her bid to get herself on the 2010 publicity team if she’s going to carry out the precise reverse of her noble experiment on our policy unit!

* This is a phrase I actually saw in reference to the Lib Dems on a Yahoo question.

All the focus in this morning’s reportage of the Crewe & Nantwich by-election has, naturally, been on what it signifies for the next general election. My interest is somewhat nerdier but potentially, I think, more significant for the future of politics than the question of whether Tweedledum or Tweedledumber will be running the country after 2009.

Matthew Taylor, former head of Labour’s policy unit, was just on the Today programme laying the blame for the loss of Crewe & Nantwich squarely at the door of an “inept” campaign strategy. The campaign, lest we need reminding, saw activists wearing top hats and the Crewe Labour website adopting a front page which suggested the Tory candidate was a con man (subsequently replaced, I see, with something less overtly offensive and equally desperate). The kind of self-conscious “nasty” stuff that campaigning tacticians insist always, always works. Labour insiders insisted exactly that during this campaign – that they had at least moved the talk of the town off the 10p fudge and on to Labour’s dreadful campaign tactics, which is a sort of vindication, I suppose. None of that defence was in evidence this morning.

Jim Naughtie rightly (not three words often seen in association) picked Taylor up on this – so either Downing Street didn’t send anyone good to Crewe, or they weren’t listened to when they got there. Which is it? Danny Finkelstein corrected (there we go again) the position aptly: Labour ran a bad campaign because they are in trouble, they’re not in trouble because they ran a bad campaign.

In order to answer Naughtie’s question, I’ll just remind you of the local Labour leader’s response when asked about the top hat/con men stunts. “You’ll have to ask the experts.” This was a central campaign, all right. If it worked, it was going to be redeemed as a bit of fun, but since it failed, it is the ready trussed-up scapegoat. And its success or failure was purely dependent on the existing party weather.

If you doubt this, look at the Tories’ merry distribution of 8,000 people’s data to a Manx radio station (I’d love to know how that happened, by the way. How do you accidentally send something to the Isle of Man?) If that had been Labour, it would have been heralded as the final death knell and the swing to the Tories would have been even stronger. As it is, the punters on Andrew Sparrow’s live blog greeted the news with near-indifference when a Lib Dem councillor raised it. They were not, I think, doubting that the blunder had actually taken place. They were merely questioning whether it was all that important – after all, if it had been “serious” wouldn’t the media have indicated this to them by making more of a fuss?

I would like to think that evangelicals for negative campaigning across all parties are watching and taking note of this. I am increasingly troubled by the intellectual bankruptcy of negative campaigning and the way people continue to believe that it works no matter what happens. It seems the proponents of negative campaigning literally cannot lose an argument. If we do well, it’s because of negative campaigning. If we do badly, it would have been even worse had it not been for the negative campaigning. There are probably dreadfully keen types out there this very minute theorising that we were squeezed in Crewe because we didn’t do enough negative campaigning. Heads I win, tails you lose.

It’s not just the cynicism on show in Labour’s approach to Crewe that turns the stomach. I’m sick of the sheer uncritical stupidity of negative campaigning. I’m sick of the way the proponents of negativity wave their willies around – yeah, well, you gotta be prepared to play hardball in this game, there are no points for Mr Nice Guy, hur hur hur, just as well you called me in… It’s all just a great big wank for them, probably a great big compensatory wank for having been bullied at school.

If Crewe tells us anything about the future of politics in this country beyond the purely literal, it is that very negative spin, like very positive spin, only works if the wind is in your favour. Self-appointed hardball-playing cretinous wankers of all affiliations should take note.

Little extra treats on a Monday never go amiss. In culminatory order of squeal-inducement in the People’s Republic this evening:

1. Cadbury’s have brought out a year-round version of the Creme Egg in bar form (I know, I know; mind-blowing)

2. Time Team is doing a special on pre-Roman hill forts

3. The Liberal Democrats have published a  MINI GUIDE TO PARTY POLICY! Seventeen ickle-pickle pages with headings an’ sub-headings an’ everything! Let joy be unconfined!

I’ve been grousing about this on and off ever since I joined. It needs a link from the front page of the website asap but otherwise it looks perfect. I will be genning up and reporting back, and I encourage all other nerds to do likewise. Now that we’ve got the raw material served up to us in easy-peel form for our busy executive existences (or whaddever), we can have a proper discussion about what to use on the doorstep, what would work well if we all blogged about it at once, what little unexpected gems or oddities lurk within…

And above all, how best to slap the Tory blogosphere round the face with it.

We’ve shown you ours; now you show us yours. Oh, whoops. You don’t have any, do you.

I had an email from the Cleggster yesterday. “I’ve cleared my diary for next Wednesday…” he began. Nick, that’s ever so kind, but really it’s not necessary to put aside a whole day to consult me on the future of our national campaigning. Three hours should be perfectly sufficient. And do bring your own pen and paper, won’t you, I’ve lost too many pens over the years handing them out to boys who never return them…

But no, Nick is off to Crewe & Nuneaton Nantwich again, and encouraging the party’s emailing list to follow suit. Typical that the party should start fighting two by-elections just as I manage to land myself two freelance contracts that mean I’m working a five-day week again plus weekendy bits (and just what is this full time work shit? I was happier when I was poor… Actually, no that’s not true at all, I was miserable when I was poor. But I did get a lot more blogging done.) (more…)

Following on from James Graham’s ‘Inter-generational equity with background of handbags’ moment, Alex Foster has an interesting poser – why have no women yet submitted video questions for the candidates, as invited by Chris ‘cunning as a’ Rennard?

Answer: because we are far too busy doing all the actual work to have time to video ourselves asking why other people aren’t doing it properly. And because we are plotting to kill you. All of you. And take over the world.

AHAHAHAHA.

Actually, in all seriousness, as soon as I saw the Rennard clip I thought, “What a freaking gimmicky waste of time, why would anyone want to video themselves asking a question, what does it really add to the proceedings, when will we get our pointy heads round the idea that ‘innovative campaigning’ and ‘YouTube-compatible’ are not the same thing?” Yes, I thought all that. I did not think, “Hey, I could ask a question about Darth Vader and Spiderman. Cooooool.”

Personally, I’d rather write a question down and get a written answer, because you get more information and the respondent has to think about their answer more than they would if they were talking. I remain obdurately convinced that a clear writer is a clear thinker, but I realise it is just possible that I am clinging to a melting icesheet with an elitist tinge here.

So I wonder if it simply reflects the ratio of men to women who are (a) actively involved and (b) online as a matter of course. To play lazy-ass observational demographics for a moment, there’s a party spike in activist men under fortyish whose activism has a strong online bias, and another spike in activist women over fiftyish whose activism is founded in, er, real life or whatever it is called.

Fourteen men have submitted questions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the ratio of male-to-female online active members is greater than 14-1. So at the moment, mathematically-speaking, less than one woman has filmed herself asking a question, which is probably why that clip isn’t being shown because it would freak people out.

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