It’s never been easier to engage, so if people don’t…

A hand cart, yesterday. Click image for source.

A hand cart, yesterday. Click image for source.

… then we’re all going to hell in a hand cart. Probably. A bit.

Sounds a bit alarmist I know, but here’s my take on this.

In the past, I’ve been fairly lackadaisical about politics. I thought I had left-wing leanings when I was younger but then who doesn’t/didn’t? At least I wasn’t a hippy like my father and I don’t think I’ll end up a neo-Nazi like my late Nan. Praise the Lord for small mercies.

However, this year, things are different. I can feel it. I’m not saying I’m running down the high street with a sandwich board haranguing passers-by and stuffing bits of paper into their pockets. Not yet anyhow. But I am thinking that there’s a lot at stake this year and that we have the first opportunity to track all of this. I should probably be more excited about the former but being a fairly shallow and narrow-minded chap, I’m actually more interested in the latter.

Fortunately for me – and the good people of Buckinghamshire who probably don’t want to be attacked by sandwich-board-clad fanatics – I can address both of these issues by setting up a dashboard.

So that’s what I’ve done. It started as a genuine attempt to find out what was going on for myself. It was just one tab and threw everything together in something that put the ‘mash’ into ‘mash-up’. Then I realised it might be of interest to other people too, so it’s expanded, been knocked through, had some new carpeting put in, been given a lick of paint and some safety rails and now it’s the UK Election Social Media Dashboard, covering what people are saying about Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg, and everything in between.

It’s worked. For me, at any rate. I actually found myself watching Nick Clegg be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman. I actually had a sort of background in what Nick Clegg was representing. And I actually read the election coverage in the papers. Imagine!

But one thing I keep finding: apathy. Today I heard on the radio the traditional moaning from the traditional moan-mongers: “Politicians all say one thing and then do the something else”; “I don’t know one from the other”; “I don’t see the point in voting”.

I don’t blame them. I’ve been thinking much the same thing for the past ten years or so – however long it’s been in fact since I found out the crowds welcoming Tony Blair to Number Ten weren’t just spontaneously enraptured constituents, but carefully chosen, arranged, and strikingly telegenic activists.

But that’s because all I’ve been able to see of politicians has been on TV (“In that case it’ll be Enigma Variations, minister”), or hear on the radio, or read about in the papers. Today politics is EVERYWHERE. It’s on YouTube and Facebook. It’s being tweeted on Twitter and downloaded from websites. It’s EVERYWHERE, being expressed in each, any and every channel in every possible way.

So, if people really do still feel apathetic – if they have access to this information in easily digested chunks of 140 characters, fed to them by their family, friends and colleagues, or as a great big ScrumdiddlyUmptious Wonka-bar of a manifesto download to secret themselves in a corner and inwardly digest, or as magic lantern images projected to the back of their retinas as they sit drooling in front of YouTube at 3am each morning, or on their smartphones as they absent-mindedly forget to Mind the Gap and step onto the live rails – then we’re probably in trouble.

OK, so this is our first ‘social media election’, and maybe it’ll be better next time around. But politics is happening, here, now, and it’s everywhere. So if people still don’t see it – or watch it, or hear it, or discuss it, or share it, or bookmark it or tag it – then it’s because they don’t want to. And that means we’ll probably have to think of something better to replace politics. Benign dictatorship, anyone?

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