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Can Britain get political online?

By Krishnan Guru-Murthy

Updated on 12 January 2009

As Labour launches a new blog site, what can UK political parties learn from the online campaigns of US politicians? And what do bloggers think of the new Labour site?

It promises to be the place where "Labour-minded people can come together". A new left-wing website,, has been launched, in an attempt to revive the left's fortunes online.

While not formally linked to the Labour party, the site's bloggers include Peter Mandelson and Douglas Alexander - and it has been set up by one the government's original spin doctors, Derek Draper.

But will people actually want to come together on the site?

It is the right that holds most sway online, with blogs like Guido Fawkes and among the most popular British political sites. However, the parties themselves still have a pretty limited online presence.

That is in contrast to America. Presidential candidate Howard Dean paved the way in 2004 - and Barack Obama learnt the lessons. His online campaign changed the way politicians raise money, organise supporters, and advertise to voters - and it took him all the way to the White House.

Obama's web win

$500m raised via site
13 million email addresses registered
Two million online profiles

The president-elect's website generated $500m in campaign contributions - with the average donation being just $80.

To spread the word, his campaign generated an email list comprising 13 million addresses. And his site had social networking applications, taking ideas from sites like Facebook and MySpace. Two million people created online profiles, which were used to coordinate local-level campaigning.

So why aren't British politicians using the web in the same way - even in the face of declining party membership, and with the parties coffers running low?

Reactions to

"I'm going to give a wholehearted welcome to it. I think it'll be an unreservedly good thing." - Hopi Sen, a self-described Labour supporter, writing on A blog from the back room.

"It looks fine. Time will tell if it draws in a community in the way the other party sites have." - Simon Goldie, writing on his blog "About politics and communication"

"This is going to be a much more controlled environment than Labourhome, which for all its faults, was more grassroots orientated."

- Guido Fawkes, writes up the launch on Guido Fawkes' Blog

"The site also needs to ensure very quickly that it is not seen as a party-pris site. It can enjoy good relations with the Labour Party, but it must not be of it."

"It needs to have its own raison d'etre and its own agenda, which will sometimes diverge from that of the Party." - Iain Dale on the launch of Labourlist at Iain Dale's Diary

"Big name writers will include Alan Milburn, Ken Livingstone and David Lammy. Even Peter Mandelson is named as a contributor - suggesting that it may be loyal to the leadership rather than to the movement" - Conservative Home responds to the arrival of Labourlist

"I welcome this latest endeavor. Concerns have been raised about its viability but in my view anything that encourages discussion can only be a good thing. As long as it doesn't turn into a rapid rebuttal unit and function as an arm of the Labour spin/press machine that is." - Shane McMurray, a recent graduate, gives his view on the launch on his blog, Events Dear Boy, Events

"In principle Draper's idea is a good one just not too original. As I have blogged before, the issue is that the Labour blogosphere already has too many 'gateways' and what it really needs is to provide one that really stands out, a Labour 'ConservativeHome'." - Mario Lopez Areu, writing on his blog Forgesian Thinking

"In these miserable times, when state sponsored comedy - ranging from Dennis Skinner to The Now Show - has run out of steam, it is benevolent of the very nearly bankrupt Labour Party to launch a new interactive comedy channel. It's called LabourList." - Al Jahom's Final Word on the launch of Labourlist "it will probably be top down controlled by the party with little or no boat rocking allowed from Labour supporters, either Nu or Old."

Curly blogs about Labourlist on Curly's Corner Shop, the blog!

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