I Wonder Why it's Party Time on the Web
First Published in The Herald May 1997
Modern Studies. Modern methods. It's always been the way. Well
it has since the relatively recent arrival of the subject. When
your syllabus is designed to include party policies and you're
expected to teach about recent changes in party ideologies, textbooks
are out of date before the requisition budget has even been allocated.
Teachers of Modern Studies were quick to record television programmes
when the Broadcasting Act (1988) made it legitimate for schools
to do so. They're often found at the photocopier with their carefully
cut-out newspaper articles. What if they could read, even hear,
the original speeches? What if they could read the press releases
before a mediated version even appeared in the newspapers or
on television? They can.
Each of the major political parties use the World Wide Web to
communicate to the 10% of the electorate who have regular access
to the Internet. The rest of the world can read the pages too
but the name of the game is presenting information to the ones
who could make a difference. Contrary to popular belief the average
Internet user in the UK isnºt a student, in fact 49% of
students have never accessed the Internet. Those travelling along
the Superhighway in modern Britain are "thirtysomethings
with children", just the sort, with their stake in the future,
that the politicians want to impress.
Only the Internet can provide the breadth and depth of up-to-date
political material required by Modern Studies. Itºs a "publishing
system" made for the subject.
The Labour Party - no
matter where I begin someone will cry, "bias" - has
a pretty Web site with nice pictures of Tony and an element of
actual flag-waving as well as spinning budget cases. This illustrates
the downside of party Web sites. There is often extensive use
of graphics and images, all of which means they take longer to
download. Labour, however, scores by offering a text only version
of the site and you could always turn off the automatic loading
of the images. Itºs a bit like being able to buy your newspaper
without the half-page photographs.
Most of the political parties, Labour included, provide the text
of selected recent speeches. The Internet, for all its gloss,
might actually cause a decline in the status of the sound-bite.
On their own Web sites politicians get to have their say, context
and all, and the public is left to formulate its own views and
values. (There might be an interesting study in democracy in
all of this.)
The text of one particular Prescott speech is interesting, not
only for its content but also for its style. Pupils preparing
for debating competitions could analyse his use of repetition,
rhetorical questions and the way his speech is structured, the
way in which the main points are delivered.
Labour policy is explained in the "pledges" area -
maximum class sizes of 30 for the under-7s, jobs for the under-25s.
There is no obvious index and that's a weakness, although the
major issues are considered. There is also a list of MPs, some
with e-mail addresses. The Scottish National Party, on the other
hand, has what is described as the "policy library"
and there is detailed information on the party's view on everything
from agriculture and anti-racism to violence against women. It's
all helpfully listed alphabetically.
There"s more evidence of the democratic nature of publishing
on the Web at this site. The SNP recently launched two posters
on the back of a trailer. The posters will not be appearing on
billboards because of the prohibitive cost. On the Web the costs
are low and the Scottish National
Party site is extensive and well designed.
Current press releases are available, even on the day they are
released to the media. There are articles and transcripts of
lectures and the "clip art" area has a collection of
recent leaflets, all ideal texts for teachers and students of
Modern Studies. The leaflets could be saved as "sources"
and printed or read off-line. Saving items such as the press
releases or tables as "text" means that they could
be copied and pasted into worksheets, handouts or even future
The SNP site also provides links to pressure groups such as Scottish
CND and the Edinburgh Greenpeace group. The Herald, the BBC,
STV and even the Proclaimers can be reached from the site.
The Liberal Democrats
by contrast have not made such impressive use of the medium.
Their policies are there, very well indexed and explained. There
is an interesting statement about additional funding for Special
Education. There is a preamble about their constitution and materials
are available from the "Parliamentary Press Office".
There is a link to the Hansard site which has questions, debates
and answers from the previous day but there is no link to the
Electoral Reform Society
which is an excellent resource with lots of material about the
concept of the Single Transferable Vote and a link to statistical
data about all UK
elections between 1945 and 1992. the Conservative Party
site carries an early warning that it's best viewed with
Netscape 3.0 or Internet Explorer 3.0. If your browser is older
than that, problems may arise. Many schools are still using Netscape
2.0 or even Netscape 1.0 so this could cause some difficulties
in using the material.
The Conservative "press room" has the usual press releases,
fact sheets and speeches but one of the best areas of this massive
site is the "Guide for the Young". In its Fisher Price
primary colours it gives details on Parliament, candidates, campaigns
and the process of calling an election.
Looking at the sites of the UK political parties does no more
than scratch the surface. The Center
for Voting and Democracy provides useful statistics on American
elections whether of presidents, senators, or congressmen (and
they are usually men). Only nine Senators and two Governors are
female. The site also provides interesting information about
the Supreme Courts ruling as unconstitutional, the "majority-minority"
districts in Texas which had increased representation of Hispanic
and African-American minorities.
The politics of food can be investigated at the
World Bank while international aid can be considered at Tear Fund. Save pages
and look at them off-line or quickly click through all the pages
you want to read and then disconnect. They're still there, stored
in the cache. You can view them without being online and even
without saving them, at least until you quit out of your browser.
They're listed in the Go menu.
As John Major says at his party's site, "I hope you enjoy