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Connecting with Constituents February 27, 2009

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An interesting study has been published by the Hansard Society, with the support of Microsoft, looking at how MPs use digital media to communicate with their constituents.


Now we already know the extent to which Barack Obama used digital media as part of his election campaign, getting people involved through web forums, text messages and online blogging, but what about the more everyday task of communicating with constituents.


This report shows the findings of a survey of 168 MPs and a subsequent focus group of MPs and parliamentary staff. The finding confirm that the internet is now part of the everyday life of the vast majority of MPs. MPs use email and websites but also rich media, such as uploading videos and photographs. Other tools like social networking are also being adopted by MPs, but at a lower level.


The findings suggest that primary motivations for uptake of digital technology relate to an MPs majority, length of incumbency and the nature of their constituents. MPs report issues with regards a desire for more training, and knowledge that it is actually their constituents communicating with them.


The report provides recommendations for both MPs and constituents. Citzens are encouraged to break down barriers with the more resistant MPs, as engaging with digital media is of more benefit to them. I agree as the whole idea of a digital democracy is encouraging more of a conversation, that it in a citizens best interest to promote the use of the internet to their MP.


The key recommendation for MPs is to develop a policy for the use of email and digital media that define the audience and connect with their offline strategy. I think this is really important if MPs are going to use social media to communicate with their constituents as a tool for democracy. They need to ensure they truly engage with social media, and understand the principles behind it – the need to listen not just broadcast. A token contribution will not really work to communicate with their consituents.

By Letitia Hughes

The future is green January 22, 2009

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Sworn into office just two days ago, all eyes are firmly focussed on Obama and what he will do to deliver the change that he has promised throughout his electoral campaign. In the midst of one of the world’s largest economic crisis, President Obama built his campaign on the promise of not only economic stimulus but also support for green technology.

Obama’s plans for a green tech economy are unlike any policies of the Bush administration. Rather than allowing the economy to overshadow and marginalise environmental concerns, the President wants to use environmental principles to help drive economic growth.

“A new energy economy is going to be part of what creates the millions of new jobs that we need,” Obama said during a news conference last month.

Recently he selected alternative energy supporter and Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy and has also announced that he will invest $150bn dollars in green technology.

Although, many speculated that the financial crisis would but an end to green initiatives, but initial indications from the White House tell us otherwise.

However, it is not going to be easy to change attitudes and create the economic stimulus that he envisions in his own country. A green tech future, or a new energy economy as some prefer to call it, would certainly need global consensus and is unlikely to be achieved through national measures alone.

At home in the UK, the government assures us of its commitment of investing in a green future and creating a low carbon economy. It does this with measures such as targets to reduce carbon emissions by 80% before 2050, the creation of the new Department of Energy and Climate Change last October and the passing of the Climate Change Act last December. However, on the other hand gives the go ahead to build a new runaway and a sixth terminal at Heathrow Airport.

This decision makes me doubt how serious the government really are about creating a low carbon economy…We’ll have to wait and see if the future is really that green.

By Danielle Thomas

Obama for Change January 20, 2009

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Obama for change!

I’ve just witnessed history as Barak Obama – the US’s first African American leader sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. Two hundred years after the abolition of slavery and around forty years after the Civil Rights moment, this was a day that was that people – including myself a 22 year Black Britain – never thought they’d ever see.

Barack to me is role model, a strong, family man, well educated a lawyer and a diplomat who throughout his campaign has promised change to a country with severe economic and social problems. Many are debating that is change will come about and Barack acknowledges that the challenges are real and that change will not be easily met, however I believe like many others do that change has already come in this the inauguration of the first black president of the United States!

By Danielle Thomas

Rubbish Resolutions January 6, 2009

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It seems that although 2009 is the year of money worries and high street hell, 2009 is also going to be the year of green.

Everywhere you look we are being encouraged snap out of the Christmas blues and recycle our festive rubbish that has been left over from 2008 or ‘swop’ presents to maximize their usefulness. We should do something about the un-eaten food that we eventually throw out, and make sure we recycle our Christmas trees. British households chucked out more than three million tonnes of waste this Christmas, including cards, trees and food waste, according to Recycle Now.

Now I reckon that I am pretty good with recycling cans, bottles, paper etc through the kerbside collection but I thought I would have a quick search online to see what else we can do this year.
Well, for food waste there is the option to start your own compost (See here for tips). Otherwise, when food is sent to landfill doesn’t break down into compost but releases harmful greenhouse gases instead – this is because it’s buried and doesn’t get any air. Composting is definitely something that I am looking to do this year.

Most councils prefer not to take Christmas cards because of the glittery and shiny bits, but a scheme run jointly by the Woodland Trust and Recycle Now means that you can take your cards to WH Smith, Marks & Spencer, Tesco or TK Maxx stores – all you have to do is look out for the special recycling bins. I tend to reuse my cards by cutting them up into funky designs and turning them into Christmas tags for the next year.

A number of people I spoke to got a new mobile phone for Christmas. The best thing to do with the old one is to either give it to someone who wants it or give it to an organisation who will send it to a less economically developed country for reuse http://www.envirofone.com. Getting rid of your old phone safely helps helps reduce the amount of toxic chemicals (like mercury) and reusable elements (like gold, silver and nickel) being sent to landfill.

And what about other new presents like cameras or gadgets – it is really important to recycle the old ones rather than throw them in the bin. At http://www.recyclenow.com, you can find out which electricals you can recycle in your postcode, or which retailers near you will take back your old electrical appliances in store. Alternatively, there is Freecycle, an online forum where people give items away for free, in a bid to re-use and recycle unwanted goods.

None of this seems too taxing, maybe going greener would be a good additional New Year resolution for 2009.

By Letitia Hughes

My Factory Visits December 5, 2008

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I spent a day last week in the cold and rainy North visiting a numbers of factories involved in the processing of the drinks can. It was a long day, but a great way to see the loop of how a can is made, filled and then recycled, to possibly become a can again.

The first stop was the Novelis recycling plant in Warrington. We saw the huge bales of cans, which were then melted down into a huge vat of molten liquid, that looked like something out of the Lord of the Rings. It was very important that we didn’t touch anything. We then saw how the aluminium was set into huge ingots, which were then transported to Germany by river for rolling.

Next was the Rexam factory, which makes the cans that supply the Coca-Cola Enterprise factory just next door in Wakefield – we actually saw the ‘hole in the wall’ that allows this to happen. The scale of production in both of these factories was immense and it incredible to see the number of cans in production.

All in all, a whistle stop tour, but actually being there made the whole process so much more vivid and easier to comprehend (and the hats and goggles that we had to wear were so attractive!).

By Letitia Hughes

Bold and fair December 5, 2008

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There is no escaping or denying the fact that Britain has now entered a recession.

The newspapers report daily about job cuts and repossessions. And strapped for cash we are spending less, forcing high street stores such as Marks and Spencer and Debenhams to hold regular pre-Christmas sales in order to avoid the fate of stores such as Woolworths and MFI.

I attended the Labour Progress Annual Conference on Saturday where I listened to Ed Miliband MP defend the government’s recent economic decisions announced in the Chancellor’s recent pre-budget report. Bold and fair were the key words of his address:

“New Labour was always about a commitment to boldness and fairness”

“Labour showed once again its ability to be bold, to be fair”

“We have shown a sense of boldness and fairness and told a distinctive New Labour Story about how we can solve the economic problems”

At the state opening of Parliament this week, Gordon Brown made ‘fairness’ the theme of the Queen’s Speech.

We are all aware that the government has made bold decisions with its emergency mini-budget to help the effects of the year-long international financial crisis. They include slashing VAT by 2.5%. However, the jury is still out on how fair these measures are.

“My Government is committed to helping families and businesses through difficult times.” announced the Queen.

But can these bold economic reforms ever be fair for all, families and business alike?

By Danielle Thomas

Is PR good for you? November 19, 2008

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This week I attended an event at the University of Westminster entitled ‘Is PR good for you?’ targeted towards PR professionals and students I was intrigued to attend and see if the outcome of this debate could possibly be negative i.e. conclude that PR is bad for society.

The conclusion of the debate was far from a surprise; the verdict was that PR was indeed good for a society. The persuasive industry is a fundamental instrument of democracy and the right to persuade and influence a democratic right. This is the reason therefore in large democracies such as the US and the UK the PR industry is well established, in emerging markets/transitional countries there is a fascination with PR and in totalitarian states PR is absent.

I concluded on leaving the event that the findings were all very obvious for someone like myself and the other attendees who work in the persuasive industry … so what was the need for this event. Then I reflected I had just been PR –ed. This seminar had been an opportunity to PR, plug, promote, call it what you may the speaker’s new book on the discipline.

So is PR Good for you – yes it is. This event demonstrated the true power of PR…the art of influence and persuasion through increasingly more strategic means which brings your cause, concern or product to the public’s attention … no matter how intelligent they consider themselves to be…

By Danielle Thomas

Blog Action Day – E-marginalised October 15, 2008

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Today October 15th is Blog Action Day. Bloggers everywhere will unite (from sports blogs and tech blogs, to entertainment and cooking blogs) and publish posts that discuss poverty in some way. So I’ve chosen to raise awareness about an emerging type of poverty – digital exclusion.

Can you imagine life without your computer, blackberry, or iphone? And I’m not talking about just a day or a week, but what if you had never owned a computer, had internet access on your phone or even in your home? However, could you possibly live without this technology now in 2008?

For many of us it’s hard to imagine and life without Facebook, Myspace or even ASOS…however the internet has many more important uses that we take for granted. The internet has become an indispensible tool in looking for jobs online; searching for housing and assisting children in their studies, however 39% are still not online. That’s more than 1,000,000 households with children without the use of the internet.

Some of these people do not use the net out of choice, but the majority are e-marginalised due to poverty.

Digital exclusion is a socio-economic problem and there is a clear link between digital and social exclusion – 75% of people that are socially excluded are also digitally excluded and 64% people living in social housing don’t use the internet. Research has proven that the internet significantly changes the quality of lives. In a project conducted by UK Online Centres shows 97%of families in poverty who were given computers said that their lives had improved after six months.

Connecting people to the internet can connect them to new or better jobs, new forms of social interaction, government services, education, information, consumer power….and much more.

Thankfully, the government has woken up to this as in April we saw Paul Murphy MP, Wales Minister appointed the first ever minister for Digital Inclusion and at Labour Party Conference, Gordon Brown revealed that Ed Balls would announce plans to fund over a million extra families to get online. The Government will publish their first Digital Inclusion Action Plan later this month – hopefully this will be part of the answer to an emerging 21st century problem.

By Danielle Thomas

Down and dirty state side October 9, 2008

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We are always being told how closely linked we are to the USA. ‘The special relationship’ is interpreted by some as evidence of all the things we have in common with Uncle Sam. First and foremost we have our history – two World Wars to be precise. And then of course we are speaking the same language – literally. We love sports (albeit different ones), they love our TV and we love theirs and we are both partial to a helping of burger and fries.

At first glance our political systems also appear closely linked. Both are two-party states, one party sitting just to the left and one on the right. However, once politicians either side of the Atlantic hit the campaign trail we tend to go our separate ways. Labour and the Conservatives entire general election budget would be hard pushed to fund two or three weeks of ‘Obama for President’. And in the States when the chips are down the gloves will come off and both candidates will clamber down into the gutter and slug it out. And that is exactly where we find ourselves now as the US Presidential campaign turns for home and heads down the final straight.

McCain being the one who is slipping behind in the polls has now given up all pretence of wanting to talk about the issues. He has worked out that the American people do not trust him with the economy and are increasingly questioning his judgement. Plan B for team McCain/Palin is to label Obama a friend of terrorists, an aid to paedophiles and a liar. And they are just getting warmed up.

However let us not get too ‘holier then thou’ about Obama. A number of blows have been levelled against McCain that would be hard pushed to be stood up in a school debate, let alone in a national political campaign in the UK. And if Obama was to suddenly find himself behind with a week to go he would come under intense pressure to get down and dirty as well. Whether you like this approach or not is down to the individual. What cannot be disputed is that if you like your politics to be more personal than political, head West. Because thankfully, unlike most things American, we have proved resistant to ‘gutter politics’. And long may that continue.

By Harry Watkinson

London 2012 – The ‘cosy’ games October 9, 2008

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This week I attended the first Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee after the Summer recess. As part of the committee’s ongoing inquiry into the London 2012 Olympic Games and Paralympics Games, they called upon Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and Lord Moynihan, Chairman of The British Olympic Association to give oral evidence. The session focused on preparations for the 2012 Games, lessons from the Beijing 2008 and elite sporting performance.

As I predicted, the cost of the London 2012 Olympic Games was a pertinent issue for the committee, especially in light of the current economic climate. In his manifesto, Boris Johnson highlighted the importance of cost control in the planning of the Games; in return the committee asked him if he still believed the cost of the Games could be contained. Boris was adamant that no further money was needed from the taxpayer and he was reluctant to see early spending of the contingency funds. Mr Johnson stressed that 25% of the budget had been spent, while only 2% of the contingency had been used.

The budget for the London 2012 Games is almost half of that of this year’s Olympics in Beijing, so Philip Davies MP rightly asked Boris how we avoid the London Games being considered as a ‘poor man’s Beijing’ and how we compete on a lower budget. Boris answered that we should not expect a carbon copy of the Beijing Games, according to him the London Games would be a more “cosier” affair with a greater sense of intimacy.

As the athletic stadium in Stratford is set to hold 80,000 people only 11,000 less than the Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing, I’m not yet convinced how intimate the London 2012 Olympics Games can really be.

By Danielle Thomas