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eClips; MPs go public on the internet.

IN 2003 politicians finally started to understand that the internet is a powerful tool for spreading their messages. Every political animal -from George W Bush downwards -began to notice the potential for communicating directly with voters without irritating media types getting in the way. The political web log was born.

Bush himself had a web log (www.georgewbush.com/blog) for the start of his presidential campaign,but his opponents had web logs too,and huge debates started in dozens of on line forums dedicated to policies andpersonalities. Presidential candidates Howard Dean(www.blogforamerica.com) and Wesley Clark (campaign.forclark.com) made best use of their weblogs, turning them into real digital calls-for-change.

Some people gave their support to both these candidates purely as a result of being able to read about and discuss their policies on the internet. In the UK, too, politicians started to make use of web logs to converse with constituents and others. Most prominent among them was TomWatson, Labour MPfor West Bromwich. He started a weblogat www.tom- watson. co.uk , the first MP to do so,and it was a big success. Not many MPs have web sites, so finding one that is both interesting and innovative is something of a surprise. Anice one, though. TomWatson took the web logging concept to heart and bashes out new updates from Parliament and his constituency almost every day.

It's been such a success that other MPs have started to look at web logs as well. Clive Soley,Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush,has a weblogat clive soleymp.typepad.com/clive --soley--mp/. Other web logging MPs include RichardAllan from Sheffield (www.sheffieldhallam.org.uk/ blog/)and Austin Mitchell,member for Grimsby (www.austinmitchell.org). Lynne Featherstone,London Assembly member, started her web log at www.lynnefeather stone.org/blog.htm. While not quite embracing weblogging,even the civil service has improved its presence on the net in the last year.

The Inland Revenue launched an impressive new site allowing people to apply for Child Tax Credit on line (www.taxcredits.inlandreven ue.gov.uk). The site was designed with busy and pestered parents in mind.

Once they have started filling in the electronic form, they can save it and return to it another time -such as after the children have gone to bed. It is this kind of practical use of the internet that governments here and abroad have been predicting for years,but are only now getting round to launching. It has taken some years for governments to truly understand the potential of the net,and for net-savvy people to finish their education and find their way into jobs in Whitehall. As this process continues, we can expect to see more web logs and smart web sites from Westminster in the years to come.

Further evidence of increasing net-savviness amongMPs was shown by the action of the All Party Internet Group, a motley collection of MPs with an interest in the net, who decided to conduct an investigation into spam.

The group, which comprises 50 Members and Lords from all political parties,has yet to publish its findings about the problem and frankly,as a volunteer organisation,it doesn't matter that much what they say, since they have no power to create new laws. What matters is that there are MPs who care enough to devote some of their spare time to matters like this. Over time, with younger MPs being elected to Parliament, government efforts to combat spam and other problems will probably become more intense. In the meantime, those of us drowning under the daily deluge of spam will just have to keep pressing the delete key.

Browsing aroundThe best sites of 2003 included; My Society, a project to harvest excellent ideas for public web sites from members of the public themselves (www.mysociety.org) Photographic Chinese Whispers -does exactly what it says on the tin, with amusing results (kevan.org/whisper) The BBC's Second World War memories project is a fascinating way of recording some real-life history (www.bbc.co.uk/ww2) Old Bailey Proceedings 1674- 1834, a remarkable archive of court cases, well presented and very readable (www.oldbaileyonline.org)

CONTACT Giles Turnbull at gilest. org Features,Daily Post,PO Box 48,Old Hall Street,Liverpool,L69 3EB.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 5, 2004
Words:718
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