Many people come here seeking the truth about Balustrade Lanyard – the man, the myth, the lanyard – but thanks to a quirk of Google, they’re merely landing on a page that tells them next to nothing of one of the most important political figures of our generation. Should you wish to know more, it can be found by clicking here.

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Mobile version, and other things

Some of you will have hopefully noticed that I’ve now installed a proper mobile version of this blog, which means it’s easier to read and navigate if you’re looking at it on your phone. Please let me know if there are any problems with it, so I can break more things under the hood as I try and fix it.

And just a reminder while you’re here that there are several ways to keep up with this blog. You can subscribe via email using the box on the right of the page (or at the bottom on the mobile version), you can like me on Facebook, subscribe via WordPress or just follow me on Twitter to get all sorts of other thoughts as well as blog updates.

However you come here, thanks for reading, and I hope I can keep amusing, informing, entertaining and educating you in the future – though there might be a short break from daily posts sometime after the election finishes.

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The first major judgment of the General Election campaign has been made, and although it was conducted with an obviously flawed system, I’m not going to challenge the result. Yes, according to the list here, I’m ranked 45th amongst journalists and commentators on Twitter based on some election-related algorithm, so I’m not going to challenge their findings for now.

More interesting on that site might be the listing by constituency of the various candidates with Twitter accounts, both to help find them but also to stoke pointless Twitter feuds between them to see who works hardest to get their ranking up. There’s five weeks to go to the election, we need to find some ways to amuse ourselves.

Talking of constituencies, it appears we’re going to have at least six candidates in Colchester this time around (we reached 9 in 2010) of whom four are the same as last time. Is there any other constituency where the Liberal Democrat, Labour, Conservative and UKIP candidates are all the same as last time? (There’s no five out of five because there’s a new Green candidate this time around)

But who’s the sixth? According to this, it’s Ken Scrimshaw of the Christian People’s Alliance, and beyond that your guess is as good as mine. The CPA is one of those fringe parties that has been around for a few years. According to Wikipedia, it emerged out of the old cross-party Movement for Christian Democray, and I recall their 2000 London Mayoral candidate Ram Gidoomal who actually finished ahead of the Greens in that election. Since then, though, the two parties have taken different courses and while the Greens have made it to Parliament, the CPA’s sole success was a couple of councillors in Newham in the last decade and nothing since.

Judging by their website, either God has forbidden all developments in web design since around the year 2000, or they’re not that big a party. The policies section doesn’t contain anything completely out of the ordinary at a first glance, and seems to be vaguely centre-rightish policies with a strong Christian flavour. It seems to be more a party for people with religious objections to same-sex marriage than one seeking to implement a British theocracy. Maybe I shall find out more if I get a leaflet from them.

Two days in, and only had one election leaflet delivered so far, but I don’t think the real flood will come until after Easter weekend. Royal Mail freepost deliveries should start coming in earnest after Easter when nominations have closed. If you can’t wait for them to be delivered, I would recommend where people have been uploading leaflets from around the country, giving an idea of what’s going on in other places. I’m trying to upload the ones I get, and it’s simple to do if you want to join in and upload yours.

Not seen any election posters yet, with houses and gardens on any route I’ve travelled in the last couple of days remaining unadorned. Even the one Tory billboard that was in place last week has disappeared to be replaced by a beer advert which is probably symbolic of something. Not sure what it might be yet, though.

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New to Twitter

Going through my recap of old posts, I’ve recently found the one where I announced that I’d joined Twitter. Almost four years on from that, I now have an additional Twitter account – @CllrNickBarlow – that I’ll use solely for ‘official’ stuff. It’ll mainly be about things I’m doing as a councillor, information about meetings and events and will hopefully work as a point of contact for people who want to contact me about Council business, rather than getting that and everything else confused.

Don’t worry, my main account will still be continuing as normal, though the two will have separate content.

I spent yesterday in London at the first ever Councillor Camp. This wasn’t a group of local government people hanging around in tents and/or pretending to be Kenneth Williams, but a version of BarCamp especially for councillors who wanted to look at ways we could use social media to better carry out our roles. It was organised by the LGIU and Futuregov, and we were very lucky to be hosted by Facebook, who gave us the run of their London training and meeting room, complete with Doctor Who-themed room names.

Unlike most local government events that I get invited to, this was a free event, and rather than having a rigid schedule, it was run as an ‘unconference‘ where most of the sessions and what they covered were determined by the participants, not by some schedule determined in advance. Another key feature of the day was that we were all encouraged to keep electronic devices on throughout the day and so as well as what was happening at the event itself, there was lots of discussion on the #cllrcamp hashtag on Twitter.

The day started with a number of different speakers offering a variety of perspectives on the use of social media in local politics. Again, this differed from normal conferences in that they were only allowed five minutes each to speak, and thus none of the presentations turned into death by PowerPoint. (“Conducting a PowerPoint presentation is a lot like smoking a cigar. Only the person doing it likes it. The people around him want to hit him with a chair.”) This meant they had to boil things down to a few key points, which helped to set the tone for the day, rather than telling everyone what to think. Some key points I picked up from those speeches:

  • Brighton and Hove Council created their own Twitter hashtag – #bhbudget – to promote online discussion of their budget, and councillors were active participants in the online debate, which did feed concrete proposals into the budget
  • Denmark’s tax authorities use their online presence to post details and pictures of what people’s taxes are used for
  • “Be yourself – everyone else is taken.” “Your residents are human, so be human.” Politicians need to be on social media as themselves, not constructing a separate online personality.
  • After those brief talks, we were into the main meat of the day, with people filling out a huge number of post-it that were then collated together into a grid of different sessions, where we could talk about what we wanted to. These discussion sessions were, for me, more useful than breakout sessions at other events. Again, there was no sitting round watching one person PowerPoint us to death, and the fact that people had come to a session because they wanted to be there and had chosen the topic meant people were much more willing to participate.

    (And in itself, letting people define the terms of their engagement and interaction, not having it rigidly imposed from on high is something local government could and should learn to do)

    I could go on for ages, but some of the thoughts I’ve had from Councillor Camp are likely going to generate posts in themselves over the weeks to come, but here are some of the key points for me:

  • Engaging in social media means giving up some control – councils and councillors can create and start discussions, but can’t determine where it goes after that.
  • There has to be more work done to get more people involved and online, so the discussion isn’t just amongst the most savvy.
  • Any social media strategy has to be capable of evolving to recognise the growth of new networks and platforms.
  • A new generation is coming through who see being online and involved in social media as entirely natural and integral to their lives, not an added extra (see this quote fromDouglas Adams). That councillors are generally much older than the population they represent could create issues here.
  • The effectiveness of your social media presence is linked to authenticity – people expect you to be yourself and respond as such, not a programmed drone.
  • Interactivity is expected, not an added-extra. People will expect to interact with the social media presence of councils and councillors and get a meaningful response.
  • There’s more to come – and some of it might link with the thoughts I’ve had after reading The Political Brain this week – but overall Councillor Camp was a great experience, and I’d recommend any follow up and repeat events to other councillors, especially those who aren’t as engaged online and want to discover how to go further. One idea suggested was the potential for regional events, to get more people involved in a more convenient location – anyone fancy a Councillor Camp East?

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    Worth Reading 23: There is no conspiracy

    The instalment you’ve all been waiting for. Somewhere within these links lies the final secret of the Illuminati. Probably.

    The “Twitter Can’t Topple Dictators” Article – Jay Rosen notes a trend in the press
    Conservative coffers boosted in “sale of opportunities” to kids of the super rich – Not really the image you want to present to the public, is it?
    Egypt And (No) Democracy – Zelo Street on how various US right-wingers are pushing the whole ‘democracy should only be given to people who agree with us’ argument.
    Britain gets comfy as Melanie Phillips explains ‘Biblical sexuality’ – The Daily Mash explains just how people consume the views of “the Daily Mail’s in-house Tasmanian Devil”.
    Multiculturalism and the Monkeysphere – On Angry Mob, an interesting discussion about how our worldview is limited by the number of people we can properly know. (via)

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    Colchester Beer Festival

    Just to let you all know that the 4th Colchester Winter Ale Festival is happening for the next few days. It’s running every day from noon through to 11pm at Colchester Arts Centre with a wide variety of beers available.

    I’m also informed that it will be the venue for a Colhester tweetup – a gathering of Colchester Twitter users, if you don’t know what that means – on Saturday afternoon from 3pm. Hopefully I’ll be there for that, so come along and say hello.

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