The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Democracy and the Internet


Mick Hall • 22 October 2004

With the Swiss and Italian governments having recently taken joint legal action with the US Justice Dept against Rackspace, resulting in 20 IndyMedia websites temporarily being taken down world-wide, once again the importance of the Internet and the fear and loathing it seems to instil in the powerful, especially in the political sphere is highlighted. One expects hostility from national governments to the Internet; after all it takes a powerful weapon, the control of information to their respective populations, and places it in the hands of, well, almost anyone who is prepared to make a bit of effort. What is more surprising is the anger and hostility displayed towards it from non-governmental politicians and their political parties. Many in the leaderships of these political parties, who come from across the political spectrum ranging from the far left across the centre to the right, show an equal venom towards the net or rather, to be more precise, to those who use it to question, propagandise and democratise.

One would have thought these opposition politicians would have welcomed the Internet and the opportunities it offers them to not only get across their own and their party's policies and programs, but also to take advantage of the net to converse with both their membership and the wider electorate. But no, this seems far from the case, although on the surface, like the governments they wish to replace, they claim to be great supporters of the Internet, many of them continuously waffling on about the democratic opportunities it offers. And, whilst it is true that these days most of the political parties they lead have expensive looking party websites, many of which must have cost a small fortune by the standards of the average bloggers site, on closer inspection, as with much of today's politics, appearance (of these web sites) is not all it seems. Once you get behind the shiny logos and touched up photographs of our political heroes glad-handing their constituents and supporters, the majority of the sites are pretty shallow. I took a look at a majority of the political websites that are owned by the main parties that operate within the North and South of Ireland. Among those I looked at in the Republic were Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, Progressive Democrats, Irish Labour Party, Socialist Party, Greens (all Ireland), Sinn Fein (all Ireland), Republican SF (all Ireland), and from the North the SDLP, UUP, DUP, UKUP, Woman's Coalition, PUP, S.E.A/SWP and the IRSP.* *

What I found was the same much of a muchness. Blue seems the favourite colour for many of these sites; indeed half of all the sites I visited had blue as their main focus colour. Which is highly indicative and perhaps not surprising taking into account the conservative nature of most of Ireland political parties, as blue is regarded by many as the colour of conservatism with a small 'c'. What is more surprising though is that the Green Party and SF also use Blue as the dominant colour on their websites. The Woman's Coalition, like Ken Livingstone when he stood as an Independent candidate for London’s Mayor, chose purple, a case of 'Hail Ceasar', I suppose. All of the Unionist sites in the North are a pale imitation of the British Conservative Party's website, almost identical in some cases, which I found very disappointing. One would have thought at least the PUP or even the DUP would have made an attempt to break from their former masters, if only on the Internet. To be fair to the DUP, their site does have a splash of yellow, perhaps we should regard this as an omen for a more liberal DUP in the days ahead? One can hope I suppose.

The one striking exclusion from all but one of these sites is the inability of party members to use the sites to converse directly with each other or with the leadership via a message board, and vice versa. The one exception is the Irish Republican Socialist Party who has a link on their site to their Derry Branch, which has its own message board. With the past history of the Irps when settling differences, I found this not only amusing but also somewhat encouraging. As to the rest of Ireland's political parties, if their members wish to get in touch with their leadership they can post an email to the site and patiently await a reply, but that is as far as it goes. They are looked upon as consumers. They are buying into the party leadership, hook, line, and sinker, and if they have any doubts about the product, their leaderships do not regard the Internet as a suitable forum to discuss these concerns — preferring, it seems, to stick to the old tried and trusted/discredited method of settling differences behind closed doors in smoke filled rooms, an environment in which secret deals rather than principles come to the fore...

To conclude there is little doubt in my mind the powerful and not so powerful within politics, no matter what they may profess in public, hate the net and especially discussion lists and often derides them to their memberships as being only for saddos, the point being to dissuade their members from participating on these lists and from demanding that such a tool is attached to the party's website.

For the first time in decades, with a little effort ordinary folk are gaining power, because information and knowledge if used in a sensible way is power. Whereas for centuries those with power have censored what the masses can know, this is no longer an option without causing a major power failure or cutting the telephone lines down. Of course nothing will stop the powerful in their search to find a way to cease this free flow of not only news and information, but also the unique opportunity that the Internet offers political activists to organise themselves and debate and correspond with one and other way beyond the local or national. It is not possible to stress enough the importance of such an opportunity in these times of multi-national dominance via globalisation. We live in a world in which multinational corporations are all powerful, their representatives, whether political or industrial, can with the flick of a satellite video link switch, talk to one another and make decisions that can detrimentally affect millions of people without their approval or even knowledge at the time of making. Lives, and indeed as we have seen with Iraq, whole nations can be reduced to ruin and chaos for no better reason than personal and corporate greed. Is it any wonder that those who have power —or dream of the day when they will possess it— look at the freedoms the Internet offers with real horror and in the meantime are doing all in their power to belittle the usefulness of the Internet and abuse those who advocate its use as a liberating tool? This being so, if ever one wished to witness a 21st century version of David and Goliath, then the forthcoming battle as to who controls the Internet will be one to watch out for,

To conclude, as I have said above out of all the main political parties within Ireland, I could only find one small party that has a message board on their website. Think about this, the Internet via such a simply installed tool, would offer leading Politicians the opportunity to debate on an individual basis directly with not only their own membership, but also members of the wider electorate. Yet despite the fact that many of these parties have expensively produced websites they have failed to avail themselves of such a simple tool. So much for all their talk about open democracy and embracing the new technologies; far better it seems to forget about all this new fangaled technology and leave it in the politicians' hands, as they know best. Which in reality means the very people who have been on ‘watch’ over the last 30 years are saying to us, "trust us." Surreal!
Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP)
Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)
Irish Republican Socialist Party
Republican Sinn Féin
Northern Ireland Women's Coalition




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

25 October 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

European Social Forum
John O'Farrell

Democracy and the Internet
Mick Hall

Resistance And Survival: The Case Of Education And Free Software
Toni Solo

Jacques Derrida
Anthony McIntyre

'The Impact of the Middle East Conflict on Palestinian Children'
Queens University Friends of Palestine and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC)

21 October 2004

Think Tanks, Reunions and Medals
George Young

Tribute to George
Bernadette McAliskey

Aspects of British Propaganda during the War of Independence
Mags Glennon

Born Iron, Living Free
Marc Kerr

Arise Ye Bored and Read Again
Anthony McIntyre

Blame Orange Order But Buck Stops with British Crown
Father Sean Mc Manus

Capt. Kelly Campaign Update
Fionbarra O'Dochartaigh

None of the Above
Fred A. Wilcox

Reflections On Swift Boats and Slow Wits
Peter Urban

Street Seen, Making the Invisible Visible
Press Release

Paying Our Condolences in Salem
Daphne Banai

The Israeli Invasion of North Gaza
Jennifer Loewenstein



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