This week Ken Livingstone, previous London mayor and Labour party candidate for the next London mayoral elections, launched a campaigning site. All very normal, BUT unlike Ken’s conventional “about ken” political ideology-spouting conventional site, yourken.org uses social media in its attempt to harness support and innovatively produce “a campaign powered by people, not donations”. The site therefore tries to engage with the Ken supporters in a less distant and more empowering manner, in an effort to mimic the tremendous success of the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. Supporters are subsquently encouraged to volunteer in campaign events, tweet (see #yourken) and facebook away their K-love or create individual events in communities (surely an option only taken by the very keen), with the top five volunteers awarded a dinner with Ken himself.
Funnily enough, I admire this- I like the fact that “the power of the people” is finally being appreciated. Moreover, a reward scheme for the most active support seems a good way to get people interested in political participation, even if the idea of a potential fight over the prize (that ken-dinner) and competitive rivalry within the campaign seems a little scary. However, I think that a failure with the idea is that it seems to accept that people are interested in politics, and ergo supporters of Ken Livingstone. This is not a site centred around convincing people to vote for Ken, whilst the non-politically active/interested are viewed like a foreign species- despite the fact that I believe this to be a huge area for parties to gather more votes. Moreover, as Alice Jones in the Guardian astutely notes the nature of the site is highly intrusive as to access it, “yourken” seems to need to know rather too many details about you. When ideally, the yourken campaign should be really be about Ken and getting to know what exactly he has in mind for London. As such, whilst I like the concept of putting “Londoners first” in the early process of campaigning, I think there needs to be more transparency about why their support is needed, and in particular why “yourken” is right for London.