YouTube politics: why gordon brown just doesn’t get it

When Gordon Brown swept into office on a tide of popular relief at the exit of Tony Blair last year, he took the predictably trendy step of setting up a 10 Downing Street youtube channel.

This move was sold as a sign of a new politics, where politicians would reach out and engage with voters, particularly those hard-to-reach 18-30 year olds. Unfortunately it seems as though the same old top-down politics has been replicated in a new medium.

My friend Anita, in her role as an Amnesty International intern, posted a question for Gordon on the issue of detention without charge (the limit was recently raised to a staggering 6 weeks in the UK).

So far, so good. A young voter gets the chance to talk directly to the Prime Minister about an issue of great national importance. Unfortunately that’s where this promising example of open democracy ends. Take a look at Brown’s response, and tell me how it is different to any standard press-conference spiel:

Worst of all, Gordon commits the ultimate web-2.0 crime: the comments facility on the video is disabled. The Prime Minister speaks, we listen, and that’s the end of it. All of the potential of the youtube as an accessible forum for debate has been ignored.

I’m don’t expect Gordon to spend all day engaging in video flame-wars, but he should at least let the youtube community comment on his video!

Of course, Brown’s censorship of his own channel won’t stop anyone posting videos in response, or prevent debate elsewhere on the net about his civil liberties record, but it does demonstrate his fundamental misunderstanding of the structure and appeal of the internet.

I’m quite a fan of Gordon Brown, but given recent speculation about his position in the party, and the Labour party’s standing in the country it is interesting to note that both David Miliband and David Cameron do have comments enabled on their personal blogs. Their sites are hardly hot-beds of a new democratic order, but they do suggest that it is too early to discount the potential of the internet to have a significant impact on political life. The real question is whether a truly interactive web-relationship with our democratic representatives is possible, how long it will take, and what impact it will have. That’s something no-one has the answer to yet.