Thursday 18 September 2008

That's a quarter of a million fewer votes, then

To my absolute astonishment, I visited the Total Politics stand at the Lib Dem conference, and found this blog was 182nd in the top 500 UK political blogs. This is so peculiar and undeserved, especially since I haven’t posted anything since going on holiday to Sweden, that I’m duty bound to get blogging again.

Especially during this financial crisis, where I actually have something to say, and I will try to post every night.

But before we talk about the end of the financial world, just one word on the current Liberal Revival. Nick Clegg’s speech was delivered with enormous verve and personality. The vote on Make it Happen went the right way (for reasons I’ll explain if anyone complains). One of the energy company speakers in the fringe meeting was handcuffed to the table. All good stuff. But there was one extraordinary blemish, one insane decision by the party, which can’t go by without a rant.

The massively counter-productive decision to use computers to phone a quarter of a million people with the Lib Dem message. A sure way to lose a quarter of a million votes.

There appears to be an inate weakness in the Liberal psyche, which means they get very excited about sophisticated technological solutions just when the vast majority of the population finds them crass, intrusive and more than a little creepy. In fact, the more human the computerised callers sound, the creepier the experience.

Ten years ago, I read an outraged article in the USA by a losing Democrat candidate whose opponent had used computerised push-polling against them. That meant the computerised canvasser phoned under the guise of an unbiased pollster, but actually inserted messages according to the answers they received.

At one point in the interview, the computer asked who the interviewee will be voting for. The candidate was complaining bitterly that his opponent’s computer was programmed, on hearing his name, to reply: “Why are you voting for him, he’s a jerk.”

Being phoned by a computer, in these days where people increasingly long for authenticity – certainly in their own living room – is an experience that gives most of us the heebie-jeebies. Not everyone perhaps, but particularly people with the kind of independent mindset – those with a horror of corporate power – who tend to vote Lib Dem.

Let’s face it, anyone these days who allows themselves to buy anything over the phone from a computer – especially one of them which leaves long pauses while the phone bill clocks up – is a loser. If a computer phones me on behalf of anyone, I shall probably re-think my own vote.

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