Around the web

Archive of cynicism: Phil Hamilton reviews the Labour Party website at http://www.labour.org.uk

Let there be no mistake that New Labour has been stung by mounting criticisms on its left, and the by-election upset in the former heartland of Brent East. Gordon Brown’s speech to conference on Monday was replete with talk of social justice spin. Blair followed suit the next day.

Whatever the case, the need to market Labour as progressive is not lost on the party’s web designer. Underneath a telling photo of a crowd looking reverently into the distance, there is a scrolling message staking Labour’s claim to be a democratic socialist party. Predictably, this vacuous communitarian nonsense would not be complete without Blairite buzzwords such as ‘opportunity’, ‘tolerance’, and ‘respect’.

The site is divided into three. The main part of the field is updated daily - this week with keynote speeches to conference. Clicking on the link accompanying a grinning image of The Leader, I was taken to the dedicated conference section of the site given over to Blair’s words of wisdom. How helpful of the transcriber to have inadvertently included the prompts for Blair’s dramatic pauses and emphases. If Blair is not your bag, there’s a menu enabling easy navigation around the conference pages.

The left side column is pretty utilitarian. There are a number of options such as the opportunity to sign up for ‘eNews’, use the search engine, sign in (if you are a party member), and the particularly flash ‘Labour on your area’. I duly entered my postcode and was treated to some constituency-specific spin. The top of this column features a short menu. ‘Get involved’ is really a membership sales pitch, listing the various things party members can get up to. Additional ways to help Labour are appended, including donations, postal vote registration and the like. ‘Labour academy’ is a page offering places on a series of seminars for prospective councillors and school governors. There is even a course on that most slippery of beasts, Labour’s political thought. ‘Join us’ gives seven reasons to become a member, including “special offers” from the Cooperative group of services. ‘Help us win’ is repeated material from the ‘Get involved’ pages. ‘Have your say’ is really nothing of the sort.

A good deal of bandwidth is occupied by ‘Partnership in power’ documents. Set up to involve the whole party in policy deliberation, it goes into painstaking detail about producing policy, consultation, etc. Pity that this is not worth a hill of beans, given the government’s deeply unpopular action over Iraq.

Leaping over to the right, the first item is ‘Find Labour representatives’. Once again I typed in my postcode and was treated to a short profile of my MP. As expected, it does not go beyond the guff of “four grown up children” and “MP since 1983”. The profile of my “celebrity” MEP is little better. The next icon links to the conference pages, which concerns itself with the agendas, travel details, etc. However, the webmaster has done us another service by listing those exhibiting in the main hall. Delegates have the chance to rub shoulders with not just unions and NGOs, but such Labour stalwarts as Arriva, BAE Systems and Nestlé. By their friends ...

After the members-only pages comes the ‘Labour in local government’ site. With its own (closed) councillor discussion forum, online magazine and other items, it probably deserves a review in its own right. The same can be said of the dull-looking page for ‘Young Labour’, which appears to have little existence beyond the confines of this website. In contrast, the trade union page is a stripped down affair, looking at the way the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation operates. The ‘Equality’ page enshrines Blairite thinking on women, race, disabilities and lesbians and gay men. Spin around New Labour’s commitment to equality is very much in evidence, but the organisational and policy links are useful. The ‘Iraq briefing’ page is a shameless tissue of official lies and resources, backing the government’s flimsy case.

Finally, bridging the three sections are a series of drop-down menus that are more or less covered by the other sections. ‘Your questions’ deserves a mention, if only because the information on foundation hospitals is a superb example of misinformation.

The site is certainly large, pretty and packed to the gills with Blairite newspeak. As an archive of the cynicism and vacuity underpinning ‘the project’, it is unsurpassed.