Around the web

Virtual irrelevance: Phil Hamilton examines the website of the Conservative Party

I would not like to be in Iain Duncan Smith’s shoes. He leads a rapidly failing party torn apart by issues few care about, and it is not surprising that the Conservative Party conference is bereft of new policy ideas - itself symptomatic of a self-absorbed and backward membership. To much Tory fanfare, we have seen proposed health reforms (amounting to the NHS subsidising the private healthcare of the well-to-do), and empty pledges to restore the link between pensions and wages. And, as a finishing touch, IDS is deluded enough to believe his reactionary misfits are going to win the next election.

This tenuous grip on reality has fed into several aspects of the Conservatives’ website. For example, at the time of writing, the leading item in their ‘Headlines’ section is not a keynote speech, but a surreal and toe-curling report on the Conservative victory at the conference football match against the press. With the Tories defeating the hacks 6-3, I suppose site admin were desperate for any good news in a never-ending sea of bad press.

Decked out in blue, this compact site is divided between navigation column and main field (itself split into three more sections, overarched by more helpful icons). The first of these, ‘News headlines’, is a mixture of conference news and web chat logs of Q and A sessions with leading Tories (the absence of such from Labour’s website is quite telling). ‘Newsroom’ has a broader range, with more speeches, articles, MEP news, media registration, etc. Proving not to be averse to amateur spin, the ‘By-elections’ section trumpets: “Conservatives are winning by-elections.” It concludes: “Week after week … voters are putting their cross in the blue box.” Unfortunately, the results listed here suggest otherwise.

The ‘Campaigns’ page gives the policy areas the Tories are now pushing, from tax-cutting to the “crisis in the countryside”. The ‘Fighting for freedom’ piece has to be singled out as an example of pure Europhobia. In a rant against the European arrest warrant, the proposals are attacked as a gross infringement of “our civil liberties”, because apparently some European legal systems “operate on the presumption of guilt”. These countries go unnamed, of course.

‘People’ is next. This offers quick links to various sections of the party. For instance, the peers page puts a positive gloss on the House of Lords and lists all 210 honourable lords and ladies who take the Tory whip. Members’ profiles are there, but the web admin have yet to include the biographies of these nonentities. Or have they?

The dedicated pages for IDS follow. Decorated with sunny snapshots and adorned with nuggets of wisdom, they lead with his dual offensive against Labour and the Lib Dems. Taking its cue from The Sun, the desperate Tory strategy to defeat the Liberals is to expose them as “loony lefties” under the direction of “Red Kennedy”. You couldn’t make it up. Moving on, the party pages give an official introduction to Tory structures, opportunities and policies.

The conference website is very similar to that of Labour’s (see Weekly Worker October 2), with details of the agenda, fringe meetings and speeches. Finally, the online bookshop is very comprehensive with hundreds of titles and journals, and a few bargains too. For instance, a copy of Thatcher’s Statecraft can be picked up for under a tenner. My word.

The main field consists of ‘Top stories’, ‘Headlines’ and ‘Features’. Other areas of the site cover the first two. The latter will search for your local Conservative Association, and offers special discounts to help you make the decision to become a party supporter (despite the offer of cheap insurance with Churchill, I thought it better to decline the invitation).

Finally, the icons heading the page complete the picture. ‘Keep up to date’ is a mailing list for latest news and website developments. ‘Feedback’ allows you to email the Tories - because they “will never stop listening”. ‘Get involved’ gives 10 ways you can help them out, ranging from joining to promoting Conservatism online. ‘Donate’ is self-explanatory, as is ‘Join party’. Benefits include voting rights, subscription to Heartland, the members’ magazine, and various special offers. Again, I managed to resist the temptation. Lastly, if you are feeling particularly vicious, you can ‘sign up a friend’ to receive an email from the Tories inviting them to the website.

The content aside, the website is well designed with plenty to keep the viewer occupied. However, if you need to see for yourself how irrelevant and out of touch the Tories have become, I recommend www.conservatives.com as the ideal introduction.