Friday, 27 February 2009
I'm guessing that they haven't noticed, but another organisation shares the acronym UCU- the University and College Union- a trade union which will have had dealings with UUP leader Reg Empey in his role as Employment and Learning Minister.
I know some have suggested that the Conservatives have moved to the left since David Cameron became leader, but I assume that adopting a name similar to that of a trade union is just a coincidence...
Nonetheless, the combined 'New Force' will be hoping to retain Jim Nicholson's seat in Brussels in June. UUP leader Reg Empey said: "This is something entirely new in NI, something which would allow us to become more fully and demonstrably an equal partner within the UK family. The UUP believes that the Union is a two-way process and we believe that a pan-UK unionist vehicle is the best way of promoting the values of the Union."
I'm intrigued to see what effect this new union has on the UUP's fortunes, particularly in the medium- to long-term.
Wednesday, 25 February 2009
Earlier today, I spotted a Tweet from Donegal Fianna Fáil councillor Damien Blake advertising the event, but there was no mention of it being a party gig- I just assumed he was doing it with work. It seemed strange that Joe Rospars would be speaking at an event in Ireland to which people were being let in for free, so tweeted @ Damien asking "Joe Rospars?! How did you manage to arrange that?". The reply came "If you're at the event you'll know, if not it'll be clear after :D". All very elusive. I just assumed it would be a videoconference rather than a personal appearance.
Later in the day came word that Fianna Fáil's new website had been launched. The other day I'd noticed that they had launched an online engagement strategy and were seeking to increase communication with bloggers, but I didn't put two-and-two together that these events might be linked to the Rospars thing. But they were.
It seems that a lot of blogging types who turned up to this evening's apparently non-partisan event found themselves at the centre of a Fianna Fáil publicity stunt.
Damien Blake posted his side of the story this evening on his blog. He says:
Meanwhile, Suzy adds: "Now if people are wondering about all the noise and negativity tonight it’s simply because people became very confused at what event they were actually at. "
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with Fianna Fáil and Blue State Digital on a new website and a new web strategy for the party.
It’s been a busy few weeks, but a great experience. The team in Blue State are fantastic; they really know there stuff about online campaigning. In particular, they focus more on strategy than on technology, and that’s something Fianna Fáil will hopefully benefit from greatly.
Joe Rospars, one of the founding partners of the company, was in Dublin today as part of a wider trip to Europe. I pushed Fianna Fáil to organise a public event rather than a private, party only event. I put out the invite through Strawberry Media, and organised the event. We were delighted with the turnout, about a hundred people showed up and we were able to get a good Q&A going with Joe himself afterwards.
I spoke to a number of people afterwards, the majority of whom were very positive about it. One person did mention that a few people were unhappy about the way it had been advertised, and that it hadn’t been publicised as a Fianna Fáil event, and I see messages on Twitter about it as well.
The idea to have the public event, rather than a private one, was mine, and the decision to push it from Strawberry Media was mine as well. Why? I wanted as wide an audience as possible to hear Joe’s talk, and to get the opportunity to question him directly. I felt that some people would have not wanted to attend a Fianna Fáil event, but would love to hear Joe Rospars. This wasn’t the launch of the Fianna Fáil website.
So rather than organise a glitzy launch with banners, posters, videos or the like, we had an open, free event, with a short introduction to say why Joe was in town. Sean Dorgan, party General Secretary spoke to introduce the fact that Joe was in town in connection with his work for Fianna Fáil, and that the party wanted to have his expertise out in the open rather than tied in for the party only.
The event was 10:1 Joe Rospars to Fianna Fail; we’ll have the video online in a few days. Joe’s content wasn’t affected by us, we didn’t discuss it with him before hand, and he spoke for over 40 minutes as opposed to less than 5 from people from the party.
I’m genuinely sorry that anyone is upset about the way I handled the run up to the event; I hope that the quality of Joe’s talk, and the ability to hear first hand his impressions of Irish and European politics, in some way makes up for it.
I’m thankfully for everyone who turned up, and for all the great feedback I received on the night.
The plot thickens, with Gav publishing the content of a Fianna Fáil internal message which appears to reveal that the event was being billed to members a party one:
Fianna Fáil invites you to an audience with Mr. Joe Rospars, Founding Partner of Blue State Digital and New Media Director of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.Damien Mulley certainly wasn't impressed by the apparent lack of transparency:
In that capacity he oversaw all online aspects for the unprecedented communications and grassroots mobilisation effort undertaken by the Obama campaign. Mr. Rospars has also helped lead Governor Howard Dean’s hugely successful new media campaign for the 2004 presidential election and worked with Governor Dean at the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. Rospars is in Dublin to announce the formation of an agreement between Fianna Fáil and strategy and technology firm Blue State Digital to work on the development of the new Fianna Fáil website. The new website will be launched tomorrow and will develop further in the weeks and months ahead.
To mark the occasion Fianna Fáil will be hosting a presentation by Mr. Rospars on his work with President Obama in the Camden Court Hotel on Wednesday 25th February 2009 at 6pm. We would be delighted if you could join us for this event.
It was far from transparent that it was going to be a Fianna Fáil supported event though it was obvious given Fianna Fail were twittering it themselves. It’s fine if they are getting this guy over as a consultant and then getting him to talk to the public, while here. However it seems very much that this was a Fianna Fáil event with a waving monkey for a few seconds and the rest was a party political broadcast. So Fianna Fáil without saying they were Fianna Fáil invited a load of bloggers to this with the (no pun intended) hope of seeing one of the Obamanointed ones but as I write this these bloggers are completely and utterly pissed off.This incident highlights the potential pitfalls of using new media as a communications tool if not handled carefully. Obama used it to maximum positive effect to energise his campaign. However, the potential power needs to be harnessed or it can cause damage, as seems to have happened here. The key is: be open.
Suffice to say the temporary appendage didn't last long...
Tuesday, 24 February 2009
According to the job description, the successful candidate will be employed with a view to focusing "primarily on the European Election Campaign, the selection of candidates for the General Election, and preparing for and executing a General Election campaign for Northern Ireland."
The successful candidate must also display "good interpersonal skills and a sense of humour." I wonder how that could be displayed in a CV.
The closing date for applications is 26th February- if it takes say three weeks to arrange interviews and a further month for the person picked to work out their notice, that leaves roughly another month before the European elections. In at the deep end, eh?
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
According to the IT, Queen's University lecturer Boyd Black said: "Next Monday we are being formally constituted within the Labour Party organisation- up to now we have been unofficial members. Now we will have a party constitution and have elected officers. We will as of right have a seat on the National Policy Forum, the body which sits in permanent session and develops policy for the party. I think it is a big step forward. It's been a long fight, with the Labour high command- mindful of its links to the SDLP- having to be dragged along."
The association had to sign up 200 members and keep them for three months before it could be formally constituted as part of the Labour Party. The 200 mark was passed last year.
This seems to somewhat reflect Fianna Fáil's moves north. With the prospect of a merger with the SDLP off the table, it has appears that it has remained for a few supporters in south Armagh, with the backing of some southern politicians, to do something this side of the border. The result was the establishment of a 'forum', rather than a cumann, in Crossmaglen recently. However, a quick visit to the Fianna Fáil website reveals that the interactive map of Ireland shows up as 'Void' if you hover over Northern Ireland, indicating that FF Central doesn't seem to have any plans to organise fully in the north any time soon.
Where British Labour and Fianna Fáil go in the north remains to be seen. The question is whether they can build the critical popular and membership mass to have any electoral impact. And that will depend to a large extent on the support they have from their respective central offices in London and Dublin.
Monday, 16 February 2009
The Tribune reported that according to Labour sources:
"Negotiations with Ciarán Cannon have been ongoing and huge progress has been made in encouraging the PD leader to join the party in recent weeks. Nothing is definite in politics but a deal is almost done with the PD leader. Negotiations were ongoing before the results of Friday's Irish Times poll but we hope the bounce from the poll will help us entice other high-profile names into the party."
Cannon told the newspaper that he has been in discussions with Labour and has been impressed with Eamon Gilmore's leadership.
"I have had discussions with a number of parties and Labour has been one of those parties. I have had a number of tentative discussions with them. I have had discussions with Labour, Fine Gael and the Greens."
No doubt part of Cannon's decision will be based on what will deliver political success for him in the future. His four-seater Galway East constituency already has two Fine Gael TDs and two representing Fianna Fáil, leaving little room for him to capture a seat if he ran for either party. A move to Labour could enable him to combine his existing support with that for Eamon Gilmore's party, providing a platform to build upon. With the recent poll bounce for Labour, Senator Cannon, if selected as a Labour candidate for the next General Election, would hope that this would be enough to carry him across the threshold to capture a seat from either of the Big Two.
If Cannon does make the move to Labour, it will also dispel the notion that PD members will simply demerge en masse back into Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.
Friday, 13 February 2009
Labour overtakes Fianna Fáil in latest Irish Times/ TNS mrbi Poll, Pushing Brian Cowen's party into third place
According to Stephen Collins in the Irish Times:
The Labour Party has passed out Fianna Fáil for the first time since polling began, according to the latest Irish Times/TNS mrbi poll, which reveals that support for the main Government party has almost halved since the last election.
Fianna Fáil has now slumped into third place behind Fine Gael and the Labour Party in the wake of its plan to make savings of €2 billion this year, through a public service pensions levy and a range of cost-cutting measures.
The poll also shows that a substantial majority of voters would now like to see a change of Government with 62 per cent favouring a change and 28 per cent opposed to it.
The Government’s satisfaction rating has dropped to 14 per cent with 82 per cent now expressing dissatisfaction with its performance. This is a record low since polling began, with supporters of all parties, including Fianna Fail and Green voters, now strongly dissatisfied with the coalition’s performance.
The adjusted figures for party support, compared with the last Irish Times poll in November are: Fianna Fáil, 22 per cent (down 5 points); Fine Gael, 32 per cent (down 2 points); Labour, 24 per cent (up 10 point); Sinn Féin, 8 per cent (up 1 point); Green Party, 4 per cent (no change); and Independents/others, 9 per cent (down 4 points).
The poll was conducted last Monday and Tuesday among a representative sample of 1,000 voters in face-to-face interviews at 100 sampling points in all 43 constituencies before the political controversy about the Government’s plan to recapitalise the banks and the latest developments in Anglo Irish Bank. The margin of error is 3 per cent.
The news harks back to the Spring Tide of the early 1990s when Labour captured 33 Dáil seats and hoped to position themselves to become the Republic's second party. In the event, they failed to maintain the momentum as the decade progressed.
Regardless of one's position on southern politics, it's hard to deny that Labour has played somewhat of a blinder as the southern economy has unravelled. Yesterday I was following developments on Twitter as Labour tweeted live as two of their TDs were suspended from the Dáil- it was fascinating stuff.
However, as with the Tories' lead in the UK, which I blogged about earlier in the week, maintaining poll leads through general elections is an entirely different matter.
The fact that Labour is practically non-existent on the ground in large parts of the state would present problems in maintaining the strength of this latest poll showing. Nonetheless, Eamon Gilmore and his followers will be delighted at these figures.
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
The new procedures announced by the NIO, which are coming in under the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2009, will mean that the problem faced when Michael Ferguson died, for instance, will be avoided- no one on his substitute list could take up his seat, thus leaving it vacant for the remainder of the term.
It will also mean that if a person quits a party and then leaves office, they will be replaced by someone from their erstwhile party. So if Gerry McHugh, who was elected as a Sinn Féin representative but has since gone Independent, died or left office, he would be replaced by a Sinn Féiner. However, for MLAs who were elected on an Independent ticket in the first place, the list system will remain in place as they naturally have no party from which a replacement can be sourced.
According to Paul Goggins: "There was general agreement that the previous system for filling vacancies required reform and the new system provided for in the Order was widely supported during the public consultation. I am pleased therefore that Parliament has approved this change and that the system is now fully in force."
Although it isn't quite the same as a bye-election, this change does perhaps bring about a bit more accountability. Parties can't exactly blame departing MLAs for submitting rogue lists- they have to pick the replacements now themselves. However, I'm guessing that people who decide to quit their parties after being elected won't be too happy- after all, they might argue that it is MLAs that people elect, not parties. Nonetheless, that is how the system works as of this week.
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
The latest Populus poll for The Times has revealed that the bounce in Gordon Brown's ratings after the banking rescue has evaporated. Labour has dropped by five points to 28 per cent since last month, its lowest level for nearly six months. Although this isn't rock bottom (they hit 26% last summer) things are certainly heading in the wrong direction if the party wants to hold onto power.
Meanwhile, the Tories' support has fallen by one point since early January, bringing them to 42 per cent. Nonetheless, this still puts them a full 14 points ahead of Labour. The Liberal Democrats are up three points to 18 per cent.
With the European elections looming, the opposition parties will be rubbing their hands in delight. As the smaller parties in Northern Ireland and the Republic may well do, the Tories and LibDems will be most likely promoting June's poll as a referendum of sorts on the performance of the Labour government. The Tories may not be able to maintain the level of support shown in the Times poll through a general election, but the European elections (which many voters will rightly or wrongly see as being much less important) will present the electorate with an opportunity to send out a message to Labour if, as the polls suggest, they are unhappy with its performance.
Victoria Street will be hoping it can confound the polls and produce a decent showing in June.
Monday, 9 February 2009
And to be fair, that's how things have gone to a large extent. Social media sites such as Bebo and Facebook are extremely popular and have enabled websites to become a primary personal and business communications medium. User-generated videos on YouTube can command millions of views. And the arguable King of Web 2.0, Wikipedia, is now the first stop for millions of internet users seeking to access information on all-manner of things. The online encyclopedia allows visitors to generate, alter and update entries on a virtually limitless basis.
However, chinks are beginning to appear in the utopian vision of an entirely fluid and open internet. The nature of Wikipedia has long left it open to abuse, with often hilarious (but nonetheless embarrassing for its creators) results. As a result, Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales is proposing to introduce a vetting system whereby changes to pages on the site will need approved before they go live. The plan to to choose individuals from a core of self-appointed Wikipedia aficionados and enable them to have the power to give the green (or red) light to alterations to pages on certain topics. The tipping point seems to have been claims on Teddy Kennedy's profile that he "suffered a seizure at a luncheon following the Barack Obama Presidential inauguration on January 20, 2009. He was removed in a wheelchair, and died shortly after." Kennedy, while gravely ill, is still very much in the land of the living.
To some extent, of course, there already is an element of vetting. The aforementioned cohort of Wikipedia addicts who trawl the site watching for alterations to pages often already take it upon themselves to revert changes that they don't agree with. This means that, given their dedication, those who take different views on content often 'lose' the argument given that they've better things to do with their time and couldn't be bothered getting into a game of editing ping-pong. So in effect, the shape of Wikipedia's content is already dictated to a large extent by those who devote themselves to tracking, and often reverting, changes on the site.
Nonetheless, Wales' plans take this to a new level. The sheer size of Wikipedia and the fact that its pages are still mostly completely open to alteration mean that it still has an organic quality to it. By introducing official vetting, the site will become in some ways a genetically modified version of itself. It's not quite the type of thing that would inspire a latter-day Orwell to pen a piece of doomsday literature, but there is a whiff of there being a distinct shift from all animals being equal to some being more equal than others. Perhaps the often self-righteous 'guardians' of Wikipedia will emit a porcine snort of delight.
So, were net users being unrealistic in their hopes from a completely open internet? After all, it's not like YouTube will allow all videos to remain on its servers- any that contravene its guidelines are soon deleted. The same goes for blog content hosted on Google's Blogger platform. Indeed, in an interview with yesterday's Sunday Times, Jimmy Wales said: "There is a core community who are extremely powerful but that is a good thing. One of the great misconceptions about us is this idea that Wikipedia is anti-elitist. That’s just wrong. We are actually extremely snobby... These core users really manage and enforce our standards. If it weren’t for them Wikipedia would be chock full of rubbish.”
Perhaps people have been thinking too far outside the realms of possibility. In a world where legal action is a very real threat, maybe it is too much to ask that sites such as Wikipedia hand carte blanche to all comers to dictate its content. Perhaps something of a 'carte gris' is more appropriate and realistic.
Where this Wikipedia story goes will be interesting to observe. Too much censorship and it will lose the very essence of its appeal. No regulation, and perhaps it risks losing its credibility as an information source. And of course there's the risk that if Wikipedia moves too far away from its original modus operandi, it will simply be replaced by a rival, as happened following the legal handcuffing of Napster earlier in the decade.
If nothing else, at least the vandals are often successful in eliciting a chuckle.
Sunday, 8 February 2009
Friday, 6 February 2009
According to the Irish Times, it is expected that the Dublin South by-election, caused by the death of former Fianna Fáil minister Séamus Brennan, and the Dublin Central by-election, resulting from the death of Independent TD Tony Gregory, will be held on that day too, which will enhance interest in proceedings. For added spice, the local elections will also take place on 5th June.
This will be the first time that Fianna Fáil will have faced the electorate since the financial crisis wreaked havoc in the Republic. With support for the government party having slumped to a record low, there is a strong chance that Fine Gael could capitalise on public disenchantment with Fianna Fáil and build on its strong showing in the previous European and local elections in 2004.
Enda Kenny's party, who along with Labour cast themselves as the ‘alternative government’ going into the 2007 general election but failed to win enough seats to dethrone Fianna Fáil, will seek to use a strong showing in the locals as a springboard for further gains in the Dáil when the next Leinster House elections take place.
Fianna Fáil’s dipping into worker pensions, the ‘income levy’, job losses, and a range of other belt-tightening exercises on the part of the government such as scrapping the teen vaccination against HPV, will make this one of the toughest elections for the ‘Republican Party’ since its foundation.
Meanwhile, the frontrunners in the north’s European poll, which takes place the day prior to the southern elections, have finally been confirmed. Existing MEPs Bairbre de Brún of Sinn Féin, Jim Nicholson of the UUP (running this time under a UUP/ Conservative banner) and Jim Allister of the TUV (formerly DUP) will be joined by the SDLP’s Alban Maginness MLA and Cllr Diane Dodds of the DUP on the ballot paper.
Election junkies get ready.
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
However, since then Twitter has cut the text service to UK mobiles, meaning that you have to check out the Twitter website (or use something along the lines of TwitterFox) to see what the people you are following are saying. Notwithstanding this massive flaw in their service, UK sign-ups to Twitter have exploded in the past year. According to TechCrunch:
UK Internet traffic to Twitter has increased 10-fold over past last 12 months, according to research house Hitwise. For the week ending January 17 2009 Twitter ranked as the 291st most visited site in the UK, up from a ranking of 2,953 for the week ending January 19 2008. UK Internet traffic to the site has increased by a staggering 974% over this period, but that does not even count traffic via third party applications like Tweetdeck or the mobile web. Time spent on the site has trebled and Twitter’s penetration per head is now even deeper in the UK than in the US.
Given that I can update this blog using SMS, Twitter seems a bit pointless, save to post simple one-liners (yes I know Twitter is supposed to serve a different purpose, but it seems terribly egotistical to post things like 'Walking to the shop'. Nonetheless, I've decided to give Twitter a second chance, if only to post stuff that doesn't warrant a blog post in itself.
If you want to follow me, you can do so at www.twitter.com/gazmckeown. If it's pointless, let me know.
Monday, 2 February 2009
I hadn't actually spotted this, but according to ck over at The Dossing Times (a site I used to read all the time about three years ago but forgot about for some reason) old friend of Northern Notes and apparent hero of Ed Davitt, Jamie Bell, is to play Tintin in new live action films about the adventures of the famous Belgian reporter.
The Daily Telegraph records:
The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, which is due to be the first in a 3-D trilogy. Daniel Craig will play Red Rackham. Last year, I disclosed that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost had been cast by Steven Spielberg as the identical twins Thomson and Thompson, the incompetent detectives who can only be told apart from their moustaches, despite the actors' physical incongruity.
As a major fan of Tintin, I'll be watching this closely. Spielberg's involvement is probably good news, but there's a very high risk that the quality of the original books and indeed many of the cartoon versions will be lost. The involvement of 3-D sounds strange, and will hopefully not detract from the quality of the motion picture.
The fact that Daniel Craig is to portray Captain Haddock's ancestor may create an unwelcome effect on young Bell, who has previously displayed bizarre behaviour at the very mention of the Bond actor's name, but hopefully he'll be able to hold it together to do justice to Hergé's masterpieces.