There’s no doubt the leaders’ debates have dominated this general election campaign. On one hand, I’m sure I’ve heard more people talking about politics this year than in 2005 and 2001, when I was a political reporter.
But on the other hand, the intense focus on the leaders’ debates at a national level has sidelined somewhat politics at a local level, in my opinion. With the exception of a certain Gillian Duffy in Rochdale, incidents out on the stump have been sidelined in the media.
And even when politicians have made the effort to get into a constituency, the chances of them meeting any ‘real’ voters – as opposed to carefully selected party activists – have been slim. Again, Gillian Duffy is perhaps proof of why politicians have been keen for this not to happen, although anyone who watched the actual meeting with Mrs Duffy would probably agree it didn’t go badly for Brown.
These two factors have been quite good news for local journalists – in many ways it’s given them a free run at the local aspect to the general election.
Alongside that has been the superb work of Democracy Club, set up by a group of volunteers determined to make candidates in the general election more accountable.
The established a network of volunteers across the country who updated the site with local issues in each constituency, uploaded election leaflets via sister site The Straight Choice and encouraged candidates to fill in questionnaires based on local and national issues raised on the site.
As campaigning enters its last phase for the general election, now is probably the right time for a sweep of the questionnaire results in your area. They have been posted at Theyworkforyou.com . Response rates have been great from the smaller parties, good from the Lib Dems, ok from Labour but poor from the Tories.
Many of the responses won’t mean much to people outside the area, but I guess that’s where local journalistic knowledge comes into play. Hazel Blears finds time to call for ‘greater choice’ in size of wheelie bins, Manchester MP Gerald Kaufman supports calls to block the size of Manchester Airport, Jacqui Smith supporting calls to increase public sector spending and Nick Clegg agreeing that we have too many CCTV cameras in the UK.
There are a couple of shocking leaflet results – Norwich North is worth a look – but the benefit for journalists locally is that they can add local knowledge to the statements to see if any stories jump out.
The same applies to leaflets to look at on The Straight Choice – even after polling day, stories about misleading leaflets can make great copy.
Democracy Club is a great project which deserves support from journalism – which is why Trinity Mirror, the company I work for, has promoted Democracy Club in print and online throughout the election campaign – and is a potential goldmine for stories, even after the election is over.