Online political rhetoric is no substitute for a Paxman grilling

Politicians have taken to the internet like ducks to water or, for some, more like moths to candles.

Tess Alps is chief executive of Thinkbox
Tess Alps is chief executive of Thinkbox

It's well-documented - over-documented, even - how Barack Obama's election victory in the US owed a lot to expert use of online communications, dialogue and fundraising to harness the support and excitement he had created through his live and televised appearances.

But politicians have been pootling about online since the web was first invented. The internet has brought us the joys of reading bitchy, anonymous, partisan blogs and seeing photos of Ann Widdecombe's cats. Mmm.

Politicians tell us they use the internet because it makes them accountable to their constituency and closer to the nation's voters. They talk about having a dialogue with the people who keep them in power.

Forgive me for being sceptical. A quick mosey through the websites of a few leading politicians reveals a mish-mash of line-toeing pronouncements/PR releases followed by a bunch of readers' comments that are as adulatory as those on the Take That website.  

"Love your tie, Gordon."  "Please can I have your babies, Nick?" "When are you coming to Horsham, David?"
There's very little dialogue going on here. Instead, we have politicians essentially broadcasting their thoughts to an adoring public - plus the odd sworn enemy.

This is not without its own dangers, as poor old Gordon Brown found out recently. Just because you can have a completely free rein to speak to the nation how you choose via a YouTube video, doesn't mean it's easy to get right, and then you have no one to blame but yourselves. The idea that politicians are getting closer to real people's opinions is a joke. It's a dangerous box-ticking exercise.

But I'm even more worried than that. We all love Obama and so applaud the way he reached out to people directly online.
But imagine if that other skilful and persuasive orator, Hitler, had had access to the internet. He destroyed media opponents; now politicians just bypass them.

Before we get too carried away by the upsides of disintermediation, we need to pause for thought. I believe I'm a fairly bright and well-informed voter, but I still don't believe I'm up to asking politicians the hard questions.

Without the likes of Snow, Paxman, Humphrys and Rusbridger, I would be vulnerable to an engaging website and a smooth video. I want my politicians well and truly mediated please. And I want to protect the people who do it for me. 

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