As promised, I have started the process of looking at the main political parties from the perspective of the environment and international development. I think I may have bitten off a bit more than I had expected with this, but I will continue. Yesterday, I wasted an idle hour of my time looking at the websites for the Conservatives, the Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats and the SNP, and downloaded background information about their policies on these two areas. Here are my first impressions – I have not looked at a single policy yet so this is more about websites and general look, feel and philosophy taking into account the environmental agenda.
Firstly, the SNP. Well I couldn’t find anything relevant on their website as regards the general election or environmental policies; their most recent Westminster manifesto is from 2005. The best I could come up with was their section on Government, ie Scottish Government. Unfortunately, this means I will not be going back to their website to get any more information; in this day and age, you need to have all the information up there all the time and it’s just not good enough to be waiting until a full official manifesto is launched.
Next, the Green Party. Firstly, it would seem clear and bleeding obvious that central to the Green Party’s political philosophy is “taking into account the environment in all policy decisions”, but I was surprised that when I went to their policy section that there were no environmental policies. Now I know where they are coming from being that everyone knows we are green but what they don’t believe we can deliver on is basic policy areas like Health and Housing and the Economy, so we’ll major on these areas, however why hide the Green Agenda? Or as they say “We are not just an environmental party. Our policies extend across all areas of life.” When Steenbergs first set up our website, our bank manager said to us that he was surprised that we never mentioned that we were focused on organic spices and herbs, so we realised that what’s obvious to us/them is probably less obvious to other people, so you need sometimes to keep on stating the bleeding obvious. I did eventually find more detail about policies within the main website in the About the Green Party section hidden in a side bar, but to get those policy statements you keep needing to go back to this side bar.
To find the Green Party’s information on the Environment, you need to go to another website called Green Party Policies and download various pdf files across a range of topics. Now this web site is truly horrible – it’s clunky, slow and really hard to work out what and where to get information. Also, because of it’s structure, you end out having to print out loads of paper to actually read the policies because the pdfs are really hard to read. While the web site had errors all over the place – the Policy Statements page comes up with a 404 Error Page Not Found. As for detailed policies, I was surprised to find that many of the Policy Downloads were offline pending revision although they will be up in a few days. So all in all this was fairly hard work to trudge through and really difficult to find stuff about the environment and international development, which meant that you really had to want to find the detail to want to use the website. Were I a teacher I would have to say “Could do better”.
Next, I am going to lump together the Conservative and the Liberal Democrats – that’s probably a first. Both of their websites are clean looking and easy to use, and have a similar structure, so you can find the general policy stuff about the Environment and other policies by clicking on information bars on the left hand border. All the information is there with detailed policy statements and backgrounders dowloadable quickly from links embedded in the relevant areas. I liked both sites and found them similar in style. As for general feel about the seriousness of the Environment to these parties, the Liberal Democrats give higher prominence for the Environment sitting at the top of their “What We Stand For?” section, while the Conservatives do not put the Environment or International Development in the “What We Stand For?” section but they do have a vast amount of detail as Consultation Papers and detailed policy papers – so the Liberal Democrats weighed in at 520g of papers when printed out and the Conservatives a whopping 940g (and I hadn’t even printed out their long report on “Rebuilding Security”). As a negative for the Liberal Democrats, I couldn’t find anything within the main website about International Development and had to get to it via a search where I found a consultation paper for download, so that wasn’t great.
Now, for the Labour website. Its structure is completely different to the other major parties. They do not include the Environment within their Pledges on the Home Page, but it does come as a subsidiary pledge under “Ed’s Pledge“, which is all about Climate Change. The Labour website is structured as a highly functional blog or social networking site, which means you can go from the Environment and then onto “Further Reading” or “Related Policies” in the right hand pane. This gives you the ability to move around the website and through policy ideas and threads, but I quickly got lost and then would need to get myself back to the start and follow another line of thought. Also, I struggled to find detail on any of the policies, and was (I assume) expected just to believe what I was being told on the website and that I wasn’t allowed to question and query, nor want to delve deeper into the philosophy and reasoning for the resultant policies that Labour is proposing.
Now, I have to be honest here – I am 42 years old and don’t live in London and I am not massively computer literate and I hate social networking sites, nor do I have a mobile phone. Also, I like to question and query things and am by nature a sceptic, and am very, very dubious about anything politicians say – unfortunately, I come from a viewpoint that all politicians are going to promise you the earth, feed you a load of cock and bull, then do something else when they get into power.
So while I get completely what Labour is doing with their website, I loathed it. I want to find the information about policy areas in a simple format saying “Environment” or “Community Relations” or whatever area interests me. Also, I want to be able to print out stuff and read it, rather than post it to Twitter or view it on by Blackberry (I don’t have one you’ll be pleased to know), or some other gizmo. I am not interested in politics per se nor am I in the Westminster Village; similarly, I am not in the 18 – 30 year old bracket that has been brought up on Facebook or Twitter. Hence, for me, the Labour website was a horror story, but I reckon it will appeal to lots of people who like that style of thing and it is really, really well orchestrated and controlled, which I assume will go for the whole Labour compaign – the Labour site is without a doubt an awesome website and the best party political campaigning tool of the three major parties.
So here’s my initial impression and order of success in giving me the right feel about their Environmental and International Development credentials:
- Liberal Democrats
- Green Party
- Scottish National Party
But as I have said, the Labour website is really effective, but just not conceptually for me.
Note to all political parties, none of you (and that includes the Greens) have a button to enable you to print the information on a page, so you get all the side bars and rubbish around the edges. The result 3 or 4 pages of print, where most goes straight into the bin. Yes, I could read it on screen, but I am too old for that – I like to read paper and scribble on it etc.
And now I will start looking in more detail at the individual party’s policies and statements on the Environment and International Development…