home | archive | 03 February 1999 | gilest@iname.com

2002: The first online election

(This article was first written and published shortly after the 1997 General Election)

Five years ago, when no-one had heard of the Internet, the thought of a political party spending significant time and money developing a database for public access would have been laughed at.

But during the six week election campaign, and in the months preceding it, all three main political parties were working behind the scenes setting up sites on the Internet to help spread their messages.

As soon as the election was officially announced, dozens of election news Web sites sprang up offering news and background information. Some maintained a sombre, serious view of the issues, others saw the need for a bit of fun and allowed cartoons and satire some Web space.

But there was no doubt that the 1997 election was the first fought partially online - and will pave the way for future developments in online canvassing, and possibly even voting.

All three main party Web sites underwent changes during the campaign. After a shaky start, the Conservative site, which for several days had no mention that an election had been announced, was redesigned and a special manifesto section added.

Labour went one better, by opening a separate site devoted just to the campaign. Using the latest Internet design techniques, it even offered advice to school children on the best ways to hold a mock election. This site was redesigned again in the last week of the campaign, to incorporate Labour's newer, purpler, colours.

The Liberal Democrats showed they had a sense of humour, by including a Fantasy General Election game, which challenged users to make take on the role of party leadership and fight their way to victory.

Almost all the smaller political parties made use of the Internet to publish their own manifestos. Among the better known ones were those set up by the Green Party, the Natural Law party, the Monster Raving Loony Party and the Referendum Party.

The Pro-Life Alliance used its Internet site to publish video pictures edited from its TV election broadcast after complaints that they were unsuitable for television.

The parties were not the only organisations to begin Internet publishing in earnest. Dozens of election news sites sprang up, from established news media such as the BBC, ITN and most daily newspapers, as well as newcomers such as Microsoft News, GE 97, Election 97, and plenty of other amateur sites.

These offered varying degrees of news and background information about the Election's daily twists and turns.

This election was the first fought partly online. In five years from now, the Internet will be another channel on our television sets, and many more people will have access to it. The chances are that by then, the parties will each have a determined Internet policy statement - and a very impressive Web site.

home | archive | 03 February 1999 | gilest@iname.com