Robert Halfon is Conservative MP for Harlow. Follow Rob on Twitter.
For the past few years now, we on the right have been busy congratulating ourselves on the success of our presence on the Internet. In some ways it is understandable. Right of centre websites like ConservativeHome, Guido, John Redwood’s blog and much more besides have created a forum for Tory activists, undermined the left and provided intellectual ballast. But, whilst we have been slapping ourselves on the back, in some ways, the left have leapfrogged over us. Instead of Web 2.0, they have gone straight to 4.0, creating interactive campaigning websites, American-style, that have changed the nature of how pressure groups operate.
38 degrees is the left’s most successful campaigning force to date. It has far more achievements to its name than Ed Milliband, or his Shadow Cabinet. Unlike some, I don’t see 38 degrees as an irritant, or dismiss it because it is run by Labour activists. The organisation has created a powerful campaigning force with hundreds of thousands of email addresses. Forests, the NHS, energy prices are examples of serious activity.
What we need to remember is that whilst 38 degrees is controlled by leftists, its members are not necessarily of the same political persuasion. There have been numerous times when I, as MP, I have pro-actively interacted with ‘38 degreers’ and have received positive emails from individuals in return. I fact, I would argue that 38 degrees has created, for the most part, a mass database of centrist/floating voters, albeit with a sizeable minority from the centre left.
Rather than just knock 38 degrees, I, and others believe that the right needs to create a better alternative. For this reason we have created a new campaigning organisation ‘Right Angle’. Our aim is to create a campaigning force that counters the efforts of 38 degrees, and speaks up for the silent majority in our country. We want to be counter-intuitive and campaign on issues that may not seem naturally ‘Tory’, but are in fact quite Conservative in practice. So, there will be a strong ingredients of social justice, with the flavour of IDS rather than Fabianite.
That is why our first campaign is ‘lower taxes for lower earners’. Not only do the right need to reclaim this policy from the Liberals – people like Lord Saatchi were arguing for this as far back as 2003 (whilst Charles Kennedy was arguing for an increase in income tax) – but it demonstrates Right-Angle’s core target market: strivers, those on lower incomes who are aspirational and do the right thing. Right Angle will also speak for the silent majority, campaigning on issues that often get little political representaion, but could make a real difference to people’s daily lives.
Unlike 38 degrees, Right Angle, will not be hectoring (MPs who vote against 38 degrees campaigns, often get automated condemnatory emails for example), and will be much more closely integrated with social networks. Right Angle will go out of its way to be positive and praise those for doing the right thing. We will also campaign on quality rather than quantity, so as not to create an almost ‘spam’ type email service which 38 degrees is in danger of becoming.
Our intention is to not only to create a vast new emailing community of the centre right – but to spread our influence through Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus et al. At present Right-Angle is beta-plus, and we would welcome your thoughts and recommendations. Above all, please sign-up at www.right-angle.org.
We can’t allow left-wing internet campaigning to dominate the web. Everything is moving towards online content. Smartphones are becoming mass phones (and affordable), and tablets are replacing computers. Even the book is being replaced by the Kindle. We are rapidly moving to the stage when future political battles will be won or lost on the Internet. Right Angle is a small step to regain some of that space.