Weeks before Britons go to the polls, there's still no comprehensive list of candidates. Four citizens' initiatives have joined forces to tackle the problem. They've been gathering basic information about thousands of candidates and making the data public.
"It may seem surprising but there simply is no single listing for all prospective parliamentary candidates. We want people to make an informed choice and that's difficult because so many new people are standing this time - and a record number of incumbent MPs are standing down because of expense scandal," said Edmund von der Burg from YourNextMP.
One recent poll (PollLab 10/3/10) found nearly half of voters cannot name their MP and three quarters have no idea who their candidates are.
The message from four independent groups which collect and display candidate data online (YourNextMP, hustings.com, iElect UK & ivote2010) is a simple one – don't leave the decision about who to vote for until polling day – check out the candidates first and make them work for your vote.
In recent weeks, the British media has touted this election as the "first truly digital election." Online tools such as myconservatives.com and its Labour counterpart membersnet are being used in local campaigns to recruit volunteers and collect donations. But, Frances Harrison from iElect UK argues that the Internet's greatest impact is in empowering the ordinary citizen and allowing undecided voters to learn more about candidates.
"The much-touted digital election campaign is not just about new communication channels for the big parties – it's just as much about empowering ordinary citizens and giving them a voice to disseminate information," said Harrison.
YourNextMP, which is affiliated to DemocracyClub, allows any member of the public to upload candidate names, photos and details online. Hustings compares candidates in much more detail in the key marginal seats. While iElect UK is an iPhone app with candidate data and iVote2010 is aimed at any mobile phone with a web browser.
WHO WE ARE IN DETAIL
YourNextMP is a comprehensive list of candidates for the general election which is made freely available as a website (http://www.yournextmp.com) and as data downloads for others to build on. The details are editable in a wiki-like manner and many of the contributions are from members of the public. By ensuring that their details are on YourNextMP candidates can be sure that they will appear on all the services built on the data that it shares.
iElect UK is a new, free iPhone app that helps you know who to vote for. It allows users to find their constituency, using GPS or postcode, and then view a list of candidates as well as the MP. The user can ask to be contacted by any of the politicians. The idea being to promote a conversation between the electorate and their representatives. It's been developed by two London women: an ex BBC journalist & promotional marketing manager.
Hustings gives links to sites being used by candidates for their online campaigning, e.g. twitter, facebook, youtube, flikr, winkball etc. It also collates news on candidates and offers candidates the option to upload their own data such as podcasts, photos and videos.
iVote2010 is a mobile site that allows any phone with a web browser to find their prospective parliamentary candidates. The site has been tested on over 250 of the UK's most popular phones. Visitors can use iVote2010.co.uk to contact their PPC's by phone, text or email. It also provides help in registering to vote - with the phone number and address of their local council.