Who’s got the power?

Last week we looked into possible campaigning actions to solve the problem of excessive drinking and the negative impact on the NHS and individuals’ mortality, following some prominent headlines.

Doing a power analysis can be a useful tool to help focus action on what might be the source of this specific chosen problem, and can identify entry points for campaigners.

With problem drinking, what initially appears to be a single issue throws up ideas for numerous campaigns targeting different power-holders.

Gaventa power cube

from Gaventa, 2009, “Finding the Spaces for Change: A Power Analysis” in IDS Bulletin 37:6 p25

Gaventa’s power cube offers a framework for power analysis, with three interrelated categories of power:

Spaces: closed / invited / claimed or created

Levels: global / national / local

Forms: visible / hidden / invisible

Looking at these power types in context of the problem can inspire a whole host of potential action ideas. For example, from brainstorming problem drinking:

  • Visible power of government in setting national laws might lead to a campaign on mandatory minimum pricing of alcohol. While the actual apparatus for decision making may be closed to the public, there might be invited spaces where campaigners are able to participate in consultations or influence the decision makers directly.
  • Another idea here might focus on the visible power of the industry itself to manage their behaviour. Creating codes of conduct for staff, or policies that help reduce problem drinking such as free soft drinks or safe spaces, might be a good way for them to improve their image or achieve CSR objectives while contributing to the solution of this problem on a local level. In addition, they have a degree of invisible power in their perpetuation of the societal norm that drinking to excess is desirable, so looking at influencing the messages they put out could also be an entry point for campaigners.
  • This leads well into the hidden power of the alcohol industry who may be lobbying decision makers against such a minimum pricing concept, but in a closed space. Perhaps claiming these spaces might be possible: demanding an invitation to key meetings or making such power dynamics visible via exposing private lobbying, or even buying shares in companies to become an invited shareholder with a degree of power could be possible ways into this problem.
  • Invisible power is also an important consideration in this problem – the norms of society that problem drinking is ‘OK’ might need to be challenged. For example, targeting individuals on a local level, perhaps by service provision in support for addicts and those affected by addiction could be a space to focus campaigns on, or a place to gather stories and mobilise individuals. Alternatively, educating drinkers about the dangers of drinking, and making this less attractive to individuals both in the spaces they actually drink, via mass media such as TV ads, and online is an approach used by drinkaware, a UK charity which is largely funded by the alcohol industry, perhaps as part of their CSR committments:

Drink Aware

Taking the problem we want to solve and taking it through this kind of power analysis seems to be a really good way of mapping out possibilities for campaigning.


Avaaz, 38 Degrees and direct democracy

Following a class discussion with a campaigner from Azaaz, I considered the opportunities such campaigning organisations might offer for ‘fixing’ democracy.

Is democracy broken? The recent referendum for Scottish independence aside, figures on voting and public perception of politics have been becoming dismal.

Image courtesy of statgeek.co.uk, published 9th May 2014

Image courtesy of statgeek.co.uk, published 9th May 2014


Contrast this with numbers involved in petitions/campaign actions – Avaaz has almost 40 million members, and 38 Degrees’ website shows that over 17 million actions have been taken. “Actions” include signing petitions, donating to ad campaigns and writing directly to power holders.

These organisations could be accused of fostering ‘slacktivism’, the idea that by simply clicking a petition, actors are not really changing anything other than smugness. But really, how active is putting a cross in a box and allowing somebody else to make decisions on your behalf for 5 years?!

Avaaz and 38 Degrees et all can bridge the perceived gap between the electorate and the elected, by showing popular support or condemnation (usually the latter) for policies. They also prove that people can be engaged in politics. One example is the 38 Degrees “Save Our Forests” campaign, which attracted over 500,000 petition signatures amongst lots of other member-directed action.

It should be easier to direct politicians’ work than emailing, calling, attending surgeries. They could come to the electorate using new communications in the same way as these organisations. Could politicians use new media to get directly in touch with electorate to float ideas or ask specifically how to vote on key parliamentary decisions? Arguably this would increase the accountability of our politicians and restore some legitimacy to the political structures we have in the UK.

On a theoretical level, this could be a form of reverting back to pre-modern campaigning type/governance as described by Norris [1], taking politics away from the lobbyists, and returning it to the electorate’s hands.


1. Norris, P (2000), “A Virtuous Circle: Political Communications in Post-Industrial Societies”, Cambridge University Press

The “Tarpaulin Revolution” and media bias

On Saturday, 18th October the TUC-organised “Britain Needs a Pay Rise” march took place, with somewhere between fifty and one hundred thousand participants.

Following this, Occupy London set up at Parliament Square on Saturday night, with a programme of events planned for this week. The aim: to create a movement of citizens with an alternative idea for how society should function. There have been allegations of over-policing: signs, food and tarpaulins(!) have been confiscated, and so far one arrest has been made.


“Robust” policing of Parliament Square, 18th October 2014. Photo: Demotix (http://www.demotix.com/news/6036433/robust-policing-occupy-democracy-camp-parliament-square#media-6036389)

However, you’d be hard-pressed to come across much coverage in the UK mass media. This story doesn’t appear on BBC or Sky News’s websites, or unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail. Even the Guardian website has run just two stories on the latest developments on its dedicated “Occupy London” page (http://www.theguardian.com/uk/occupy-london)


In terms of the media’s potential selection of this story for coverage, the Occupy event is:

  • in Central London, and highly visible
  • arguably interesting: people camping out in poor weather, with some reported actions of the Police as possibly violent – and now tarp-gate
  • fairly relevant to people’s lives – it’s politics, in the home of politics, at a time when we’re seeing furore about parties’ participation in TV debates, ‘theme songs’ and pay strikes
  • organised by the same group that were responsible for lots of press 3 (?) years ago
  • raising the prospect that there’s a problem with democracy in the UK smack bang in between a sovereignty referendum and a general election.

So the lack of media coverage seems a little strange, no?!

Looking at the big stories of the day it’s easy to see why there might be selection bias against Occupy Democracy:

  • Ebola
  • an incoming hurricane
  • the death of much-loved actress, Lynda Bellingham
  • Oscar Pistorius’s sentencing

The media can afford to ignore the stories that they feel won’t sell – there’s more material out there than could ever be reported. But why wouldn’t a tale of people committed enough to their cause to sleep out in the tail end of a hurricane, without the confiscated tarps, sell? Is there a bigger bias at play?

Despite the lack of mass media coverage, the Occupy Democracy are trying to get their message out to would-be supporters. Their very presence at the gates (or bollards) of UK democracy surely allows them the opportunity to get their message to decision-makers and some members of the public, but to truly succeed in their vision of an alternative future they need mass support.

Looking at Dieter Rucht’s “quadruple ‘A'” idea (1), which tries to explain the different interactions movements may have with the media, we might conclude that Occupy are trying to ‘adapt’, but are also using ‘alternatives’ here.

Indymedia, for example, are following the story closely (http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2014/10/518468.html?c=on).

We could argue that social media isn’t controlled in the same way as the mass media, as it is user-generated, and so could qualify as either an ‘alternative’ to the mass media, or an ‘adaptation’ of it. One one hand, Facebook, Twitter etc are corporate-owned, but on the other, content is produced by anyone, including campaigning groups.

Occupy Democracy’s Twitter, with 1,249 followers (https://twitter.com/occupydemocracy, as of 20/10/14 at 11:30pm) has been created specifically for this event. There is an Occupy Democracy YouTube channel. Occupy are also using a site called Bambuser at http://bambuser.com/v/5013694 to stream videos from the event via mobile phones. This is significant as it allows many participants to produce the media message and use social media to promote it – no media experts needed. Bambuser also allows comments on the video stream – in Occupy’s case this is being used by supporters to encourage and offer advice.

The horizontal organisation of Occupy doesn’t lend itself well to a firm media strategy, where you need media-trained professionals and spokespeople. In the Occupy London protests of 2011, where St Paul’s Square was occupied, there was hostile media coverage – including thermal imaging camera use to ‘prove’ tents weren’t occupied. Perhaps these factors contribute to the inevitability that Occupy Democracy will at times ‘abstain’ from utilising the mass media to convey its message altogether, preferring self-made media such as Tweets and video blogs.


Edit: after writing this post last night,the BBC have (finally) featured a story about the events on Parliament Square – however this simply pointed out that Baroness Jenny Jones of the Green Party was arrested, then “de-arrested” – perhaps this ramped up the media interest?

(1) – in “Cyberprotest: New media, citizens and social movements”, 2004, Edited by Wim van de Donk, p31-32

Inspire are #makingastand with the Sun…

The Sun’s front page on 8th October 2014


Today I read this article, part of Roy Greenslade’s media blog at the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2014/oct/08/sun-isis

The Sun newspaper is very publicly proclaiming its support for the #makingastand campaign by Inspire, an NGO which aims to counter extremism and gender inequality by empowering British Muslim women (http://www.wewillinspire.com/about-us/)

In last week’s session we discussed the concepts of “echo chambers” – or preaching to the converted.

The readership of The Sun, which is the highest out of all daily papers in the UK, can be thought of as ranging from fairly apolitical, through to right wing and even hostile to minorities in society. So, if you can get your campaign covered (positively) by the Sun, you’ve generally hit the jackpot as a campaigns communicator.

Whether we could cynically say The Sun, which is traditionally divisive, is trying to score political points by siding with this kind of ‘unity’ campaign could be its own blogpost…but I did think it was really interesting that the campaign explicitly says to British Muslim women that they are powerful, strong leaders, yet has partnered with the Sun. In the video of the launch, viewable on Roy Greenslade’s piece, Sara Khan, director of Inspire, directs this at the women who have gone to join ISIL:

” you’ve bought into a patriarchal ideology which seeks to treat women as second class citizens”

I will note that Page 3 was obvious in its omission from today’s edition of the paper.

Good for #makingastand though. A campaign led by minority groups – women, Muslims – hitting the mainstream. I’d be really interested to see some poll work on the effect this campaign has on the readership’s attitudes.

East Coast rail line privatisation

Last week I purchased a First Class train ticket to Leeds, which should have cost £103, for FREE.

This was through the East Coast Rewards Scheme, where regular customers accrue points to spend on future journeys and other perks.

The East Coast mainline is currently run by a subsidy of the government’s Directly Operated Railways, set up in 2009 when the private company managing the line, National Express East Coast, couldn’t deliver the service any more. Since then, East Coast has made substantial profits, which have gone to the Treasury rather than shareholders.

There’s a whole potted history here (http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/sep/09/state-owned-east-coast-rail-franchise-paid-225m-pounds-treasury-still-faces-privatisation) – thanks Guardian.

I feel personally angry about this as a frequent user of this train line and somebody who thinks privatisation of services is generally A Bad Thing. So I started trying to find out if any action was planned, or if there was an active movement I could get involved with.

Short of a few petitions (see the bottom of this post), not much seems to have happened since a number of days of action in 2013. So what to do?

I thought about the legitimacy issue discussed in class that week – what if I refused to recognise the new private company as a legitimate entity and not pay my fare?! Would that be a good defence if I were to be prosecuted? Would it get some press, or a laugh from the conductor at least? It led to some interesting conversations when I travelled north that weekend.

In the end I just shared the petitions on my Facebook wall. Any better ideas?






So you’ve found Reflections on Campaigning, my assessed blog.

For the next 10 weeks or so I’m going to be posting about the key topics raised in my University module, Critical Issues in Campaigning. My weekly reading, interesting topics discussed in class and generally interesting bits of campaigning I find will all be discussed here. I’m also going to find a few campaigns or movements to follow over the course of the module, and apply what I’m learning to them.