Political Identity on the Net:
David Cameron’s Website
Maria Cristina Paganoni
Dep. of Contemporary Languages and Cultures
Faculty of Political Science
University of Milan
Issues of Identity in and across Cultures and Professional Worlds
Rome, 27 October 2007
Mediatised politics has to deal with
changing conventions of specialised
discourse (Gotti 2003) – linguistic, textual
and generic
unique features of digital genres and
multimodal text types (Garzone 2007)
“multiple interconnections” (Lemke 2002)
between visual and verbal elements.
Political Communication 2.0
(Ward 2007)
i.e. political communication
in the age of Web 2.0
against the information overload of
the “permanent campaign”
(Blumenthal 1982)
Political marketing is turning IDENTITY into
the commercial notion of BRAND (of
parties and candidates).
Political branding is addressed to
“consumer” citizens, whose choice is
decided overwhelmingly by cultural, social
and psychological brand differentiators
(Scammel 2007: 180).
Research questions
 In what ways is the branding of politicians
fostered and enhanced by the digital
environment?
 What are the main visual-verbal features,
discursive strategies and rhetorical devices
through which political personae are constructed
on websites?
 How is the online interaction with citizens carried
out?
Methodology
 Multimodal Analysis
(Kress – van Leeuwen 2001; Lemke 2002; Ventola et al. 2004; Garzone et al. 2007)
- Multidisciplinary: it analyses the combination of diverse
semiotic codes (language, image, sound) and modes
- text-internal
- qualitative approach, giving access to a social
encyclopaedia (knowledge areas, discourses, text
types...)
Methodology
Other insights have been borrowed from:
• Political studies - ICTs and political
communication, political branding
(Gibson et al. 2003; Polat 2005; Scammell 2007)
• Media studies - the making of celebrity
(Evans and Hesmondhalgh 2005)
Analysis of visual/verbal features
 Design and typography: layout, hierarchy and flow of
elements
 Inventory and categorisation of topics and issues
(including significantly absent items)
 Text and construction of stance (who is talking, to
what intended audience, expressing what values)
 Imagery
 Links to other sources as expressions of affiliation
(adapted from Pauwels 2005)
Case study
Webcameron
It was launched in Sept. 2006
Though country- and culture-specific, it
emblematises wider emerging trends
July 2007: David Cameron received the
New Statesman New Media Award for his
official MP website as well as for
Webcameron.
Webcameron
I want to tell you what the Conservative party is
doing, what we’re up to, give you behind-thescenes access so you can actually see what
policies we’re developing, the things that we are
doing, and have that direct link ...
watch out BBC, ITV, Channel 4, we’re the new
competition. We’re a bit shaky and wobbly, but
this is one of the ways we want to communicate
with people properly about what the
Conservative party stands for.
Webcameron
The site is branded in pink, and not blue
Video and written content: online forums,
posts, newspaper articles
No traditional Tory imagery, not even the
new logo.
Textual coherence is realised by means of
 Colour – pink and blue (David’s ties and clothes)
 Icons (the pink logo)
 Repetition of lexical items
Visual/verbal redundancy
The same material is reshuffled
Different combinations of the same clusters
of signs
Orientational meaning
It is the kind of relationship text
and image establish towards
users and content in terms of
viewpoint, attitudes and values
(Lemke 2002);
It is quite revealing of the
“Cameron brand”.
Focus not on abstract issues, but on
David’s personality
“Wedge” (politically divisive) issues are
overlooked or addressed in online forums
Marketing strategy: brands are shaped in
conversation with consumers, in this case
consumer citizens.
Regularly updated site; not “stale”
Reconnection strategy
Verbal text
Colloquial register
Political jargon is avoided
Linguistic structures in written and spoken
discourse stress David’s indefatigable
work and travelling
(present participle; “I’m here in…”; “I’ve
come to…)
Video titles
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making British poverty history
meeting Angela Merkel in Berlin
making sure we succeed in Afghanistan
supporting the campaign for a Children’s
Hospital in Leeds
visiting Flood Damaged Areas around England
getting young people interested in science
looking forward to the local election
keeping the cost of living down
Opening words
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Well, I’m here in Berlin. I’ve come to have a meeting with
Chancellor Angela Merkel…
I’m here in a voluntary body called Chance UK in London which
runs mentoring schemes…
Well, I’m here in Kandahar, in Afghanistan, exactly a year after I
came here before […] meeting with President Kazai…
In the last few weeks I’ve been visiting a number of areas
affected by floods…
I’m in Cheltenham today for the Science Festival…
I’m here today at the Leeds General Infirmary which has a very
important campaign going on for a Children’s Hospital in Leeds...
Welcome to another day on the campaign trail. Today I’ve been in
Lincolnshire where I went to…
I’m in Reading today where we will be launching our campaign
about the cost of living…
ABOUT DAVID
I was born in October 1966 and live in London
and West Oxfordshire, where I’ve been the MP
for Witney since 2001. I’m married to Samantha
and have three young children, Ivan, Nancy and
Arthur.
(…)
I ran my leadership campaign and will lead my
Party by being open and honest about the
changes we need to make in our Party and the
changes we need to make in our country…
ABOUT DAVID
I want my Party to lead the way in making Britain
a greener, more family-friendly country.
(…)
I lead a modern, compassionate Conservative
Party that looks to the future not the past.
(…)
Britain is a fantastic country – a great place to
live. But think how much better life could be. I
believe that my party, the Conservative Party, is
the right one to take our country in the new
direction that it needs.
ABOUT DAVID
Emphasis on personality and its traits(“I”/
“honest”)
Plain language
Strategic keywords as markers of value
(“new”, “modern”, “open”, “optimistic”…)
ABOUT DAVID
Hybrid rhetoric, mixing different ideologies
(e.g. change and tradition)
Foregrounding of appealing issues
Downplaying of controversial ones
Vague and moralising language
Concluding remarks
Mediatised politics
Issues and lifestyle favoured over actual
policies
Identity as brand
Accountability instead of consent
Concluding remarks
The personalisation of politics
implies
a shift from the collective “body politic”
to
the “politician’s body”
in fact a virtual self/political brand
constructed through digital interaction.
SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
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THANK YOU!
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