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Local Politicians Use Social Media and Zoom As Decision On Elections Awaited

Published on: 23 Jan, 2021
Updated on: 26 Jan, 2021

By Hugh Coakley

Local politicians are turning more and more to social media to keep contact with their residents during the pandemic and in the run-up to PCC and county council elections, currently scheduled, still, for May 6 this year.

A government decision to go ahead is awaited. The PCC election has already been delayed by a year.

In the meantime, local and national parties are having to get their message out to voters without the traditional methods of canvassing as the lockdowns are affecting council meetings, surgeries, meetings with individuals, door knocking and leafletting.

Reliance on social media such as Facebook for picking up voters issues was common before the Covid crisis. But with restrictions looking increasingly likely to be with us more than a year after the government announced the first lockdown in March 2020, using the internet and social media for intelligence gathering and canvassing has been increasingly utilised.

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A spokesperson for the Residents for Guildford and Villages (R4GV) said: “We are about to try a series of virtual Listening Posts via Zoom and I’d suggest anyone interested register through our website. The first one is on Thursday, February 25.

Hustings and meeting residents in the street are not possible during the pandemic.

“We have a gazebo ‘Listening Post’ which is a mobile platform for engaging with residents and listening to residents’ views and concerns. That is not possible now.

“We regularly update our website, use social media, send out newsletters and produce fortnightly email updates to anyone who registers. But we are aware that there are large parts of the borough that are yet to hear of the residents’ revolution.”

Cllr John Redpath

Cllr John Redpath (R4GV, Holy Trinity) added: “It’s more important than ever we hear from all the borough’s residents in order to take their views into account when making important decisions.”

Chair of Guildford Conservatives, Sallie Barker MBE said that contact between residents and councillors has continued as normal as most casework comes via social media or email. The difficulty, she said, had been site visits due to lockdown restrictions.

Cllr Matt Furniss

County councillor Matt Furniss (Con, Shalford) thought that more people were making contact with local politicians. He said: “It has been great to see more engagement with residents through the use of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, as more are attending local parish meetings, which I regularly attend as the county councillor.

“The key difference has been the focus of the casework. During lockdowns, we had more reports relating to cycling and walking improvements rather than roads as people we driving less and walking more.”

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty

Leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group Ramsey Nagaty (GGG, Shalford) also saw more contact through parish councils. He said: “I’m getting calls and emails and a lot of interaction with parish councils. The pandemic has meant that residents are much happier to use social media. Councillors have picked this up and are using it more.

“We have increased communication with residents by the GGG and Next Door websites and Facebook and other social media and councillors have had some training. That’s been helpful.”

The Lib Dems and the Labour parties were also invited to comment but had not responded at the time of publication.

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