Unlearning old ways is painful. Most politicians grew up in an age where whatever a minister announced was intrinsically newsworthy. The very fact of holding ministerial office guaranteed the attention of the handful of political correspondents who controlled the news monopoly. Not any more. Today, politics is reported and disseminated by hundreds of bloggers. While lobby correspondents still exist and draw salaries and file copy, they no longer get a page to themselves as they recently did. An MP must now compel attention by virtue of what he is saying rather than the position he occupies.
American politicians, schooled in the tradition of open primaries, and with a relatively weak party system, grasped this earlier than most. The internet allows a candidate - even a presidential candidate - to appeal directly to the electorate over the heads of party bigwigs. The phenomenon started with Howard Dean in 2004, and continued with the Obama campaign. Nothing, though, compares with the phenomenon of Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican who, in December 2007, broke all records by raising $6 million from 42,000 online donors in a single day. Ron Paul was perhaps the first example of a politician whose appeal was created online. Not only did he outperform his rivals in web donations; he also tended to come top in internet polls.