The Informer was delighted to see shareholder democracy in such rude health at the recent BT general meeting. With the former telco monopolist about to make one of the biggest bets in its history it seemed only fair for its management to consult the people who own it – the shareholders.
With mitigating factors such as the need to spend over four years’ worth of profit on the acquisition in order to increase earnings by 25%, the disruption cause by incorporating two such large companies and the possibility of onerous regulatory hoops to be jumped through, it was not inconceivable that some shareholders might not be too keen. In the event, however, the acquisition was approved with the kind of majority even the most ardent despots would be proud of.
Of course these kinds of votes are not the same as general elections, such as the one we’re about to have in the UK, as the electorate is comprised of shareholders rather than citizens. While you sometimes get individuals accumulating large holdings, the shares are usually owned by investment institutions such as pension funds, which have debatable interest in the day-to-day running of the companies they own.
Having said that perhaps a general election is not so different, with the turnout for the BT election pretty similar to the current trend for general elections – around 60%. Furthermore how many general election voters have any real sense of what they’re voting for? Many are purely tribal and would vote for a certain party even if it was led by a chimpanzee, while others will always vote to remove the incumbent(s).
What will certainly be very different in the general election is the result, with polls indicating the likely need to cobble together a coaltion of multiple, ideologically diverse political parties to form any kind of majority. The Telegraph has a handy tool for testing out the many possible scenarios and whichever way you slice it, it’s going to be a mess.
Depending on how you look at it this could be good news for the mobile industry, with general elections tending to increase mobile web traffic. The 2012 US election set a new record for traffic to the BBC News mobile site and we’re almost three years more umbilically dependent on our phone than we were then. Add to that the likely weeks of uncertainty, speculation and outright chaos that is likely to follow the vote next Thursday and you’ve got a whole lot of people checking their phones constantly.
And then you’ve got social media, of course, which is increasingly accessed via mobile devices. This not only makes it easier for people to compare notes on serious stuff, but seems to significantly increase the levels of frivolity around such events.
Among the trending hashtags this time are: #milifandom – an inexplicable wave of groupie-like attention directed at the Labour leader; #cameronettes – a no more plausible riposte from supposed groupies of the Conservative leader; and to accompany Tweets concerning the TV debate that featured no less than seven party leaders was the hashtag #massdebate, but there was still no consensus on who came first.
While we’re surely not far from being able to cast votes using our smartphones, perhaps the most democratic move would be to hand the whole thing over to social media. In fact, you could make traditional party politics largely redundant by making every decision on the basis of its Net Promoter Score. What could possibly go wrong?