Starting with the obvious part (skip to the next section for the really interesting bit): the database allows you to search by postcode, candidate or constituency, or to navigate by zooming, moving and clicking on a political map of the UK.
Searches take you to a page on an individual candidate or a constituency. For the former you get a biography, details on their profession and education (for instance, private or state, oxbridge, redbrick or neither), as well as email, website and Twitter page. Not only is there a link to their place in the Telegraph’s ‘Expenses Files’ – but also a link to their allowances page on Parliament.uk.
Constituency pages feature a raft of stats, the names of candidates (not many at the moment), and the swing needed to change control.
At the moment both have ‘Related stories’ but these are only related in the loosest sense for the moment. And there is a link to the election map and swingometer that The Telegraph built previously.
All of which is nice but not earth-shattering. Where the database really comes into its own is with the Advanced Search feature.
This is so powerful that the main issue may turn out to be usability. I’m not sure myself of everything it can do at the moment but apart from the fundamentals of actually finding a candidate, this allows you to filter all the candidates in the database based on everything from what type of education they had, to their age, gender, profession, county and role (i.e. contesting, defending, standing for the first time or again). The Swingometer filter also appears to let you filter based on who wins as a result of predicted swings (not just Lab-Con but Con-Lib and Lab-Lib)
The site is still rough around the edges – it appears that the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Grieve went to “Lyc‚àö¬©e Fran‚àö√üais Charles de Gaulle” and ’Oxbridge University’, while the link to his website is missing a ‘http://’ and so doesn’t work.
Data geeks will be disappointed that the data doesn’t appear to be mashable, and there obviously isn’t an API. The Telegraph’s Marcus Warren tells me that they are looking at mashups for after the election, but for the moment are focusing on researching candidates.
That seems a sensible move. The MPs’ expenses scandal may turn out not just to be the biggest story of the last decade, but the foundation of a political database to rival any other news organisation. The Telegraph have a real strength here and it’s good to see them building on it.