Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Minister blogging - yet another viewpoint

As you've probably heard, David Milliband is blogging now.

I suspect that the blogging minister is going to be a mistake. When institutions follow where dynamic individuals lead, it always backfires. A few days ago, I drew the 'Good Morning Vietnam' parallel. But the trendy vicar in the 1970s, thinking that folk masses would bring the kids flocking back - it's another example of the same mistake.

And if you want evidence, here it is: Young David says:
"A note on comments - as this is a Government website I'm afraid I can't publish feedback which makes party political points."

I expect his Civil Servants drafted that one, in reality. You know me. You already know that I've posted the following comment:

"David. You are an elected MP. You have been appointed as a minister by an elected Prime Minister. Any idea that you are not a politician - and can't respond to party-political points in a party political way, is ludicrous - and the advice saying that you can't is mistaken. If you really think that you will manage an effective blog without saying what you think - and justifying Labour's position in contrast to your political rivals, you are mistaken. This is a misreading of the relevant legislation and of the custom-and-practice that governs these issues.

More to the point, you will defeat the object of blogging. We want to know who you are, what makes you tick, why you think the things that you do. We want to know where your concience puts you at odds with the political line that you often feel obliged to take. We want to know where the public perception differs from the reality. We want to know about how you resolve the tensions between the direct interests of sections of your constituency and the nation as a whole. We want to know why you sometimes feel the need to compromise with other MPs, ministers, your party as a whole - and even the political parties you don't belong to. We want to hear your version of the issues that cross your desk every day. We're sick of seeing all of this through the distorting prism of the mass media.

In short, we want you to be honest and thoughtful with us. And if you can use blogging tools to do this, you will do a huge favour to everyone who believes in representative democracy in this country.

The reason that so many people are sceptical about politics today is that they don't understand that these tensions arise and that they have to be resolved.

Therefore, the idea that you can't respond in a political way is an absurd reading of the rules. I'd suggest that you challenge the civil servants who have told you that you can't be 'party-political' on this blog. Inform them that giving a politican a platform to be candid is not the same as giving them a political asset at the taxpayers expense.

Inform them that it is often the opposite. Inform them that their interpretation of this rule has no basis in law, and ask them to demonstrate why you should have such a restriction placed upon you by unelected officials. And if they persist, please feel free to contact me, and I'll set you up with a blog - at no expense to me or you - that you will be able to say whatever you like on."

I'm baffled by Manic's attitute to this. He quotes, (with approval, it seems) someone called 'Harry' saying:
"If you intend this to be a personal blog why are you using your Government Department's website? How much civil service time is spent drafting/vetting your 'personal' comments? Doing this via a Government website is a misuse of the taxpayers money and also renders the claim of it being a genuinely personal blog suspect. If you want to run a blog why don't you sort it out for yourself like everyone else rather than scrounging one off the taxpayer?"

If a minister needs the help of the civil service in fostering a dialogue with the public, then it is an exceptionally good use of public money and should be encouraged. It could do the minister more harm than good, by the way. I don't suppose I'd need a long discussion to pin someone who thinks that this is "scrounging off the tax payer" into the kind of corner where they'd admit that they don't really think that liberal democracy is that much better than any of the alternatives.

Call it a hunch. But I don't think it'd take long to get them into that corner.

Test it if you like Harry? I have a comments box.

Postscript: I've just re-read that comment on DM's blog. Not only is HE not allowed to be party political, his blog can't be a conduit for party political comment from others?

David: It's so simple: Either
  1. Sack your officials (or at least tell them to get stuffed)
  2. Set up your own blog without them and turn the official one off
  3. Don't bother blogging in the first place.


MatGB said...

Agree completely; Manic's reaction surprised me, getting them blogging is a good thing.

Hope Milliband lightens up a little bit.

Oh, would consider blog idea, but currently am swamped. Suggest in the meantime posting some substantive stuff at Liberty Central. When current new project is done, I'll have more time, email me? matbowles at gmail dot com in cas you haven't got comment notification switched on.


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