Monday, December 03, 2007

What does the left-blogosphere really need?

Health warning: I blog as much to help me organise my own thoughts as I do to provide readers with worthwhile content. Many posts here are largely signposts to previous things that I've written. It also repeats - for the umpteenth time - things I've said before, so regulars here can skip this post. I understand that I could edit myself far more fiercely, and if anyone is daft enough to give me a book-advance, I will do. Until then...

Ashok – in the comments here – has picked up on my scepticism about the value of The Liberal Consipracy weblog. He’s asked for clarification, and - as a few good mates are LC contributors - I should provide it so as to avoid any misunderstandings:

I think that the basis upon which the LC site has been established is faulty. There appears to be a widespread view that the political right have stolen a march on the blogosphere, and that the left needs to do something to counteract this. I disagree, on a number of levels.

In the first place, I don’t believe that political blogging matters much in campaigning terms. Jag Singh of MessageSpace (in the comments here) informs me that his stats reveal a total of between 50,000 and 80,000 ‘absolute unique visitors’ to the highly visited ‘political blogs.’

I’m even sceptical about that figure – the blogs that I visit can get a unique user session from any one of four PCs that I have access to. I’m sure that many blog-addicts record more than one visit a day to particular sites on different machines.

So bloggers aren’t reaching large numbers of the public – and the small numbers that they are talking to are probably fairly politically entrenched in the first place. Blogs are not directly effecting elections very much.

Where they are having something of an impact is in their ability to give personal smears about politicians sufficient momentum in a way that the MSM can’t. Hopi Sen outlined how an asset like this can be very useful to the political right (see ‘Point Two: Focus on Personality’ – here).

And this is useful in the US, in the way that Howard Stern and Matt Drudge have proved useful assets to the Republicans. But this is not the case here. Our equivalents – Scallywag magazine in the 1990s, and Guido more recently – are not really that much of an asset to the Tories. In some cases, the Bloggertarians don’t claim to be such an asset – but that is largely beside the point. Sure, they may give legs to a few stories, but they also display the Conservative Party’s ‘id’ for all to see.

I would suggest that the Tories will not look upon the Bloggertarians with much more affection than many lefties reserve for the 57 varieties of Sparts that we had in the 1980s. The Bloggertarians may ultimately bring the greatest curse that it is possible to bring upon any political movement: A lively internal debate led by people who are plainly barking mad.

Another short-term benefit that right-wing bloggers are providing to the Tories is the wanton and willful way that some of them are attempting to sabotage public debate. There are obvious right-libertarian benefits for doing this (preferring markets to rational debate), and I’ve argued before that it’s one of Guido Fawkes’ main aims.

But this is something that newspapers do far more effectively. Bloggers may be increasing the number of spiteful Kremlinologists, but they only appear to be further exaggerating an existing phenomenon.

So, I don’t buy the dangers created by right-bloggers. They are – in some ways – a useful asset to us. A Petri-Dish that we can draw conclusions from.

Which brings me to the Liberal Conspiracy. I’ve blogged loads here about how weblogs could foster a more deliberative space (this subject has a tag here all to itself) that would improve the quality of democracy. But a largish-readership website that focuses significantly upon party-politics is not one of those sites.

Lots of low-ish readership blogs that aren't primarily about politics is - as far as I can see - where the real political blogosphere is. Not wishing to repeat myself, it's all in this post here (referring back to Ashok - where today's post started).

And finally, I'm not keen on the ingrained negativism of the Liberal Conspiracy site. It appears to adopt a fundamentally journalistic perspective. It is Against Bad Things, and For Good Things. It's the extension of the BBC anchorman's 'Man In The White Suit' complex. It has caught the same cold that liberal journalism seems to have done. I've posted on this as well before, so apologies for sending anyone who has got this far off to read another screed - but it saves repetition, doesn't it?

The only group-blog that I really like is the only one that will have me as a contributor - The Popinjays. This blog is often acerbic and not always hospitable to it's political opponents. But it is - as far as I can see (I expect a very bad-tempered email shortly correcting me on this) - agit-prop. It's contributors are uniformly for things rather than against them. It largely ignores Westminster gossip and it doesn't set itself up as an online home for assorted trolls. It doesn't seem to attempt to colonise any wider space in the way that LC, Crooked Timber and The Sharpener do. I particularly like the fact that I learn a fair bit from reading the comments.

At the Liberal Conspiracy - and many of the high-volume sites - I rarely learn very much. All you get to see is a range of fairly well-established positions being rehearsed in the most predicable way.

(This post was dashed off in a hurry, so apologies for any typos or poor drafting. On the one hand, I'm too busy for this now. On the other, I wanted to write this, and it is only courteous to Ashok that I should reply fairly sharply).

Update: Gracchi has picked this post up on Liberal Conspiracy (cross posted on his own site). There will be more comments there than here, I guess...


Guido Fawkes Esq. said...

Isn't it odd that you are the only leftie who has correctly diagnosed my role and nobody pays you any attention.

Jura Watchmaker said...

I agree with you about the Popinjays, but then I would, wouldn't I? But what of OpenDemocracy, to which you link (or rather mis-link) in your sidebar? Is this not a Man in the White Suit effort, albeit far more sophisticated than Liberal Conspiracy?

Ashok said...

Thanks! I appreciate it, the whole politics and blogging thing is something I just want to get more views on.

Jag said...

Incidentally, the figure has grown to about 200,000 individuals (weighting our data with Hitwise's).

If you're looking for "visits", then 600-800,000. But that figure would include people like me who browse on multiple machines, browsers, and platforms.

MatGB said...

@ Guido: Paulie's not the only one, and he's being listened to, but ultimately there are regular occasions when I just don't bother posting stuff that I don't care for—what you're up to is part of that.

It's a bit like the perpetual "where are all the female bloggers" question that keeps coming up. Most of the blogs I read daily are written by women—they sometimes write about politics, they sometime s write about other stuff. In fact, most of my favourite blogs are almost purely personal. But I get a lot more information about news events from then than I used to when obsessively reading the main politics blogs daily.

Haven't looked at Dale or Order Order for ages, just gossip about Westminster, not my thing really (if I want the gossip, I'll ask someone working there, much easier).

Meh. Another talking about blogging conversation.

The Plump said...

I find the Liberal Conspiracy spectacularly dull. I also dislike some of the main contributors' orthodoxy dressed up in vague verbiage to make it sound more radical than it really is, as well as its overtone of vanity and self-importance.

The Trots is genuinely lively and has some bloody good writers.