Thursday, November 06, 2008

Hazel Blears is right (with one minor quibble)

Hazel Blears continues to go up in my estimation following her speech yesterday.

Corrosive cynicism, fuelled by politically nihilistic blogs and a retreat from dispassionate reporting, is endangering British political discourse..... she lambast [s] the growth of a hermetically-sealed professional political class and call for a support network on the lines of the political women's action group Emily's List to help more people from ordinary careers into full-time politics...... in part she will blame "a shrinking and increasingly competitive newspaper market" which demands more "impact" from its reporting - the translation of every political discussion into a row, every difficulty a crisis, every rocky patch for the prime minister into the "worst week ever"....... perhaps because of the nature of the technology, there is a tendency for political blogs to have a 'Samizdat' style. The most popular blogs are rightwing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes. Perhaps this is simply anti-establishment. Blogs have only existed under a Labour government. Perhaps if there was a Tory government, all the leading blogs would be left-of-centre?"

"But mostly, political blogs are written by people with disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy."

"Until political blogging 'adds value' to our political culture, by allowing new voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair."

Predicatably, a few tories think it's a bizzare line to take. I could have written that speech. In a way, I think that I have - about fifty times. For the first time in a while, a Labour politician seems to be adopting a fairly unfashionable position, but one that I agree with almost totally. It goes to the root, rather than attacking the symptoms, of a minor malaise that is currently infecting political discourse in the UK.

But, all of that said, let me offer an exhibit for the defence from the blogosphere. I'm adding this with a bit of a caveat - I try not to use my blog to promote my own work, but I promoted Slugger O'Toole's recent awards and contributed to a lot of the thinking around it. So - declaration of interest over - here goes:

Slugger O'Toole is a fantastic, postitive political blog, and as Matt Wardman points out, it has the highest market penetration of all of the political blogs. Guido and Iain Dale may think that they are influential, but they really aren't - compared to Slugger - for reasons that Matt picks up elsewhere.

The awards and it's general demeanour towards politicians is very constructive. As Matt Wardman put it, "changing, not circling the political process."

"The work that Slugger is doing is (as far as I know) unique in this country: a blog having a measure of impact in seeking to strengthen the political process, rather than simply trying to make different things happen using the existing political process. That’s what we need for blogs to fulfil their potential.

In my view this is an example for the other countries in the UK. The interesting question is this:

How long will it be before any “mainland” blogs are taken sufficiently seriously to be able to mount such a set of awards in London, Cardiff or Edinburgh (or - I suppose - in Brussels)? I don’t think I have seen any reporting of the Awards in the British press or on British blogs. That is a pity - NI is streets ahead of any other part of the UK in this respect..."

(BTW, I've checked - Mick didn't put Matt up to write this - as far as I know, they've never met or spoken).

As Jeff put it, elsewhere, "....unlike other blogs that are nasty, or partisan, or both, Slugger has always managed to stay civilised and civil. A team of good bloggers makes the difference - Mick soon realized that to keep the momentum he couldn’t do it all himself."

Martin Rowson gets it as well - here:

And so does Alan:
"Slugger’s become an online watering hole where the less informed and less engaged can hazard an opinion too. A place where you’ll not get cut down too quickly, and where it’s possible to have an opinion without having to swear allegiance to a particular party. With a range of contributors, there’s a spectrum of commentary, and plenty of the post authors pitch in below the line..."

So, there you have it. The UK's most influential political blog is doing all of the things that Hazel says that bloggers should be doing - and doing it fantastically well. But the most effective bloggers at self-promotion aren't doing it - so the rest of the blogosphere gets tarred by the same brush.


Bob Piper said...

I certainly agree about Slugger... but as for the Guido/Dale factor, it were ever so, Paul. The Sun outsells the FT... but it is still a lot of dross.

Blogs are no different, and they are a lot less dangerous than the msm thought control. I'm not really qualified to talk about Staines' site, because I never go there, and I only read the comments on Dale's site once in a blue moon because they are usually written by muppets, or Dale himself sock puppeting.

As I have said before, blogs are not influential (no more than any other bloke on a soapbox) they are just a bit of fun, and Blears, as so often, is talking complete bollocks.

Tom said...

Meanwhile, "Guido Fawkes" appears on a panel promoting transparency in lobbying, under an assumed name.

Matt Wardman said...

Thanks for the link Paulie.

This one is getting up my nose, because I think we have a Westminster Village perspective from HB going for (I'm guessing) Westminster Village bloggers.

But since the Minister her appearing to trash all political blogs, and doing it by briefing the MSM, is going to help prevent people who look to her for a lead (such as local councils) from engaging with all the hundreds of local and issue-based political blogs that *are* doing precisely what she is calling for.


Matt Wardman said...

>But since the Minister her

"But since she is the Minister".


Paulie said...

Bob - you're right about the 'don't take it all so seriously' line, though you would really have to see the postitive impact that Slugger is having in NI to beleive it. Last weekend, republicans were using it to arrange to go to that 'homecoming' demonstration with Unionists so that it could be a springboard for dialogue and an improvement in mutual understanding.

Sorry to sound like a starry-eyed hippy, but I'm constantly amazed at it's reach. EVERY MLA in NI reads it. The journos read it before they write their copy. If you drive around NI with talk-radio on, callers are calling in to talk about things they've read on Slugger.

Matt - the problem is that councils (with noteable exceptions) will grasp at any straw they can to justify an avoidance of interactive technology. HB only provides them evidence that they will find elsewhere if they have to.

Matt Wardman said...

OK, so let's keep working on them.

Full text published on my blog.


Tim Almond said...

Why does the size of the country that the blogger operate from matter? I'm sure that Devil's Kitchen could do the same thing he does now from Liechtenstein, which would multiply his current ratio by around 1200%

passer by said...

SoT works well in Ni, for the simple reason that the political culture is still young, and you are not grafting the tech on the system, its also a pretty compact place, with enough isolation from the mainland.

If any of the Pol Parties wish to be really clever they need to get Near Field Communication (NFC)strategies up and running asap.

Just imagine you walk across a sign (save the park campaign ect) instead of a just a glance you can download more info from the sign, and be instantly directed to the organizers. participation will be instantaneous. This will be bigger than blogs.

Blogs are just like newspapers, they pander to their audiences.

passer by said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mick said...


I'm almost embarrassed by the eulogy above, but let me offer a brief defence. I actually blog about 350 miles away from Northern Ireland in Dorset.

But the focus and the bulk of the audience is in or politically interested in Northern Ireland. Even after nearly seven years it rocks me back to think that 96% of all MLAs read a blog (part) written from so far away.

No harm to the Devil, but if he did Liechtenstein he (as I) would necessarily be writing a completely different blog.

Tom P said...

great post.

I think/hope we are starting to reach a consensus that blogs that propagate a "politicians are corrupt bastards" sort of mindset are a negative development rather than some sort of expression of the disenfranchised, bringing accountability to the political class. I think they actually make communication between politicos and the rest of us more difficult because they deliberately try and undermine our belief that we can ever take what politicians say at face value. How can you have a conversation (or why bother) if you start from the assumption that the other person is going to lie?

I've started reading Guido a bit more lately (because Capitalists@Work - who are decent Righties IMO - link to his posts a lot) and what strikes me is how much factual stuff he either gets wrong or misinterprets. similar that Taxpayers Alliance Burning Our Money blog always comes up with the same answer, no matter what the question. the cynicism of the bloggertarians is quite ideological really, innit?

ivan007 said...

oh phooey
I'm really not sure where we are going if we agree that cynical political bloggers are somehow a big problem. Maybe we're going to a system of political control. Thought police. Licenced bloggers. Anodynity.
Hearing Hazel Blears attack nasty bloggers makes me throw up a little.

Paulie said...

Let me place a bet with you Ivan: You spent less time reading this post than you did writing your comment?


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