Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Article on Lib Dem blogs

This article is published in tomorrow's edition of Liberal Democrat News. See here for an explanation.

Blogs: Fizzing Up Politics

"I wanted to win an election," Lynne Featherstone told Forbes Magazine just after she gained Hornsey and Wood Green for the Liberal Democrats, "and was going to use every tool in the box to help me do it."

The campaigning tool that interested the American interviewer was Lynne's weblog or "blog". For she is one of an increasing number of politicians using these personal websites, designed to be regularly and easily updated, to communicate with the public.

Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary carries almost daily reports of her work as an MP and local councillor. She is on holiday at the moment, but she has recently written about a visit to a local mosque, the way a surgery brought home the severity of Haringey's housing problems and many other topics.

Richard Allan was the Lib Dem pioneer in the field. He set up his Political Times in June 2003, becoming only the second MP to have a blog. Its content reflected his interest in the potential and politics of information technology. It is still running under the title Post Political Times to reflect his decision to leave the Commons at the last election.

A couple of years on, it has become commonplace for MPs to write blogs. Many are uninspired or rarely updated, but some members put a lot of work and individuality into them. Notable is John Hemming's Web Log, which leavens discussion of voting fraud and the travails of the Birmingham Strategic Partnership with pictures of John's cats.

Beyond Westminster, Peter Black AM writes an entertaining blog. He offers a guide to the debates and personalities of the Welsh Assembly alongside sharp comment on politics more generally.

Blogs are springing up among Lib Dem councillors too, with Louise Alexander in Tower Hamlets and Mary Reid in Kingston upon Thames writing two of the more interesting. Both are both involved with the office of the deputy prime minister's ReadMyDay project. This aims to replace the dry, formal content of conventional government websites with something friendlier and more suitable to local government.

Very New Labour that - a central initiative to encourage informality and spontaneity - but the results are well worth reading.

But you don't have to be an elected representative to have a blog; many activists write them too, sharing their opinions on current affairs. Among the best is Nick Barlow's What You Can Get Away With, which is probably the most widely read Lib Dem blog. Will Howells' No Geek is an Island reflects his status as a Dr Who nut and soduku grandmaster as well as a sound Liberal. And Simon Titley's The Liberal Dissenter offers trenchant views on Liberal Democrat policy and internal politics.

Blogs have their limitations. As with anything on the web, it seems easier to contact Californian teenagers than your neighbours. Tony Hancock's famous line from the radio ham episode - "Friends all over the world. None in this country, but all over the world." - was strangely prescient.

But writing a blog is more constructive than shouting at the radio, which is what many of us would be doing otherwise. It encourages debate among Liberals, as readers can leave their comments on most blogs. And the more Lib Dem blogs there are, the more chance there is that some will attract readers from outside the party and draw them in.

Successful parties fizz with debate and new ideas: think of the Tories in the early years of Mrs Thatcher's leadership or the birth of New Labour. If blogs can sharpen Lib Dem thinking in the same way, they will have made us look more like a party of government.


Robin said...

I would point out that I'm an active member, so perfect.co.uk should qualify...


Simon said...

Have you told Ryan at libdemblogs.co.uk?

Suz said...

Jonathon - I can see there's going to be a lot of hurt feelings if some peoples names are not mentioned.


Jonathan Calder said...

These first three comments were made before the full article was posted here.

Simon said...

Ah that's why I don't remember commenting on this article then...