Those nasty bloggers

This is not a political blog, but seeing as it's wall to wall politics at the moment here's another political post, this time non-obama!

Reports are circulating about Hazel Blears MP's speech to the Hansard Society on the subject of political disengagement. As well as getting the boot into politicians who have CV's that read: "party activist, policy wonk, MP" (like a lot of her cabinet colleagues??) she has some thoughts to share on political blogs.

The PA advance Press Release includes the following: "Ms Blears, who had a career as a local government solicitor before becoming an elected politician, will also complain about a "spreading corrosive cynicism" in political discussion. She will point the figure at political "bloggers" - accusing them of seeing their role as "unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy".

She goes on to say: "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."

I read a lot of political blogs and find Blears' comments baffling. One theory is that she is trying to pick a fight with right-wing bloggers who so far have managed to create the most successful blogs on the UK political blogosphere. However, this doesn't explain anything and only prompts one to ask why she would pick this particular fight?  Other recent reports about senior Labour figures eying up the UK blogosphere clearly demonstrate that the lack of a strong Labour voice out there is a source of some concern.

But for Blears to get the boot in and accuse UK political bloggers of somehow contributing to political disengagement demonstrates a breathtaking lack of understanding and worse a unbelivable absence of imagination or curiosity about the meaning of the internet. In the US the Huffington Post and Drudge make their mainstream rivals look like pretenders. Andrew Sullivan is doing his daily dish, daily kos is massive for democrats. In Canada I've recently discovered Warren Kinsella  a rare combination of political insider and born blogger. In the UK Iain Dale and Guido rack up as many page views as main stream newspaper sites. Setting aside the fact that many of these are pretty basic operations, surely their success points to a high degree of engagement in the political process. People are hardly disengaged from politics if they are reading these blogs in their millions.

There are lots of people blogging about politics out there, but some of them are attracting huge numbers of people on a daily basis. What Hazel Blears and her advisers should be asking is Why? Rather than complain about content or accuse bloggers of feeding a culture of cynicism and despair our political leaders should be asking why it appears there is a culture of cynicism and despair? Does this have anything to do with a new form of communication? Surely the heart of the matter is more worrying than the anarchy of political blogging? Perhaps it's the memory of a year of revelations about financial impropriety and downright criminal behaviour by MPs? Perhaps people haven't forgotten the story of major figures in British politics cavorting on the yacht of a Russian business man who has been denied entry to the USA? People are clearly frustrated and pretty fed up with UK political culture, but I would suggest this has more to do with our politicians and the current political culture than anything written by a blogger. Don't shoot the messenger Hazel!

Political blogs, youtube, twitter, facebook - people are on the web having a big debate about politics and a million other issues. New media reflects old media, especially when blogs become successful enough to make money for advertising,  so like some of the rubbish we print on paper there's a lot of nasty rubbish out there  that should be ignored. But don't we do that everyday whether it's on TV, in a newspaper or on a blog?

I'm worried that Blears sees a problem rather than a massive opportunity. Concerned that she somehow thinks it's worth having a crack at a few bloggers rather than realising that every sordid tale of corruption or story that doesn't sit well with 'ordinary people' is the drip, drip that is corrisive to political engagement.


November 8, 2008 at 9:13:00 AM GMT Adam said...

Bloggers should pick a set of principles and post the corresponding badge on their page, to indicate to readers what kind of behavior and dialogue they will engage in and tolerate. In some blogs, anonymous writing might be acceptable in but in another, it would be discouraged. These are some reasons for nasty blogging.


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