The state of the Lib Dem blogosphere

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Stephen Tall has issued these questions for Lib Dem bloggers to answer over the weekend and so I thought I’d try to bash out my responses before dinner (UPDATE: not quite):

What are the greatest successes of the Lib Dem blogosphere?

Lib Dem Blogs remains a very powerful spine, although I personally find it is gradually being replaced by twitter as a tool for following blogs I know I already like. But its power as a means for helping good bloggers get quickly established (Mark Reckons and Himmelgarten Cafe are two recent examples) is as strong as ever.

The greatest single achievement in the Lib Dem blogosphere was the aforementioned Mark Thompson’s post about marginality and the MPs’ expenses scandal. This is a rare example of a blog post that actually helped set the national agenda.

What are we, collectively as bloggers, failing to achieve?

We aren’t a collective and so to a certain extent I don’t recognise the validity of the question. As I’ve said before, I don’t consider my blog to be part of a movement. It exists for me to get things off my chest and to advance my own, personal agenda, nothing more.

But if I was to put my party hat on for a second, the answer I think would be that we fail to really engage in much of a cross-party debate. We talk too much amongst ourselves. I think this is true of all party blogospheres so I don’t want to belabour the point, but it does mean that the average punter who finds themselves reading, say, a bunch of Labour blogs has very little chance of crossing over.

The other, moderate, failure has been LibDig although I am contemplating having another bash at reviving it. I remain convinced that social bookmarking is a potentially powerful tool for promoting the best of what’s out there in the internet and that sites like Digg are too vast for people to navigate their way through, but I don’t know what the answer is.

How does the Lib Dem blogosphere compare with those of the Labour, Tories and other parties’?

LabourList appears to have settled down into a decent Labour answer to Lib Dem Voice. Con Home is more of a party hub than either of them will ever be, but is less readable to people of a non-Tory persuasion as a result.

For all Labour’s problems with the Red Rag controversy, and notwithstanding its predecessors like Lib Dem Watch (which it looks like would have been Red Rag’s direct descendant had it ever got off the ground in terms of a great many of the people involved with it), it is the Tories who have elevated partisan attack blogging to an artform. There is little disputing the success of this type of blog in terms of readership, but I’m not that fussed about our failure to compete in this area.

How helpful is blogging as a campaigning tool (are there examples of it making a real impact)?

Mark Thompson’s achievement, above, aside, I’ve seen very little evidence of them being useful for setting the agenda outside of the rather incestuous blogosphere. I think their potential for marshalling the activist base however remains unexploited. It is notable that blogs were used by the party to encourage people to attend the Norwich North by-election to a much lesser extent than they were used in, for example, the Henley and Ealing Southall by-elections. Whether this indicates that the party centrally didn’t consider those earlier attempts to be particularly successful or just had other priorities, I could not say.

What do you think the next year holds in store for the Lib Dem blogosphere?

I predict that political blogging in general will degenerate into tribal name calling in the way that it did in the run up to the 2005 general election. Before then, blogging was much more cross party, albeit much much smaller. Personally I ended up all but giving up on reading blogs myself during that period although a large part of that was to do with the fact that I was semi-banned from blogging myself and had a target seat to run with a London-Glasgow commute to go along with it.

It will also become less tolerant of internal dissent, although to a certain extent even the most awkward of us tend to be less critical during general elections anyway. Honestly, it will be awful – part of me is tempted to just sit it out like last time.

That aside, I suspect Lib Dem Voice will go from strength to strength and may well find itself having a pivotal role during the election campaign and the post-mortem afterwards. Freedom Central, the Welsh Lib Dem ‘hub’ (presumably this particular hub isn’t based underneath Roald Dahl Plass), has the potential to grow into something significant. The Scots really need to get their own version up and running.

In terms of blogging however, the most interesting period will be after the general election, not before. The post-election period last time produced the Apollo Project, the Liberal Review and eventually Lib Dem Voice itself. I suspect that there will be an ideological battle being fought within the party after the election, with the classical liberal/libertarian Liberal Vision thinking the debate is about them versus the Social Liberal Forum, and the Social Liberal Forum thinking it is a much more nuanced debate about where the party makes the balance between economic and social liberalism. But fundamentally, the debate will be much broader than that and we can’t guess who the main actors will be.

The other factor will be technology. Neither podcasting nor vlogging have caught on in the UK political blogosphere; with a new generation getting older and attracted to politics by the general election, will we see this change in 2010?

15 thoughts on “The state of the Lib Dem blogosphere

  1. Point taken about the Scottish hub and I was actually already thinking about what I could kick off in that direction. Plus how to encourage the occasional guest post of MPs, MSPs, PPCs, PSPCs and Councillors as well as the bloggers.

  2. I tend to agree about the lack of cross-party but I think that is self-selecting in that bloggers want to cater to their target audience and that there isnt thus much incentive to write about other parties or have a genuine commentary in that sense because your audience will drop off. It always slightly despresses me that most popular posts tend to be Lib Dem focused.

  3. Stephen: My understanding of Freedom Central is that it has the tacit backing of the Welsh party leadership. If a Scottish equivalent were to be set up, what do you think the chances of the Scottish leadership buying into it?

  4. Darrell: You may be right, but I for one don’t have a target audience other than myself. That’s why I regularly pwn myself by writing about comics that my core audience doesn’t give a fig about.

    I think people should focus on writing about what they care about. The beauty of the internet is that it has a chance of finding its own audience.

  5. @James Graham

    Depends on who your ‘core audience’ are – I read every post you write and am just as interested in the comics ones as the Lib Dem ones (as you might expect).

    (In fact, I think the biggest thing Lib Dem bloggers could do is stop being *solely* Lib Dem bloggers and write about multiple subjects. I’m sure that you, or Jennie, or Alex Wilcock, or myself, have far more non-partisan readers than, say, Lib Dem Voice, and that this is far more likely to build support than preaching to the converted…)

  6. Freedom Central is independent but the party is pleased it is there and likes its existence (though there will inevitably be a time when someone posts somethign the leadership disagrees with, but then thats a good thing too as it promotes debate.. )

    Stephen feel free to drop Peter or I a line about it. We get a decent number of hits and ocassionally break the odd story on there.

  7. James,

    True; that is pretty much how I view my own blog though I do try and keep a decent amount of Lib Demmery on there too. On balance I think you are right though I dont see why the functions cant be split a little.

  8. Andrew – I absolutely agree about Lib Dem bloggers writing about more diverse subjects, although I have to admit that the quickest way to lose me as a reader is to bang on about Formula 1.

    It is all too easy to get in a rut however. Right from the beginning, this blog was meant to be about comics as much as it was about politics – hence the name. The truth is, it is more like 10:90. Part of my personal problem is a lack of confidence in myself as a critic.

    Ultimately though, if we do want to reach out to people beyond the political sphere, there is no better way than to act as a bridge between politics and other areas of interest. I don’t think it should be anyone’s “mission” to do this because as soon as it becomes part of a plan it becomes inauthentic, but it is a valuable service nonetheless.

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