Category Archives: blognotes

And the blog post of 2009 is…

Parliament, The Telegraph and Jo Swinson. Gosh! Thanks a lot. I wasn’t expecting that at all. Obviously, I dedicate the awards to Jo herself and would like to use this opportunity to say fuck you Daily Telegraph (who at least respond to complaints promptly) and up your arse BBC (who don’t).

Congratulations too to Jo for winning the “Best use of blogging/social networking/e-campaigning by a Liberal Democrat” award for her tweeting of Prime Ministers’ Question Time, to Mark Thompson for winning Best New Blog and to Slugger O’Toole for winning Best Non-Liberal Democrat Blog.

On a personal note I was especially pleased to see Brian Robson win the Tim Garden Award for Best Blog by a Liberal Democrat Holding Public Office. I personally recruited Brian to the Liberal Democrats almost exactly nine years ago today at the Leeds Universtiy Union Freshers’ Fair. I seem to recall that Brian was especially attracted to the Lib Dems’ commitment to scrap tuition fees. How time flies.

Finally, congratulations to the Blogger of the Year, Costigan Quist for Himmelgarten Cafe. Costigan couldn’t be at the awards because he has to look after the caff that he runs (obviously). In these harsh economic times, it is useful to remember that not all Liberal Democrats can afford to take a week off work to swan around Bournemouth.

Thanks a lot to Lib Dem Voice for organising the event, and commiserations to those who didn’t win. But please: let’s not use Harry’s Bar a third time? It’s a bloody awful venue.

The state of the Lib Dem blogosphere

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?

Total Politics Best Blog Poll

It’s that time of the year for the Total Politics Best Blog Poll again and this year it is being supported by both Lib Dem Voice and LabourList.

As with last year, Tim Ireland is organising a boycott and as with last year I disagree. Nonetheless, I totally accept that the annual Dale blog poll has a problem in that it will inevitably have a certain Conservative bias. That doesn’t really bother me as I take all these things with a pinch of salt anyway, but it is nonetheless a problem.

I don’t want to get into a similar verbal punch up that I ended up in with Tim last year. All I will do is urge him, Sunny and the others who are refusing to take part to organise an alternative instead of a boycott. It would be interesting to see how the two polls differ and it might actually influence the media to look beyond the existing Tory blogging hegemony for a change. I’m sure plenty of people will happily take part.

It strikes me that that is a better use of time than bemoaning the existing one. I’d take part in it. But then I will also be taking part in the Total Politics one as well (indeed I already have).

How dominant is the “blokeosphere”?

Rowenna Davis writes about her experience as guest editor on Labour List on Comment is Free. What interests me about this experience is that while I think the so-called “blokeosphere” is out there, it isn’t universal across political blogs and, as a “bloke” bores me to tears as well. A few observations:

It is hard to see how you can infer a wider principle from LabourList. With Derek Draper at its head, LabourList is one of the most testosterone-fuelled blogs out there. It has reached its existing readership primarily by picking fights with people. I have to admit that even then I was surprised to learn that it has an all-male editorial board (and presumably will continue to have an all-male editorial board after today), but it does figure.

If you want change, you need to more than have a guest female editor for a couple of days. This was an oddly patronising way to mark International Women’s Day – bring the women out for the special occasion and then put them back in their box. LabourList has been significantly more interesting with her as editor (weirdly, I understand she isn’t a Labour Party member) than with Draper and there is every sign that we will be back to business-as-usual in the next couple of days. Indeed, with LabourWomen now established, the boys will be left to it. Only in the Labour Party is such a phenomenon seen a progress.

You can make a systemic shift – and the Lib Dem blogosphere proves it. I don’t wish to over-emphasise this as I am hardly in a position to claim to have expunged macho blogging, but eighteen months ago the Lib Dem blogosphere was as male-dominated as the Labour blogosphere. For whatever reason, it became apparent that there was a distinct increase in female bloggers, seemingly as a result of the relatively high profile blogger awards at the Autumn Conference and the excitement surrounding the leadership election. And that increase has proven itself to be relatively sustainable: the party’s top blogger is a woman, Lib Dem Voice has a good mix of men and women on its editorial team and most blog meetups that I’ve attended have been equally well balanced.

Why is this? I suspect it is a combination of the fact that a certain critical mass was reached and the fact that we talked about it. Much derided at the time, the Campaign for Gender Balance’s decision to launch its own awards in Spring 2008 helped create that dialogue. A great many women seemed to feel patronised by the awards and several men howled with outrage; as a result I (as one of the instigators) didn’t particularly push for a 2009 event. But I do think that the awards – or more precisely the debate that surrounded the awards – helped create a shift in attitudes.

There are plenty of female political bloggers out there – they just aren’t labelled as political. This is a point that Jenny Rigg makes repeatedly, and she’s absolutely right. Partly this is because of how women perceive themselves, but a lot of it is down to the different way they seem to get labelled, as opposed to men. My blog, for example, has always been a mix of politics, film, comics, television and general toss; yet I’ve always been regarded as a political blogger. As Jenny discovered, by contrast she tends to be regarded as an “other” by default and even feminism is assumed to not be political (as opposed to something to do with women’s bits).

Some of what Rowenna says is arrant nonsense. Sorry, but the idea that only Harriet Harman and other female politicians gets personally abused on the internet is simply not the case. Google “Nick Clegg” or “Menzies Campbell” if you don’t believe me. And “Cif is a good exception to the rule” of political blogs being male dominated? I don’t even follow the comments threads on my own articles on Cif because they are so full of bile and the first three comments in response to her article have been censored presumably because of their sexist content – if that is what Rowenna considers to be a feminist utopia she needs a wakeup call. It is hard to shake the impression that Rowenna is little more than a tourist when it comes to this subject and hasn’t really explored the blogosphere outside of LabourList at all.

That Thatchgate, names-for-tennis-players scandal

This week, Charlie Brooker gave the world the New Media Dictionary. For me, the most memorable term described in this list is this:

nowtrage (nowt-rage) n. Lame and unconvincing tabloid outrage designed to create a self-perpetuating storm of controversy. Also, nowtrageous (adj); eg: “This Jonathan Ross pensioner sex-joke story in the News of the World is embarrassingly nowtrageous.”

Two days later and we are in the grip of “Thatchgate” – yet another example of the collective nervous breakdown that is currently going on inside Auntie Beeb.

My first reaction to this story was “ooh, doesn’t Mark Stephens’ hair make him look like a…” (one of the things that bugs me the most about this story is that people are now running around using the offending word as if there was no tomorrow, just as the Prince Harry incident a few weeks ago suddenly made it okay to mention the word “Paki” every thirty seconds). In fact, I nearly blogged to this effect last night. I have since learned that even having that casual thought, let alone blogging about it, is enough to render me an unforgiveable racist, even though it doesn’t involve holding any view about any black people at all. Merely having seen a jar of marmalade in my youth is enough. Bring on the scarlet letter.

This morning Iain Dale made a perfectly valid defence of Carole Thatcher on the Today programme. At the heart of his argument was that she was referring to Andy Murray’s hair. It turns out that was not the case, which is clearly a problem for him. Yet for even attempting to defend her, LabourList has branded him “racist” and declared that “it is up to him to clear his name.” Thoughtcrime is not enough – now we are in the territory of presumed guilt until proven innocent.

I’m not in the business of defending Thatcher or denouncing the BBC. To do that would involve researching this story in a lot more detail than I consider to be sane. I am a little concerned however that the only meaningful contribution Derek Draper seems to want to add to public political discourse is to import the lowliest of gutter journalist values into the blogosphere. And it was pretty near the bottom to start with.

The problem is, I get the impression that he loves it. My first encounter of him was back in 1997. At the height of his glories as a Mandelson staffer and before “Drapergate” he came to address the Manchester Student Labour Club (I seem to recall him having a book out at the time). His single most wistful anecdote that he recalled of his student days was being dangled out of a second storey window by a bunch of Socialist Worker types, having enraged them to such an extent that they were willing to contemplate actual murder. I got the impression then that those were the moments he lives for. Twelve years later and I suspect I was right.

People like that are bad news for politics, whichever side of the fence you are sitting. The sad thing is that a lot of relatively respectable Labour people seem to have thrown their lot in with him with this LabourList adventure – the exact sort of people who like to whinge endlessly about how awful Mandelson and Ali Campbell were (but did nothing about it then).

If this sort of thing is really what it takes for Labour to win a fourth term then on no account should they be permitted to do so. My suspicion though is that it will backfire spectacularly before the election is called.

Those of you currently on LabourList might want to consider jumping ship before the captain decides to play chicken with an iceberg. Feel free to ignore me.

Finally… the Carnival on Modern Liberty #1!

After a rough week, I’ve had a cold riddled weekend. So my master plan to get the first edition of the Carnival on Modern Liberty done on Friday fell flat on its sorry arse.

However, between sneezing fits, I did manage to get it done yesterday and now Sunny has published it on Liberal Conspiracy. Have a look, don’t forget to submit your articles for next week’s edition (which will be at Our Kingdom) and enjoy!

Introducing the Carnival on Modern Liberty (crosspost)

Another day, another crosspost. I will just add a link to this story about the Government attempting to stop the Welsh Assembly from publishing its own expenses – even if I had time to blog about this I couldn’t as words fail me.

Much as I support the Convention on Modern Liberty, I am very conscious of the fact that there are two dangers inherent to an initiative such as this. The first is that all it leads to is talk and a thousand people sitting in a hall munching on sandwiches. Linked to that is the danger that all it leads to is despair; that the problem seems so big and so intractable that people simply end up withdrawing altogether.

It is crucial that the Convention leads to positive action by as many people as possible (I made some suggestions a couple of weeks ago – I’m sure you can think of others).

Our mission must be nothing less than a paradigm shift in how the general public perceives civil liberties.

That is an achieveable objective and has happened in politics over the years on numerous occasions, but the level of consciousness raising we need can’t be done by a single journalist or even pressure group.

What’s more, the need for action has never been more crucial. I write this having given up a substantial portion of my weekend doing stuff to block the Government’s plans to exempt MPs’ expenses from the Freedom of Information Act.

If liberty is to have any meaning, we have to be able to keep an eye on those we elect to serve. Otherwise we are no different from the animals at the end of Animal Farm, enviously peering into the House and unable to tell the difference between pig and human. Harriet Harman, champion of equality, has just added the rider “but some are more equal than others.”

We need to take urgent action on issues such as this, but it also highlights why it is high time we started being proactive.

It is with this in mind that Liberal Conspiracy – in association with Our Kingdom and Unlock Democracy – are launching the Carnival on Modern Liberty.

As an online companion to the Convention, it is intended to help promote debate on civil liberties on the blogosphere over the next few weeks. Fundamentally however, it is also intended to spur both bloggers and their readers into action.

I will be producing the first edition this Friday on Liberal Conspiracy. Over the next couple of weeks it will move to OurKingdom and Unlock Democracy and then we’ll be looking for volunteers to host future editions – what about you? (email offers to modernliberty *at* quaequamblog *dot* net).

If you have an article you would like to be included in the first edition you can submit it either by following this link or emailing modernliberty *at* quaequamblog *dot* net. The deadline is 4pm on Thursday 22 January (if you miss this it is no problem as it will simply carry over to the next week’s edition). We are particularly looking for articles on the following sub-topics:

  • ACTION: our favourite category! ideas and initiatives for raising awareness of civil liberty-related issues.
  • EVENTS: civil-liberty related events that you are either organising or would like to promote (you don’t need to wait until 28 February before holding a meetup, tweetup or even just a social to the pub or cinema – if it’s civil liberty related, publicise it here).
  • JEERS: reports of the latest assaults on liberties.
  • CHEERS: good news (we do get it occasionally!) and praise for the champions of liberty.
  • WHAT LIBERTY MEANS TO ME: think pieces about what liberty in a modern context actually means (once you’ve been all philosophical, do an action post to balance things out :)).

Finally, if I have one goal for the next six weeks, it is to get this debate out in the wider blogosphere instead of the usual political bloggers arguing amongst themselves. The UK blogosphere is gratifyingly diverse, yet too often the politicos seem to exist in a bubble.

So your first mission, if you choose to accept it, is to think of five bloggers who are not the “usual suspects” who you would like to encourage to take part in the Carnival – and then encourage them!

My five will be:

To help get the Carnival off the ground, please blog these five (so they get pinged!) and submit your post to the Carnival – thanks!

F***in’ Ada!

(with apologies for the title – in my defence I was chanelling the spirit of Ian Dury at the time)

I enthusiastically signed up to Suw Charman-Anderson‘s Ada Lovelace Day pledge and now I have a dilemma: who do I blog about?

I’m wracking my brains to think of someone and am struggling. This in turn presents me with a second dilemma: do I suffer in silence or admit to my failure and ask for help?

I’ve opted to go for the latter. Can anyone help me?