Blog Nation and future of politics, online


9:17 am - August 11th 2008

by Sunny Hundal    


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I was reading about the US event Netroots Nation over the weekend and realised – I hadn’t properly written about Liberal Conspiracy’s own Blog Nation event a few months ago. There was plenty of commentary across other blogs but it didn’t really reflect what I had in mine when I organised it.

Blogging about blogging again? You betcha. I’ve been discussing the future of political blogging at various events, and I’ve been invited to participate at the bloggers fringe at both the Libdem and Green party conferences in coming weeks. Oh and there’s the infamous David Lammy incident I want to go over again.

Thoughts on Blog Nation
I was a bit frustrated by Blog Nation by the end for the same reason I get frustrated with most leftie events – it was difficult to get a sense of strategy and direction on the way forward. What was the outcome? I’m not sure.

With the initial discussion I wanted to highlight examples of online campaigning that had yielded results to varying degrees, and use that as a basis to discuss what could and couldn’t be done. I think we got too sidetracked by discussions about our relationship with: the media & right-wing bloggers. These are always circular and pointless to be honest.

My second aim was to highlight the nature of blogging on the liberal-left: that it was split up into networks that focused on their own areas of interest. Confronting the Westminster focused people with the feminists from F Word was probably the most effective way of doing this, and I think the writeups after reflected this.

The whole point of this multi-user blog is to point that while we have specific areas of interest – the environment, the Labour party, Libdems, civil liberties, the London Mayor, feminism, race relations, media critique, exposing right-wing nuttery etc – what is the bigger picture? Are there any areas / campaigns we can work together on?

To that extent, part of Blog Nation’s aim was to get people to think of this medium as a community. And I hope the networks, contacts and friendships can be strengthened.

On the future of blogging
Is this all there is to blogging? I said at a recent event that political blogging will only come into maturity once it becomes more localised. We have more chance of influencing local councils than we have of political parties – so why aren’t more people blogging about their local area and organising that into something approaching a joint effort? I’m sure it will happen eventually.

But there are opportunities to affect Westminister politics in different ways, if that is our aim, by: affecting the media narratives, raising funding for candidates, mobilising volunteers / activists, breaking stories the MSM overlooks and finding ways to involve people in politics. There’s no point being coy about this – if we’re annoyed with the system and want to see it change then we have to put our money where out mouth is (figuratively and literally).

But this isn’t just a one-way relationship – there are two conversations going on here.

1) Politicians, NGOs and other groups want to use the web to communicate better with audiences. Part of LC’s aim is to provide that space. So when David Lammy MP comes here to answer questions relating to his article, I hope we can have a discussion about those ideas rather than use it to have a general pot-shot at ZaNuLabour about 42 days, Iraq and whatever else. There are separate discussions for that.

2) The second discussion is amongst us, on what how to take this medium forward and what tools can make our life easier. This conversation doesn’t just have to be about Westminster, but could be about smallscale activism or harassing local councils.

For blogging to go forward, both these kinds of discussions have to be facilitated. And there has to be some sort of strategic direction. Both the challenges remain. The next Blog Nation will be much more focused, hopefully.
(PS, I accept the future of online politics doesn’t just revolve around blogs, but that is another topic for another day)

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Liberal Conspiracy ,Media ,Our democracy

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Reader comments


I’ve said it before with regard to the David Lammy incident and I’ll say it again: if MPs want us to engage with them on a civil basis, the best way to ensure that is not to talk down to us like we are idiots. You keep telling us off for not being deferent enough to David Lammy, Sunny, but ignore the fact that not one of us has attacked Lynne Featherstone in the same way, and you know why that is, don’t you? Because Lynne is happy to engage with people in a civil manner.

I think that the fact that certain MPs don’t think that any of us are important enough to treat seriously is a much bigger problem than us talking to them like they are equals, rather than betters.

Well said Jennie. And to add, Sunny I’m afraid you can’t control the way certain MPs are treated that’s just life, you and they will have just accept that.

Are you still getting flak for that? Lammy must be a very sensitive person to still feel wounded by a few loud-mouths online!

Maybe he pays too much attention to blog comments to compensate for his lack of credibility on the street and was seeking a substitute means of gaining connection, if so he’s yet to do any follow-up. I’m sure the welcome would be warmer on a repeat visit.

No I’m not getting any flak for it, I just wanted to make a few points around that. As for David Lammy talking down, I’m afraid I saw no evidence of that.

My point is that there seems to be this pent-up anger about the govt so every time someone tries to engage they’ll get abuse for all sorts of unrelated things. That just makes the conversation a teensy weensy bit harder.

5. Mike Killingworth

Sunny writes we have more chance of influencing local councils than we have of political parties – so why aren’t more people blogging about their local area and organising that into something approaching a joint effort?

Links to (and guest slots from) best practice in this area on LC would seem to be a way to go.

My point is that there seems to be this pent-up anger about the govt so every time someone tries to engage they’ll get abuse for all sorts of unrelated things.

Not without justification either. That was my point on the original thread and mine again on this hence my extended point that you can’t control that reaction, not until that anger has dissipated.

Anyway, moving on from this…

I really like the fact that you’ve included fundraising for a candidate. I’m wholly for the British Netroots (such as there is any just yet) attempting to buy our own politicians. It’ll be a while before that happens at an MP level however (considering it’s something like 20-40 grand to campaign for a seat) but for ward elections (that might tip the balance in a council) the idea might have legs.

One issue I see here was highlighted very well by the misguided pro David Davis lefties; how do you get everyone to unite around one candidate?

Mike:
Links to (and guest slots from) best practice in this area on LC would seem to be a way to go.

Good idea. If anyone has examples, do let me know.

One issue I see here was highlighted very well by the misguided pro David Davis lefties; how do you get everyone to unite around one candidate?

Not sure about ‘misguided’ but the point is you pick your targets clearly. You can’t support or champion anyone- just the most obviously deserving and the ones that everyone can rally around. You have to pick your battles.

“1) Politicians, NGOs and other groups want to use the web to communicate better with audiences. Part of LC’s aim is to provide that space. So when David Lammy MP comes here to answer questions relating to his article, I hope we can have a discussion about those ideas rather than use it to have a general pot-shot at ZaNuLabour about 42 days, Iraq and whatever else. There are separate discussions for that.”

My problem with this isn’t that they are separate debates, I’m certainly well aware of this…but the comparisons between stances are also intrinsically linked and require explanation. You cannot sit there and claim the things Lammy claimed about listening to those outside of Westminster and not be asked why exactly other expert opinions were duly ignored on issues like 42 days, you cannot unlink the two. If he had a reasonable explanation, fine, but he chose to withdraw from that rather than tackle it….doubly hypocritical given the point of his speech.

I don’t really agree that he talked down to us, more that he never really was talking to us in the conventional interpretation of conversation in the first place. Much like his speech, it felt like he was paying lip service to the mantra that Labour are starting to feel is necessary to win and ducked out of it when it got a bit too hot…something he’ll need to deal with working on if he does indeed intend on dragging Labour out of the Westminster circles when talking to people.

And ultimately I still remember the criticism we got for “going too hard” at someone that had come here and at least tried to engage while at the same time he was being supported by some, mainly Sunny, with excuses that revolved around the idea that he was an “upcoming” MP and so we couldn’t expect him to do things like vote against 42 days. This is precisely what is wrong with government today and as such really only goes to further prove in my mind that politicians, NGO’s and the rest aren’t really up for communicating online so much as propagandising online with a sweet tongue. Thankfully so few have that ability to fool, and once again thankfully we do have some politicians around that already know how to communicate.

Perhaps the first stop for Lammy and co. is to Lynne Featherstone to take notes?

“One issue I see here was highlighted very well by the misguided pro David Davis lefties; how do you get everyone to unite around one candidate?”

Stop acting liberal for a start.

“As for David Lammy talking down, I’m afraid I saw no evidence of that.”

Then please reread the early exchanges. His intervention at comment #9 immediately stunk of a change of tune – that he was tailoring his message to his audience – and exposed the vacuuous nature of the analysis he was trying to promote.

In doing so he has clearly tried to learn the language of positive reinforcement in order to manipulate his reception, but it doesn’t survive sustained scrutiny (as Blair discovered to his cost) and I’m surprised you fall for it, Sunny.

I think it is excessive to call it ‘talking down’ though and that’s not what I suggested anyway. It was condescending on an intellectual level, however, to watch the dishonesty of shifty politician back-sliding in action, as it is an embarrassing bad habit he needs to unlearn for the general public, unless he can find himself a permanent non-parliamentary position in the Westminster village of civil servants/think tankers.

I was a bit frustrated by Blog Nation by the end for the same reason I get frustrated with most leftie events – it was difficult to get a sense of strategy and direction on the way forward.

If I recall, there was some discussion over whether or not we should be looking for a way forward. There was something of a split between those who thought some grand coalition of leftie bloggers could make waves through politics, and those who we quite happy blogging because they like blogging.

There was something of a split between those who thought some grand coalition of leftie bloggers could make waves through politics, and those who we quite happy blogging because they like blogging.

I think there’s likely to be differences on what is the way forward, but I doubt many of the bloggers who attended wanted to write only for themselves. Or am I wrong?

thomas: that he was tailoring his message to his audience – and exposed the vacuuous nature of the analysis he was trying to promote.

You think any sort of political party talk is vacuous thomas. Of course he’s going to change how the message is phrased depending on the audience. In itself, that’s not an issue.

Lee:
You cannot sit there and claim the things Lammy claimed about listening to those outside of Westminster and not be asked why exactly other expert opinions were duly ignored on issues like 42 days, you cannot unlink the two.

You can link the two. The point is – we cannot expect the government to agree with us on everything. I certainly don’t. I expect to have differences with the party I support – in fact I have differences with many stances the Libdems, Labour and Greens take. But the point about politics is that you get a basket of policies and pick the least worst. We can neither have a referendum on every issue, nor expect the govt to agree on everything.

Now, I’ve been the fiercest critic of the 42 days legislation, but I accept I won’t win every battle or get every political wish fulfilled. Furthermore, the structure of our politics makes it impossible for govt ministers to dissent when it comes to votes. Loyalty matters more in this climate.

Its a fact of life.

I’m not asking for them to agree Sunny, and you know I’m a good one for simply not agreeing ;) But the fact that he two issues are linked is the key gripe here, I can’t accept what Lammy says regarding listening to people if he has *proved* that by listening to experts and people directly affected by legislation, all of which are vehemently on one side of the argument, he only wishes to listen not to actually hear. Can we trust an MP that talks about listening to more people yet votes contrary to all evidence and legal opinion available? that’s the question I’m asking. It could have been any other issue than 42 days that proved the hypocrisy, but 42 days it was that stood out so brightly as an example.

But I agree, perhaps Lammy is a good egg really, but simply couldn’t dissent. But then I, like most people on here, simply can’t abide by people that do that either. It’s time for politicians to grow some balls and do what’s right for them and their constituents, not what’s right for the leadership.

“You think any sort of political party talk is vacuous”

No, I don’t. I don’t expect any political talk from any of the parties to be fully frank or honest, which is a different thing entirely. Those politicians who ignore or paper over differences of perspective in order to win support for their agenda are those who have a vaccum in place of their heart. It is a question of priority – power or principle? Lammy showed he is firmly on the side of power.


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