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Responding positively to cynicism and Hazel Blears – volunteers wanted!

12:06 pm - November 9th 2008

by Thomas    

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There has been a concerted outcry online here, there, and everywhere about Hazel Blears’ attack on the the role of the blogging community since her speech to the Hansard Society earlier this week, but it strikes me that this exposes a massive irony in the dumbed-down manner of current political debate and it begins to take on the appearance of another headline-grabbing politician shooting themselves in the foot. How can she ever expect to foster greater engagement through the practical measures she ostensibly advocates, in her white paper ‘Communities in Control’, when she abuses and insults the contribution made by commenters and commentators in the blogosphere – aren’t we actually among the key groups of people to whom she should have made her appeal?

I could go on and on about the gossipy nature of the way her speech was reported by mainstream outlets and the outraged or satirical reaction to it, just as it would be easy to restate the esoteric theories that ‘democracy leads to tyranny’ or ‘democracy dissolves into anarchy’, but this would be to fall into the very same trap of focussing on what she said rather than on the proposed changes to government procedure which will have a real bearing on our lives. Instead I will resort to a quote from Blears’ speech: “The changing structure of the media is what drives this desire for ‘impact’ and the retreat from dispassionate reporting,” and answer that it is the ability of the people to harness the potential of new technologies that keeps democracy fresh and vibrant.

Groups blogs and forums such as LC have tended to fall into a never-neverland with an unclear and undefined role in the political process, but this is evolving as the online community matures. Yet we need to further refine our role and create a USP beyond any position on the political spectrum. With a proliferation of new outlets, it is becoming clear that we voters are getting information from each other, as much as from direct consumption of traditional media. Just as it becomes equally clear that the old-style of hunter-gatherer news collecting is less relevant to journalism than ever before. The challenge to continue to attract an audience is starting to depend as much on its relevance to readers lives as it is on the originality or personality of the writing itself – such ‘narrowcasting’ represents as much of an opportunity to forward-thinking sites, as it poses a risk to those which are happy to rest on their laurels; since the ability to lead opinion demands “someone to put it into context, give it theoretical framing and suggest ways to act on it.”

So how will we respond to this challenge here at LC if we are to take action to channel our energies in a positive way and defend our democracy from the restoration of old ‘order’?

If we return to look at the speech Blears gave to the Hansard Society and to the white paper to which she briefly referred I think we can find a good answer.

White papers lay out the proposed action of the government on a particular policy area, and are designed to stimulate discussion on the topic in the hope of encouraging constructive feedback. The ‘Communities in Control’ document specifically addresses the issue of community engagement. Yet we are missing a cog in the machinery: where is the space for a wider public to join in?

I believe LC can be a space where that happens.

On my previous thread contributors warmed to the idea of breaking down and analysing the official proposals to encourage active citizenship and volunteerism – who better to provide the benefit of our practical knowledge than us!

I hope we will now produce a series of articles to answer Blears back and prove her wrong.

NB. The seven areas covered in the paper include becoming active in your community; access to information; having an influence; accountability; redress; standing for office; and ownership and control of local services. These are covered respectively in chapters 2-8 of the Communities in Control white paper which can be found here, though the executive summary and introductions are equally worthwhile.

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About the author
Thomas is an independent-minded community activist and regular commenter at Liberal Conspiracy. We don't seem to be able to get rid of him, so we thought it probably best to let him write for us.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Campaigns ,E-democracy ,Local Government ,Our democracy

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Reader comments

As I said in the earlier thread, I’l take ‘Chapter 3: Access to information’.

Sure, Sunny asked me to write a new piece introducing the idea and we’ll have to see how it works before analysing white papers becomes a regular feature.

So yes, thanks, we just need to drum up a couple more volunteers.

Why not throw it open to as many volunteers as possible? Why not have two or three people analysing a chapter? That way you’re going to get a spread of views and perspectives.

4. douglas clark


As I’ve said elsewhere on here, I think this is a great idea.

I’d be happy to tackle Chapter 4, if you like – ‘Having an Influence’. Though my entire thrust is likely to be that ‘Having an Influence’ is actually not quite enough. So, I agree with the main thrust of Justins’s comment at 3.

I’m quite happy to put up a critique, but there needs to be an internal (LC) coming together before anything was published under the LC banner, I’d have thought. Quite how that works out, I have no idea!

I’m quite happy to put up a critique, but there needs to be an internal (LC) coming together before anything was published under the LC banner, I’d have thought. Quite how that works out, I have no idea!

Indeed. Something to look into over the coming week(s). Let’s see where we are in a few days with volunteers and then we can see about setting something up.

1, I’ll take chapter 7 – “Standing for Office”

2. As far as publishing anything under the LC banner, at this stage let’s just run with volunteers unpicking each of the chapters and use comments to open up a debate. Once that’s done, then we can have an internal conflab about what, if anything, we carry forward as a response.

That’s more or less how the position on the abortion debate evolved – we held the debate out in the open, worked out any kinks that emerged behind the scenes and wound up with a fairly cohesive collective position.

If we can do that again, then we have a model for manifesto building that should serve us pretty well

What Unity said.

I’m up for it. I’ll take Chapter 5 – “Challenge” if you like.

This project doesn’t necessarily have to be just to prove Blears wrong. That’s trying to determine the outcome before we’ve had a chance to examine and evaluate it.

Furthermore, its more likely to have been written by a civil servant than Blears herself. So let’s not try and trash it before the project has begun.

If I was back in England I’d contribute, but I can’t until next week I’m afraid.

Sunny, I think Thomas means that we will prove her comments about bloggers wrong by engaging properly with her proposals.
The purpose of this excercise as I see it is to critique her white paper and come up with a constructive response. There wouldn’t be much point is spending time going through it and posting articles in response if we were just going to trash it.

Oh, I agree that we can demonstrate we’re more constructive than Blears gives bloggers credit. But largely, I agree with her view that we couldn’t be as constructive as we could be in theory or in practice (across the pond).

Which doesn’t mean that half of Guido’s output is NOT nihilistic and corrosive. But lie-blogger Nadine Dorries appears to have forgotten to tell us all ad nauseum that her daughter PSD has been working for her for a fortnight or so. And usually all they have to do is burp to get coverage. Nads must be too busy to blog about the important things in life? Or ashamed perhaps?

Can anyone join in? If so I’ll have a stab at Chapter 6 – redress.

the more the merrier!

I’ve been trying to find out the level of response Blears has recieved for her efforts in promoting consultation on this white paper in the three months since it was launched, and it seems she generally prefers to avoid feedback.

Of note is an interesting article in the FT today which shows the government spent £62,900 on public consultations on proposed legislaton for its forthcoming Queen’s speech.

The 62 regional events had total attendance of 1,200 and recieved less than 700 comments or suggestions generated for the 18 bills (though whether restricting comments to max500 characters was a factor is unknown), Harriet Harman ‘refused to comment on the quality of the submissions, or to state whether any had had a material impact on the proposed legislation’.

I’ll do chapter 2, as I work with a lot of volunteers, though you’ll need to cross post it from the Wardman Wire. I’m not a Liberal Conspiracy regular, but if you can cope with a different perspective then count me in. I’ll probably cover the intro and summary as well, but I guess most of us will be referring back to these anyway to give context.

Thanks a lot everybody, it looks like we’ve got this covered now. Hopefully we’ve whetted you’re appetites that you’re now champing at the bit to have your say – well, at least let’s now try to give a better consultation service and provide more feedback than Hazel Blears stimulated on the blog she created especially for the purpose!

Thomas, how do you want us to send in our analysis?

can you send them to Aaron’s email: aaronh [at] liberalconspiracy [dot] org

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