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Political blogs and their influence


6:25 pm - February 10th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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I haven’t gotten around to starting my long-planned debate on the future of LibCon and unveil some new parts of the site as I promised. Hopefully later this week.

But I wanted to repeat one or two quick points I made the other night at the debate at Westminster Skeptics event on political blogging.

Put aside the false dichotomy that Nick Cohen set up by saying bloggers don’t do any proper investigations. I gave about 6 examples and had plenty more to offer. Nick Cohen talking on a subject he clearly knows little about shock. The real debate is actually about how differently the more popular blogs view their ‘model’.

Here is how I see it.

ConservativeHome, is a well-funded and sophisticated operation, which aims to be the house journal of the party. The idea that they’re independent is largely a myth, especially when you read the much-ridiculed ‘Ten reasons to vote Conservative‘ Montgomerie laid out recently. But they are sophisticated, they break stories, they make money and their aim is to prop up the party when needed. Fair do to them.

Mick Fealty’s aim with Slugger O’Toole is to be a balanced space for Northern Ireland politics, and its tone reflects how it wants to deal with the political situation it is catering for. But it’s not a model that could work for the UK broadly. It has had an impact on local politics but when people’s beliefs are that entrenched I’d say it’s difficult to shift opinion in the short term. He’s also playing the long game, and rightly so.

Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, is the one I took a shot at, and for various reasons. It’s disingenuous for him to claim he only does it to amuse himself because (a) he makes money from selling tips to newspapers (b) no one draws up economic charts and obsessively watches mentions of him across the blogosphere and media just for fun.

That aside, his point was that Guido Fawkes is influential because it aims to reach at least half ofthe “3000 people who run the country” (I paraphrase). But you see, while journalists get easily dazzled by his brazeness, any intelligent political strategist should be able to point to the limitations of that strategy. I tried (not very well though, as I’m not that good at public speaking generally) to say this by pointing out:

1) That since the Damian McBride scandal – this government’s position in the polls has actually improved by about 10%.

2) That since the Sun ditched New Labour (also applauded by Staines), it has lost about 100,000 readers while New Labour has gained as many voters.

These are just the facts. As Left Foot Forward points out, Cameron’s popularity is falling while Brown’s is increasing.

This means that Guido Fawkes may reach the most influential people in this country but they can ignore him. The Westminster bubble vastly over-estimates the impact they have on voting patterns across the country. His ability to impact voting patterns has negative correlation. The more pics he puts up of Gordon ‘Jonah’ Brown, the more votes GB seems to get.

That isn’t to take away from the fact he runs a successful blog. My only point is that despite what many think – Guido Fawkes’s impact on politics outside of Westminster is very, very limited. And newspapers are more likely to be driven by what their readers are thinking than what their favourite blogger is thinking.

[I’ll write about what I think should be the LC model soon and you can similarly take it apart]

More write-ups from the event by Dave Cole and Mark Thompson

The debate was very well moderated by Jack of Kent

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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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Reader comments


Some good points. I think you are dead on with the Guido point. My view is that nearly all political blogs serve only their staple marketplace ie politico’s and do not, in any meaningful way, influence people who will essentially decide the election i.e. the floating voter. I think thats the nature of people with blogs in general, they’ll look for things that interest them and ignore the rest. Its only anectdotal (and possibly meaningless!) but no one I mix with at work or socially has ever heard of Guido, Tory Bear et al and some of these people are very political, so Bloggers probably have a disproportionate amount of influence on the political bubble IMO. Twitter on the other hand has the potential to suck people into political debates who were not necessarily looking for them and potentially influence more people again just my opinion!

Allow me to set out a proposal:

Cohen rightly pointed out that a) newspapers are losing money, and b) the alternative media hasn’t really got a model for creating sufficient funds. How about interested bodies – the Guardian Media Group, for example – create a financial support network for up-and-coming investigative journalists? “Where’s the money to come from?” Cohen might ask. Well, here’s the beauty of it! We simply redirect the salaries of unnecessary columnists; they can always go and get blogs, anyway.

I think all bloggers over-estimate their own importance. Reading blogs is an occasionally amusing diversion, nothing more.

Influencing who? I suspect the extent to which people who never previously participated in politics but now do so online is vastly inflated, it’s more a case of the usual suspects (both readers and writers).

If Wikio is anything to go by, I think LC should try to co-opt the increasing popularity of craft blogs. Perhaps the Tory poster spoofs can be the first step. In fact, make it a Valentine’s Day special: “Send that special someone their own personalised Tory Tombstone!”

And Matt Munro is clearly wrong: I have tremendous importance. Only this evening I persuaded a marginal constituency to have tea in the pub. Granted, this was a constituency of only two people, but just think if you replicated it for the entire country. I should run for parliament.

Bensix:

“Where’s the money to come from?” Cohen might ask. Well, here’s the beauty of it! We simply redirect the salaries of unnecessary columnists; they can always go and get blogs, anyway.

But Nick Cohen will never agree to any proposal that puts him out of a job!

I agree Guido’s model has limits. I think he’s probably already near-maximised his potential audience, whereas other blogs have the potential to really take off over the next 5-10 years.

Neil

But Nick Cohen will never agree to any proposal that puts him out of a job!

But it would still be amusing to see his reaction!

Matt

I think all bloggers over-estimate their own importance.

Ooh, I don’t. I’ve known more influential toenails.

As far as the north of Ireland goes, Slugger is a fantastic institution. Those of us who blog independently might feel it’s too successful, but then that’s a challenge to us to do something different.

I could see the potential for something similar in Scotland, but not on a Britain-wide basis. I’ll be interested to see your thoughts for the future of LC, but LC as is has already become quite a serious hub. My own preference is a modest one of building up the informal networks that already exist, but there’s no short cut to that. The centre-left may be a bit more grounded than the further left, but there’s still far too high a level of sniping and vituperation, and far too big a role played by personality clashes.

Look at the Tories. Do Iain and Tim spend half their energy feuding with each other? Or do the recognise each other as being basically on the same side? And is the left so useless that it can’t aspire to do the same.

Bloggers are like sports fans yelling at the telly, deluding themselves they are players.

For every drop of genuine investigative reporting there’s a dozen buckets of steaming bum-drizzle: inter-blog flame wars, crackpot conspiracy theories, self-dramatising or self-pitying confessionals, special pleading, circular logic and woo.

It’s just a way of blowing off steam.

Oh I forgot to point out that the video we posted of Godfrey Bloom praising France went around everywhere. One UKIP dude actually came up to me and said we were right to post it and called him an idiot. Hilarious. He also said there were a few issues we could agree on, especially on free speech (though I’m not sure how that squares with their proposed ban on the burqa) but I agreed.

jakemottas: Twitter on the other hand has the potential to suck people into political debates who were not necessarily looking for them and potentially influence more people again just my opinion!

I agree with this – and one of my proposed directions is to focus more on news output and news about activism, which I hope will draw in newbies.

I don’t think a blog alone can have wider impact in changing voting patterns, but I do have a model in mind which I think applies to the left more than the right.

Jamie – perhaps but that’s not always a bad thing.

Splintered – I agree with you, but I also think the sniping has decreased a lot since the early days, when there wasn’t any sort of cohesion at all. Remember the early days of Iraq? We were split then. Now, at least, the pro-Iraq contingent has largely melted away.

Neil, Ben – heh.

timf – perhaps, but then I think the model matters more than the reach.

Guido asked the same question just before his appearance at the afore-mentioned debate. Political bogging-influence is limited to those who know what a blog is, those who enter into any political debate, and those who care to give any opinion on politics…

As for anything-else, we are kidding ourselves.

“For many, politics has become something to passively consume.”

“Is it though? ‘Passively consume’, or deliberately led? ‘Politics’ is a difficult subject to grasp; ideologies, agenda’s, spin, long-winded sentences that actually say nothing – short catchphrases designed to stir-up a specific emotion; aiming to please everyone whilst at the same time frustrating most.

My thesis at uni focused on apathy and I found trust in the system and its protagonists had disappeared amongst all but political activists. My subjective (non-biased) analysis found that people had just switched off, regurgitating the same old mantras of ‘they are all the same’, ‘they never do anything for me’. Is this by design? The majority claimed to still vote, reinforcing my belief that when people ‘fall’ into this state of mind, it is then down to the propaganda units to ‘convince’ them of the truth, and which party ‘represents’ their interests the most.

This is the circle of context creation that has such a negative impact on society today. Apathetic existence based on a concern for fictional characters (celebrities, video-games, films) and, of course, ourselves and ‘our’own ilk.”

12. Golden Gordon

As little as I respect Sunny, I have to admit he’s head and shoulders above most American political bloggers, even above most powerful ones like Kos are much more out of control and nutty.
Why have you no respect for Sunny, his site is the most open to ideas from the left of centre perspective. For instance I don’t agree with his economic ideas but he gives air to the views of Luis Enrique and others from the libertarian right. To be honest the level of debate on liberal conspiracy is far higher and varied than this site.

This post has been banned by HP. Why ?

13. Golden Gordon

Influencing who? I suspect the extent to which people who never previously participated in politics but now do so online is vastly inflated, it’s more a case of the usual suspects (both readers and writers).
I totally agree.
I respect Sunny but he has neither influenced negatively or positively. They are just good reads especially when conservative bloggers (like Tim) add their two pence worth. It is entertainment/.
Actually I think blogs make people vote negatively. One of the reasons I will vote for Brown is that Nick Cohen is voting Tory.
Also if newspapers go down the pan is that a bad thing. 90% are written by right wing clowns like Cohen. So good riddance. Although I will miss the sport journos

Bloggers are like sports fans yelling at the telly, deluding themselves they are players.

What the hell does that make serial commenters like yourself, Shatterface?

‘What the hell does that make serial commenters like yourself, Shatterface?’

I’ve never claimed that I post here for any other reason than that I’m bored.

My *actual* political activities are my Union duties and they might have a small, statistical effect nationally but have real, measurable outcomes for the people I’ve represented.

When you see me claiming I got Obama elected or brought down multi-culturalism single-handed you can call the men with the butterfly nets.

17. Alisdair Cameron

Political blogging speaks only to those with an interest in the political process (very much a niche market). So, not of themselevs influential, but sometimes, just sometimes a political blog can come up with something that eneters the mainstream, ‘catches fire’ (and I’d suggest Guido’s continued pressure on expenses might be an example. What bloggers can’t do is control the depiction or spread of that original topic or idea when it does go viral/hit the big-time.
Furthermore, things are shifting, as there is less and less of a mainstream: multiple channels,infinite news sources,falling newspaper sales, a very atomised info system, reflecting atomised society. The future might just be one of siloed political news and opinions (eg a Fox news-er never venturing beyond like-minded sources for info), so the task then would be to get political thoughts into blogs and media that are not overtly news or politics centred. Again though, how those outlets pick up and run with a story is beyond the originator’s control.
This shift does leave open the great risk that those (Left or Right) in power, or with great resources become ever more impregnable: scrutiny of their deeds and outcry never hitting critical mass, and those (rightly) trying to expose mendacity and wrong-doing, let alone tryingt o promulgate alternatives are left sounding off to the already-converted.
New media has allowed easier posting of alternative views, but because there are so many millions of new voices (albeit many saying old things), it’s become paradoxically harder to get stuff into the (shrinking) mainstream

I don’t agree that Paul Staines carries no influence – he’s proved time and time again that he can get stories in the MSM regularly, which alone means he carries influence – more so than LC which despite having some excellent scoops has not managed to have the MSM pick them up (otherwise Nadine would have been de-selected by now). Furthermore the cycle gets reinforced by the MSM bigging him up, which means his blog is likely to be the first one read by the noob.

Secondly, like it or not, his blog has more hits than others. People who are not interested in Politics, policy or social issues will occasionally read his blog and talk about the gossip it contains. Its precisely his tabloid style that does that, his simplicity and slogans are his appeal.

I actually think it is the opposite when it comes to the people in office, they’l regard him as a childish irritant with no understanding of the issues and hence only take his stuff seriously to the extent he may undermine their re-election chances.

Shame I was away when this was on as would liked to have attended and met you Sunny face to face.

I look forward to future developments here.

20. Golden Gordon

Planeshift you make a good point but I hate to say this I have to agree with Nick Cohen.
It is mainly preaching to the converted.

21. Golden Gordon

I have got to say the comments on LC (both right and left) is very good.

22. Golden Gordon

Also this my last comments on political blogs. I promise
Katherine whitehorn who wrote in Observer years ago that Keith Waterhouse was a far better columnist when he wrote for the Mirror because his views counteracted the political ideas of the Mirror. When he joined the Mail, he was just another right Mail type journo.
Political blogs are like that. LC is entertaining because most of the posters are of the right wing persuasion and the debate is lively. I think Sunny, as true democrat encourages that.
Blogs like Harry Place the bloggers and writers all come from the same neoliberal and neoconservative point of view and it has become a mutual admiration society where prejudices are reinforced and not challenged

The Tories are now planning for a photo finish to the election in 2010 – see how they plan to eat into our hearts – http://www.photocake-occasion.co.uk/Products/Conservative.html


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Leon Green

  2. topsy_top20k

    Thoughts by me on political blogs and their influence, reflecting from talk the other night: http://bit.ly/cV9Yn1

  3. Dave Cole

    Liberal Conspiracy » Political blogs and their influence http://bit.ly/dv3bG8

  4. sunny hundal

    @jackofkent cheers! and my thoughts from the debate http://bit.ly/cV9Yn1

  5. George Allwell

    Liberal Conspiracy » Political blogs and their influence http://bit.ly/cV9Yn1

  6. sunny hundal

    Thoughts by me on political blogs and their influence, reflecting from talk the other night: http://bit.ly/cV9Yn1

  7. davecole.org » blog » archive » What difference does political blogging really make? #wsitp

    […] 10 Feb – Sunny ‘Liberal Conspiracy‘ Hundall and Mark Reckons weigh […]

  8. uberVU - social comments

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by libcon: Political blogs and their influence http://bit.ly/cV9Yn1

  9. Nick Cohen’s half empty glass « Though Cowards Flinch

    […] He doesn’t seem very popular.  Certainly, Sunny’s pretty dismissive. […]

  10. Liberal Conspiracy » The Tory mistake: listening too much to Tory blogs

    […] their opponents. Don’t get me wrong – that’s the job of right-wing blogs. But as I said earlier, their influence on the actual voting public is […]

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