Blog Nation: what would you like to see discussed?

9:00 am - June 10th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    

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On 26th June LC will be hosting Blog Nation (my unimaginative name for our annual conference). Thanks to all of those who have already emailed in with requests: we are now two-thirds full.

The first Blog Nation event in July 2008 was nice, but ultimately just a panel discussion event. I want to try something different and would like your involvement.

Aims of the event
1. Meet other bloggers, journalists, think-tankers, activist, organisers
2. To have time and space to discuss issues
3. Have a sense of strategic direction on particular issues; find out what projects are taking place.
4. Share books
5. Discuss and learn about activism already taking place.

Unlike other conferences, and they have their own place, I want this to be strategy focused. In other words rather than debate issues, we have competing or interesting perspectives on how to move forward, what is currently taking place and how people can get involved.

The theme of the event is: ‘How Does the Left Organise in Opposition?

A few questions to think about:

  • Do we focus on broader narratives or stick to specific topics? Or if a mixture of the two, what would you like to see discussed?
  • Given the layout of the venue, what do you think the format should be?
  • What mini-sessions would you like to see?

Layout of venue

The circles are tables. I thought it would be better than having lines of podium facing chairs. This way you can talk, meet and discuss with others more easily during discussion sessions. The two breakout rooms are also available if we need them.

Broad themes
Party political vs non-aligned organising – which should we focus on? Or how do we do both?
Is Labour part of the problem or part of the solution?
How can the left work toegther, better?
What approach to take towards Libdems?
Communitarianism vs internationalism: which way do we want to go?
Should we be drawing up a list of ‘progressive politicians’ to support on an ongoing basis?

Responding to budget cuts
Abortion and sex education
Climate change
Electoral reform
The West Lothian Question
Where now for foreign policy?
Taxation and tax havens

London Mayoral election – what can be done?

There will also be mini-sessions:
Political Scrapbook is planning a short presentation on how some of us left-bloggers are planning to set up a cooperative of sorts to collaborate on various things. You’ll hear more about that then.

If you would like to attend, you have to drop me an email at blognation[-at-]liberalconspiracy[-dot-]org. It is free to attend but invite only.

Now I’m opening this out to all of you for your thoughts and ideas.

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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

Will be very interested to see who Political Scrapbook really is! Will he wear a mask?

Communitarianism Define, please!

Also – it would be worth asking, “Who is/are The Left?” Because I see the Lib Dems as a centre-left to centrist party, and any discussion about The Left needs to look at how to influence the Lib Dems in and out of government.

I’d say more attention needs to be given to how to influence any government, whether Labour, Lib Dem or Tory. The Left isn’t always going to be in government and trying to achieve its objectives through one political party isn’t always viable. Look at how groups like Friends of the Earth have achieved more for their cause than the Green Party ever will.

2. Mike Killingworth

Sounds good to me. A couple of thoughts.

I’d rename the “West Lothian Question” I think – because it’s not just about Scotland. Perhaps Must Britain Break Down?

Professor Conor Gearty, in the current London Review of Books, makes the bald statement that “social democracy is gone for good” – this sounds like a meme in the making to me and the conference sounds like a good place to debate whether to resist or submit to it.

I’m very excited about attending this, and look forward to networking with some of the blogspheric heavy hitters, not to mention the eminent twitterati stars of this day and days gone by.

Sunny has captured what the essence of the day should be about, and experience tells us that if you put a lot of f##king opinionated people in one room (or break out rooms) there will be no shortage of debate, strategy, theory, keys in hats etc etc.

Throw in a few gins and it could be the best day you’ve ever had – at least this will be my hope.

As I said I think the subjects have broadly covered most bases, but if I could add my two cents, I think we should focus on what is least attractive about the modern left, or at least in the sense of changing perceptions about the left so as not to appear less attractive.

There have been very many areas of distraction where the left seem to have been weak, and it has been an almost impossible task to try and square this circle, about immigration, about Islamism and extremism, about right wing groups such as the EDL or SIOE.

To talk in broad strokes for a moment, when Nick Cohen or Christopher Hitchens or David Aaronavitch talk about the left losing its way, it’s no good simply saying that what these guys are saying doesn’t identify me as a leftie; if the perception is that the left has been wooly on these subjects then the left needs to counter this. And I’m afraid to say myself, as a leftie, that we haven’t been quite as clear as we ought to have been on the subject of immigration, on the subject of dangerous thinkers like Anwar al-Awlaki and groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir, for fear of appearing compliant with our enemies on the far right.

The Pickled Politics blog is somewhere that addresses these problems, as scathing of the British far right as it is dodgy factions in the Middle East, but there are still teething problems by and large on the left that ought be reckoned with; and we need to break the appearance that the left is a ship for victim politics only, as opposed to what is really is: a broad coalition in favour of equality, reason and social inclusion; the enemy of those who want to disturb that.

Another subject, again which Sunny touches upon, is the Labour party. What better time to discuss the future of the party (of which I am a member) after the most leftwing candidate being helped only by an appeal to race, gender (not class) and a helping hand from a Blairite. Abbott, by some people’s estimation, has trouble with unifying the party, and McDonnell does little to unify whatsoever. But the question is how far do left candidates have to accomodate for Labour rightwingers, and why is this seen as anti-pluralistic, when it’s quite clear that the Labour party, in many, many ways, lost its bearings in the last 13 years.

If we solve these problems on the day (haha, a big ask) I’ll be a happy man. Failing that, a pint and a few biscuits will sort me out just champion.

Can’t make it down to London but a mate told me about your site and when I saw you asking for ‘what would you like to see discussed’ I thought I’d raise the thorny old issue of peak oil. As readers may know (although there is a lot of misunderstanding about it), peak oil is not about oil running out. It’s about global production of conventional oil (i.e. the ‘cheap’ stuff) reaching a peak and then declining. I’ve written about it on my blog ( as have many others.

This will impact on the economy which, in turn, will impact on everyone. Whether peak is here now or 10 years away is really not that important (although 10 years away would obviously be better!). Our economy has surpluses for things like welfare & pensions because we’ve had a glut of cheap energy. I really hope your conference can look at the full extent of the energy crisis. If not, maybe next time – I’ve been speaking about this for 6 years now but have failed to get much ‘non-green’ interest.

I think the issue of banking / finance still needs to be on there. The left simply has not found a cohesive policy response to the financial crisis and the moment to push for a response is slipping away. The Robin Hood Tax, while a neat idea, is hardly the transformative reform that is needed.

Stephen Whitehead

think this is a swell post, Sunny. nice one. thanks for flagging it.

my thoughts:

would like to cover violence against women as one of the topics.

personally, feel that political parties are a means, not an end. therefore, would like to talk strategy in terms of organizing to achieve particular aims, and then how might Labour be used as opposition, and Lib-Dems and Conservatives as Govt, as one of the methods on a spectrum of tactics to make the changes we want to see.

would like to think about the role of the private sector and what we might want to do with it (or sections of/actors within it).

would like to talk about why we haven’t achieved more on feminism and why we are backsliding – e.g. objectification, violence, representation.

i don’t know what communitarism vs internationalism means, but if it means do we go national or international (in terms of philosophies, perspectives, approaches), then my vote’s for international.

interesting that, Communitarianism vs internationalism; respublican vs. centre for european reformists

I’ve put some thoughts up at my place.

Can purely local left blogging and blogs addressing the (intern)national political scene be mutually beneficial and if so how?

Prisoners’ Rights?

I think the Right wing VS Obama on BP would be a good one to look at. The corporate shrills like Bruce (I have never been right about anything) Anderson wrote a pile of dog shit in the Independent this week blaming Obama for the Oils spill.
Now Boris has got involved , so too a leading British Industrialist. Meanwhile in Americas the Republicans and those terribly serious people who want to cut govt spending are now saying the tax payer should pick up the bill for cleaning up the area.

You got love those corporations…… Privatise the profits and socialise the costs. Anyway, this is starting to become a big battle between left and right. As usual ,the scoundrels on the Right on this side of the Atlantic are draping themselves in the flag and putting on their patriotism masks. I wonder how many share Anderson has in BP.

I think that in general we should initially concentrate on the wider political questions facing the left and leftish bloggers rather than individual issues. For example –

What does the coalition mean for us?

Where do the LibDems go from here?

And Labour? What kind of party do we want to see, can we play a role in shaping it?

What does the left (ok, assuming that New Labour could be described as such)being in opposition rather than in power mean for bloggers?

If we do get down to individual issues I guess immigration and in particular the way we on the left address the issue would be the key one in the current circumstances.

Form a purely personal pov I’d like to see something on Climate Change.

Agree strongly with Sally (#11). In general, this is a pretty impressive comments string. I think it gives us some sense of what we might achieve at the conference, and some sense of what can be achieved if we try to pull together / try to work constructively, rather than sniping at each other as too often perhaps happens in these comments strings.
Of course, that does raise the question of how ‘we’ are. And for me, that brings us back to Sunny’s title for the conference, which I think gets things right: ‘How does the Left organise in opposition?’ I think it would be rather bizarre for us to spend much time thinking/talking about how to influence directly / be part of a government led by David Cameron, Conservative Prime Minister. For now at least, the LibDems have chosen to be part of the Right, not of the Left. The Orange Bookers are in power alongside the Tories. We are in opposition. And so it is difficult to see how ‘we’ can include LibDems – except the small number of LibDems who have placed themselves as ‘semi-detached’ from the coalition. That is the reality. I don’t particularly want to have good candid discussions about how to organise against the government, against the cuts etc., unless I know that the people I am discussing with see themselves in a broadly similar way.
The really big issue that Sunny’s title raises, that I think should be central for us at the conference, is how we organise and fund a movement that changes the agenda, that over a period of 5-25 years shifts the culture of our country so that what we are saying becomes more commonsensical to people, and talk of a ‘left-wing conspiracy’ etc just bounces off. I am talking about the kind of achievement that ‘the conservative movement’ in the States pulled off, between the 60s and the 90s, and on into this century. A genuinely impressive achievement, which made (e.g.) the Clinton Presidency impossibly difficult, and contributed toward making it be centre-right in orientation. We ought to think of ourselves as potential central players in a similar movement of the left in this country, aiming to achieve what Gramsci called (slightly-misleading phrase in its connotations) ‘hegemony’. And we need to be clear that this is already what the Right in this country are doing, including crucially people like Montgomerie and Dale.
[This is one reason why Sunny’s/PoliticalScrapbook’s news that a co-operative is being planned among some left bloggers is good. This is the kind of institutional development that points in the direction I am talking about here.]
I hope that this will be a key over-arching framework for our discussions, which we should explicitly thematize sometimes: how to make being green / left natural, commonsensical / hegemonic, over a time-period inevitably longer than the electoral cycle.

14. Mike Killingworth

[12] Absolutely. What worries me a bit is that we’ll have a left LibDem sulkers’ table, a Compass-Tribune table, a Deep Green Table, a Wimmin’s table, a table de groupuscules and so on.

I think Sunny’s naturally laid-back style may well lead to this result, and this thread seems to me (who would be semi-detached from all the tables above, but would probably enjoy most of them) to be the right place to discuss whether or not we want to take positive steps to churn it up some – I suspect that doing so is the first stage in Rupert Read’s agenda. And makes sense to me.

Yes, your suspicion is probably roughly right, Mike.
I think we gotta churn it a bit.

I will probably not be able to make it without causing a serious domestic incident, but if I *WERE* there, I’d want to offer the following thoughts:

I went to the blog nation event last time around (I think, unless I was systematically kept out of the loop about one in between *shakes fists*), and the subjects were provocative and…if I am honest…a little bit niche rather than general to the liberal-left cause. They were very important subjects, but ultimately they were subjects that were always going to divide the audience (and the panel).

If you want a debate between people that already have made up their minds then that’s a great outcome of the organisation.

However I get the impression that it’s meant to be more about empowerment, motivation and trying to organise. Subjects that naturally start causing division before we’ve even started seem to be the antithesis to this aim.

Let’s take these for example:

“Responding to budget cuts
Abortion and sex education
Climate change
Electoral reform
The West Lothian Question
Where now for foreign policy?
Taxation and tax havens”

Responding to budget cuts, electoral reform, and (cautiously) Climate change seem to be the only things on that list that you could realistically put forward and try and work out a strategy of future organisation, co-operation and promotion online. Everything else, either because they’re highly personal subjects, or subjects that sit disproportionally of one particular side of the liberal-left divide, is not going to do anything but allow us all to reiterate the stances we all know we have anyway.

Writing about them works on here because of the level of traffic and, one would hope, less than partisan viewership that may be taking something additional away from the debate. Talking about them amongst each other only helps to make us frosty at best and actively separates us at worst.

But then I am looking this from a lefty *liberal* point of view, and given the theme is about how the left can organise (and given the broader themes suggested) perhaps this simply isn’t the right event for anyone but Labour supporters or sympathisers to get involved with.

I echo the sentiments of someone in the comments above who said that those like friends of the earth have done much more to influence politics than the Green party. Why we are still focusing on how Labour factor in all of this when we have an almost unique opportunity to be the voice of the liberal left, to whatever government may be around, is really to not quite aim as high as we could be.

I like the format, I think networking is key right now, and doing it *during* a conference event is really efficient; but let’s not make us hate each other? 😉

As a life-long socialist I would ask them why the Labour Party has betrayed the socialism of Nye Bevan,Michael Foot,Harold Wilson and Tony Benn.Why did Brown shore up the banks and land us with a coalition set to destroy what little we have left of the welfare state?Why do we have a fifth of the doctors France has?Why do most old socialists like myself feel so sick that of the leadership candidates fourare identkit wannabees?

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    @DrEvanHarris Hi – @libcon conference on June 26: Am thinking wd be gd to address availability of early abortions.

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