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    21 March, 2005

    Blogging politicians

    The following is an article I have written at the request of the Political Studies Association's political marketing newsletter:

    I started blogging in January 2005. In December, some comments of mine from the Assembly had been blogged around the Internet – what I now know to call the blogosphere – and I decided that it was time to create my own medium of communication on issues other than those constituency-and Assembly-related matters that my website dealt with. It would give me a new vehicle to get messages out, and to comment on things of interest. I was the third blogger in the National Assembly for Wales, and so far the only Labour blogger in Wales.

    I was sceptical from the start. My first post said:

    Why blog? As politicians, we are consistently urged to do more to encourage people to participate in politics. Often this takes the form of suggestions that we need to engage more with the new technologies….

    Well, I'm sceptical about gimmicks in politics or in the media…. There's no evidence that trendy vicars build bigger congregations. The reasons why voter participation is declining are complex. There's part of me that suspects that far from driving up political interest, a blog will simply attract the already committed. I may be about to cause political grief for myself or attract lawsuits. We'll see.

    But I think we do have a responsibility as politicians to draw people into civic debate. So I'm willing to give it a go.


    It's worth recognising that blogs aren’t real-time diaries. Diaries are private - they are intended for publication later, whereas weblogs are more immediate. Weblogs, unlike private unpublished diaries, are subject to the law of defamation, and therefore the reality is that blogs by elected politicians will be subject to self-censorship.

    I have blogged on things that interest me in the news, football, music, films, books, and local matters. People are therefore getting a more rounded picture than from my website. I have tried all possible initiatives to promote the blog, and the South Wales Echo, Wales on Sunday, the Rhondda Leader and BBC Wales online have all run pieces about it. I have also emailed people and include the reference at the end of my email. This has helped to create a small but loyal readership – particularly amongst Welsh political journalists.

    In the US, it’s often reckoned that most bloggers – though not all – are on the right. In the UK, they may mostly be Liberal Democrats. But shortly after starting I responded to a post by blogging Labour MP Clive Soley and suggested we draw together Labour bloggers. The excellent Hove Labour blog took up the challenge, creating www.bloggers4labour.org. So that’s progress.

    I think in practice at the moment blogging is useful in providing a further vehicle for politicians to comment. There is limited interaction, though it is appreciative. One of the things I have noticed though is the way in which blogging facilitiates contacts between people of similar views. So, for example, there is a community of people on the left who are more in favour of UK/US policy on Iraq than you would recognize if you only read the mainstream media (or MSM as I’ve learned to all it).

    But blogs are not that significant politically in the UK, as various political bloggers have commented. (Unlike observers such as Iain Duncan Smith, who see the salvation of the right in blogging). Politicians’ blogs are certainly not the most visited. It will be a long time, if ever, before they really matter.

    Ends

    Since writing this, of course, the issues around Cardiff City FC have blown up, which have certainly added to the number of readers of this blog over recent weeks. That kind of popular issue - with online 'communities' devoted to it - can obviously result in more blog-readers outside the normal narrow political circles. But there is still a long way to go.

    1 comment:

    Andrew Brown said...

    I tend to think you're right and that the "political" blogs who are really just unpaid journalists will - if they're any good - always be able to trump us politicians in terms of numbers.

    Even the things of local interest that bring the spikes in readership are hard to maintain. But, once people have found you and know you're doing this thing then they can always come back if they think you might have something to say to them about public policy.

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