Despite all three Lib Dem leadership contenders promoting the bloggers that are backing their campaigns, it is interesting that none of the contenders are blogging themselves.
Blogging has been heralded as the new way that politicians will reach out directly to their electorate, and indeed there are numerous examples of MPs from across the political spectrum who have their own blogs. So perhaps it is even more surprising that none of the contenders have seen blogging as a way of reaching out to party members during the campaign. Both Ming Campbell and Simon Hughes have “blogs” on their sites, but both of these are just news stories from the campaign and in reality just collections of endorsements and press releases. Chris Huhne does at least have the honesty to call the equivalent area on his website the news section.
Although blogging is still growing within the Liberal Democrats, I suspect some of this reluctance may come from the party getting its fingers burnt in the Hartlepool by-election. Jody Dunn, who was one of the best by-election candidates that we have had, wrote a blog on her election website. I understand that she did write this herself and it was then checked for obvious mistakes by members of her campaign team before it was posted. Unfortunately they never expected a fairly innocent and light-hearted comment about one unnamed road in Hartlepool being full of drunks, vicious dogs or semi-naked men to be exaggerated by the Labour party. If you read Labour leaflets you would think she’d made a slur against everyone in Hartlepool. This comment was one of the main reasons that Jody Dunn failed to be elected, as it also reminded people that she was outside who was now also slagging off the town. I think Jody Dunn was unlucky, but it shows how easy it is to say something on the internet that can be misinterpreted.
I like the idea of blogs and I think they are a useful way of letting off steam about things that happen, getting across your view on your interests in a personal way to anyone who wants to read it and being able to respond spontaneously to events. I suppose those are the reasons why I have an attraction to blogging and why I have restarted a blog. I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who clearly read my old blog and as a result feel the need to either say to me in person or on their own blog how much they agreed with something I’d written. But it is this very spontaneity and readership that can cause problems. With the advent of blogs like Lib Dem Watch your opponents can pick up on the slightest slip that you make. I suppose that is the reason why I also keep questioning my own wish to have a blog, and why my last one was ditched last year.
It is this risk that I believe will stop blogging from really taking off in politics. As one Lib Dem once put it to me after seeing the reaction to Jody Dunn’s blog, “why on earth do we spend all this time carefully choreographing the campaign messages that go on leaflets and then ruin it all by allowing our candidate to write whatever they want on the internet.” He had a point, but we shouldn’t stop candidates and MPs from having blogs simply because they might say what they really believed. In fact if I was a true conspiracy theorist maybe the whole point of the leadership contenders promoting supporters who blog whilst not having one themselves is so that they can get across their campaign messages, including the negative ones, without them being implicated directly.
Jody Dunn showed some of the pitfalls of candidates having their own blog, and I have also found comments that I have made quoted on Lib Dem Watch. But most political blogs have not been as controversial. In fact many of them, and I suspect mine as well most of the time, have been deadly dull. However blogging by candidates should be encouraged as it allows them to speak for themselves and to think more freely. Posting on topical issues may allow a debate to be had with the wider community before they finally decide on their own view. It is this freethinking that should be encouraged, and I think last weeks vote on whether to ban smoking on public places shows how free thinking is a major positive. Whether you agreed with the outcome of the vote or not, allowing a free vote on the issue gave the perfect opportunity for MPs to show themselves at their freethinking and honest best. If we encourage MPs to think more freely more of the time, something that blogging allows, we might improve politics and political decision making considerably.
I suppose like most things people will learn the techniques for writing blogs and will learn about what they should or shouldn’t say on them, whilst still being true and honest. Indeed, how do we know now that those that appear to be written personally and from the heart are also not scripted in the same way as those that are more obviously just a collection of press releases and news stories?
THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON “ANDERS HANSON’S BLOG” BUT WAS MOVED TO THIS WEBSITE WHEN THAT SITE WAS REPLACED