Some people have used the Coronavirus lockdowns to clean their homes and flats. I instead have spent a good part of the past fortnight cleaning my online presence instead – essentially getting this blog back into some order after a good while just posting day to day.
The aim: to make sure that each and every blog post is correctly categorised, has a featured image (using the Quick Featured Images Pro plugin for WordPress – pro version is worth the cost), and has all links checked as far as possible (using the Broken Link Checker plugin), and to do this right back to the beginning of the blog – in July 2005, almost 15 years ago.
The result: excluding this post, there are 2128 posts (of which 72 are posts initially written elsewhere, with the first paragraphs posted here). Category by category there are 193 posts about Brexit, 1062 about EU Politics, 46 about German Politics, 493 about UK Politics, 159 about Transport, 349 about Technology, and 94 I have just called Observations. And that comes to a total of… 849,019 words. Or enough for at least 3 books.
But the stats are just one aspect of it.
What have I learnt from all this looking back over old blog entries? Some of my conclusions I have been tweeting as I have been going along – you can find these observations here. But here are a few broader trends.
First, how we blog has changed a lot. My posts in the early years were all very brief, and the posts more regular. The sorts of things I would today tweet or post on Facebook I back then wrote here. Sometimes just a few lines or a paragraph. Also numbers of comments have dropped over the years as political discussion has moved to Twitter instead. I was also worried at the start if I was too late starting a blog about EU politics, and yet this blog has outlived pretty much every other blog about EU politics.
Second, there were some successes over the years. First and foremost is of course this post that actually started to turn the idea of atheist bus ads into reality. The early years of the blog were also dominated by debates about how to pass the European Commission Concours – across this post and the overflow there were more than 3500 comments posted about that issue. I might not have been able to become a Commission Official myself, but I did my bit helping other people to do so. It has also been pleasant to be acknowledged for the work on the blog over the years – from Iain Dale’s blogging rankings in the early years, through Burson Marsteller’s rankings, to Euractiv’s list of influential Brits in EU policy.
Third, communications and framing has been a major theme of the blog, even if I did not call it that at the start. This 2006 post rejecting the term bringing the EU closer to its citizens was a precursor to what was to come. I looked at framing the UK-EU debate, and maintain why it is pointless to describe oneself as pro-European. I Applied Lakoff’s ideas to EU politics and argued why framing and emotion is more important than the facts about the EU – 3 years before the Brexit referendum, and against the views of Philip Stephens in the FT who argued the facts will shine through. I also identified framing problems right at the start of the Brexit referendum campaign.
Fourth, this blog was only a success at the start due to a brilliant network of other bloggers – those who built and whose blogs populated BloggingPortal.eu and who then later setup #EUTweetUp. Many of those people are no longer blogging, but I could a half dozen of them among my friends now – one of the best and most enduring successes of this whole blogging endeavour.
Fifth, I have broken a few scandals. Noticing some tweets nominee for Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström had deleted led to the discovery that Martin Selmayr (then Juncker’s Chef de Cabinet) had changed documents without informing Malmström. And I stumbled onto a Polish political scandal around the numbers of assistants of Polish MEPs – in 2013, and following up in 2015. I also helped stop more money than necessary being dedicated to the virtual EP tool Citzalia. I also dug into the strange tale of Joseph Mifsud in 2017. I also did a bit to keep EU journalists on their toes – Politico notably, but also the Brussels press corps on a junket.
Sixth, there are some blog entries that – looking back – were actually really astute and well ahead of their time. Perhaps best of all is this 2011 post that accurately foresaw how the 2016 Brexit Referendum would work out. This 2012 post developed the idea further. I also argued in 2011 that Labour should be cautious about the idea. In 2012 I took apart a Garton Ash piece about an EU referendum – looking back my view was more accurate than TGA’s was. I was also wondering why UK business was so absent from the EU debate in 2012. Some of the exceptionalism documented when the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize, or Paxman ranting about the “idiot in Brussels” is the sort of stuff would come back with a vengeance years later. More than a decade ago I was sceptical about Gisela Stuart and Daniel Hannan. I was even sceptical about Ursula von der Leyen in 2007. In UK politics the malaise in the civil service was documented here in 2012. I also worried in 2015 that David Cameron did not know what he was doing with the EU Referendum.
Seventh, over the past couple of years I have become more surefooted in my analysis. The idea to start making flow diagrams about Brexit turned out to be a very good call – Series 2 of the diagrams predicted a Brexit Delay and that’s what happened. Series 3 predicted a General Election and that happened. Series 4 predicted Johnson would win and Brexit would happen and it did. In the end there were more than 60 versions of the diagrams. I also dedicated masses of time in 2019 to tactical voting in the UK, with a good prediction record (although limited success for the whole tactical voting effort). Also on Brexit issues that the EU would do OK if the UK voted Brexit, and federalists ought to advocate it, looks better now than it did in 2016. I repeatedly argued No Deal Brexit would not happen (despite the vast majority of commentators being against me), and that turned out to be the right call – until now at least. And I was early to suggest London would dump Northern Ireland. I also had some fun making Andrew Marr look an idiot on Brexit, with some follow up too.
Eighth, there were some very weird things on the blog over the years, such as Alisher Usmanov, Craig Murray, Boris Johnson and a UKIP MEP in a kind of Streisand Effect story, Boris Johnson denying snorting particulates off London’s roads, the Dead Constitution Sketch and the Ashton Sentence Generator. Then there were 12 Ways and 12 More Ways to make it look like Brexit had happened without leaving the EU – if only! I also helped piece Dominic Cummings’s Twitter account back together.
Ninth, there have been times when blogging has accompanied my own learning and discovery. How To Find A Flat in Berlin (which is one of the most read blog posts ever here!) and Three weeks in Central Asia – a review have been the most useful to my readers I think.
Tenth, some things I of course got spectacularly wrong, most importantly that Boris Johnson might be a way to prevent Brexit, and that a second referendum might be the way to stop Brexit. Luckily my record improved after both of those 2016 blog posts! I also assumed the UK would panic sometime during the Brexit process, and that never came to pass.
Eleventh, the blog has accompanied me through hard times as well as the good times. Here I am in 2007 musing as to whether I lack focus and direction (yes, 13 years on I am still asking myself that!), and wondering about how I was too young for Berlin the first time I lived here. And then there are the blog posts that document my estrangement from the Labour Party in the UK, such as I Give Up.
But where does that all leave me now?
Now, as ever, this blog is a voluntary endeavour. No one pays me a cent for it. I do it for the joy of it above all. Some TV and radio work has been a spin-off from the blog, and my teaching work at the College of Europe has come directly as a result of it.
I get a few emails a week asking me if I accept promoted posts, but always refuse. There are no ads on the blog. I have always shied away from the idea of adding Patreon or other donation buttons. There are about 300 visitors on a normal day, and up to a couple of thousand if I have posted something.
But I wonder is that actually enough?
Especially over the past 18 months the quality of my Brexit analysis has been, I think, at least as good as that you would read in newspaper columns or from think tanks. Yet those people are paid for that, and I am doing this as a voluntary endeavour, with a small number of readers. No-one is going to put me in their list of their top 10 Brexit analysts – perhaps because my analysis is not good enough, but much more likely because it is hard, even now after all these years, to really take a blogger seriously.
Anyway, as ever when blogging, there is a lot to ponder…