Completely unbeknown to me a debate has kicked off in the last couple of days about what Labour and Conservative bloggers in the UK will do if the UK gets a Tory government sometime soon. Charlie Beckett kicked things off in The Guardian, and Iain Dale has joined the fray. While this debate has been starting online in the UK I’ve been in Vienna at a Party of European Socialists conference where I made a presentation about online campaigning and participated in a debate about the issue. A discussion about blogging was one part of that.

What, overall, is the recipe for success for a decent political blog? First of all it’s better to be an individual writing, someone that visitors can relate to. Second it’s important to know your issues, get your teeth stuck into something, and aim to be consistent. While I’m a Labour Party member I don’t primarily blog about Labour Party stuff – Britain’s relationship with the EU is the issue with bite for me. And while I might rile eurosceptics I hope they at least think I’m consistent (if wrong). Essentially it’s trying to develop a one-person global microbrand.

So, essentially, for me it’s not an issue of left or right when it comes to making a decent blog – it’s latching onto an issue that you care about. In the red-vs.-blue environment of UK politics that normally means you have to latch onto a party and write your blog about that. Compare that to the experience in Denmark – the Liberals are in government, and the Social Democrats in opposition, but the Liberal blogs are more vibrant and regularly updated, latching onto the very live debate about liberty in the aftermath of the Danish cartoons debacle.

While I’ll personally be in a fit of depression for months if Cameron gets into power that won’t make this blog better or worse. I still won’t have access to Westminster gossip, the lifeblood of many UK political blogs. The only slight change might be that I’ll dislike Cameron’s EU policy more than I dislike Brown’s, and hence my critique could be stronger, but the essential recipe will be the same – try to have a consistent, logical and ideologically-based approach to the issues that matter to me.

So then, lastly, what can be learnt from the very fact that I was even invited along to the PES conference in Vienna? In short, the PES takes a different approach to political communication than the Labour Party in the UK does. I know people in the PES read what I’m writing, and I’m somehow part of a debate about the direction of European social democracy which, by default, has to take place online as people from Helsinki, London and Lisbon can’t physically meet up all that often. Labour on the other hand still is stuck in the Mandelson-Blair mentality of political communication and internal party dynamics, namely slavish loyalty wins the day. Only when the party loosens up a bit, welcomes bloggers of all hues of red into the tent, will anything approaching the system in the US or even the PES be achieved.

As I said in my presentation yesterday, think Barack not Blair when it comes to political campaigning online.

12 Comments

  1. “think Barack not Blair” sums it up very well, or maybe even stop thinking Barack which many politicians are doing, actually take the risk and experiment like Barack.

    ASI and Compass Youth don’t always think alike (…), but I agree with Tim, the most vibrant blogs are going to be those which punt ideas rather than party tribalism. It’s the long tail of politics that matters, not the blockbusters and in a way that includes even looking beyond Barack’s campaign and back to the UK.

    Groups like London Citizens or Climate Change Camp are some of the most exciting & effective & inclusive campaigning organisations I’ve seen in a while (you’re welcome to propose others) and yet their website is very poor. Groups like Liberal Conspiracy or Move On are as exciting and effective offline, wouldn’t it be great if we could blend these exciting techniques? As Rikke’s Rikke says, we have always social networked but the internet has opened up whole new ways of doing it.

    See link below for something we’d like to bring people together on, a campaigning bootcamp – who would be interested?
    http://compassyouth.blogspot.com/2008/06/steal-my-camp.html

    if so, email compassyouth7 {at} gmail(.)com or comment here

  2. Pingback: That’s a bloggy good idea « Occident Prone

  3. True (and the article itself doesn’t really make so much of the point as the cover subtitle does). Clearly the first issue has a bigger readership than I’d expected!

    In a political environment where – without a directly elected President – it seems impossible to get much personal coverage without being a fool or maverick or possibly both, it’s not surprising that UK political leaders are perhaps less inspirational figures.

    But the idea that political blogging reaches beyond parties and allowing for a longer term outlook is interesting as Matt says. The proximity of an election gives little opportunity for the bigger thinking out of ideas and policies so continuous campaigning and the opportunity for debate on policy from first principles and beyond the Westminster (or similar) political bubble can throw up new ideas.
    And the fact that there is an opportunity to share common problems and identify solutions that work in other countries (beyond the USA) is something that parties all across the spectrum seem to be tuning in to.
    Ok that’s not the most coherent comment, but I hope you get the gist.

  4. Jon>Problem is: who is more inspirational?

    Agree on that point about Obama vs wotsit.

    Mark has a good point however about the advantage of “continuous campaigning” vs a “campaigning cycle” (my terms), because internet (and especially blog) campaigning to reach outside the political silo is based on long term work building a profile and writing stuff now that is in the right area in 1-2 years time.

  5. Jo

    Without drawing any conclusions about the article, we should note for completeness that it is written by Mark Pack, who is the Lib Dem “Head of Innovations” (as it says on the article).

    Mark ran the online Lib Dem campaign at the last two UK elections.

  6. Yes, I’ve read that article… Problem is: who is more inspirational? Barack Obama or Mark Pack… Or even Barack Obama or Nick Clegg. Not hard to answer.

  7. Interesting. Did you know there’s an article in Total Politics magazine this month subtitled “why the Liberal Democrats are better than Obama at online communications”? Apparently not the paragon of comms we all think in the early stages.

  8. Further thought: it pays to reflect on the meaning of “success”.

  9. “I know people in the PES read what I’m writing, and I’m somehow part of a debate about the direction of European social democracy which, by default, has to take place online as people from Helsinki, London and Lisbon can’t physically meet up all that often”

    Hi. I think this is likely to increase the extent to which the direction of social democratic parties is set by solvent multilingual middle-class university graduates. Obviously as a sceptic I have a fairly straightforward solution to this problem. Have you looked at the issue and come up with some ideas from the other side? Might make for an interesting post.

  10. Like it, Jon.

    There’s also a lot of stuff about finding niches in a marketplace of ideas – just like politics .

    And increasingly there will be stuff about how to find the resources to compete with newspapers.

    An interesting conversation where I did a bit of hypothesizing with others:

    http://averypublicsociologist.blogspot.com/2008/07/left-blogs-and-left-blogging.html

    All good fun.

    Matt

  11. “In the red-vs.-blue environment of UK politics that normally means you have to latch onto a party and write your blog about that. Compare that to the experience in Denmark – the Liberals are in government, and the Social Democrats in opposition, but the Liberal blogs are more vibrant and regularly updated, latching onto the very live debate about liberty in the aftermath of the Danish cartoons debacle.”

    Tim Worstall wrote about this at the ASI and points out that the most vibrant blogs are going to be those which punt ideas rather than party tribalism.

    Both Tim and myself are, for instance, libertarians (or classical liberals: whatever you wish to term it) and are very unlikely to cease our assault on government even if the Tories get in. This is because, whilst we are nominally members of a party (UKIP in the former, LPUK in the latter), our ideas are more important to us than the party that we are members of.

    The Tory libertarians, on the other hand, will become rather more mute, I suspect.

    DK

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