Can blogging change politics?

Whatever one feels about the recent efforts to revitalise the thinking behind civic-led ownership from both the left and right, it does explicate the desire by frontline workers to be more instrumental in the services around them.

From the right this desire has been expressed by Philip Blond, whose think-tank Respublica published a document last year entitled “The Ownership State” which aims at demonstrating greater productivity in the workplace being achieved by increased input by staff in the decisions an organisation makes.

From the left and centre (though not limited to these categories) came mutualism, the notion that the public sector could be regenerated by devolving power to the frontline, local groups, charities and also see organisations employ a greater degree of input by staff.

Both are products of the belief that either the state or the market are becoming too big and curbing the efforts of those people who are really putting in the elbow work.

Over the past few years, the way information is distributed has taken a community based sea-change similar to that promoted by the examples above, with the advent of web 2.0 technologies and social networking, such as twitter, facebook and the blogosphere. Less and less are we limited to professional journalists for the information we receive, but the emergence of a cyber-centric contingent has meant that the communication sector is an empire contributed to by anyone – and potetially everyone – who feels that they have something to say.

This does bring about certain problems, however. Paul Staines once said, in an entry posted on the Guardian’s Comment is Free, that the reason blogs had a growing influence is because they produced “sufficient checks on politicians” and that they held “MPs to account”, presumably without prohibition from editors with strategic motives. However, the blogosphere is not sheltered from the rules of hegemony. Staines himself is someone who is very much in touch with the hierarchy of the Westminster village, and furthermore he is not a non-partisan blogger, therefore what he chooses to blog about will be subject to the same partisanship as an editor of a lobby journalist, therefore one must call to question whether the hegemonic bloggers will really produce the “sufficient checks” that Staines himself said they would. What he said in his article sounds good in theory, but does it really work like that? The answer, sadly, is no.

Blogging and social networking can, and will, change the political landscape. Joining a cause on facebook has had notable successes in pressurising politicians, Obama’s presidency campaign, the gag put on the Guardian by Barclays, the Jan Moir affair, and those other issues participated in by what Nick Cohen has previously called the hob-nob mob, are all testament to the power of the internet. Though, like the ideas of civic-led change to the public services, they are dependent on a continued battle against the so-called dominant forces. Even in the virtual world, earth-rules apply. Subversion of the way in which information is spread must be rule number one of the blogger.

Will blogging be the undoing of lobby journalism as we know it?

The benefits of blogging and the information with which it brings to the Internet public are extraordinary in terms of the speed news items can be circulated and accessibility (regards to cost to view blogs – free – and the written style which they normally take, chatty as opposed to formal and so on).

This has provided certain challenges to usual print media in both content and access. Lobby writers and the mainstream press such as the Guardian or the Times rely on what communications officers want them to hear, unless those newspapers want to spend enormous amounts of cash and time getting some reporter to sniff around dodgy dealers with dodgy information (as can be seen recently with the News of the World/ Andy Coulson case and his dealings with the murky underbelly of journalism).

Bloggers can overcome this. Firstly they don’t have to be obliged to pay lip service to any political party (its supposed that one of the reasons why it took so long for Andy Coulson’s implications in the News of the World scandals – now settled by a hearing – to get into the press is because Coulson is now in charge of communications – i.e. what goes to press – in the Conservative party, thought to be leading the next government. Newspapers upsetting the Tories may not favour them when they want their stories in the papers) therefore not under any blackmail from whoever is in charge of press releases in government. Bloggers also have the option of anonymity. Though this hasn’t always safeguarded bloggers.

Anonymity has its own risks. Leading blogger Guido Fawkes had his identity revealed, however this has not seemed to stop his style of political gossiping. The same cannot be said for NightJack, the resident police constable blogger who had his identity revealed and was found breaching certain privacy laws. Google were recently ordered by a judge in America to reveal the identity of a blogger who had been “talking trash” – by the blogger’s own admission – about a New York fashion model. So it is not all secure.

The Internet is a most popular and important source, proven by the view of Gordon Brown that all children should have it at home. One benefit of blogging is that it is a purely internet-based phenomenon that is readily available to those who pursue it. Search for anything online, and you’re almost certain to be led to a blog within the first few results. But lobby journalism has taken note of this, particularly Rupert Murdoch who wants to move it all on the web – and charge! The Guardian have dismissed plans to have a members-only online paper, though it won’t be long until something like this does arrive. The Independent and the New York Times have taken advantage of iphones by designing an app that allows you to download the day’s newspaper on to your phone in minutes, giving you the ability to read it offline (say on the tube, or out of wi-fi areas). The domain of the blog is in battle with the mainstream press, but will the difference between a fee and no fee in the future be its saving grace?

Turning Guido Fawkes onto himself

There was recently something raised by Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) that I couldn’t help but agree with entirely (a very rare thing indeed); that being the inability of the journalist to really dig deep on certain politicians due to a strange debt that journo’s have towards those who may well soon get into power.

Guido highlighted this in a debate he had with the Guardian‘s Michael White, and the BBC‘s Nick Robinson, also not happy with the short amount of time was given to deliver his main points at the event, he addressed them on CiF.

The quote that I agreed with the most was his attack on White;

” … why do you think the influence of blogs has grown? It is because the likes of Michael White have failed to keep sufficient checks on politicians and to hold MPs to account.”

Now I wouldn’t have picked out White myself, but given the context I understand the plea. But more generally, there is a strong element of truth concerning what the press can feel unthreatened about releasing, and this sentiment couldn’t have worried me any more than it did when reading Andrew Rawnsley’s bit in the Observer today, when he noted;

“There has been a reluctance among some of the press to really go for the Tories over the phone-hacking scandal, partly because many other newspapers are implicated in the practice as well, and partly for fear of crossing Mr Coulson, who will be a powerful figure at Number 10, with a lot of control over access to stories.”

Now of course such reluctance should not be applied to bloggers, who are free of the constraints that newspaper journalists may have, and what with the very many inside tell-tales that Guido knows well, the control over access to stories should not be a concern at all.

However, those avid readers of Bob Piper’s blog might see the twist in this tale: that Guido fell foul of his own view that the blogosphere can conquer the newspaper hack taken party political hostage. He was one of the bloggers that pretended not to have anything to do with Andy Coulson and was quick here and here to spin weak claims that Coulson was not implicated in the NotW crimes, before the even weaker attempt to seem non-partisan.

Later on in Guido’s article on CiF he mentions;

“The years of Labour lies and spin, personified in the power that Damian McBride wielded over a compliant press lobby – now that was corrupting our democracy, the off-the-record smearing, and it was smearing, not briefing, that went on – was out of hand.”

In light of Coulsongate – and now separate from Guido and his hypocrisy – bloggers should once again assume some of the freedom from the shortfalls of lobby journalism in criticising the Tories, which may well slope as a consequence to their dominance in the opinion polls. Such unwritten – but yet wholly acknowledged – blackmail should not deter the power of the internet.

Andy Coulson in the shit

The shit really hit the fan for Andy Coulson today, Labour bloggers calling it their McBride moment, Tory bloggers den(l)ying about ever knowing him. Guido asking whether he will survive the “Labour dominated DCMS Select Committee”. So it won’t be as easy as being in the (Mur)dock!

Alistair Campbell expects little from the Press Complaints Committee, but then this might be realistic since we’ve all come to expect this from most of the press. I feel sorry for the good press(cott).

Cameron was relaxed, but clearly too relaxed, and too early on for his party’s Director of Communications & Planning.

Bob Piper expected the sound of silence from the Tories, how wrong he was, for now silence is drowned out by the sound of s(p)in and dry repentance.

And as for Dale, he, after accusing the Guardian of targeting Coulson, is unable to eat his words tonight, leaving his readers with a free space to poke fun.

Coulson’s hands are up, and his flag is white, and all us folk who knew that it was only a matter of time before the Mur(ky)doch leeches and the filth-laden Tories proved to us once and for all that they were unclean. Not cool ol’ son, Coulson.

(This entry was made with attempted NotW-esque puns)

Guido Fawkes is doing what?

Next Left have just blogged the “news” that Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines) is considering joining the LibDems.

But I’m not so sure Mr. Anti-politics will do such a thing; does he seriously plan to blow up parliament from the inside?

Mind you, what does it matter if you’re in the LibDems, no one is paying the slightest bit of attention. And such a move will surely boost ratings up zero.

I should imagine that, due to the nature of how it seems to have been communicated by Staines at the21st birthday of the ippr (Institute for Public Policy Research), it may well be a case of the punked doing the punking!

What could we buy with expenses repayments?

The sum of £478,616 has been returned in repaid claims, but where does this money go? Or rather, where could it go, if we were a little more creative with our winnings the rightly repaid money.

(this involved me searching £478,616 on google)

Would be quite enough to keep Solva in Pembrokeshire sweet.

More than enough to award one headteacher compensation for stress after she was accused of not giving sufficient attention to the needs of Muslim pupils.

Will afford you the cost of a certain football player – one Kevin Kilbane – following Hull City’s survival.

Should be a suitable amount to stump up enough in fines, after a fatal lift accident in Southampton.

Boris Johnson maybe wouldn’t fork out this much for Wandle Park, Croydon.

Was too much for such a risk-taking venture for cannabis haulers.

Is in the price range of Swindon, for a Radio 1 festival.

Perhaps quite enough for a man who wants his health back.

Can be enough for a trusted treasurer who stole said sum.

Should not buy a businessman rights no other man (or woman) has, by building a house worth said amount without permission.

Surplus to how much NHS south central will set aside for fluoridation review.

Just over the amount to get Guido Fawkes foaming at the mouth (bastard!!)

****

Though if Parliament were up to spending £79 more, they could afford 289 duck islands with that money. (Exclusive!!)

Will Gordon Brown ruin Labour forever?

The rebels failed to amount to anything at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting; the reshuffle has settled the shifts; Mandy is happy, the Miliband’s are happy; Polly Toynbee is furious; the James Purnell story on Guido Fawkes is probably bollocks; he probably helped keep Brown from drowning; Alan Johnson has not ruined his chances of being leader by looking like he wants it too much, and Brown lives to see another day.

So we rebels who hoped Compass would help direct Brown to the door have to ask ourselves the question; is the question of leadership change big enough to collapse the party (see David Aaronovitch’s intervention) or will the party suffer as a consequence of rebel silence?

In other words, should the rebels bite their lips to save the party, or will this complacency lead to defeat beyond repair.

Nick Cohen offered up some scary details at the weekend, and though rather exaggerated, do outline the very worst case scenrio for the Labour Party if the wrong decision is to be taken. He says;

“The banking crash led to recession, which led to a popular fury at the often minor, but still telling, corruptions of MPs who were fiddling expenses while the financial system boomed and bust. That anger has now concentrated on the shattered Brown administration, whose manifest failings could destroy Labour’s chances of winning another election – maybe forever, if the Liberal Democrats and Greens take over what remains of the centre-left.”

Roy Hattersley reminded us elsewhere that Labour should re-deliver its social democracy promises, just as Europe reminded us that the left’s chance to prosper (during an economic crisis) had failed.

But this is by far not a call for the left to give up, and I back Hattersley’s sentiment. The point remains; is Gordon Brown doing the right thing for the greater good by staying, if the worst that could happen come next election is that Labour slip into fourth place, behind the BNP, forever more?

The consequences of Brown staying on are far greater than an election defeat in 2010, and so the question is on: will the (definitely disavowed gesture of) silence by the rebels be a gesture that returns to haunt them in the future?

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