Thursday, 12 February 2009

Labour Lost

Iain Dale's repeated claims that the right command a lead in UK political blogging may have been overplayed, but there is a grain of truth to them. The left - here defined in Iain's terms as Brownite-Blairites, LibDems, Old Labour types, as well as the Trots and the (few) Tankies of the far left - have not produced "star" bloggers. Regards media profile and audience he and Guido are racing ahead of the pack. But are things about to change?

The successful blogging alliance of hard leftists, mainstream social democrats and LibDems represented by
Liberal Conspiracy shows there is a substantial audience for left-liberal commentary. According to the Wikio ranking list of influential UK blogs, LibCon (an unfortunate contraction if there ever was one) now lies third behind the big two. Who knows if it will depose Dale or Guido in the near future?

Sniffing an opening in the blogging ecology, Labour are now trying to build an audience with two official high-profile efforts.

Who'd have thunk
John Prescott would spearhead one of them? Politics really is a funny old game. On the 'Go 4th' site, "Prezza" is re-invented as an unvuncular character with his finger on the pulse of the nation's yoof. He's on "the facebook" and Youtube. He has a populist petition against obscene bonuses at RBS. And it can only be a matter of time before he's on Twitter.

Prescott's site is a political blog with a very small p. Interactivity is very managed. You cannot, for instance, leave a comment (presumably to prevent it becoming a target for Tory trolls), but it offers every opportunity to connect with the former deputy prime minister. Donning the old Gramscian spectacles, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a brand recognition scheme. One moment you're signing his petition, laughing at his Youtube antics, messaging him to say "coconuts" in a TV interview, regarding him as a bit of a "legend" and before you know it, you're voting Labour at the next round of elections. Very clever.

Labour's second effort is a determined attempt to officially intervene in political blogging.
Labour List, the all new singing and dancing brain child of Derek Draper looks as though it means business. At first glance the list of contributors look impressive. Government ministers and MPs rub shoulders with stalwart bloggers - and not all of them are on-message pod people.

Labour List was officially launched today at a "
bloggers' breakfast". How New Labour-ish. Already it has made a bit of a splash in political blogging, though, in my humble opinion, for all the wrong reasons. Draper has already taken Iain Dale on re: the Carol Thatcher furore, and has moved with unseemly haste to attack Guido (today, Draper celebrated the launch of Labour List by threatening to sue him). Whatever the merits of the criticisms, both attacks read like cynical attempts to stir the blogging pot and attract an audience.

But in a way, you cannot blame Draper for trying to draw interest with this method. It is still early days, but the material published so far is pretty dull fare. Seriously, who wants to read vacuous New Labour speak defending the part-privatisation of the post office? Or government spin on the latest jobless figures? Yes, the aspiring careerists and wannabes of
Labour Students might get excited by this guff, but blog audiences demand much, much more. Unless Labour List ups its game an inglorious and ignominious future lies ahead.

What Labour - and for that matter all the parties - don't get is political blogging's popularity partly lies in their seeming distance from the party machines. Party controlled white elephants do not work because all they tend to do is spin the output of their websites. The political game they play does not allow space for self-criticism and acknowledgement of things gone wrong. If parties were wise they would cease trying to control things and leave their blogging supporters to make the case for them. They after all know how political blogging works much better than any central office wonk.


ModernityBlog said...

it is a funny old world when Tories, liberals of various sorts can have an articulate presence on the web, but not the British Left (proper, other than a few scattered individuals)

unity is strength seems to apply to everyone, except the British Left :(

andy newman said...


i think the problem is how do you judge blog success.

Guido and Iain are not in a different league to SU blog in terms of visits. Iian Dale had 3.5 million in 2008, SU blog had 2.2 million. And we have had a further step upwards in 2009, following our coverage of Gaza and the recent strikes.

The difference is that the right wing blogs feed traffic to each other - which is what is reflected in their high place in the Wikio rankings. Proof of this is the high ranking of the utterly dire Dizzy blog. Remember the wikio rankings are weighted so that links from other blogs that already have a higher rank count more.

This is partly by mutual self-promotion; but also partly by froth of internet controvesies.

For some reason, the bigger hitting left blogs just don't promote each other. Although i try to plug Lenin's tomb and dave Osler occassioanlly, Richard pretends SU blog doesn't exist, and Dave rarely links to us either. If we did all regularly link to each other we would jump up the wikio ratings.

I actually don't think Labour List is that bad. They have referred a couple of good articles to SU blog that we have reproduced. But they have to loosen up a bit - i think they may well.

Incidently, an interesting case of political blogging has been the swoppy bloggers and the Lindsey Oil refinery strike; where some of the numpties in blog land took a much less nuanced position than the SWP cc did, and then that bounced the organisation - and now lots of people inside GMB and Unite think that the SWP actually opposed the strike (which is further than they actually went), and one FTO said to me he thought the SWP had set themsleves back 30 years in his union. It also shows what a loose cannon a semi-detached but very loyal fellow traveller like the chidren's poet can be.

Phil BC said...

Yes Mod, it is a pretty poor state of affairs when the left have something to learn from Tory bloggers in the solidarity and mutual promotion stakes. Could you imagine Iain Dale and Paul Staines falling out over secondary issues, or who said what to whom?

The left does need to consciously raise its blogging effort if we want to win a bigger audience. Because, to be honest, most establishment political blogs are awful. I regularly keep tabs on Dale and Staines, but aside from that there's only Letters from a Tory, Harry's Place, Wardman Wire, Luke Akehurst (for the council by-election results), and Alix Mortimer and Sadie's Tavern who are worth reading from the 'other side'. These are the best of the bunch - for me the poor quality commentary on the wild cat strikes just underlined the confused and ignorant crowing that passes for most mainstream comment.

I think Andy you've hit the nail on the head. Part of the left's problem is a culture thing. You don't need me to tell you how the revolutionary left is geared to compete rather than cooperate with each other for paper sales, donations and recruits. And because the pond we fish from is pretty small at the moment, the more intense the competition. This is not helped by a over hanging culture of being seen to be ultra correct all of the time. The combination of the two on the internet makes for a heady brew of comment box denunciation, zero-sum competition, fallings out and farcical, unnecessary blog wars.

I do think the big left blogs have a responsibility to plug the smaller ones - and before I posted this piece on Thursday I was already thinking of writing a regular piece for Socialist Unity drawing attention to new left blogs and some readers may have missed. If you look at my blog roll there are a hell of a lot of excellent but seldom-read writers out there. In fact, I'll do that now!

Sad Sectarian Dave O said...

No conscious policy of 'blacking' any leftie blogs on my part. I do include all promising new left of centre blogs on my blogroll, as a matter of course.

But I take the point about the wikio rankings and promise to link to both SUB and AVPS more often.