The decision of Iain Dale to bid blogging adios came as no surprise to anyone who often dips into his site. The slowing frequency of posts, the preponderance of announcements over comment, and the declining quality of original material were all indicative of a blog inexorably approaching its end.
I broadly concur with Andy's assessment of Iain's contributions to blogging. He did engender a culture of self-referentiality - particularly among Tory bloggers - that was very well-suited to the same recursive universe medialand and the Westminster Village inhabit. One of his achievements, if you can call it that, was to have blogging (or rather a tiny fraction of gossip-focused sites) accepted as a minor component of this space. Iain's success can be measured by how his blog served as an entree into the lucrative world of media punditry. That said, while Iain has been accused of abusing his position to smear other bloggers, he has shone a spotlight on blogs from across the political spectrum. Practically every prominent blog of the hard left has been featured at some point, and I can't complain. An appearance on his Daley Dozen always guaranteed a nice boost to this blog's audience.
But what mystified me was the secret of Iain's appeal. Yes, his tenacious pursuit of self-publicity played no small part in capturing a large blog audience. And yes, there is (and will always be) a market for Westminster tittle-tattle, although of course he was always second to Paul Staines in the gossip-mongering department. And yet his political commentary and writing didn't really stand out from the Tory crowd. Iain's polemic, critique and comment never dripped in originality or cunning insight. His opinions were seldom out of step with Tory mainstream: he maintained critical distance from Dave but differed little over anti-trade unionism, Europe, economic policy, vote reform, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, cuts, and much else. You name a burning issue of the last five years and you would find Iain's blog articulating what the centre right of the Tory party thought and felt. Perhaps it was this that secured his position at the apex of Tory blogging. After all, dull mediocrity never did Stalin any harm.
Iain is only the latest in the list of high profile blogging casualties. Despite his protestations about wanting to spend more time with his media career, this is part of a trend afflicting right and left alike. There is something going on and, in my opinion, that something is deeper than just a change of government. The summer of cuts announcements after cuts announcements coupled with the upsurge of militant protest has placed us in a new political situation. Parties and the media are all at sixes and sevens about what it means for them, the government's programme, and how it will play out over the coming months. With the rules of the game changing its small wonder bloggers habituated to the pace of "politics as usual" are dropping like flies.
If only Harry's Place would also do the decent thing ...