Sunday, 10 November 2013

How London-Centric is Political Blogging?

We know politics is. We know the news media is. But what about blogging? This has been something I've turned over since attending a bloggers' breakfast at Labour conference 2012 to launch UnionHome. The five-strong panel featured a clutch of Labour tweeters originally hailing from the four corners of the land. But all, bar one, had something in common. They were based in London. I asked about this and the comrades were pretty forthcoming. They recognised most were there because of the offline social networks living in the capital provides, and that it reflects the London bias in the party and politics more generally. So it's to be expected. Or is it?

With the changing character of blogging, its professionalisation and part-absorption by established media outlets, you could say it's "natural" that those who make cash from contributing a column here, an article there live in London. Like writers who came up the old way there are advantages to be had not being too far from your publisher's office. But what about politics bloggers who don't write for a living, bloggers who may maintain their own sites but also contribute to the main collaborative blog semi-officially attached to their political party? After all, all three of the main parties are national parties (at least on paper) so there's no reason why contributors have to be Londoners. Do Conservative Home, LabourList and LibDem Voice fish from a pool outside the M25?

Before we begin to answer that question, just a quick note about 'London-centrism'. The term does not, as it implies, mean an obsession with London's local and metropolitan politics but solely and exclusively the present place of residence of contributors. The figures below exclude MPs and Lords, the majority of whom have London residences for obvious reasons, as this could easily skew the figures. By the same token, I've excluded MSPs, AMs and MEPs who might influence the balance in the other direction. Residence has been broken down by EU region, and the sample range of contributions is between Thursday 10th October and Saturday 9th November. Namely, last month. Accompanying the number of contributors are their post tallies. Again, to avoid skewing the results this excludes the editors for whom three or four posts a day are common. And lastly, places of residence are taken from Twitter, LinkedIn, and/or Facebook. Yes, I've had to cyber-stalk people for this.

Let's start with the Liberal Democrats. Between the dates there were 84 blog posts made by 55 contributors. Of these 24 posts came from 18 Londoners. The next highest was 21 posts from the WestMids (all bar one the work of the prolific Andy Boddington). The next largest number of contributors was the EastMids region with eight. The next was the South East with seven (but 10 posts) and three apiece for the South West, Eastern, Wales, Scotland and Yorkshire. The North West has two, the North East one and Overseas one. While London had a clear plurality at least every region of the island got an airing. London-centred? Certainly. But overly so? Not by much.

How did their coalition partners over at Conservative Home fair? The month saw 37 posts from 33 individuals. 22 bloggers hail from London. And the rest? Two each from the South West and WestMids, and one from the South East, EastMids and North West with four from overseas (Spain, Iceland, and two from the USA in case you were wondering). Scotland, Wales, North East, Yorkshire, Wales, Eastern - there were no voices hailing from those parts of the world. Here you have London domination in extremis.

While it's nice to feel smug, Labour are actually worse. The same period saw 44 blog posts from 32 contributors. 33 of these posts came from 23 Londoners. Five posts were provided by three dwelling in the South East and the remaining five came from the South West, Eastern, Wales, Yorkshire, North East and Scotland.

That means 72% of LabourList's contributors were from London, 67% of ConHome's, and just 33% of LibDem Voice's. In terms of output, London-based bloggers provided LabourList with three quarters of the month's content, for ConHome it was 70% and LibDem Voice just 29%. It's not very often you'd find me congratulating Liberal Democrats, but at least its editors are aware that political thought can happen in the provinces too. That it's a voluntary operation and both its co-editors live outside London could have something to do with it, I guess.

Now, it might well be that I picked a bad month to do this. That ConHome and LabourList are normally chock full of voices that reflect the full plurality of the regions. I don't know, I haven't checked. There's only so many hours in the day and I have a lecture to write. But knowing blogging, I strongly suspect it's quite representative of the blogs' content as a whole.

This is the internet. With the click of a mouse and a few taps of a keyboard you can be arguing politics anywhere. And yet, rather than opening up lines of communication it appears the two main blogs attached to the two main parties repeat London's dominance in the very space where geography is supposed to no longer matter. There is no plot to marginalise folk who live outside of the land of silly house prices, at least I don't think so. But you know how it is, so-and-so sees an editor at a seminar or soiree and asks, or are asked if they fancy writing something on something. We may live in the network society, but it's the offline networks that count the most.

There's your reason. But it's not a good reason. It's time for a bit of political rebalancing. I'm certain people from other parts of Britain are just as capable of writing well about national issues and the intricacies of Westminster wonkery, so let's see more geographical balance. How hard can it be?


Catherine said...

Is this a thinly-veiled 'giz a job' post?

matthewsdent said...

It seems more like a genuinely interesting look at the political blogosphere.

And interesting it is.

Anonymous said...

Parliament is based in London.

Most Government Departments are based in London.

Most Company HQs (UK domiciled anyway) are based in London.

So most political bloggers are based in London.. well what a surprise.

Matt Wardman said...

LDV is a amateur site; the other two are professional.

Causing a wider spread of contributors.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you should have contributed this to labourlist and thereby improved their ratio.
Labourlist's editor is famously a Geordie who happens to live in London. I don't know about the other sites' editors. And I think LabourList accept articles from just about anyone, so the regional bias is not in the blog but in the wider national community who are clearly choosing not to participate.

ken said...

Anonymous says Parliament, Departments and corporations are based in London. The location of corporations is outside of our control but the location of Parliament and Departments are up to us. My vote is to move Parliament to Salford and spread the Departments around; Dept. of Work and Pensions to Stoke for example. Couple this with some degree of proportional representation; watch voter interest pick up.

Catherine said...

@matthewsdent - are the two mutually exclusive?

out of town said...

most mainstream political thought is all the same anyway - the ruling party wears three colours and is opposition and government at the same time