Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Left Blogs and Left Blogging

I received an invite for last Wednesday's Blogging Nation event organised by Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy and in association with The Graun. Unfortunately neither of your humble writers could make it down (why must these things always be in London?) but it did sound like an interesting evening that saw some pertinent blogging issues getting an airing. I wouldn't mind adding my two pennies to some of the discussions it initiated, and seeing as it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to, I may as well do it here. There are two matters that interest me: the absence of women from left blogging and the lack of linkage between feminist and left bloggers, and what's the point of left wingers pouring their opinions into cyberspace.

Starting with women, feminism and blogging, every time I look at the AVPS counter-hegemonic blogroll the comparative lack of blogging women leap out from the list. This lack may reflect the gender imbalance in the labour movement, but this is not a very good excuse. Where there are imbalances and inequalities the left should try and seek to address it. But putting my own house in order is quite difficult when I don't know any left blogs by women beyond those listed, nor many feminist blogs based in Britain and Ireland. If anyone could point me in the direction of some that would be great.

But this lack of awareness is symptomatic of the distance between left and feminist blogs. I think Jess McCabe of The F Word sums it up best:
My assessment is that most (but not all) left-wingish blogs in the UK ignore gender and feminism, and thus feminist bloggers ignore them in return. Or, if not exactly ignore, the networking bloggers do of exchanging links, comments and emails doesn’t happen, because if we do read those blogs, we’re not inspired to link them up because they’re not relevant.
Here's the rub. I'm certain left blogging men are committed to gender equality and would argue (albeit with a (very!) varying range of sophistication) that the struggle for socialism and women's liberation are intertwined. But few regularly comment on issues of interest to feminists. I try to, Jim and Splinty do, but that's about it. If more left men did then we might just be able to get a blogging dialogue going with feminists. But dialogue is a two way street, we have to know why left bloggers feel ill-equipped to engage in feminist debates on feminist blogs. And why are "feminist issues" irrelevant to their primary areas of concern? Is there anything feminists can also do to make a cross pollination of views more than just a nice idea?

Turning now to the second question, does leftist blogging have a point? Well, I might be biased but the answer is a bloody obvious "hell yeah!" Because the right and bourgeois "common sense" dominate the media the left needs to seek out every opportunity of getting our ideas across and attacking establishment views. And in blogland there is more of a level playing field. Iain Dale and Guido may think they rule the blogging roost but even they are sometimes forced to answer critics to their left. And if you take their media-fuelled popularity out of the equation readership is fairly evenly distributed. Audiences cluster around the political centre and tending to thin out toward the fringes. Dale's belief that the right have got blogging all sewn up is just a myth. After all don't forget most Tory bloggers can only dream of the kinds of figures Dave's Part, Lenin's Tomb and Socialist Unity pull down everyday.

And there's more to left blogging than this. There is "self-improvement", or, if you're feeling uncharitable, vanity. I can only really speak for myself but blogging has given me a desire to write regularly about an eclectic bunch of issues, from Africa to zombies and everything in between. I get to write reflexively about my experiences as a Socialist Party activist and sermonise about my sociology hobby horse, which might just take some interesting ideas out of the seminar room and introduce them to a slightly wider audience.

There is also the potential for left blogging to become something of an ideas factory. I know this was once said of discussion lists, but blogging is different from the good old UKLN and friends. You can indulge endless rounds of sectariana if you wish, but you can write more sophisticated pieces too. There are more opportunities to properly engage with the thoughts of other activists, which generally doesn't lend itself too well to the discussion list format. I know I never would have submitted a lot of AVPS material to the UKLN.

But what I think is really important are the relationships blogging can build up (and sometimes destroy!) between comrades. The UKLN may have not have been the most comradely of environments in the past but it did establish a series of weak ties between a pretty disparate bunch of socialists. Blogging takes this to another level. For instance, without the relationships built up through Socialist Unity and Liam MacUaid's blog it would have been more difficult for Respect to have come out from beneath the SWP's shadow. The network of Labour Left blogs certainly helped raise the profile of John McDonnell among the labour movement. And now blogs are helping build for September's Convention of the Left. I'm sure the ties of mutual interest, comradeship and, ahem, robust debate will bare more fruits for the left in future. What this means for the existing left groups, seeing as only a very small number of active left bloggers are drawn from this layer remains to be seen, though any speculation is welcome.

Anyway, coming back to Liberal Conspiracy's Blog Nation event, I hope it won't be too long before something similar is organised again. Perhaps a bit of blog-related introversion will make a good session for the Convention in Manchester?


Leftwing Criminologist said...

generally speaking - i don't tend to comment unless i fell i can add something to a discussion (except occasionally when i don't have anything to say but want to let people know i thought the piece they'd written was good).

but then i only tend to read reports of political activity and discussions (ie. election stuff or whats happening in a political group) or stuff realted to crime/criminology/sociology

because of this there tends to be a select number of blogs that i will go and visit that regualrly post on these sorts of things - my blogroll is of sites i will visit every so often as i have read more than one thing of interest to me on them.

i do also tend to visit the blog of anyone who comments on my site too, as i think that that's only fair.

just wondering - have you found that since blogging on socialist unity you've had more visits to avps?

Jim Jay said...

"Perhaps a bit of blog-related introversion will make a good session for the Convention in Manchester?"

That's a really good idea - although it doesn't have to be that introverted. I'm organising a blogger fringe at the green party conference two weeks before which I think will be very interesting and the convention is a similar opportunity to help people work together in a very day to day way when they might otherwise not really see how to do that.

Jo Christie-Smith said...


I too missed the Blog nation thingy because I was on holiday but have been reading up the responses avidly.

Firstly the dearth of female bloggers is not so much a problem of the left but or the right but of politics. And I am talking about female rather than distinctly feminist blogging. In fact, I read somewhere the other week (can't remember where now) that 60% of bloggers are female. To my mind the gender of political blogs is following trendsin the gender of political activism/representation rather than blogging.

Lastly, am devasted, just devasted to see that I am listed under 'The Establishment' on your blog roll. I don't feel part of the establishment but then I don't know what I'd have to be to be included on the counter-hegemony list!! Sniff!!

Still, very pleased to be on your blog roll at all!!!


Phil BC said...

Cheers Jo, don't worry, The Establishment thing is nothing personal! As I explained to Alix Mortimer and local Stokie LibDem, Asquith, a few weeks ago, they're there because IMO their politics are fundamentally mainstream. I remain enough of a Trot to deem nearly all of this stripe of politics fundamentally bourgeois. Tory, New Labour, Lib Dem, libertarian, right-wing 'old' labourism, "humanitarian" Eustonites - they all uphold the ruling ideas of the age in some way.

LC, probably. There doesn't seem to be that many comrades who come through from Soc Unity but my averages are significantly above what they were late last year.

One thing I've never been able to work out is why Through the Scary Door is one of my top referrers. Obviously some SWP comrades have got taste ;P

Phil BC said...

While we're on the subject, this article is required reading for anyone interested in blogging.

Roobin said...

"One thing I've never been able to work out is why Through the Scary Door is one of my top referrers..."

(1) You're not that bad.
(2) You don't know how b.o.r.e.d. I get at work sometimes. I'm always scanning for turnover on lefty blogs, any lefty blogs.
(3) You are a portal (speaking of scary doors) to a darker realm. You know the one I mean.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

This site is my top referrer!

btw. did you get my e-mail a day or two ago?

Jack Ray said...

I'm gonna presume that I'm actually too cool to be invited to stuff like this :p

Phil BC said...

That's right Jack, you're way too cool for school ;)

Matt Wardman said...

My thoughts.

>have you found that since blogging on socialist unity you've had more visits to avps?

My experience with guest columnists and bloggers suggests that it takes 10-20 posts or at least a couple of months for them to get to know you - unless you are there for a specifically trailed focused series. It is also a good idea to do some specific promotional activity. (e.g., badge at top of your sidebar, Britblog Roundup in your new home, friends posting etc).

It may be quicker on SU since there are relatively few posters.


I've had my eye on a "poliblog" gathering in the North West for some time, but on a broader basis.

On location, I'd take a careful look at train timetables - I was looking at Crewe as being reachable from Scotland and South Wales in about 3 hours, but it might be worth thinking about somewhere within range of the Scottish Central Belt (lots of your consituency there?). I think that will place you slightly north of Manchester.

The South Wales people can get to London more easily than Manchester, I think.

>left blogging and stats

A point I plan to develop re: the expected resurgence of left blogging after a Cameron victory is that it will take a long time for anyone to build to "Dale" or "Guido" levels.

As of 2 days ago, my blog has built up to 1/24th (i.e., 4.2%) of the traffic that Guido gets (Hitwise visits figures)- and that is after a 6x increase since last Sept from a base of 3-500 uniques a day.

The point is that even if a blog is growing rapidly, unless you have a big story that forces people to visit your blog it is tough to grow a big audience.

That argument changes slightly if you are after an activist or politico audience of various kinds (when a big audience matters less), but if the big left blogs grow at 15% a month, it will take the best part of 2 years to catch Dale/Guido. And 15% a month is very demanding for more than a few months from a big existing base.

You might decide it doesn't matter (which is your call) - but it is useful to be aware of the scale of the difference.

That suggests that Mr Cameron may have a honeymoon before any left blogs impact the mainstream, which is perhaps why the stuff Sunny is doing is quite strategic.

Moral: start whatever you are planning to do now, even though you will have a bit of a job convincing people that it is necessary to do so this early.

Phil BC said...

I'd agree with you Matt. I think what's counted more where my stats are concerned is when some of my posts are picked up semi-regularly by Stumbling and Mumbling, LibCon and to a lesser extent, the Britblog round up. Generally it is original/thoughtful posts that make the grade, which kind of works as an incentive to keep the frivolous and the short to a minimum. As for badges and buttons, I'm still trying to find the time and sit down with my web designer (lol, she'll love that) to come up with something a lot funkier. Design really does matter.

As for the left blogging point, it's an idea that has been current on the left in a variety of forms in different contexts. The far right tend to do better when the centre left are in power, and the far left do better when the centre right are in power. It's not an absolute social law, but I can't see why left blogs wouldn't benefit from such a shift should it occur.

On audiences, when you haven't got any exclusive news items or gossip and all you can rely on is commentary puts pressure on making interesting and readable arguments. And a hell of a lot of time in other blogs' comments boxes to raise your profile. Done fairly regularly audiences can be built incrementally this way over time. But alas who has the time to do this all the time?

LibCon is definitely an important intervention in blogging and I hope it will build up a mass audience, because if it does well there *is* a trickle down for us runty bloggers who occasionally get a mention on there.

Matt Wardman said...

>The far right tend to do better when the centre left are in power, and the far left do better when the centre right are in power.

Without getting into what "far" means, I'd agree with you -ish. One of the questions the Tory Troll touched on was would happen in the vaccuum left if ConHome goes "Establishment". One of the jobs for us on the Centre-Right is to make sure that there is - for want of a better analogy - something non-party based to do that job.

I think the game has changed with the MSM now doing blogging well, and using a whole swathe of traditionally blogging tools (e.g., Stumbleupon, Digg) far better than we do ourselves - at least in poli blogging. It will be much harder to recover now, I think (tentatively).

On ID/GF getting their break, some are wrong in my view when they says that ID/GF made the "jump" because of MSM exposure. It was the exact opposite. ID - for example - got to the sort of level people like Devil's Kitchen, Mr Eugenides and Socialist Unity are at now (give or take) - 2-5k visitors a day, then the Prescott/Temple story not being covered by the MSM drove the traffic to the Diary and it jumped 6x in about 2-3 months from there. The data is there if you look for it. GF is similar (I think).

Other big blogs (Slugger, Political Betting) have built up gradually over about 5 years.

I think that now a) There's no way the MSM (or their blogs) would ignore that story now, and b) MSM blogs are already in many niches, and - as I was arguing above - time may not be available. It's going to be a tough ask to overcome that.

The chinks of light I think I can see are blog-specific issues where the MSM is muzzled (Usmanov, Libel Laws, some Civil Liberties niches, perhaps some future legal actions), in depth niches and that the quality of a lot of MSM reporting has gone down the toilet. Possibly campaigning, niches the MSM ignore, real local or regional engagement and populist issues that haven't surfaced yet. I target a few of these.

Interesting times.

On the other hand Mr Cameron might fall on his arse, of course - which would help solve the problem for the Left-o-Sphere.

Planning to turn some of this stuff into a post for the Total Politics campaigns blog.

Matt Wardman said...

missed a bit

>jumped 6x in about 2-3 months from there

... and then had the profile and skills to hang on to them.

Matt Wardman said...

missed another bit

...... and then had the profile and skills to hang on to them.

... and gained a place on the magic list of "autoinclusions" on every blogroll from Aardvark to Zygote.