Last night’s Blog Nation gathering at the Guardian’s offices was interesting. Two main things came out of it for me.
1. There’s no such thing as blogging
Or rather, there’s no one thing called blogging. It’s a clever piece of software, coupled with the internet, that allows people to do different things. Just ‘political blogs’ covers sites that explicitly politically campaign and organise, discussion areas for groups and communities, sites for self-promotion, personal musings, ranting, communication with interest groups of all shapes and sizes and more besides. This is exacerbated by Labour being in government, meaning that there is no common enemy on which to focus. Even if, though, the Tories were in power, they would not be the focus of even the majority of blogs.
Until people move away from the idea that there is only one effective model of blogging – the trivia of day-to-day politics – the medium will not achieve its full potential. That conflict was highlighted in a panel discussion with Sadie Smith, Kate Belgrave, Zohra Moosa and Cath Elliott when various people raised the disconnect between feminist political blogs and other political blogs. While I don’t doubt that there is a disconnect, I don’t think it’s unique to feminist blogs; as I pointed out, there are lots of blog communities that focus on an abstract issue that have varying amounts of engagement with the generalist blogs.
In terms of making a political difference, a blog that only reaches twenty people may have as much impact as a blog a thousand times as large if those twenty people happen to be party activists who feel it gives them a connection to their local councillor (or whatever) as it can help to improve responsive campaigning and keeps those twenty motivated to knock on doors and hand out leaflets.
A point made by Mark Hanson of Labour Home was that all this new, social media may herald a return of sorts to the halcyon days of town hall meetings; unlike the television, it allows for responses. I do hope so; it strikes me that we’re not there yet.
All the above feeds into commenting. As we all know, there are a lot of unpleasant and fatuous comments out there. This feeds off and gives rise to the somewhat combative, adversarial feel of contemporary UK blogging. For my part, I feel this to be negative as, although there is a place for strong words, it seems to be drowning out engagement on a lot of blogs. This comes from the preponderance of the aforementioned style of blogging.
The indomitable Dan Hardie made a point that was picked up on by Mr Phil ‘No2ID‘ and others; if online campaigning is the visible tip of the iceberg, the greater part – offline campaigning – is there under the waterline. I agree with them; emails, websites, blogs, YouTube and the rest are the tools, not the objective.
My blog is a generalist blog. I hope that I have not given the impression that there is something inherently wrong with that style of blogging; that is neither my intention nor my belief. However, there is nothing inherently right either.
2. There’s no such thing as the left
There’s no such thing as the right, either. I dislike the use of the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ as they are, at best, of low descriptive and predictive value. I would go as far to say that thinking in terms of a single axis is damaging for debate in the country, but that is a theme for another day. What was clear was that at this gathering of the liberal/left/progressive/’various people against nasty things’ caucus, there was not a single, unifying leitmotif. You might have been able to find twenty issues that four-fifths of people would have agreed on fourt-fifths of the time, and you would certainly have found groups with greater correlations than that. There will be particular issues and particular campaigns that bring people together from time to time, but to say that there was harmony and concord would simply be inaccurate. If the progressive (I can’t think of a better word) section of the British polity is going to effectively use the online domain, it must remain diverse and, crucially, campaign effectively offline as well.
I would tend to say that the same is true of bloggers who wouldn’t have fitted in at last night’s gathering. There was talk of the ‘right’ being a monolithic entity on the blogosphere (I think the description of choice was ‘pyramid’). Given the range between UKIP, libertarians, wets, dries, Tories, Young Turks, Englishers and so on, I don’t think that the description will hold (if it even does now) once their common enemy – Labour – is out of government.
My thanks to Liberal Conspiracy and the Guardian for organising it and to everyone there for the pleasant evening I had. There are some write-ups and so on over at LC, and I hope more will be appearing soon.