What should political bloggers be trying to achieve?

Interesting discussion over at Liberal Conspiracy, started off by an account of a recent Labour meeting but also spawning a thoughtful discussion in the comments. It’s a topic Lynne Featherstone covered earlier this year in a piece on this site, where she said:

Liberal Democrat bloggers tend to be either fairly inward or local looking. There are many blogs that really talk just about what is happening in the party, along with a smaller number of – often excellent – blogs which are clearly aimed at a particular local audience (including some particularly good councillor blogs aimed as residents in those wards – understandably enough!).

What we seem to be mostly missing are those combative, outward looking souls who spot a story and want to help spread or extend the message or the point or the attack, as opposed to inwardly looking expressing their own views on it. So you tend to get stories not spreading, and where they are commented on, they are only commented on by those who have reservations to express…

At the moment, it is as if Liberal Democrat blogs provide the online equivalent of committee meetings and pizza and politics events – vital but inward looking – but don’t provide the online equivalent of those outward looking activities such as leafleting and canvassing.

To me, that is the collective challenge we face if we really want to help build the party into leading a wider liberal movement that doesn’t just bring greater electoral success for us, but also brings a stronger voice to liberal causes and which reaches out and engages with those audiences that are so often disaffected with politics.

A good example of this during the year have been my various postings about London government on this site, particularly Boris Johnson and Brian Coleman, which have often been picked up on and further commented on by non-Liberal Democrat bloggers (and occasionally mass-circulation national newspapers) but only very rarely has the story been extended or amplified by other Liberal Democrat bloggers. That some of these stories have spread without that is good, but I think there are missed opportunities here to have more stories which spread, and to add to and extend on the information which one post originally contributes.

UPDATE: If you don’t usually read comments on posts, it’s certainly worth making an exception for this one from Alix.

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27 Comments

  • Grammar Police 23rd Dec '08 - 9:45am

    I think that it’s actually a really useful function to be the online equivalent of a pizza & politics.

  • Hywel Morgan 23rd Dec '08 - 10:37am

    “We have a rough idea of how many Focus leaflets and how often it takes to secure a vote, don’t we?”

    IMO no. The by-elections website has 28 pieces of literature from Henley and 27 from Bromley (seats which are as near to comparable as your going to get)

    “got online contact down to a science”

    Campaigning is an art not a science. This is one of the problems with the party’s approach to campaigning is that it is perceived by people as a formula of “do A, B and C” and you’ll win.

  • Daniel Bowen 23rd Dec '08 - 10:57am

    Hywel – ‘campaigning is an art not a science’ – spot on.

    Mark and others – the blogosphere contains much drivel. It’s virtually impossible for anything even vaguely official to avoid the ‘Pravda 2.0’ tag, or to be reliably viewed as remotely interesting.

    Sites like Liberal Conspiracy or firedoglake, being genuinely independent (the latter’s piece by Jello Biafra challenging Obama’s agenda was great), are far more likely to open up to the public, if that’s the overall purpose (which I think it is). Examples of all the green council initiatives in the world won’t achieve that.

  • Grammar Police 23rd Dec '08 - 10:59am

    I agree Mark, there is certainly more that can be done in terms of campaigning via blog – things such as the Baby P posts show that non-political types will find their way to a blog if the story is big enough.

    However, in general terms, we have to accept that the vast majority of our readers and people who post comments are (currently) Lib Dem activists and our opponents. We may also reach some less active types. As part of building a Lib Dem movement, it’s brilliant to be providing a place where people can “chat” and discuss political things, hone our arguments and face-down the nonsense of our opponents, and getting some of our less active members involved.

    If something like this had existed in 1999 when I joined, I might have been more inclined to get involved – instead it was nearly 5 years before I did anything.

    As an ultimate aim, I do think Alix’s idea of persuading your readers to become LDs is a good one. But it rather requires that we have non-Lib Dem readers in the first place – and that takes time to build and nuture (rather like your family and friends may become more LD supporting because they feel a connection to the Party through you – certainly happened with my lot).

  • If I want to convince people to vote Liberal Democrat, it’s a more productive use of my time to get out there and pound pavements.

    Blogs have a small, self-selecting audience. They are read by people who agree with the views of the writer. If I’m delivering a Focus, I’m delivering it to people who don’t necessarily agree with me already, and this is a much more fertile opportunity for spreading the Lib Dem message.

    Lib Dem blogs are always going to be insular, and not very effective at encouraging support for the Lib Dems. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have a place – there’s no other forum that I know of for discussing party policy, or how the party’s actually supposed to work, or expressing any disagreement with the way we’re doing things.

    Blogging about this stuff doesn’t change anything, but it does act as some kind of safety valve which just about stops disgruntled activists from giving up and quitting the party. In a very small scale way that’s a good thing, but I don’t know how long we can go not giving our members, supporters and activists a voice.

  • You’ve then got people who are generally interested/opinionated but nonpartisan, & members of other parties who want to know what people of different views are thinking. Some blogs are insular, but others are not, & that is in large part down to the efforts of the bloggers themselves.

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