Which party leads online?

Social Media Affairs has just released a report looking at the political social media landscape in the UK (with, ahem, myself being one of the four people contributing introductory remarks about politics and social media).

Any report like this has to deal with all sorts of issues of definition and categorisation but there are some striking broad trends they’ve found.

Liberal Democrat councillors are the keenest bloggers

7% of Liberal Democrat councillors are bloggers (a number boosted significantly by the ALDC MyCouncillor system), compared to 2% of Labour councillors and 1% of Conservative councillors.

This keenness to blog also has a significant impact on the overall flavour of each party’s blogosphere. Amongst all Liberal Democrat bloggers, 55% are councillors, compared with 19% of Conservative bloggers being councillors and 18% of Labour bloggers. A quick look at Lib Dem Blogs most days shows this, with the pieces on national politics interleaved with much more local stories about blocked drains repaired and Council Tax levels set.

London dominates

Overall, one third of political bloggers are located in London, a geographic dominance that is perhaps usually masked somewhat by the fact that our politics is so dominated by events London.

Unfortunately, given London’s dominance it is one of only two regions in the country (the West Midlands being the other) where the Liberal Democrats do not have more bloggers than the Conservatives of Labour. In all the other regions of England, there are more Liberal Democrat bloggers than either of the other parties.

Liberal Democrats punch above their weight online

Of all political bloggers with a political affiliation, the Conservatives lead with 19% (London more than making up for the deficit in other regions) but only just behind are both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, with 16% of all political bloggers each. 7% of political bloggers are Green, 3% SNP and 2% Plaid.

These figures reinforce the point that,  whilst at the top of the traffic scales amongst overtly partisan blogs Conservative supporting blogs can appear to dominate, there is a very broad network of both Liberal Democrat and Labour blogs too.

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26 Comments

  • Lib Dems are keen bloggers but I think there is a weakness in that they are reluctant to constuctively criticize their own personalities e.g. the Rennard expenses abuse and the slow weak response by the Lib. Dem leadership. Also the continued Lib Dem failure to repay the Michael Brown £2.4m proceeds of crime. Clegg was pathetic this morning on the Politics Show. No proper answer to why the £2m proceeds of crime from Michael Brown not repaid. Clegg could not properly answer the charge that it is hypocritical for MP’s who thought it was legitimate to claim expenses having to repay them but the Lib Dems not paying back the proceeds of crime.

    11.20 The Politics Show, BBC 1

    “ Nick Clegg confirmed the Liberal Democrats would not be paying back £2.4 million in donations made by a convicted fraudster.

    He said his party’s biggest donor Michael Brown was checked and found to be eligible when the donation was made in 2005 and it was only discovered later that he was a criminal.

    “We took every single step to confirm whether he was eligible… Later we discovered the guy was a crook.

    “If I’d have know then what I know now, of course we wouldn’t have accepted a single penny,” he said, “but I don’t think we’ve got 2.4 million pounds lying around to give back to anyone.”

    Mr Clegg denied there was a similarity between his argument and the argument made by MPs refusing to pay back expense claims because they were ‘in line with the rules’.

    “When MPs personally exploited the expenses system for profit, they knew what they were doing… You are casting aspersions, very unfairly, on the checks that we took into Michael Brown,” he said “

  • Costigan Quist. Some fair points but some other political blogs have a much more open debate on many contentious issues. This may cause short term embarresment to a political party but does address the problems with no cover up. As I highlight above it is hypocritical for the Lib Dem not to pay back the Michael Brown proceeds of crime money. Why should M. Brown’s creditors have to financially suffer because of the Lib Dems? If necessary the Lib Dems should borrow the money and/or sell assets if they are to be “clean”.

  • Costigan Quist
    I also think it is politically dangerous fot the LB Dems not to repay back the Michael Brown money. A head of steam is building up in the blogging community (e.g including currently on political betting and with the right wing blogs) and I expect this will be a national newspaper story very soon.

  • “But the Brown money no longer exists, and can’t be paid back because there’s no money there to do it with (the accounts are published annually on, IIRC, the Electoral Commission website).”

    If the Electoral Commission ordered the party to repay the money, do you think it would accept “We’ve spent it” as a valid reason for failing to do so?

  • MatGB
    I am afraid the argument the Lib Dems cannot repay the money is not sufficient. When criminals are required to pay over the proceeds of crime the authorities have powers to force them to sell their assets. Some MPs now are having to sell assets and borrow in order to repay excess expenses claims which were within the rules but not within the spirit of the rules. Similarly the Lib Dems have no legitimate excuse but to pay back the proceeds of crime even if it means selling assets or fresh borrowings.

  • Paul Griffiths 24th May '09 - 8:05pm

    Mike: Could you explain why you think Michael Brown shouldn’t have to repay the money he stole?

    Anonymous1: If the Electoral Commission required us to forfeit £2.4 million, do you think it would accept “We’ve paid it back to Mr Brown’s victims” as a valid reason for failing to do so?

  • Costigan

    If you read what MatGB actually wrote, you’ll see that he didn’t say the party shouldn’t, morally speaking, pay back the money. He said the party couldn’t pay it back – “the Brown money no longer exists, and can’t be paid back because there’s no money there to do it with …”

    The point of my response, which you obviously missed, was that this isn’t true. If the party had to pay it back, obviously the party would find a way to do that. Equally, if the party considered it was vitally important to repay the money, a way would be found.

    But I agree that the moral case is the one that needs to be made. It’s no answer just to say “We haven’t got the money – we’ve spent it”.

    But in reality I suspect morality has nothing to do with the decision the party has made. I suspect the calculation is simply that the damage to the party’s finances from repaying the money would outweigh the damage to its reputation from not repaying it.

  • Paul:
    “If the Electoral Commission required us to forfeit £2.4 million, do you think it would accept “We’ve paid it back to Mr Brown’s victims” as a valid reason for failing to do so?”

    That’s a fair point, but it’s an argument for waiting until the Electoral Commission has completed its deliberations – not for permanently refusing to repay the money.

  • Paul Griffiths 24th May '09 - 8:50pm

    Anonymous1: Your response suggests that you think that the party is neither legally nor morally required to compensate Mr Brown’s victims. (If so, I agree. I think that is Mr Brown’s responsibility.)

    The only other “moral” argument (as opposed to the merely prudential one of preserving the party’s reputation) would be to pay £2.4m into a victims’ compensation fund as a supererogatory act of charity.

    However, I seriously doubt that any body within party – except perhaps Federal Conference – has the authority to make that decision on behalf of the members (and it is surely the members who would have to pay for it).

  • “When criminals are required to pay over the proceeds of crime the authorities have powers to force them to sell their assets.”

    Completely different principle and different set of rules. No-one (serious) is alleging criminal acts by the party.

    “Similarly the Lib Dems have no legitimate excuse but to pay back the proceeds of crime even if it means selling assets or fresh borrowings.”

    That it has twice been OK’d by the Electoral Commission is one. And it WAS OK’d by them. There is a fundamental difference between “We cannot say at this time whether it was legitimate” and “This was legitimate but we reserve the right to revisit the matter in further information comes to light”.

    However that information would have to relate to the party’s actions not Brown’s. There is actually nothing in electoral law (which is what concerns the Electoral Commission) to stop you accepting donations of stolen money if it for example came from a registered voter

    There is than an issue of at what stage can a party safely spend money without making provision for the Electoral Commission to demand repayment.

    The moral argument for repayment seems to depend on the deception of the investors by Brown being regarded as of greater weight than the deception of the party by Brown.

  • Paul:
    “Your response suggests that you think that the party is neither legally nor morally required to compensate Mr Brown’s victims.”

    Well, obviously I don’t think it would be morally obliged to compensate them if the money had been forfeited!

    But if the money isn’t forfeited, it’s a different matter. I know that if as a private citizen I was given money that turned out to have been stolen from somebody, I would feel a moral obligation to give it back to them.

    However, obviously the party isn’t going to repay the money unless it’s forced to, so it’s no surprise that party members are going to argue that the situation is completely different.

    But to paraphrase Mae West, morality has nothing to do with it.

  • Paul Griffiths 24th May '09 - 9:58pm

    Consider the following statements:

    (A) The party should pay £2.4m into a Compensation Fund for Mr Brown’s victims.

    (B) If the Electoral Commission so rules, the party should pay £2.4m to the Treasury.

    If A really is a moral obligation owed to the victims, how could it depend on B?

    Try this:

    “Someone I thought was a benefactor gave me £24. But it turns out he stole it from a little old lady! I feel I ought to give the money back to her, but I’ve just had to pay a £24 parking ticket so I can’t.”

    In my view, A is an act of charity. That’s not to say it shouldn’t be done, but let’s remember it will be the members, collectively, and not the “party” in abstract, that will perform it.

  • Paul Griffiths 24th May '09 - 10:27pm

    P.S. I’m aware that the parking ticket analogy is pretty lame. The overall point remains, though. If B negates A, then the reason for A cannot be that the party owes something to Mr Brown’s victims, because once the money is inside the Treasury the victims will be lucky to see a penny of it.

  • Paul

    Oh, come off it! If I’ve been given some stolen money, and the state takes it away from me, then of course that means I can’t give it back to the people it was stolen from.

    I’m not claiming this is a black and white issue. I can see there are arguments on both sides. But I’m really not impressed by sophistry like that.

  • Paul Griffiths 24th May '09 - 11:58pm

    You talk as if there is £2.4m sitting in a safe in Cowley Street, and the party is faced with a choice of using it for either A or B.

    In the case of B, you say that the “state takes it away”. And of course if that were true, then the safe would be empty and there would be nothing left for A.

    But that isn’t true. The safe is already empty.

    If B comes to pass, the party will have to ask its members to dig into their pockets – very deeply in some cases – to raise the money.

    But unless you think that this will leave the membership penniless, there is no fundamental reason why the party couldn’t do A as well, by appealing to the members a second time.

    That’s a lot to ask of the membership.

    But if you are really serious in saying that the party has a moral obligation towards Mr Brown’s victims then you ought, in consistency, to ask it.

  • Paul

    I’m afraid you’re trying to confuse matters.

    Obviously, any moral obligation the party has to Brown’s victims arises only because the party is in receipt of money that has turned out to be stolen. If that money is confiscated by the state, because it is stolen then clearly the party no longer has any obligation to the victims.

    But if the money isn’t confiscated, the obligation remains.

    Surely that’s easy enough to understand?

  • And, of course, if the money were confiscated – or repaid to the people it was stolen from – the party would just have to increase its borrowing. As I understand it, the Lib Dems are much less indebted than the other parties, even on a pro rata basis.

    Talking about asking members to “dig deeply into their pockets” and “leaving members penniless” is the worst kind of scare tactics. But this is just the kind of dishonesty I’ve come to expect from party “loyalists” of late.

  • Paul Griffiths 25th May '09 - 12:52am

    I was just about to add another post which may pour some oil on these waters, but I’ll quickly cover two points:

    (1) As has already been pointed out, if the EC requires the party to forfeit £2.4m, it will only be because Mr Brown (or rather, his company) was an impermissible donor, not because the money he used was stolen.

    (2) It was not my intention to scare anyone. As a member with only medium-sized pockets myself, I’d be delighted if the party could borrow £2.4m as easily as you suggest.

  • Paul Griffiths 25th May '09 - 12:54am

    Let’s try this principle for size:

    (P) “It is important that the party should not be seen to benefit from fraud, even if it had no part in that fraud. The party should therefore seek to negate the effect of Mr Brown’s £2.4m donation in its entirety.”

    To this end:

    (A) The party should pay £2.4m into a Compensation Fund for Mr Brown’s victims.

    (B) If the Electoral Commission so rules, the party should pay £2.4m to the Treasury.

    (C) The party should put £2.4m in a pile and set fire to it.

    A, B or C would all fulfil principle P.

    If B occurs, it would have the force of law. The party must comply. Having complied, the principle is fulfilled and no further action is required. Thus, while B is still a possibility, any other action is premature.

    If B is ruled out, the party should choose between A and C.

    A is preferable to C.

    Or, in general:

    (X) There is no alternative action C which fulfils principle P and which is preferable to A.

    Hence, if and only if B is ruled out, the party should do A.

    Conclusion: We’d all be a lot better off arguing the merits of P and X rather than who owes what to whom.

  • There’s a reason why the Lib Dems are less indebted than the other parties – because being beholden to your creditors makes you even more politically manipulable than being beholden to your few major donors. These are both things the Lib Dems try to avoid.

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