The other day, over at The Yorkshire Ranter, there was a piece about how Americans seem to think the British bloggosphere is effectively nonexistent. It was a prescient post, it seems…
Hell, I mean if abject failure Iain Duncan Smith says blogging’s got potential (especially for the Conservative party’s revival), it must be dead, right? This is coming from the man who said he’d lead the Tories to victory in the forthcoming General Election, but who is now a balding nonentity on the backbenches. This is also coming from a politician so on the cutting edge of technological change that his own website doesn’t appear on the first three pages of Google after a search for his name. Hardly the soothsayer UK political bloggers were after…
Judging by my own experiences of the UK bloggosphere, the whole thing is indeed largely pointless. A determined few, led primarily by Manic over at Bloggerheads via campaigns such as his latest Backing Blair lark are genuinely trying to make a difference. Around 80% of the rest seem to be either single-issue obsessives, vindictive arseholes or nowhere near as educated or clever as they think they are. The remaining 20% is made up of people – like me – who really just want to be columnists on a national newspaper. Why the hell do our opinions matter? Precisely.
As for this blog, despite having built up a respectable amount of traffic since I started updating it regularly at the end of August last year, it has thus far achieved precisely bugger all – beyond wasting my time and causing me a lot of irritation. Although I know that several thousand people read the bloody thing each week, the majority of the interaction via the comments section and emails etc. seems to come from fellow bloggers – many of whom are never going to agree with me about anything.
I seem neither to have convinced anyone about my point of view on anything nor to have provoked any real thought, as most comments seem utterly to have missed the point. The only thing which is nice is the occasional word of praise from someone who agrees with me entirely. There is, apparently, no middle ground – even though I’d count myself as a political centrist and support no single party, so should be able to find common cause with people from across the political spectrum.
It could, however, be different with other political bloggers. As I have no agenda (despite what some may think) beyond wanting to think about the issues a bit and work out where I stand, coming high up the Google rankings for various search terms is merely a minor ego-boost (after all, I’m writing this under a pseudonym – it’s hard to be overly impressed that my “Nosemonkey” persona is doing well, and Nosemonkey’s success is unlikely to get me any work under my own name). For political parties and MPs blogs may be useful for promoting their policies and profiles online, but I doubt they will ever win fresh converts.
Unfortunately, for politicians to blog presupposes that any normal member of the public can actually be arsed to look up anything political on the interwebnet, rather than merely buggering about downloading movies and hunting for free porn. Most people interested in politics (who make their presence known online) seem to be committed to one particular party and one particular world view. They are frequently dogmatic and vehement in their support for their chosen ethos, and either contemptuous of those who disagree or unwilling to actually pay sufficient attention to alternative arguments before responding with a stock answer which is only vaguely related to the initial topic. These people are not likely to be won over by reasoned argument, or even to visit sites written by people with whom they disagree other than to look for a fight.
The blog of EU Commissioner Margot Wallstrom is a prime case in point. Her comments section has thus far seen two kinds of response, and two kinds of response alone: (1) Uncritical support from random passing EU citizens who think what she’s doing is an interesting new approach, and (2) General attacks (rarely, if ever, confined to the topic of her postings) on both her personally and the EU in general from strongly anti-EU bloggers and their loyalist readers.
The ratio between positive and negative comments is approximately 1:10 – the anti-EU lot are there in their droves, apparently determined to make the poor woman so fed up with the whole thing that she simply gives in. Exactly the scame scenario can be seen over at the Yes Campaign Blog‘s comments section, and – on and off – in the comments sections of most UK politicians’ blogs (bar that of the widely popular Boris).
The damage that these attacks by people who disagree can do was especially apparent during the Hartlepool by-election, where the rabid tactics of anonymous posters trying to undermine the chances of Lib Dem candidate Jody Dunn were quite possibly a factor in her losing the election. There was also some unpleasantness (some of which could have resulted in libel writs were it to have taken place in traditional print media) revolving around online campaigners against Lib Dem MP Sandra Gidley – and the ongoing Gidley Watch blog is another example of the pitfalls for politicians if your opponents decide to get obsessive. The experiences of Dunn and Gidley prove amply that blogging is just as likely to be a curse for politicians – the benefits do not necessarily outweigh the potential pitfalls.
In short, Duncan Smith is talking out of his arse. Again. And UK political bloggers really do have a long, long way to go. Maybe Tim Worsthall’s idea of a UK political blog roundup may help change things and get us bloggers (of whatever political persuasion) acting a tad more constructively together to build up proper online networks and sensible debates, but it has to be said that from what I’ve seen so far I’m not too optimistic…
Sunday update: Think I’m a whinging cynic? Have a read of Martin Stabe’s more considered analysis of the British bloggosphere.