Oppositions tend to be successful when they stimulate political debate and discussion. The Thatcher opposition in the late 1970s and the Blair opposition in the mid 1990s both took their inspiration from a whole host of rejuvenated think tanks. The balance of power on the right during these halcyon days of Cameroonian opposition has shifted from the think tanks to the internet.
Right of centre websites and blogs are a hive of activity –some if it destructive but mostly it is constructive and even innovative. They’re reaching a whole new class of political activist and involving people in political discussion who previously were fenced outside the rather elitist world of think tanks and policy wonks. But as the right is on the ascendant on the internet, the left seems somewhat stagnant.
It’s easy to attribute this entirely to the fact that it’s easier to be shrill and vocal in opposition than in government. Simply put, it’s easier to blog against, than blog for. But the almost total absence of Blairites from the world of blogging cannot entirely be put down to this. Recess Monkey (www.recessmonkey.com) is a lone Blairite voice, although even he has his moments of doubt.
Apart from the usual suspects like Tribune columnist Paul Anderson’s excellent Gauche blog (www.libsoc.blogspot.com) and Dave Osler’s newly created Dave’s Part (www.davespartblog.blogspot.com) few blogs on the far left have registered at all outside that particular political milieu.
There’s no left of centre equivalent of the leading right wing blog ConservativeHome (www.conservativehom.com) or the font of right wing gossip Guido Fawkes (www.order-order.com). Bloggers4Labour (www.bloggers4labour.org.uk) has made a valiant effort to bring all the Labour blogs together but it hasn’t developed beyond being a glorified links page. It ought to be emulating ConservativeHome, but shows little sign of wanting to do so.
Mike Ion (www.mike-ion.blogspot.com), Labour Candidate in Shrewsbury in 2005 is one of the few parliamentary candidates to exploit blogging to any effect, and he is noticeably frustrated by his colleagues’ failure to exploit the world of blogdom. In a recent entry on his blog he wrote: “My fear is that we pro-Labour bloggers are in danger of being swamped. Yes I know that B4L has 200+ registered bloggers but how many get more than a couple of hundred hits a day or week? How many of them are read by the likes of Nick Robinson and Adam Boulton?”
Ion is spot on when he says that “blogs take the media out of the hands of the corporate world and put it into the hands of anyone with a computer and an internet connection.” He also recognizes that whereas my blog (www.iaindale.blogspot.com), Conservative Home and GuidoFawkes get well in excess of 100,000 visitors a month, most Labour blogs only get a few hundred – Recess Monkey being the notable exception. And that’s one of the reasons right wing blogs are read by the likes of Adam Boulton, Nick Robinson and Jon Snow and left wing ones are generally ignored. The other reason is they have a track record of breaking stories or influencing them. I can’t think of a single left of centre blog that has done that.
The New Labour regime still displays control freak tendencies and that may well be a reason why few Labour candidates have embraced blogging. It’s so easy to veer of the Party line and incur the wrath of those who must be obeyed. But that doesn’t explain why the opposition to Blair and New Labour within the wider left of centre movement has been so muted in the blogosphere. Maybe those voices are there and I haven’t found them, but that in essence demonstrates the problem. If the Blairite opposition is only talking to itself it is little wonder that the wider media isn’t listening.
Another aspect of Labour blogs which is troubling is their almost total lack of humour. Antonia Bance (www.antoniabance.org.uk), Kerron Cross (www.kerroncross.blogspot.com) and the Tyrannasaurus Rex of Old Labour blogs Bob Piper (www.councillorbobpiper.blogspot.com) are notable exceptions. Kerron Cross has developed from a rather boring councillor blog to the nearest Labour equivalent to my own blog, although he may not thank me for saying it.
LibDem blogger Neil Craig (www.a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com has a different perspective. He believes that blogs tend towards the right/libertarian/individualistic position whereas discussion groups tend even more strongly towards leftist membership. He says: “Since one is an individual creation & the other a collective one this is not really surprising”.
PoliticalHackUK (www.politicalhackuk.blogspot.com) takes a more simple view. He reckons if we'd had the blogging revolution starting during the 1980s, there would have seen a huge number of anti-Tory blogs. He points to the USA – which is light years ahead of the UK in blogging – where Democrat blogs tend to outnumber and out-shout those on the right.
Liam Murray who writes the Cassilis blog (www.cassilis.blogsource.com) thinks it’s even clearer than that. “Having been in power for 9 years and had a reasonably easy ride (until lately) in most of the press, progressives (politicians & supporters) haven’t needed an alternative outlet or media vehicle for their thinking. The cynic in me might ask ‘do you really need a blog when you have the Today programme?’” So if he’s right all it will take for left wing blogosphere to take off is a Tory government. Ok, it’s a deal.
When Tribune asked me to write this article, I asked readers of my blog for their views on the differences between the right and left wing blogospheres. One of them emailed me with these words of wisdom: “You and your community are better informed than the mainstream media on many of the topics in your blog. The mainstream media recognise this and openly (or sometimes not) uses your blog as they would any other source. Senior media players also participate in your blog, as do senior Conservative Party figures. You pushed Cherie's signing of the Hutton Report back into the mainstream media and into the Commons chamber when the story looked to have died on the pages of the Mail on Sunday. ConservativeHome has led the charge with getting the A-list talked about. You don't just offer predictable comments on world events as a bunch of blogging left-wing students might - you help set the news agenda. There is no intrinsic reason why that couldn't be replicated on the left or between a bunch of railway enthusiasts.”
So that’s the challenge to those on the left. Get your blogs talked about. Be bolder. Be funnier. Offer insight, not just predictable diatribes about Iraq and how awful Blair is. And above all, don’t assume that all the readers of your blog share your views. If they all do, the chances are you’ve got a very dead blog. When you get a load of Tories leaving comments on your blog and slagging you off you know you’re making an impact. Until then, don’t give up the day job…
Iain Dale’s Diary is updated several times a day at www.iaindale.blogspot.com