December 04, 2007

What blogging can and can't achieve

Never Trust a Hippy has a good piece on what blogging can and can't achieve over at his place. He suggests that blogging in the UK has only managed to do two things. There are rumour and scandal mongering blogs like Guido Fawkes- who are attempting to become a British Drudge report. Then there are blogs which lead intellectual discussion- Matt Sinclair, Chris Dillow and others come to mind. Its an interesting point and to be honest I agree in part with Paulie about this- the best blogging I have come across has not been partisan but has been the thoughtful bloggers who work on a more interesting brief than those digging up new email systems in Downing Street, dodgy donaters to any party or racist activists. All that stuff is to me of limited interest- it has its place- because of Watergate and subsequent events the political landscape is obsessed with scandal. Actually scandal is pretty boring compared say to the discussions about how we can and should govern ourselves.

So I agree with Paulie largely- but I differ from him in one perspective and its something I don't think anyone in the UK blogosphere has really thought about. The Americans are obviously years ahead of us in readership and in the influence of blogging- and there are big differences in the market for political blogging- there is no Guardian website equivalent in the states- furthermore the British newspaper market has always provided partisan commentary in a way say that the New York Times or Washington Post in the States have never sought to provide. But the American example is fascinating- because its interesting to reflect for a moment on where and on what the blogosphere has had a real effect on politics.

To stick to one site on the left for a moment, consider Daily Kos. Kos performs a number of functions on the American left- but to caricature his biggest successes in terms of influencing politics have come in sponsoring or promoting candidates who are second tier in the states and have been neglected by others. You could think of Howard Dean's Presidential campaign, you could think of Ned Lamont's challenge to Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut senatorial primary, of Jon Tester's run for the Montana senate and of a number of other races. Kos and others like him have been effective at promoting people who were second tier, not known much and creating a momentum behind them. The Democrats have raised vast amounts of money and got large numbers of volunteers to work through the web. You could say the same thing has grown on the right behind the 'no hope' candidacy of Ron Paul: Paul would be nowhere without the millions raised on the net, the volunteers that he has produced through the net and is now running in high single figures in New Hampshire and Iowa.

It is hard to see how that might work in the UK. Central party organisation means that there is much less space for a grassroots campaigning support for people on the web. We can overestimate the degree of centralisation in British politics- local campaigns can work (say in Wyre Forest) and on both sides millions have been donated directly to the campaigns in marginal constituencies particularly between elections. I'm not sure though how directly this model will work in UK politics- constituencies aren't like states- politics in the UK is far more centrally directed than in the US. The donation of a thousand individuals might effect a local campaign, but they are nothing when compared to the money that a Mittal or Ashcroft can pour in to the central party coffers. Local MPs often lack identity beyond their position as lobby fodder- though again one can imagine mavericks or charismatic individuals getting support from the blogosphere which would help them in marginal seats. In general though the structure of politics is much less hospitable for bloggers in the UK- much more centralised, much more national than politics is in the US.

Obviously things can and might change- and will have to change if the British political blogosphere is to have more of an impact- but at the moment the British blogosphere is a pale shadow and imitation of its American cousin.

Crossposted at the Liberal Conspiracy.


Phil A said...

I think one of the main things blogs provide are a sort of nursery for ideas. Any blogger can get a concept out there and if others see it they can critique it. If it makes sense then it might find fertile ground and sprout (i.e. eventually get nicked by one or more of the main parties).

To continue the gardener’s world theme. It promotes the spread and cross pollination of ideas.

Ruthie said...

"You could say the same thing has grown on the right behind the 'no hope' candidacy of Ron Paul: Paul would be nowhere without the millions raised on the net, the volunteers that he has produced through the net and is now running in high single figures in New Hampshire and Iowa."

Yeah, but remember how well that worked for Howard Dean....

Paulie said...

I think that Phil has got it dead right there. The real value is in the low level bubbling of multilateral conversations about everyday life (including policy issues though).

It makes for a more conversational polity - and one of the problems that representative democracy suffers from at the moment is that there isn't a particularly conversational polity that elected representatives can eavesdrop upon.

Instead, they get a fairly poisonous cocktail of gossip, backbiting, and a largely unreasonable media. I'm optimistic that - ultimately - social media will contribute to improving upon this situation.