The government might be about to change: will political reporting change, too? The Left bloggers have shown themselves to be in something of a mess, while the Right Online writers are gaining audience and influence. But what will they both do if the Tories gain power? This was an article originally written for The Guardian:
What will happen to political bloggers when the government changes? The answer to that question says a lot about the condition of political debate in this country. Both left and right have seen the internet as a chance to push for power. It has already changed the terms of political trade in the media. A change of government will be the moment when they come to the political frontline. For the Tories, this will mean pressure to make a profound swing to the right. For Labour, it promises a decade of futile and fractured internal debate in the wilderness.
There are some, like Alex Hilton and Jag Singh’s Labourhome, who are trying to keep Labour in power and connect the party with grassroots members. Others, like Tim Ireland’s Bloggerheads, thrive on permanent and aggressive opposition to just about everyone else.
Sunny Hundal has tried to get leftwing bloggers to co-ordinate their campaigning efforts and he’s confident that defeat can be turned into victory online. But the fragmentation of leftwing blogs is very much a reflection of the divided nature of the post-Iraq, post-Blair left. It is also a tribute to the variety in style and substance of what we call political bloggers.
Criticism and confrontation
these blogs are going to go into overdrive once Labour loses power. The online infighting will be brutal. This is partly because the left blogosphere has not really made any connection between online comment and activism. It is much more about criticism and confrontation than trying to influence policy. This is in stark contrast to their cousins in America.
In the US the liberal blogosphere prides itself on the part it plays in elections. It has a major role in fundraising, critiquing politicians and examining policy issues in great detail. It was the liberal blogosphere that swung the 2006 mid-term elections to the Democrats. They have certainly been a significant factor in Barack Obama’s emergence from obscurity.
In the UK, on the other hand, the leftwing blogosphere has virtually no influence.
A spell in opposition will free up the left to take to the internet for an open debate about its political future. But the question is whether leftwing bloggers will simply accentuate the coming conflict or create a link between blogging and campaigning. In that sense, it will be a test both of online discourse and the ideological creativity of the left.
Of course, rightwing bloggers have a very different problem. It’s generally accepted that they are more entertaining and more effective. This could simply be because they are in opposition. Perhaps the individualism of blogging better suits the less collectivist mentalities on the right.
They demonstrated their significance after David Davis resigned. The mainstream media assumed that Davis had gone mad and that this was a disaster for Cameron. But the Conservative blogosphere was exultant at this principled gesture in defiance of orthodox politics.
If their party wins power then mainstream Conservative blogs have a dilemma. Blogger Iain Dale is not a slavish Cameronite. He has spoken out against mainstream Tory opinion on occasion. But he wants to be a Tory MP and agrees with most of what his leader thinks. He is a lovely writer and a quick-footed online entrepreneur who has done much to popularise the genre. He now runs a neutral political wonk magazine called Total Politics, which seems to suggest he doesn’t see much of a future for online political comment from a Tory perspective.
Likewise, Tim Montgomerie has had the backing to create Britain’s most sophisticated political activist blog, ConservativeHome. It has taken the party to task on some issues and has a good feel for grass-roots Tory thinking. Will it be able to maintain even a moderately critical stance without upsetting the new occupants of No 10? In other words, are the Tory bloggers there for a debate or for power?
Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) has been a terrific attack dog against what he sees as the corruption of New Labour. He spurred on mainstream media to help bring John Prescott down. But what does Staines do when David Cameron crosses the No 10 threshold? He professes to be a libertarian but he is definitely a rightwing one. However, he is not a Conservative with a capital C. He feeds off the Westminster journalists and advisors for his insider information. Unless Paul goes into rosé-drenched retirement in Provence, I reckon he will be tempted to take on the Tories as well.
Tory bloggers may well become Her Majesty’s official online opposition. Meanwhile, the future of the Labour party will depend on its ability to come up with new ideas and an active supporter base. It’s time for the leftwing blogs to grow up and prepare for power.