Thursday, 19 February 2009

Liberty, E-polity, Maternity

A friend just emailed me another of John Prescott's frankly insipid youtube clips, this time directed at Peter Mandelson.

What with his recent online riposte to Iain Dale, that even garnered compliments from natural enemy Guido Fawkes, Prezza is getting a lot of kudos for these "vlogs", but i'm lost as to why. His messages are always facile; his delivery stilted and disappointingly gaffe-free. He's not even important anymore, if he ever really was.

All this leads me to believe that there remains quite a nerdy, wonky edge to political blogging in the UK which the US has been much better at shaking off.

It still feels all so parochial; an online extension of the Westminster village but without any policy decisions or statutory powers. Just bloggers reading bloggers and the odd journo looking for a diary story.

Obviously Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale (and to a lesser extent Labourhome and now Labourlist) penetrate the wider consciousness for those on the look-out but they're hardly brands in their own right in the way that, say, the Huffington Post has become in America.

Certainly there is an element of the mainstream "dead-tree" and broadcast news media shunning blogs. Ostensibly for their lack of accuracy but also, i'm reasonably sure, because they are frightened of opening the door to their future collective demise.

Look at the Huff Post, whose prominent role during the recent US presidential election has given it a springboard to continue beyond the intial thrill people felt at its inception. It forced its way onto the scene, became the news and then became (almost) an equal to the established news outlets. Nothing of that magnitude has happened over here.
Although one cannot deny the money Arianna Huffington threw at it as being a reason for its post-election lifespan, she was not a political "brand" in-and-of herself before the site went live, whereas Draper (Labourlist) and Prezza (Labourlost) are.

Baghdad blogger held our interest because he was the lone (english speaking) voice in a green-zoned conflict and had a monopoly on daily experience. Who on these shores read him on his recent return?

To what extent is it our, the reader's and the electorate's fault? Are we simply unengageable (that's not a word, i know) on any front? Is the internet really only good for porn?

Perhaps we should combine politics with porn - although several prominent Liberal Democrats have already tried it and it doesn't seem to have enhanced their reputations or polling figures... still, i bet they've had a few good nights out...

True, Iain Dale and friends are doing their best to give the online political community a snowball with which to roll by setting up the Total Politics blog database that is linked to their magazine.
But it all feels a little forced and most of the people are unknown and unlikely to be - I should know, i'm on their list.

When i say "unknown", i do not mean that we should be looking for every blogger to become famous or invited onto newsnight with a pixelated face, but blogging can only be considered democratising if: a) people read everyone else's material and: b) the best rises to the top as a result.

But the fickle, chaotic, tit-for-tat nature of British blogging renders these objectives almost impossible to achieve.

If you don't believe or agree with me, take the "Mother Test". If yours is anything like mine, she's only just worked out how to text using her mobile and send emails from a generic account. Ask her to find, without any help, five serious and well-known political blogs or websites that are not extensions of well-known media organisations with established offline content. No Times, Guardian or BBC, for example.

She'll struggle, i'll bet you, and what she comes back with will be arbitrary, random and will offer no insight into either modern British politics or blogging per se. She will have found it an entirely fruitless and unfulfilling hour spent on the computer and will be reluctant to do it again.

Perhaps when our mothers look for their favourite blogs each day, as well as for their daily papers or evening news broadcasts, the blogosphere will finally be doing something right.

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