Saturday, December 16, 2006

Blogging - when a good idea turns sour

I have had a unique opportunity to re-evaluate the risks and rewards of blogging in the past week, having attended the meeting where the revocation of an individual's membership of the Liberal Democrats was decided upon, in part due to her blog, and watched the travails of Bob Piper, the Sandwell Labour councillor, whose decision to include a somewhat unfortunate image of David Cameron as a blacked-up minstrel on his website caused a blogosphere storm.

For those of us who started to blog as a means to achieve a defined end, in my case to provide my family with a means to find out what I was up to, and moved towards something with a wider potential audience, there is always the danger that you forget who your audience is, as opposed to what you would like it to be. And, as you reach a certain level of fame (or in some cases, notoriety), the scope for disaster grows.

If you are an individual without formal office, then the chances that you will get into trouble are slim. Frankly, if you say something outrageous, most people will perhaps comment that you're a bit of an idiot, but that will be it. On the other hand, if you are a councillor, or an Officer of the Party, you risk being judged against the yardstick of 'official spokesperson', not always a comfortable place to be. With credibility comes responsibility, and in Bob's case, he has been beaten with the stick of hypocrisy when he thought he was merely displaying a sense of humour.

It is incredibly easy to post something that, in the cold light of day, is very foolish indeed, and I tend to think that there are some within the blogosphere who would benefit from the old dictum, "write in anger, sleep on it, and then publish it in the morning if you still feel that way". Luckily, as a civil servant, I have to spend a lot of my time restraining myself from writing things that would get me into serious trouble if I actually put them on paper, so I have an in-built emotional firewall in place when I blog. Besides, if blogs were set to music, mine would be a Chopin mazurka (what would yours be?)...

And yet, the wonderful thing about blogs is that they tend to display the passion and charisma that we all claim to want to see in politics, yet would be worried about if we saw it displayed by 'our' candidate. Humour, satire, frivolity, all of these go towards providing the entertainment value that I for one need at the end of a hard day of bureaucracy.

I suspect that Bob Piper won't be the last prominent political blogger to screw up, especially when using humour, one of the more difficult things to pitch correctly. As for me, I propose to avoid embarrassment by remaining comparatively anonymous, as a good faceless bureaucrat should be...

5 comments:

CS staff said...

To have a membership revoked because of a blog sounds so far fetched.

Thought the LibDems stand for freedom of speech and open transparency

What role did you play in the revocation. Were you one of the judges.

Mark Valladares said...

Dear cs staff,

No, not a judge, but the 'defence attorney' in fact. The blog was merely one element of the prosecution case, but the key point is that you can't just write whatever you like on a blog. Opinion is legitimate, inaccurate facts are a problem, but advertising your 'official status' and then attacking your own side is a gift for our opponents.

There is nothing to prevent you from doing it, merely the risk that your 'official status' will be taken from you...

LibDem said...

Always the gent

CS Staff said...

Heard Fiyaz Mughal applied for the revocation. On what grounds and who is he to make such a demand.

What part did Dominic Mathon play in all this.

Mark Valladares said...

Dear cs staff,

As I've said elsewhere, if the individual wishes to comment further, then I might comment on whatever is in the public domain. However, I will respect the right to privacy until such time as it is waived.

Any individual member has the right to seek disciplinary action against another. The onus is on them to make their case. I will not comment on the motivation of the complainant(s), as it seems unfair to make asumptions on their behalf. I'm sure that if they wish to comment, they will...

I apologise if this all seems to be somewhat evasive. However, I'm a firm believer that people must accept the consequences of their actions, and this applies to both sides of this unfortunate affair. It wouldn't be helped by any indiscretion on my part.