I have watched the spat between Nich Starling and Alex Wilcock with some sadness. Whilst I don't know Nich terribly well, probably because I live in London and he lives in Norfolk, his blog has certainly attracted an audience. I've known Alex for some time, and respect his ability to construct cogent arguments on the issues that he cares deeply about. I've also been Returning Officer in a Parliamentary selection he won, but that's a story for another day. Now, Bob Shaw has joined in. Bob's blog is interesting. Not necessarily designed to make friends, it must be said, but eye-catching nonetheless.
As I've occasionally remarked, there is a gap between some bloggers from London and the rest of us, but it merely mirrors the gulf in terms of access. As a London based member, I am more likely to meet an MP at one or other Local Party event because that's where they are during the week. Party HQ is in London, because that's where the politicians are. Oh yes, and the Palace of Westminster is in, errrr, Westminster. As a result, London based activists have greater opportunities than others.
In fact, if you look at where our internal Party committee members live, there is a bias towards London and the South East which reflects the political system regardless of Party. Indeed, quangos have a far greater proportion of their members in London than in any other region, and little has been done to address that.
That's the problem. What Nich has suggested, albeit somewhat hamfistedly, is that it would be nice if the Party is less London-centric. That said, he initially jumped to a conclusion which implied that it was some kind of conspiracy. Clearly, it isn't. I apparently write the fourteenth best Liberal Democrat blog in the United Kingdom (Iain Dale says so, so it must be true...), and have never been invited to one of these "meet the politician" opportunities. I live in London, work in central London, spend time in Cowley Street and, for my sins, am now part of the "establishment", whatever that is. This "omission" doesn't particularly bother me, and I've assumed that those involved have organised it themselves.
Alex has helpfully explained how it actually works and I now know that, if I am inclined to get involved, all I need do is ask. I probably won't, as I prefer to maintain a degree of independence and, besides, I'm not really a policy person. Perhaps he might have held his fire a little bit in terms of his response to Nich, but that isn't really his style (and Nich isn't exactly a shrinking violet either). It's nearly always funny, although being on the receiving end might smart a bit...
The solution to Nich's concerns is more difficult. Outside London, bloggers are more widely spread, and access to politicians less easily to achieve. Ed Davey is unlikely to spend much time in the vicinity of Norwich unless invited there by one of the Local Parties. Politicians are generally overcommitted at our conferences, thus making the creation of a space for bloggers more difficult.
The only solution is to create opportunities, rather than complain about the lack of them. Using Regional Conferences might help. If Nick Clegg is willing to go to Llandudno, or Aviemore, then perhaps bloggers in Wales or Scotland could come together and ask his office for a little bit of his time. If Vince Cable is speaking in Leeds, bloggers in Yorkshire and the surrounds could do the same. Find out who your Regional/State Conference Chair is, and ask them who their star turn is going to be, contact that person's office and see what might be done. The worst that can happen is that they say no...