Friday, September 11, 2009

Why you still don't know what Party committees are up to (part 3) - so what went wrong?

Somebody once said that pop will eat itself, and I fear that this is true of blogging. In truth, that element of the leadership, national or regional, that is even aware of the blogosphere think of us as self-indulgent, irresponsible and with a tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. I exclude the many councillors amongst us, most of whom are reaching out to their electorate first and the Lib Dem blogosphere second. However, most of the rest of us aren’t actually responsible for that much, and claim the freedom to comment as we please.

And I have to admit, dispiriting as it might sound, I am beginning to see what they mean. Oh yes, I might fool myself that my opinions on Labour policy, MP expenses or Irfan Ahmed might influence someone somewhere, but isn’t it somewhat arrogant of me to think that my views actually matter? Approximately sixty to seventy people read my blog each day, hardly an audience to trouble the ‘big boys’ of blogging.

Worse still, keeping a blog is a bit like owning a cat, in that it requires attention and feeding if it is to be done well. Like e-mail, it creates a sense and, worse still an expectation, of immediacy. Either you’re willing and able to respond to that sense, or you’re not, and clearly most people aren’t. That doesn’t seem to register with some of us, and the Rennard expenses debate demonstrated it in abundance.

I won’t address the substance of the debate - there is no point at this stage, and my comments, if only a personal opinion, would risk interpretation through the prism of my personal relationship with the Party President. However, an expectation on immediate comment was created which, in truth, was never going to happen. The situation was too fast moving, there was too much uncertainty, and the external interest in the story was too sensitive to risk publishing an incomplete picture.

Of course, the irony that, having not had any reports pre-2009 on the actions of the Federal Executive, reports were being provided by the Chair of the Federal Executive within ninety-six hours, was lost on those suddenly determined to form a lynch mob on the basis of a report from a newspaper not exactly renown for its friendliness to liberal democracy. It simply wasn’t good enough that the President might want to reflect upon her response. And so, she withdrew.

I freely admit to regrets. I have always believed that keeping members informed of my activities as a Party apparatchik was something of a duty. After all, I’ve been elected by (some of) you, and you deserve to know what I’m doing. At the same time, I have been treated with some suspicion by my fellow committee members, some of whom are quite contemptuous of the idea of blogging. I have occasionally been critical of the inability of some to remember who we serve and, in return, they have indicated doubts as to my discretion. However, I had attempted to balance the opposing views in my reporting.

Almost inevitably, those few of us who have attempted to square that political circle have, eventually, suffered for it. The only other member of the current Federal Executive who maintains a blog is Duncan Borrowman, who has studiously eschewed the opportunity to discuss committee business, despite temptation. His ‘reward’ was to be taunted by Agent Orange, and then Sara Scarlett, in an attempt to lure him into an indiscretion. The use of language calculated to cause embarrassment to Duncan and attract the attention of local media to his rather uncomfortable predicament might well have been a valid strategy from the perspective of someone trying to gain information otherwise unavailable, but it hardly encourages anyone to engage in public debate, or to communicate more widely.

Depressing, no? Tomorrow, I'll consider whether or not there is a viable solution...

1 comment:

Oranjepan said...

I think part of the problem with blogging is how expectations are built on the potential for the medium, rather than the current reality.

For reasons of sanity I don't worry so much about current reach or influence - instead it is something more of a long-term project which we need to be involved with in order to shape its future and to teach ourselves how best to use it and how to *cliche alert* 'add value'.

It is easy to play follow-my-leader and simply echo everything a favoured source (party boss, newspaper editor etc) might wish us to repeat, but it is those blogs which are able to look at something new or do so in a new way which prosper.

So let's not forget the political 'sphere is only a tiny (albeit the most integrated) part of the whole - there is plenty to learn from outside this hothouse.

Mark, can I ask you to gaze into your crystal ball and say where you think blogging will be in the future when the political cycle turns full circle?