Just as stopped clocks tell the correct time twice a day, so a politician occasionally makes a valid point without perhaps realising it, often because it's difficult to distinguish from the rest of the words that tumble from the mouth and make little sense. Hazel Blears' speech on blogging and the internet is a prime example of a politician just simply not getting how social media works, but there's also a couple of interesting points in there. We'll come to those later, but chief amongst the proclamations is this gem:
"But mostly, political blogs are written by people with disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.
"Until political blogging 'adds value' to our political culture, by allowing new voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair."
Christ alone knows exactly what she's on about here when she talks about 'adding value'. Blogs that are on message? That agree with the government line? That don't insult politicians?
Maybe I've missed the point, but I always thought blogging allowed new voices (anybody can start a blog and get involved), new ideas, legitimate protest and challenge. I thought that was blogging in a nutshell, and one of the joys about it - that it encouraged new ideas, and developed those ideas through comment and discussion.
If you're interested in politics, you can still start a blog even if you've got no connection to any political party or come from a particularly political background. Which, given that she's also trying to get more people from outside the political class involved in politics (one thing I do agree with her on), you'd have thought would be an ideal place to start to look to re-engage a cynical public.
As for the cynicism and despair, then perhaps Blears best look closer to home. It's difficult not to be cynical and despair of large swathes of what this government does. Not that either of the other two parties seem a great deal better, but the cynicism, despair and malaise set in long ago. Blogs mainly reflect that. If blogging had been around on a large scale back in 1997, it would have been no surprise if an outgoing Tory minister had uttered similar words.
She does, however, raise an interesting point when she says:
"Perhaps this is simply anti-establishment. Blogs have only existed under a Labour government. Perhaps if there was a Tory government, all the leading blogs would be left-of-centre?"
It's not a completely daft hypothesis, even if the main blogs she mentions - Gudio, Iain Dale, etc - are hardly representative of all political blogs. They just happen to be the ones that, rightly or wrongly, get the most mentions in the mainstream media.
There's also plenty of left-leaning blogs who are also fed up with this government, as Unity points out:
"It’s all very well flagging up that its only around half a dozen right-wing blogs, at most, who’ve been putting up the big traffic numbers and suggesting that this is ’simply anti-establishment’ and due to blogging having emerged only during the period in which Labour has been in office, but if that’s what she’s thinking then how does she account for the fact that most of the leading liberal and left-wing blogs are equally anti-establishment across a range of key issues from Iraq through to the government’s near-constant assaults on civil liberties and the systematic construction of the database state.
The problem that the current government has isn’t that there’s a general lack of popular or influential left-of-centre blogs, its that its policies on Iraq, etc. cost it the support of the vast majority of major players in the left-of-centre blogosphere, most of whom are at least semi-detached from the Labour Party if not operating fully within a broad ‘independent left’ category."
It's telling that when you compare the attitude of British politicians to the internet with their American counterparts, we come across as a lot less enlightened. Hell, a large part of Barack Obama' success was built on the fact he managed to mobilise support online across the country:
"You know the executives that balk at implementing social media campaigns, well Barack Obama and John McCain showed that social media is no passing fad. Both candidates embraced blogs, social networks and Web video
The Obama campaign created a social network, MyBarackObama, on its official Web site. Members of that network at times criticized the candidate over his various positions."
So while Obama, and the 72-year-old John McCain were busy getting their message out online, listening to their core support and, if necessary, modifying policies, this government is busy looking for more ways to regulate the internet and follow every part of our lives online.
Is it any wonder that this country is a bit disillusioned with politics, especially online, when it can look across at America and see how politicians are actually trying to engage with voters? As I've said, had this been 1997, there's a good chance we could have been seeing a similar reaction to Tony Blair as we have to Barack Obama.
Tom Watson's mentioned in the article. Although I don't necessarily agree with a lot of his politics, I do wish his own party would look at what he's doing online and even consult him occasionally on any policies towards the internet, as he's one of the (sadly) very few MPs who seem to remotely get social media.