I was invited along with a group of other local bloggers to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham this week. It’s part of the party’s plan to do more in the social media space — including the launch of a blogging platform ‘Blue Blogs‘ on their site. Head of New Media, the very affable, Rishi Saha sorted out passes and security clearance and I met him on Monday for a brief chat about what they were doing.
Apart from wandering around the Conference itself — think The Ideal Home Exhibition with less, but odder, stands and more press — I attended a number of fringe events about the Internet. The most interesting was run by The Freedom Association and was intended to be about “Freedom and The Internet”, it was really a good chance to see and hear the most famous right-wing bloggers talk amongst themselves. The panel was chaired by Iain Dale, and featured Guido Fawkes, Dizzy, Devils Kitchen and MP Nadine Dorries.
While all of the other bloggers on stage blog in what I would consider a conventional way — it’s their opinion, on their own chosen subjects, they handle comments, link to others and form part of a community — Nadine doesn’t.
Part of this comes from what I perceived as her lack of interest, she admitted not to reading other blogs “don’t have the time” and also doesn’t have comments on her blog — again in part due to lack of time. The other issue is what I would think a lot of other politicians suffer from, a lack of understanding.
Nadine’s blog is useful to her because of the speed and unmediated way it can get her opinion to those that matter — in her case journalists. That is a blog’s great strength on a “narrowcasting” level, although (in this instance at least) the same could be achieved by emailing the text to the people that are interested.
It was intimated that Nadine’s blog got her “in trouble with the Chief Whip” — something that she interpreted as her “honesty” being incompatible with high office. Her blog was even cited (in another panel session) as a reason more MPs don’t blog.
She’s “thinking of giving it up” — it isn’t proving worth the effort she’s spending on it (which considering she emails her “blogs” to someone to put them up for her isn’t too much).
So. Why don’t MPs blog?
Let’s run through the reasons for MPs (or anyone else!) _not_ to blog.
Time: MPs certainly do lead busy lives (although plenty find time for other jobs), but blogging needn’t be a waste of time. It can help you organise your thoughts, it can lead you to find out information you would otherwise have missed. More importantly, you don’t have to blog every day, or to a set timetable — you only need blog when you have something to say
Have to watch what they say: It seems odd to me that people are suddenly unable to be discreet (if that’s what they chose) when faced with the idea of blogging, when they must be used to it in other areas of life. Blogging is a conversation, but it’s a public one and should be treated as such.
Honesty is prized, but that doesn’t mean gossip — if that’s the only reason people read you’re not getting the full benefit of blogging anyway. It can be done while growing in influence in a party as Tom Watson has proved.
Technical difficulty: Any new form of communication can be a challenge, but seriously if a politician were to find that they were dreadful at television they’d be advised to get some media training quickly. There are numerous people willing to help and advise on social media (myself included of course), it’s not difficult at all, really.
It’s not a mass medium: True there may only be a couple of hundred people reading an MP’s blog (or anyone’s blog), but if you can connect to the right couple of hundred that’s all you need. Politicians can be assured that journalists would be the first to subscribe, and that’s so often what they want isn’t it?
Blogging is the most direct method of communication — on a one to many level — that it’s feasible to do. If you have a point to get across and can argue the case well it should be a boon. More importantly it can and should connect you to people who are interested in the same topics, but only if you’re willing to engage, and that means listening (reading) as well as writing.
If you’re an MP it should connect you with constituents, as well as people who can help you better understand the issues you have to consider.
Blogging is a fantastic medium, but without proper communication you can’t hope to get half of the benefit — come on Nadine and others give it a propper go.