Quite a week for the political blog. We've recently seen behind the veil of many a political blogger, with Derek Draper and Paul Staines (aka Guido Fawkes) going head to head on TV, shifting the polticial blog from the computer screen into our front rooms. A sign things were on the move?
The friendships and angst sometimes felt between individual members of political parties is often released in the blogosphere, and is reaching new levels of notoriety and influence at the same time. With heavyweights such as Alistair Campbell, John Prescott and now even Sarah Brown, the Prime Minister's wife, joining the world's of Facebook and Twitter, it is now easier than ever before to find out what key individuals think who once, not so long ago, seemed much more inaccessible.
But is this a good thing? I mean, there really is something out there for everyone, and if you wanted to find out that Jonathan Ross's dog had been sick in the night then maybe he's the 'Tweet' for you. But what about politicians, who traditionally have been less accessible, is this the way to break down those barriers, or is the average Twitter-er not yet ready to know what you had for dinner? It might sound odd, but for so long politicians (of all parties) have been criticised for being too impersonal and out of touch - but where do you draw the line? A new personal/private boundary is being drawn up, but will it lead to a productive blend of politician and public, or to the resignation of well-meaning politicians for an off messsage 140 character long 'Tweet' on a low day? Are we ready to accept that our representatives aren't perfect?
Of course, the blogging world has picked up on some big stories, led the media on tips more than once and, yesterday, resulted the publication of some fairly awful emails between Derek Draper (Labour blogger and founder of 'LabourList') and Damian McBride (Downing St. staffer until yesterday). This story has a few aspects to it, and it's only right to explore all of them. But all-in-all, yesterday was a bad day for Labour, and for politics as a whole. We absolutely should not have key members of staff in Downing St. suggesting the spreading of harmful and hurtful rumours about the opposition to 'throw them off'. No way. And some of the rumours that they were discussing are so bad that it would have been absolutely unforgivable had they have circulated them and, as quite rightly noted by Labour MP Tom Harris, Draper and McBride owe a few people a very sincere apology. Politics should be about the battle of ideas, ideology and policy, not jibes or playground games of Chinese whispers. This is exactly what turns people off from politics - the sense that everyone's as bad as each other, and are just trying to shoot each other down the whole time. And we really aren't helping that image right now, when most of us actually are so much better than that.
But leading back to my point about political blogs, this, at least in part, came to light because of Paul Staines' (aka. Guido Fawkes') severe dislike of Derek Draper - only highlighted by his comments on his blog today that ''actually Guido gave the story to the News of the World and the Sunday Times for pleasure not profit''. This isn't to take anything away from what Draper/McBride were discussing, but does bring up the question of not only how Guido actually obtained these emails but, as a separate issue, how far someone will go to tear down their blogging nemesis. It's a bit like the Dr. Who 'Time War', where clearly there were no winners, just a few left standing at the bitter end, all damaged by the goings on. And, outside of the Draper/Guido example, is that what might be in store if more politicians do enter the fray? Do we really want our politicians to be getting involved in Facebook arguments instead of focusing on policy, or does this actually open up the debate?
As someone who has had a fair few things posted about them online since their selection as a PPC, written a fair few blogs since taking up Channel 4's interactive 'YearDot' mantle, and a product of the Facebook generation, I've seen both sides of it. Whilst it may be tempting to grab your computer and blog away the rage at something said at PMQs, you really have to be careful. Just because you're typing away, the moment you press 'Post', that's it. Whatever you've just spouted off about is out there and always will be. So it's worth pausing for thought and remembering that as reflective and theraputic your blog may well be, it's not actually your diary...
There are those who will always take it too far. I've spent part of today watching on in sheer disbelief as two right wingers who, in all honesty, probably would agree on a lot of things, tear chunks out of each other. I've lost count of the number of times legal action has been threatened in the 2-day discourse. Neither of them, however, are our representatives, but is this kind of thing what we're really after? Is this what we've always been heading for since the set-up of social networking sites? Actually, a 140 character response at PMQs would finally get rid of all that jeering...but I think we need to keep the passion in politics if we are to keep it alive and well.
It's a tough question to answer really, because we just don't know how the political blogosphere is going to evolve, and if it does help politicians and the public connect in a productive way, then that's great. John Prescott, just as one example, uses Facebook to tell people about the 'Go 4th' campaign for a Labour 4th term and to post useful petitions, including one about bankers bonuses. Alistair Campbell now posts links to his new blog on Facebook and Twitter, as well as send out weekly 'to-do' lists to Labour supporters. It really can work.
All in all, politicians linking up with the people via social networking sites and blogs has been and could continue to be a good and useful way to open up and enhance political debate, and we shouldn't be afraid to get involved in the debate because we worry about what may get thrown at us. But no political Facebook account should be set up, no Tweet sent and no blog posted without heeding the big 'caution' sign stamped on them.
And, in true politician-of-the-21st-century style, I'd like to know what you think about this. Should politicians see the blogging sphere as virus free and jump right in, or just slowly test the waters before taking the plunge? And where should the 'too much information' line be drawn?
Thank you for reading, and Happy Easter!