A lot of vitriol has been thrown at Derek Draper who despite everything, staged quite a remarkable political comeback in the last two years. Some of the bile has been undeserved, but having been a close observer of e-campaigning and new media, I find it unsurprising. There were many things that Derek did wrong, but at the root of it all was a fundamental misunderstanding of how political debate and campaigning had been developing on the internet and how Labour activists needed to work with it.
As Susan Boyle demonstrates, the internet provides a space for anyone, talented or not, to reach a potentially vast audience. Most people never reach beyond a close circle of friends, but when they have something that captures the imagination of people, their audience can be huge. This cannot, and should not, be controlled by a central committee. Derek made the mistake of thinking that he, or his friends, could reshape the political debate space on the internet by traditional attack politics. He was entering a world which, yes, had been overly shaped by the political right, but which had an equilibrium which needed to be carefully managed.
The two main protagonists for Derek seemed to be Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes, rather than the Conservative Party and ConservativeHome. This meant that every intervention he made was based on personality politics rather than practical politics. There are decent ways of taking on Iain and Guido, but sadly Derek made every mistake in the book which not only degraded the left blogosphere in the eyes of everyone, but also gained more notoriety for his enemies in the process. I would wager that more people read both their blogs while Derek was 'taking them on' than while he wasn't. It hasn't exposed the real racism and sexism which exists in the comments on Guido's site, nor does it take head-on the progressive sounding, but essentially Thatcherite politics of Iain Dale.
Derek has posted a statement on LabourList which is revealing. It's almost as if he thinks the fact that someone hacked into his account should be judged more harshly than the fact that he, at one point, entertained the idea of making up disgusting rumours about senior opposition politicians in concert with someone working in Downing Street while trying to pose as someone editing an independent Labour blog. Yes, of course everyone can see their mistakes in hindsight, and his apology should be accepted and we should all move on eventually. But I don't think we really can until there is a more genuine understanding of why so many Labour party members were sickened by this style of politics in the first place. The statement reads more in anger than in sorrow. This isn't what we hoped for.
What I do hope for is that Alex Smith, who has ably worked as Derek's Deputy Editor and who I expect has been responsible for shepherding much of the more sensible engagement with Labour Party members including a very good Young Labour weekend edited by Richard Angell, will be allowed to guide LabourList to a better place. I don't think the vast majority of Labour people who visit LL think that it should be allowed to wither on the vine. It feels now like a space which we might all be able to claim as our own, rather than something which felt like Derek's plaything. But we should let it grow organically. Keep posting, keep arguing, and see where it is in a year's time. If Derek wants us to salute him for his legacy he should wait until then.