» blogging ¦ What You Can Get Away With

The results from the Liberal Democrat federal internal elections came out this morning, and you can see the results here (for a list of who was elected) and here (for the full voting breakdown).

Various people on blogs (see Jennie and Andy, for example) and Twitter have been discussing the results and the way we run elections before and after the results were declared, and I wanted to jot down some thoughts I’ve had before I forget.

How many party members read Lib Dem blogs? And how many of those are voting reps?

There was a lot of discussion about these elections on various blogs and Twitter, but how many of the relevant people were actually reading them? I noticed that many people who I expected to do well in the elections because of their prominence as bloggers did pretty poorly.

So the question has to be whether the debates we have on Lib Dem blogs (up to and including those on Lib Dem Voice) are actually being seen by much of the party membership. And even if blogs do reach lots of people, are they the same people who vote in these elections? (Have there been demographic analyses of how elected conference reps compare to the membership of the party and the population of the country?)

One other thought – why not just call them ‘Federal representatives’ and ‘Regional representatives’ and not mention Conference? Would that encourage more people to take on the role, if it’s not thought of as being just about going to Conference?

And one last point – the people who get to vote in the 2014 internal elections will actually be getting elected as voting reps in about twelve months time. People planning campaigns for then perhaps should be getting organised a lot sooner than they think they should.

Should the party be encouraging more internal debate?

We pride ourselves on being a democratic and open party, so we shouldn’t be afraid of debating openly amongst ourselves. Indeed, the fact that so many candidates wanted to stand for the different committees shows that there is an urge for that to happen. However, is that debate best accomplished by giving each candidate one sheet of A5 to set out what they want? (And then only letting most people see that if they’re a voting rep) Should the party be encouraging candidates to supply more information online and enabling virtual hustings and debates?

(Jennie pointed at the Pirate Party’s system this morning, which makes a distinction between a campaigning period and a voting period – that could be something worth considering)

Andy makes a good suggestion in the LDV comments:

If there were a dedicated website, a really useful feature would be for it to ennable an online hustings system, where anyone can submit a question to all candidates, subscribe to replies to a question they or someone else have asked, etc. A kind of clearing-house for questions. If it was a reasonably formal part of the way the election was run, then it would avoid the issue of some candidates not supplying their contact details, making it difficult for people like Jennie Rigg and myself to step up to ask questions and broadcast the replies. When you look at each candidate’s details on this website, it could then show not only their original election statement, but also their replies to any questions they’ve been asked.

That would be very useful, and having that in one official location would make it easy to direct people to, while allowing others to campaign and promote people based on what’s being said there.

Following on from Andy’s thought, it occurs to me that if you were to build a system that enabled people to contact candidates, ask questions and receive public replies, there’d be uses for it outside of internal elections. Imagine at the next General Election if, rather than just having their bio on the party website, people could pose questions to parliamentary candidates through it? (It could even be extended to be available for local council candidates, if they wanted to use it) If the party was to start working on a system like that now, then the internal elections in two years time could be the test bed for it – and you could increase participation in the debate and questioning by telling people this is a test of an important part of the General Election campaign – and then it could be rolled out publicly a few months later for the General Election.

That’s all for now, but I reserve the right to bore you all with more thoughts about this at another time.

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As part of my realisation that it’s been nearly ten years since I started blogging (along with the whole ‘Has it really been that long? God, I’m getting old…’ thoughts) it occurs to me that I don’t follow as many British political blogs as I used to. Part of this is for the very good reason that most British political blogs aren’t very good and are merely about point-scoring and emphasising repeatedly how wonderful your party is while reminding us how evil everyone who doesn’t agree with you is.

But, I’m sure there have to be other blogs out there that I would find interesting if I only knew about them. So if you know of a blog – or even have one yourself – that you think I might find interesting, then please recommend them to me in the comments. I’ll even collate all the recommendations into a post so even if they don’t end up appealing to me, there’ll be some free promotion and linkage for you.

And by political, I mean that in the widest sense – I don’t want the the diaries of party hacks written in the style of press releases, I want interesting views and news from across the country, with perspectives I’ve not seen before. What would you recommend that might educate, inform and entertain me?

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With almost ten years of blogging experience behind me (and just typing that makes me feel old) I think it’s time that I found some ways to cash in all the time I’ve wasted on it to make a quick buck. Sorry, what I meant to say there was ‘utilise my extensive cross-platform social media communication skills to monetise my experience and provide a variety of value-added activities to my valued clients’.

The problem, of course, is that I’m not shameless enough to even attempt some of the con tricks that others use as a business model. As a councillor, I’m regularly bombarded with invitations to conferences on important policy issues, all of which appear to be the opportunity to spend several hundred pounds to sit in the poorly ventilated ‘conference suite’ of a mid-market London hotel while someone reads out a PowerPoint presentation of easily downloadable information at you, as the precursor to a limp ‘discussion of current challenges’ (aka ‘tell us what other issues we might be able to sell you a conference on’). If I was savvy and soulless enough, I wouldn’t be complaining about these, but creating my own company to do the same.

Rather than set up a company to do this, I could do it in the name of a think tank instead. That way, not only could I establish spurious conferences, I could publish reports and discussion papers on topics that were in no way determined by whoever wanted to sponsor me, and with robustly independent conclusions that just happened to coincide with their needs. I could even give something back to the next generation by creating a Junior Associate programme that would teach them all the skills they needed to be effective policy professionals, including the best search terms to put into Google, important errors to avoid when copy-and-pasting and just how much you can get away with charging people for admittance into this exclusive programme.

Has anyone founded the Michael Stone Institute yet? A few years ago, myself and another blogger (whose identity I’ll protect unless they’re happy for it to be revealed) did discuss creating a spoof ‘Straw Man Institute‘ with the promise that we’d ‘make the arguments no one else will’. We thought there’d be a ready market amongst commentators and other blowhards. ‘SMI (a noted liberal think tank)’ would happily have provided reports on why everyone in Britain should be forced to be gay Muslims for Peter Hitchens to bloviate against.

I think the project foundered on two problems. First, we didn’t have the enthusiasm to carry it on beyond the initial idea, and second, the market was far too skewed by existing companies. There’s no point in advertising yourselves as being willing to make the arguments that no one else will, when there are plenty of people willing to do that and actually mean what they say, often for free. When we’re living in a world where Demos not only has a ‘Progressive Conservatism Project’ but its director can write what amounts to ‘Iain Duncan Smith must destroy the welfare state in order to save it’, what hope is there for a mild and humble parodist to make a living?

In a world where an internet get-rich-quick mogul can make it into the Cabinet, I suppose I need to rebrand myself as an expert in hashtag virality. I can do you a quick seminar for £350, maybe even £250 if you want to use our special early bird booking rate.

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Solidarity

Somehow, I’d missed this story until I saw it mentioned on Aaro and Cohen Watch – blogger Dave Osler and others have been taken to court seemingly for listing a few facts and because of someone posting a slightly insulting comment.

Not being a lawyer, a judge or anyone else who can help in the legal proceedings, all I can do is offer them is my support and a hope they win, so as to enable all of us to continue posting without fear. Good luck to them all.

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Meanwhile, in Blogtopia

Here’s a positive blogging story for you. An intrepid blogger reads a story in the paper (or ‘the MSM’, as I believe the cool kids refer to it) and then does some research and investigation into it which reveals that the whole thing has been manufactured in an attempt to create a scandal. The whole thing leads to lots of coverage across the media and the newspaper in question admitting that their entire article was based on lies. The investigations also revealed that the people behind the scam were supplying similarly unreliable information to an MP’s office, and so the bloggers let the MP concerned know this.

So, a feelgood story all round, right? The sort of thing you’d expect the self-appointed champions of blogging to be shouting from the rooftops about, as proof that it can achieve something other than just the spreading of gossip. Yes, surely this is a day of triumph that all bloggers can share in.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Tim Ireland is being smeared and harrassed online as a result of his work in exposing the Sun’s ‘terror threat to British Jews’ story as being a fantasy. People are lying that he’s a paedophile or an ‘electronic stalker‘ and ignoring his requests for help by not letting the MP concerned know what’s being done through his office.

I’ve known Tim almost since I began blogging back in the far distant days of 2009. I may not agree with him on everything, but he’s a decent bloke who doesn’t deserve the fields of crap he’s being dragged through by people who really should know better. So, if you can help him out in any way – and no, he’s not asking for money – please do what you can.

(More support for Tim can be found here, here, here and here, for starters)

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Can’t remember if I’ve ever suggested this before back in the mists of blogtime, but I was playing poker online last night and wondering how many other of my readers and fellow bloggers play, and whether there’d be interest in setting up some sort of game or tournament for British political bloggers/Lib Dem bloggers or any other grouping that migth create enough interest? Or if there’s such a game already happening, how do I get invited to it?

Which reminds me of a post I ought to write sometime, currently in my head under the working title ‘If it’s so easy to open an amusement arcade or bingo hall in a British town centre, why is it so bloody hard to open a poker club?’

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Last night I was going to write about my two cents in the latest spat between Charlotte Gore and James Graham but managed to get distracted from doing that when I noticed a rather inflammatory-titled post on Liberal Vision.

Of course, what you see there now isn’t quite the same – or quite as inflammatory – as I saw last night. Yes, the doughty defenders of freedom and free speech have no problems with censoring themselves, refusing to admit they’ve done anything wrong and calling anyone who points this out a bully. It’s an interesting debating tactic, but not one that really helps to push the debate forward – but then, when your attempt to weigh in on the great Twitter NHS storm has embarrassingly stalled, I guess you try another tactic.

But, this does help to highlight some of the issues of online discussion, debate and freedom of speech that have been highlighted by Charlotte and James’ exchange – and no, I’m not just talking about Godwin’s Law.

During my time away from regular blogging, one way I filled my time online was posting on the Doctor Who forum now known as Gallifrey Base. (Yes, this will be relevant, bear with me) Now, for those of you who aren’t Liberal Democrats don’t know the intricacies of Doctor Who fandom, it contains a small yet exceedingly vocal minority who despise head writer/executive producer Russell T Davies who like to continually remind people of their disdain for him and his work. The pattern of discussion was predictable after a while – an initial post disparaging Davies, usually containing some combination of the terms ‘gay agenda’, ‘soap opera’ and ‘deus ex machina’, a large number of replies to that original post pointing out ways in which it was wrong, and then either the original poster or one of the other objectors chiming in with ‘obviously, you’re not allowed to dislike Davies here’ before going off in a huff.

In the words of the late Anthony Wilson: ‘You’re entitled to an opinion, but your opinion is shit.’ You can say whatever you want, but you have to accept that freedom extends to everyone else, and they can say whatever they want about what you’ve said. Pointing out that someone’s talking rubbish isn’t bullying them, silencing them or restricting them in any way – criticism is a consequence of free speech. Yes, maybe it would be good if all debates could be polite and respectful, living up to the senatorial archetype, but sometimes saying ‘now that’s just silly’ is all that’s required.

As James points out, many of the debating tactics of the right – especially a certain fringe within the Liberal Democrats – forget this in the same way as the anti-Davies fringe in Doctor Who fandom do. (Though to be fair, it’s not solely limited to the right) Debate involves people disagreeing with each other, and sometimes that disagreement might not be as eloquent, detailed or constructive as you might wish – but when you feel it’s OK to refer to your opponents as ‘evil’, ‘deluded’ or ‘Nazis’, don’t be surprised when they do something similar back to you. If you want something better, lead by example.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with the main thrust of Charlotte’s post:

We say, hey! Politicians! Stop being puppets and say what you really think! Then, if we find a politician stupid enough to listen we lynch them for it.

(Disclaimer: I say that as a politician who knows that one day a bored journalist with space to fill is going to find this blog and take all sort of out of context quotes from it)

However, I don’t think it’s some purely British situation – look at how Obama, Clinton, McCain et al spent most of last year talking in the blandest platitudes possible to avoid giving fresh meat to those who’d tear a mistaken word apart. What may be particularly British is the way parties are conceived of here – the moment a politician says something that diverts slightly from the party orthodoxy, the media are instantly calling it a split or a feud and demanding that the party leadership clarify their position and wondering what they’ll do about the supposed ‘maverick’. Then they wonder why no one wants to join political parties anymore…

In conclusion, then: I’m right, you’re wrong, and I hate you all.

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