Labour minister Hazel Blears is the sort of New Labour cheerleader who blithely disregards the traditions of Old Labour; the Blair Project's disdain for the old ways, as well as the old policies, discouraged activism. Blears' sense of timing is particularly ill-judged with her address to the Hansard Society this week (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/05/blogging-politics ).
In a week that has shown the potential for mass re-engagement with civic & political life, she completely misreads the changed mood in the UK &, indeed, the rest of Europe.
Blears correctly notes that the idea that there was a golden age of mass participation in politics is a myth. Even in pre-war Britain, those active in trades unions & political parties were in a minority in the working & middle classes. More questionably, though, she includes the Chartists & the Suffragettes in her assertion. However, the main body of her address is a fairly typical example of of New Labour's exasperation with a print & broadcast media which is no longer pliant, as it was following Blair's 1997 win.
She complains that "in recent years commentary has taken over from investigation or news reporting, to the point where commentators are viewed by some as every bit as important as elected politicians, with views as valid as cabinet ministers."
True, there has been a diminution in the level of investigative journalism, even in the "quality" press, but that, surely, would be greeted with relief in New Labour circles. Also, is Blears inferring that the views of cabinet ministers are more valid than those of others, be they commentators or otherwise? There is the concomitant contention that columnists & commentators can often articulate the thoughts of many voters when the government is seen to be out of touch with ordinary people.
Blears concludes by stumbling into an intellectual minefield:
"This brings me to the role of political bloggers. Perhaps because of the nature of the technology, there is a tendency for political blogs to have a Samizdat style. The most popular blogs are right-wing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes. 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?
"There are some informative and entertaining political blogs, including those written by elected councillors. But mostly, political blogs are written by people with a disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.
"Unless and until political blogging adds value to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate 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."
First of all, most political blogs tend towards a Samizdat appearance & content because of the mainstream media's shortcomings; it isn't just the seeming retreat from investigative journalism, it's also the cosy collusion in off-the-record & unattributable briefings. Virtually all the revelations now coming out about Sarah Palin were known to the media during the campaign. However, the reporters & editors decided to keep their readers & viewers in the dark.
Blears' observations on Iain Dale (www.iaindale.blogspot.com/ ) & Guido Fawkes (www.order-order.com/ ) may be true (although both are also popular both for their opposition to New Labour & their concise, punchy style of delivery, particularly Guido). However, Blears must surely be aware of the left-of-centre blogs, such as Liberal Conspiracy (www.liberalconspiracy.org/ ) & Recess Monkey (www.recessmonkey.com/ ).
As for her description of blogs written by local councillors as "informative and entertaining", I presume Blears is referring to those servile missives scrawled by councillors from all the main parties. I won't link to them because they are a waste of cyberspace (although a blog written by Councillor Gordon Friel could be an entertaining read) ; MPs also blog, of course & one such example is that written by the former junior transport minister, Tom Harris (http://tomcharris.wordpress.com/ ). Harris famously mused on his blog earlier this year why people were "so bloody miserable" when the first signs of the recession were starting to bite.
In addition, the contention that political blogs show a "disdain" for the system is fatuous in the extreme. Politicians may well get it in the neck from the blogosphere, but they can't complain about such online scrutiny, it goes with the territory. Blears can't have it both ways: because the mainstream media has lessened its coverage of issues which demand investigative journalism, bloggers are perfectly entitled to see their role as "unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy."
There is also nothing to stop "new and disparate voices" making themselves heard in cyberspace, that what blogging is all about. The idea that the blogosphere is somehow conspiring to prevent diverse opinions from being expressed is one of the most absurd claims I've ever heard from any politician. Anyone can set up their own blog, maybe Blears should try it. Then again, maybe not. Moreover, the blogs do "add value" to political discourse by virtue of their refusal to follow the MSM's agenda.
It is politicos like Blears, with their culture of spin, obfuscation, secrecy & evasion who "fuel a culture of cynicism and despair", not the bloggers.