On Monday 8 February 2010, Westminster Skeptics will host a panel discussion on whether political blogging actually makes - or will make - any difference to the course of UK political events.
The starting point is that political blogging is now an established part of UK political life, for example:
- blogs break political stories;
- blogs report political gossip;
- blogs are a means of communication within parties, and between like-minded activists outside of any particular party;
- blogs are used (though not yet really that successfully) as a means for politicians to communicate with voters, and for voters to communicate with politicians; and
- blogs even cause (or contribute towards) resignations of ministers and ministerial advisers.
So it is perhaps undeniable that blogs have at least changed (to some extent) the form, if not substance, of UK political life.
However, have political blogs changed anything in any substantial way?
In particular, if political blogging didn't exist, would there be any significant difference to:
-the outcome of the next general election, or even any of the constituency contests?
-any policy making, either by parties or within government?
-the strategies and tactics of parties and individual politicians?
-the coverage of politics by the mainstream media?
-the way political news is transmitted to or received by the wider public?
The minimalist view is that political blogging, although colourful and noisy, is ultimately inconsequential.
It is as if political bloggers line up in their pyjamas on the high street of the Westminster Village, trying to hand out their electronic pamphlets and often shouting at each other, whilst the rest of the world just gets on with its business.
At the other extreme is the view is that political blogging is part of a fundamental internet-based change in the relationship between those seeking/holding power and the wider public.
Here the suggestion is that the old style command and control approach that politicians and public officials had in respect of information flows to and from electors - sometimes via a compliant mainstream media - is simply no longer sustainable.
As a consequence there is a re-alignment comparable to the rise of national party political organisations in the decades either side of 1900.
There may be those - the party managers and the lobby journalists - who don't "get this" and want to carry on with the old ways: but surely they will go the way of the Whigs and the borough-mongers.
Forming the panel to discuss whether political blogging really makes any difference are four highly accomplished political bloggers.
Jonathan Isaby of Conservative Home was probably the first UK mainstream journalist to move professionally to the blogosphere. Conservative Home is regarded by many as the in-house journal of the Conservative Party, replacing The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator.
The radical left of course does not have anything as elegant as an in-house journal; but it does have Liberal Conspiracy, set up and edited by Sunny Hundal. According to its website:
"If we want to see a more equal, socially just, environmentally friendly and free society then we can’t just hope for it – we have to fight for it. And we have to do that by having a vision and spreading it. We have to take that vision out to society.
"You are the part of a new generation of citizens who can spread those ideas. You are part of the media. You and hundreds, even thousands of bloggers, can collectively impact national politics."
Mick Fealty of Slugger O'Toole created and edits a website which has become part of everyday political life in Northern Ireland, offering a forum where nationalists, unionists, and others, can discuss political and policy developments. The approach of Slugger - famously - is to encourage users to "play the ball, not the man". Its success in doing so is reflected not only in the numerous awards that the website has won, but also that reportedly 96% of the members of Northern Ireland's assembly read the blog.
And then there is Guido Fawkes.
Joining them will be Observer columnist Nick Cohen, who recently warned us of "the instant online anger of the HobNob mob".
I will be moderating the discussion.
The event will take place at The Old Monk Exchange, a spacious pub just 100 yards away from St James Station. (Facebook event page is here.)
Please do come - all are welcome - and no need to book. There is a head charge of £2.
The panel discussion starts at 7.30pm.
Westminster Skeptics is a recent off-shoot of the worldwide "Skeptics in the Pub" movement.
Its particular remit is to promote critical and evidence-based approaches to policy, media, and legal issues. Previous speakers have included Simon Singh, Ben Goldacre, and Professor David Nutt, and its launch was featured on BBC Newsnight.
Sign up either here or here for information about its events.
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