Friday, February 22, 2013

Start Blogging

When Daniel Hannan stood-up in the European Parliament in Brussels in March of 2009 and made a dramatic speech, attacking the catastrophic economic record of then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, it was one of dozens of speeches made that day and ignored by the mainstream political media. But then, something unusual happened, it was posted on YouTube and within hours had been watched by 40,000 people. Since then it's been seen by over three million viewers.

Why am I mentioning this? It's for the very reason, that two years before the impact of Twitter and the arrival of the 'The Arab Spring,' while the likes of the BBC thought the speech to be of no importance and 'lacking in substance,' the mainstream media were dragged reluctantly into recognising they no longer exercised centralised control of broadcasting the news any longer.

As Douglas Carswell puts it: "Thanks to the internet, news is no longer left to a tiny, self-regarding elite to interpret things on our behalf and feed us their opinions. As long as there are some more articulate than others, there will always be a class of commentators but it has been democratised."

Carswell observes that bloggers have rudely interrupted the monopoly of the old elite commentariat, while old-school newspaper pundits have to face inwards at the morning conference meeting. Its for this reason, I wanted to write a few words on the subject this morning.

Recently, several councillors of different political groups have told me they never read local blogs, thinking them sordid and scurrilous at worst and self indulgent at best. But what, I would ask are the useful local news sources? The Thanet Gazette, BBC Southeast Today?  Is that the best we can hope for offering a very narrow view of local news and events indeed.

Yes, of course some local blogs are pretty awful but there are others which can offer a very useful perspective on important Thanet issues, such as the Royal Sands debate and the changing perceptions surrounding  local democracy and politics on the island. The same I would argue is also true of Twitter, which offers a running ticker tape on millions of  issues and people that are of personal interest, whether it be SE Trains delays, the BBC, Clive Hart or Thanet Council.

For any politician, local, county or indeed national, not to keep an eye on local, internet-based news sources, just because they don't like what they read I find very hard to accept as a good reason. Politicians need to be engaged and informed at every level of the community and that includes the internet, whether they like it or not, unless of course, we're suggesting locking ourselves in a small windowless room equipped only with a television, telephone and Friday's copy of the Thanet Gazette?

The Royal Sands debate which is presently raging in Ramsgate around figures such as Cllr Ian Driver, illustrates how the internet and local blogging, is revealing weaknesses in both the processes and & the transparency of local democracy in the 21st century.

So I would ask all our councillors of all flavours and parties, to think a little more about what blogs and Twitter and the internet are starting to contribute to local debate, opinion and information. Ultimately, the very nature of politics is going to be changed by these mediums and in a number of examples already has by the special interest groups that are leveraging them. So if you can't beat them, join them!

Today, for example you can follow a moment by moment account on Twitter from Louise Oldfield (@margatearch), who is at Maidstone Crown Court, watching the trial of Sandy Ezekiel or you may read in the news and on the blogs that Thanet District Council is being sued by the Dutch animal exporters for the interruption in trade at the port of Ramsgate. I recall, warning Reg Bell this might happen as they have done the same before, successfully elsewhere, when port authority councils attempted to stop this vile trade. Now Thanet, may find that standing against such misery on principal can be an expensive exercise for the taxpayer.

Finally, if anyone is interested, here's the video of another successful marriage proposal I flew at Leeds castle yesterday, in bitterly cold weather, before staggering back, just in time for the Council's special briefing on the new remuneration package for local government employees, here in Thanet.


Wanda Rogers said...

Completely agree Simon. Councillors face the necessity of being totally familiar with current public concerns and opinion simply because of the increased pace of change. While their comfort zone may definitely be challenged by its impetus, ignoring this fact renders them ill-equipped to effectively continue serving their public. While they may not need to participate in the social media sites they certainly should be aware of the content.

It's reassuring you agree there are "weaknesses in both the processes and & the transparency of local democracy" as I believe this is critical to administering necessary radical change.

Anonymous said...

You can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink, if you get what I'm driving at, and of course some will use their own blog to ferment unrest and spread half truths (not you) which the casual reader will not realise. Hopefully the diligent representative will take note of blogs and comments.

Anonymous said...

Daniel Hannan's speech should be broadcast to Balls, Miliband and co. as compulsory viewing for a minimum of ten times a day till they beg for it to stop and the labour party finally admits that they got it wrong for thirteen years of Labour misrule.

Michael Child said...

Looking at this from my perspective as a bookseller, equating the general public to the authors and readers and equating politicians to the publishers, there is perhaps an aspect that our publishers are just beginning to realise, that I think politicians have mostly yet to even think about. This is that the internet provides the technology to sideline them altogether, there isn’t really any technological reason why the electorate couldn’t now vote directly on the issues that interest them, instead of doing this via their representatives the politicians. In the book world the publishers were in the strongest position because without them it wasn’t possible to get a book published in a way that significant amounts of people would ever read it. Now if you write a book you can upload it directly to amazon and various other places and anyone with internet access can order it as a download or a physical printed book.

My guess is that if politicians at every level don’t actively engage with the internet, they will eventually find them selves on the slippery road to extinction, which is where publishers and booksellers are at the moment.

Louise Oldfield said...

Not often I agree with one of your posts, Simon! But thanks for posting this. Not because you've mentioned me btw! But because I wholeheartedly agree. I think that citizen publishing, with your own name on it and that's accountable is the way to go.

I've had to take on the responsibility of conduct required from the court. And it is just that, a responsibility.

The dregs of Thanet's blogs and social media are usually the anon commentators. I've turned off my own comments on my blog until after the trial is over.

Wanda Rogers said...

Interesting observation you've made Michael. No doubt time will tell if more dinosaurs become extinct.

Simon Moores said...

Politics aside, I hope that this weblog can be seen as a troll-free zone for grown-up argument and intelligent debate.