I have to say the idea of a conference with Ken Livingstone monopolising the front of the programme sponsored by the GMB, UNITE and ASLEF filled me with some dread. What could possibly be progressive about that was my initial reaction. On further investigation this was not even a Labour conference. Greens and even Liberal Democrats were there in force. This confused me even more. As a pluralist use to the European spirit of discussion and compromise, I heartily approve of cross party working. But is this what our trade union comrades see as the way forward?
In actual fact, it proved a good day, an event which included a number of imaginative workshops. I attended “Blogging London – The New Media and London Politics” chaired by Ivor Gaber, Research Professor in Media and Politics at the University of Bedfordshire, with Adam Bienkov from Tory Troll blog, Martin Hoscik, editor of MayorWatch and Tom Barry from Boriswatch.co.uk. It was a shame about the all male top table and the overwhelmingly male attendance. However, it was a good hour and a half and very good indeed to meet other bloggers. Given that I get concerned about the disembodied nature of the blogosphere, the workshop provided a welcome opportunity to meet people and discuss issues face to face.
Ivor introduced the session with the idea that the online environment had been significantly enhanced by the Obama campaign. They had collected 10 million e-mail addresses. Staggering though this achievement was, information needs to be used in the right way. Left of centre blogging appears weak on the whole (except perhaps for Liberal Conspiracy) in contrast to the more vibrant work done by the Right. Moreover, left blogs in London did not appear to have any impact on the mayoral elections.
Adam Bienkov from Tory Troll said that as newspaper readership declines more people are turning to blogs which are now read by a number of people engaged in politics, including activists, journalists, civil servants. A blog needs to be distinctive to get noticed. Local newspapers are very stretched so there is often scope to follow local authorities. Adam was convinced that the main impact of blogs was on the politicians themselves.
The editor of the MayorWatch website, Martin Hoscik, pointed out that during the Mayoral election all the candidates were keen to harness some blogs. The smaller parties, especially, found blogs useful for getting their message across. However, bloggers need to make sure their content is attractive. Left politicians should also engage more with blogs; sometimes there is a feeling that it is beneath them. MayorWatch has, in fact, been rebuffed by every Minister of London since it was set up.
Martin predicted that by the next GLA elections there will be much more audio and video content on blogs. YouTube is becoming more popular, and politicians will be increasingly do interviews to be put on the internet.
Tom Barry from Boriswatch.co.uk gave an amusing talk, concentrating on how blogs can be used for reporting. He had found out where Boris Johnson wanted to site the new London airport by plotting a dredger Boris had taken down the Thames Estuary and noting where it stopped.
It won’t surprise you to hear that these presentations were followed by a lively discussion. I am particularly grateful to LabourList who not only provided a blog from the whole conference, but gave me the following mention when I made a contribution at the blogging workshop:
Mary Honeyball MEP makes the point that Labour bloggers need to be linked up far better. She also goes on to illustrate how driving more people to blogs like her own could show up just how fringe and nutty European Tories actually are. All fair points, in our view.