When I blogged about the centre-right blogosphere before Christmas, I argued that competition between political blogs is by no means a zero-sum game:
“Whilst the centre-right blogosphere is best known for its big players in Westminster, there is plenty of room for a much broader and deeper hinterland of online activism and commentary”.
A lot of that breadth is already there. But as centre-right bloggers have tended to be more independent-minded than those on the Left, there hasn’t been much of a tribal community bringing them all together. Until this week, for instance, there had never been a proper event for Conservative Party-supporting bloggers from around the country to meet each other.
That changed on Tuesday when over seventy bloggers (plus some tweeters) came to a get-together organised by the Party’s new media team. They ranged from a young lad who got a night bus down from the north-east and crashed on my couch, to a very senior executive who indulges in a bit of political blogging on the side.
Most people there didn’t know most people there – something of a rare quality for an event based in Westminster. Organising it was like herding cats, so we circulated a Google Doc we’d been working on that listed the blog and contact details of all those attending. And now that they have those details it’s our hope that, in the spirit of open data, it will be easier for bloggers to come up with ways of working together.
But whilst cultivating relationships within the blogosphere is a productive outcome in itself, there was a more serious context to the event – something which Party Chairman Eric Pickles touched on in what was an otherwise very funny speech.
It’s become very clear that the Labour Party, and the wider movement behind it, has decided to focus on negative rather than affirmative campaigning in the coming election. Eric said that he expected it to be “one of the nastiest campaigns in recent history”, and he was right.
He was also right to directly urge the bloggers to fight the spin, saying “that’s where you come in, for rebuttal”. There’s no reason why political parties shouldn’t engage with citizen commentators, just as they engage with professional lobby journalists. We’ve seen the power of this kind of open engagement elsewhere the world, not least from the opposing sides in the last American election.
When Mark Twain famously said that a lie “can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” people had barely started using telephones, never mind Twitter. Negative campaigning at a national level is, of course, as old as politics itself. But with the advent of new media, responsibility for tackling it now rests on the shoulders of grassroots activists.