Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Politics & the blogosphere – is it still about interaction ?

Richard Cobden

One of Steve Baker's heroes Richard Cobden - famous for having a pub in Camden named after him - and outside which one of the Gallagher brothers was photographed on Google Earth

It took a good while for me, and I guess many more people, to understand the power of the so called Web 2.0 phenomenon – which basically revolves around the notion that the internet is not a a broadcast medium – it is a medium which thrives and develops on the interactions of its users.

The potential of this idea for changing the way we think, and relate to each other is perhaps most apparent in the political ‘blogosphere’ and it’s attending social media platforms – such as for instance Facebook & Twitter.

I’ve found it a revelation that it’s possible to connect with politicians – who once seemed remote and unassailable – but are now ready to respond to questions, visit your blog, and publish and perhaps reply to your comments on their own sites. It can also lead to “real life” activity – In the past two years I’ve joined the Labour Party, visited Downing Street, met cabinet ministers, and conversed face to face with Members of Parliament. Without the interaction of the on-line communities none of this would ever have happened (a cautionary tale for some I guess !)

Some of this comes at a price though. Personally I’ve taken a decision not to pursue a mass readership for this blog – it ticks over nicely and has had 10,000 or so visitors – but if I were to receive that many every day – as some quite modest blogs do, I’d have great difficulty fitting in the management of comments, and the writing of posts with any kind of a real-life lifestyle. Imagine then how it must be for a Member of Parliament – the interest must be phenomal, and so also must be the risk of publishing something that will be picked up by the main-stream media, and used to make political mileage against you.

Certainly there are well publicised faux pas arising from Twitter – whether they be about skateboarding elderly ex-prime ministers, ill considered jibes against opponents, or hasty comments regarding ballot counts.

I’d suggest thought that although the greater scrutiny which the new media brings is difficult to negotiate, it is nevertheless a worthwhile activity for politicians – as it not only shows them to be open to communication with the electorate, but also to be confident in their convictions – and unafraid of speaking their minds.

Which is why I’m concerned that a number of politicians seem to be shutting down the channels of communication. It’s been well publicised for instance that Nadine Dorries MP has closed down her Twitter account (on which she was famous for blocking anyone who tried to respond to her), and has opened a new blog on which she opines freely – sometimes about individuals  – but leaves no method of replying. Comments are switched off, and the email address on the page, results in a message  (so I’m told – I’ve never tried it myself) which explains that Nadine may take several weeks to respond, and that she only replies to constituents. (Can anyone confirm this ?).

But I’m not going to dwell on Nadine Dorries – Although I do find her a little quirky I think her offensiveness has been highly exaggerated – Suffice to say that I feel it’s sad that she’s choosing not to interact with the rest of us mere mortals – in favour of  turning her on-line presence into a one way channel.

Another blog site I’ve viewed a reasonable amount over the past couple of years belongs to one Steve Baker – the Member of Parliament for Wycombe. I find his blog interesting because Steve’s not like most other Tories. Most Tories in my opinion base their political beliefs on very little other than a desire to get ahead, there are no principles in their politics. Steve Baker on the other hand has principles to spare – he’s evangelic about many aspects of politics – he waxes lyrical about the “Austrian School” of economics, and his beloved Cobden Centre. He’s clearly an independent thinker as his somewhat unorthodox statement on Hunting with Hounds shows Hunting with hounds | Steve Baker MP – ( and remember he’s representing a constituency in the heart of Fox Hunting country ).  So he’s very principled – I just tend to disagree vehemently with almost all of the principles he holds.

Give him his due though he’s responded to my comments, and engaged – and of course I haven’t been particularly complimentary – but he gives as good as he gets, and I even bought a book on his recommendation after reading this article – Clear thinking | Steve Baker MP ( Book available from Amazon here : Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking: Jamie Whyte: Books – I can also recommend it).

I don’t read his blog often but I do keep coming back to it periodically – but when I tried to leave a comment recently it appeared that the site had forgotten my password. After a bit of messing on with reminders and stuff I realised it had also forgotten my user name and email address. No problem – register again – except that “User registration is currently not allowed”. With a bit more scouting around it would appear that all of my previous comments (there aren’t that many actually) – and Steve’s replies to them, have been removed – in fact I couldn’t find any comments at all.

Of course Steve is still on twitter @sjbaker but if you read the contact information on his web-site :Contact me | Steve Baker MP it’s clear that  he will not answer any comments

“Follow me on Twitter (please note that I do not reply on Twitter)”

In fact there’s very little way of contacting him directly other than by post – and the form on the website is for users with a Wycombe post code only.

Of course he has – like every other MP, or for that matter every other member of the public – every right not to respond, and not to interact.

Wouldn’t it be so much better if they all did though ? Wouldn’t give them all so much more credibility – even if they used staff members to give them a hand ?

The posts on Steve’s blog I’ve looked at over the last couple of days have been his “quotes of the day”, and I found a particular irony in this one :

“Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with each other and governments less” (attributed to Richard Cobden).

Quite ! Being a member of parliament doesn’t stop you being one of the people Steve – in fact I’d say it magnifies the fact that you are exactly that.

So if you do read this – please leave a comment and let us know if you’re going to interact with us again, and whether you’ll encourage other politicians to do the same ?

Stop Press – :

I’ve just discovered that the aforementioned Nadine Dorries MP has re-launched her Twitter account, which can be found here @Nadine_MP – so a special follow friday #ff for her.  I’m following her – I hope she doesn’t block me !

UPDATE ( 2.00 PM Saturday 16th October)

Steve Baker MP has read this blog, and responded via direct message on Twitter to inform me that there is a technical issue with his website which is preventing people leaving comments, which he is looking into. He tells me that the only problem he has is lack of time and that he prioritises his constituents. Which is a reasonable enough response – Thank you Steve. He’s also clearly reading his Twitter messages – and despite what his blog says he does reply. Keep interacting Steve !

What we need now is a comment from Nadine Dorries ! – Are you out there Nadine ?

UPDATE ( 3.00 – Saturday 16th October )

Following the response above Steve Baker has posted on his blog to clarify his comments policy and explain how his recent purging of spam registrations has caused a few problems, I’ve since commented on his blog and have received a response Comments and contact – constituents first | Steve Baker MP

Never let it be said that Northernheckler doesn’t give credit where it’s due, and nor do I restrict my praise to non-Tories. Thank you Steve Baker – the blogosphere doesn’t get much more interactive than that, it’s much appreciated. Now if you could have a word with Nadine … !


October 15, 2010 - Posted by | blogs, politics, twitter | , , , , , , ,

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