Why blogging matters to Lib Dems more than most

by Stephen Tall on September 4, 2008

This is the fortnight of lists and awards in the political blogosphere. Not only has Iain Dale produced his annual little list, but the Lib Dem Blog of the Year awards are once again upon us. All of which may seem a little self-indulgent. And it probably is. But there’s a serious point to blogging, and one which is of unique relevance to the Lib Dems.

All the main national newspapers employ commentators who write regularly on politics. But cast your eyes down the lists of columnists in the serious press and you will see something missing: a Liberal Democrat perspective.

Let’s look first at the more reactionary, right-wing press. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Daily Telegraph should cater to its readership with names such as Simon Heffer, Boris Johnson, Charles Moore, Janet Daley, Matthew d’Ancona, Christopher Booker, and, yes, Iain Dale. There is a token leftie, the eminently sane John Kampfner, but that’s it. The Times, a little less swivel-eyed, has Daniel Finkelstein, Matthew Parris, Michael Portillo and William Rees-Mogg on its books, with David Aaronovitch its token bit of ‘rough’.

Switch to the papers associated with the progressive liberal-left, and it’s the left which is more visible. In the Guardian there are, inter alia, Polly Toynbee, Jackie Ashley, Martin Kettle, Roy Hattersley, Andrew Rawnsley, John O’Farrell and Francis Wheen. Fine writers, many of them; but not definably liberal. Even in the Independent, traditionally most friendly to the Lib Dems and with the highest proportion of Lib Dem voters, both left (Steve Richards, John Rentoul, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Johann Hari, Mark Steel) and right (Dominic Lawson, Bruce Anderson) are represented. But no Lib Dem.

There are, of course, commentators of a liberal bent – most notably Simon Jenkins in both The Times and Guardian (though his hatred for the Lib Dems exceeds all reason), Alan Watkins in the Independent, and Samuel Brittan in the Financial Times – but they are the exceptions.

Let me be clear here. I am not looking for, still less expecting, a newspaper to employ a Lib Dem cheerleader, someone who will write only about Lib Dem matters in a way which reflects well on the party. But what I do find bizarre, even slightly shocking, is that there are no political commentators among the quality press (and I’ve not even mentioned the Lib Dem-hating tabloid press) with a sympathy for, and an understanding of, a political party which has for three decades regularly attracted the support of 20-25% of the population. As a result, much of what is written about the Lib Dems betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes us tick.

And this is where blogging comes in. Because though I find myself irritated by the national media’s neglect of liberalism and the party, political commentators are becoming less important factors in making the political weather. News journalists, whether from print or broadcast media, now scan the political blogs regularly to find out what party activists are thinking and saying. And yes, that is in part lazy journalism, sometimes resulting in providing bloggers with a platform much larger than their actual importance merits. But at least the Lib Dems now have such a platform, one which is read and absorbed, and provides a much fuller picture of the ideas, policies and campaigns which motivate Liberal Democrats across the country.

So I make no apology for Lib Dem Voice’s role in championing the best of liberal blogging, whether through lists or awards. We discovered a generation ago that as the newspapers can’t be relied upon to help us put our message across we have to “stick it on a leaflet and put it through a door”. Blogging in a 24×7 media is simply an electronic re-invention of that maxim.