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.

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Well said. I think this is a strong reason for why there’s a need for a flourishing Libdem blogosphere.

Now you guys just need to be a bit more aggressive in challenging the MSM narratives 🙂

by Sunny on September 4, 2008 at 8:22 pm. Reply #

That’s because Liberal Democratism is a party political construct. All the writers you cite are identifiably “on the left”, “on the right” (or “on the fence”). Most are not, however, pushing party political views.

by greg on September 4, 2008 at 9:37 pm. Reply #

Actually, greg, I think all the ones I cite on right/left are identifiably partisan to one extent or another.

by Stephen Tall on September 4, 2008 at 10:09 pm. Reply #

A few other names you could have mentioned who normally take a liberal line (although I have no idea whether any of them actually support the Lib Dems): Henry Porter, Jenni Russell, Tim Garton Ash, Robert Fisk. And one or two of the ones you mention, such as Steve Richards, are reasonably fair to the Lib Dems despite not being liberal supporters.

by Bernard Salmon on September 4, 2008 at 10:43 pm. Reply #

I’m pretty sure Yasmin A-B is a Lib Dem, actually.

by Woodpecker on September 4, 2008 at 11:14 pm. Reply #

I thought I read Jackie Ashley debating in her column which way she was going to vote in the Lib Dem leadership election.

by boldkevin on September 5, 2008 at 8:44 am. Reply #

Woodpecker – YAB – please God, no!

by Steve Travis on September 5, 2008 at 9:46 am. Reply #

Simon Jenkins manages to be insulting today even whilst totally agreeing with us:


He cant help it, it seems.

by Mark Wright on September 5, 2008 at 9:49 am. Reply #

Stephen, thanks for another very perceptive posting; blognews has provided an alternative political medium; I always read Guido before the Guardian nowadays for my political diet.
LD Voice site must also have my congratulations; for I see from Iaian Dale’s top 100 political blogs its promotion from 54 previously to 15 now.
And not forgetting the other LD sites that have risen in the league: Lynne Featherstone from 172 to 50, and Quaquam from 61 to 45.

As a poltical grassroot I am grateful to the blogworld.

by Elizabeth Patterson on September 5, 2008 at 10:11 am. Reply #

There are far too many awards and ratings in the blogosphere. There is almost a six month period every year with a constant succession of awards/ratings. It is quite ridiculous when you compare it to any other field of life. I think the awards/ratings tend to skew what people are offering, introduce an endemic atmosphere of ridiculous egotism, infuse a false purpose into the blogging arena and give some bloggers a ludicrously false of sense of importance. Though I can see their purpose for encouraging “newcomers” with “new blog of the year” awards.

That said, I am quite happy for LDV and any one else to carry on rating and awarding, and I was very grateful to be short-listed last year. Just count me out. It is against my core values and also bad for my health – and I note that at least one other person’s health has visibly been impacted by the award season this year.

by Paul Walter on September 5, 2008 at 2:54 pm. Reply #

YAB publicly supported the LDs at the last GE.
And I’m an admirer of hers 😉

by Big Tall Tim on September 5, 2008 at 3:16 pm. Reply #

Stephen, why don’t YOU write for the Times or Telegraph? I can see no reason why at Conference Time there is no opportunity for a worthy scribe such as yourself to pen a daily record of activities for these snoozepapers.

by Matthew Pearce on September 5, 2008 at 5:27 pm. Reply #

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