by Stephen Tall on October 27, 2013
Sunny Hundal announced on Friday that left-of-centre blog Liberal Conspiracy is coming to an end:
I no longer have the time to maintain Liberal Conspiracy as a daily-updated news and opinion blog, so as of today I’m going to stop. This site will become an occasionally updated personal blog, with the odd guest-post.
It’s fair to say LibCon received an underwhelmed response from Lib Dems when it was launched six years ago, mostly on account of it including the word Liberal in its title but not so much in its outlook. Sunny himself was sport enough to respond to some of these criticisms at the time.
Sunny’s choice to wind LibCon down is understandable: he now has other (paid) work to occupy him. My former co-editor Mark Pack made a similar decision earlier this year, standing down from LibDemVoice when he moved jobs and also took on a new professional sideline as a lecturer – though he remains an active blogger at his own site.
LibDemVoice continues to thrive only because we’ve been able to expand our team of volunteer editors and divvy up the work manageably between us. I’m quite struck when I talk to folk in the media who assume I (and/or others) must be paid full-time to do it, rather than – as we all do – fitting it around our real work and other commitments.
But Sunny’s right, too, to highlight that much has changed in the political blogging world in the last six-plus years. When ConservativeHome and Lib Dem Voice (and other single author bloggers like Iain Dale and Paul Staines) started out, the scene was a lot less competitive. Other than the Guardian’s Comment Is Free site, the mainstream media by and large left it to us amateurs.
Not any more. These days, the Telegraph, Spectator, New Statesman, Economist and Independent all offer highly successful blogging platforms for their own writers. Ironically, the only newspaper site to have tried and failed miserably to achieve this is the otherwise hugely successful Mail Online. Yet its Right Minds group-blog was a classic case of hiring people because of who they were rather than because they could do the job of producing quick turn-around on interesting copy.
In the main, the expansion of the political blogosphere has been a good thing. New and interesting voices have become essential must-reads, such as the Telegraph’s Tom Chivers and Dan Hodges, the Independent’s John Rentoul, the Staggers’ Rafael Behr and George Eaton, and the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman.
But there have also been three less good consequences. First, an obsessions with process stories, exemplified by the over-analysis of the performance in Prime Minister’s Questions of Messrs Cameron and Miliband – which, in turn, has achieved the trick of making PMQs even more of a grudge-match pantomime than ever before.
Secondly, this surfeit of opinion erupting from the every orifice of the internet – brilliantly captured in July by Charlie Brooker explaining why he was ending his weekly Guardian column:
If a weatherman misreads the national mood and cheerfully sieg-heils on BBC Breakfast at 8.45am, there’ll be 86 outraged columns, 95 despairing blogs, half a million wry tweets and a rib-tickling pass-the-parcel Photoshop meme about it circulating by lunchtime. It happens every day. Every day, a billion instantly conjured words on any contemporaneous subject you can think of. Events and noise, events and noise; everything was starting to resemble nothing but events and noise.
– has also incited columnists (some of whom should know better) to indulge in trollemic, penning deliberately OTT arguments with the specific aim of generating controversy (see Julie Burchill or Rod Liddle) and in the process making rational debate of the subject almost impossible. Their aim is simple: to get you to click. Not to think, not to think again, not to challenge and certainly not to inform: just click. And, lo!, we do. Before tweeting our outrage so another few people will click. And so on.
Thirdly, the rise of the mainstream blogging has crowded out most of the amateurs. Many are still blogging, but look down the 2008 list of top 100 political blogs compiled by Total Politics magazine – and compare it with who the most influential online political voices are today – and you’ll get a sense of how the caravan has moved on. Talent will out, of course. But if you want your blog to get noticed now, best to develop a niche in which you’re an expert (such as Simon Wren-Lewis in economics or Tom Bennett in education, or of course your local neighbourhood if you’re a campaigner) — or else land yourself some kind of paid gig.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.