As in so many things (a Bill of Rights, Rock and Roll, IPods and Krispy Kremes), the UK lags behind the US in so many respects, but when it comes to the progressive blogosphere, we’ve screwed things up royally in the past few weeks.
In one of the biggest scandals to hit the Gordon Brown government, his senior strategy advisor Damian McBride (above) has had to resign (and there could be more resignations to come) all because of a badly-conceived plan to emulate the energy and activism of US blogs…
It all started back last fall when UK politicians finally woke up the important role the internets played in fundraising and political advocacy. Trying to piggy back on that success (and noting that the opposition Tories had a headstart with their own blog) a few Labour apparatchiks decided to set up their own answer to DailyKos and MYDD: Labourlist.
From my experience with you guys in the last year or so I could see it was doomed to failure and suffered from problems which American bloggers could have told them in a New York minute.
1. Poor design and interface
2. Star front pagers who are just politicians who will cut and paste and move on
3. Unaccountable and invisible editorial control
4. Abject pre-posting censorship and no active moderation by trusted users.
5. All in all an example of cynical and misinformed top-down astroturfing.
Sadly, since we desperately need a successful community driven progressive blog, I suspected it wouldn’t succeed except in alienating readers on all sides, and creating the self perpetuating cycle of PR puff followed by abuse we’ve all seen happen on US blogs (no names mentioned).
If a site is run by arbitrary fiat; if front page diarists will not account for their arguments and top down control poses as interaction; all you’ll get is vituperative abuse and, led by example, everyone becomes trolls. A quick visit to the site will confirm that this has happened.
What I couldn’t have predicted is that this would lead to a near fatal hemorrhage of credibility from the Labour Government, just as it looked it could perhaps claw back some support for its handling of the financial crisis.
To explain the story in brief (as its well covered in most the UK papers): Labourlist is edited and set up by Derek Draper, a former labour activist and special advisor who was disgraced for offering access to lobbyists a decade ago.
A week or so ago, a right wing Drudge like site (Guido Fawkes) published emails from Gordon Brown’s chief strategy advisor Damian McBride to Draper discussing the set up of a left wing gossip site Red Rag, and the smears they could start there, including rumours about the health of the Tory leader David Cameron, the mental health of the wife of his senior shadow Chancellor David Osborne, and the sexual partners of a female Tory member of Parliament.
McBride has rightly resigned. Draper still remains editor in chief of the major Labour blog (though for how long) and the saga continues. Draper was invited to dinner with Gordon Brown just as Labourlist was set up, so the involvment of senior party members could be their downfall. According to some sites it could lead to a ministerial resignation soon…
Apart from the damage wrought to Labour’s reputation, Britain’s centre left blogosphere has screwed itself up before it even really began. It saw online debate and advocacy as a mixture of two things – Party PR and message control, or Drudge-like innuendo and smear.
One can take this object lesson in how NOT to run a progressive blog in many ways. For starters, this just confirms to me how senior party apparatchiks have no understanding of the qualities needed to blog effectively. It is also a backhanded credit to the relative health and sanity of the US liberal Blogosphere.
The only good thing that might come out of this is that one of these misinformed idiots might investigate the community principles that make US blogs survive.