Friday, May 7, 2010

The General Election: Reflections on my failure as a blogger

I started this blog 18 months ago with a number of aims:
  1. To help sharpen the Liberal Democrat offering to the British people at the next general election, an offering that at that time appeared to lack focus and presentational quality.
  2. To try to help improve the quality of discourse at the more "tabloid end" of political discussion, to move beyond slogans and smears.
  3. To try to influence how voters, particularly in Exeter where I live, go about choosing between political parties and candidates, to move beyond tribalism to rationality.

It might well be said I've failed fairly comprehensively on each of these aims:
  1. The LibDems succeeded in improving their policies and presentation, but no thanks to me. I've not seen any evidence of influence.
  2. Nick Clegg's performance in the first television debate led to improved LibDem poll ratings, but subsequent journalism and politics indulged in all the usual barren punch-and-judy behaviour. There was no renaissance in political discourse that I could see amongst commentators, politicians or voters.
  3. Yesterday's general election results, for me, confirm that this behaviour still works as a way of getting votes. In Exeter in particular, Labour ran with a message of "It's neck-and-neck between Labour and Tories", successfully scaring those who believe in LibDem policies into voting either for Labour (to stop the Tories) or for the Tories (to get Labour out).

Now, I say "failure", but to be fair, there are influential bloggers out there who had very welcome success in relation to Aim 1 - I would single out Neil Stockley, Alix Mortimer & Alex Wilcock for particular praise - so my failure here was not a great loss.

And in relation to Aim 2, I'm very far from being the first person to find it difficult to create tabloid-style arguments that are more than either whispers in the wind or glorified slogans. Maybe blogging can't have such grandiose aims.

And to be fair in relation to Aim 3, the Exeter LibDem candidate Graham Oakes did very well not to have his vote squeezed at all, given that the self-fulfilling "Lab-Con neck-and-neck" scaremongering was championed by extremely well-funded, well-staffed and media-supported Labour and Conservative campaigns in Exeter.

A final point. Perhaps the way I went about blogging was fatally flawed. The most successful blogs have a sense of authenticity about them: "This is what I think", they say, "disagree with me if you like, but you can't deny me my voice." This blog lacked that authenticity. It wasn't my voice. I could have written about tabloid-level arguments without trying to use them; but that seemed somehow patronising and elitist. So instead I tried to construct them. However as constructs I found the overall tone of the blog unconvincing; and being perceived as having a Machiavellian agenda inevitably highlights the inherent elitism anyway, without the benefits of authenticity.

It's worth emphasising that I wasn't "dumbing down" or "slumming it" in order to deceive. I genuinely believe that if your arguments are too subtle and clever to be translated into language that can be readily understood outside activist circles then there's probably a flaw in those arguments somewhere.

It's interesting that Twitter turned out to be a more rewarding experience than blogging, probably because it was authentically my political voice rather than a more stylised blogging construct, but again there was little evidence of impact.

What to do now?

I will probably continue to post every now and again. I think we live in exciting times politically, and Exeter is also an exciting place politically. But I think it's best to stop having ulterior aims beyond writing what I think.