As I continue to relentlessly chronicle my political education without thought to my sleeping pattern, no!, nor to anyone else’s attention span, the wise words of the elephant, as so often, are a guiding light.
Specifically, one of the many good points in the fluffy one’s leadership plan is as follows:
…we have terrific strength right here in the Lib Dem blogosphere for forensic analysis, pithy comment and rapid response. Let’s really USE that resource.
I have one or two embryonic ideas. They are mostly to do with using the blogs as a recruitment tool, and they mostly come from the perspective of a very recent armchair-dweller. The advantage of this is that I am more aware of the yawning gulfs of indifference beyond the active segments of all parties. The disadvantage is, clearly, that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, and I humbly prithy for better-informed – actually, just better – people to generally upgrade the standard of my whimsy. My thinking proceeds, or weaves around, as follows.
We are news now. Last week in the BBC coverage of Ming’s resignation, the blogs collectively got airtime. Granted our original entry into being “news” was undesired, but we should take a lesson from the Mingmaster’s coup, as explained by the fluffy one, and use it in our favour. They’ve identified us, rightly or wrongly, as a “force”. Obviously they’re not going to report any policy discussion. But they might report, for want of a better phrase, online stunts, particularly those that are the result of collective action. So far, the random internal Mortimer ideas generator has come up with “Why I am a liberal” post-day, an online wall for scrawling one sentence each on the theme of “what makes us different”, an actual wall for the same purpose (anyone got a wall they don’t care for?), a co-ordinated comment-invasion on a particularly stupid article once a week to which the first off the mark awards the journalist some sort of prize, conversely a regular co-ordinated descent on some worthy private blog or organisation or announcement that seems in tune with liberalism, and award them bloggers’ backing, and spamming any and all of the above at my nationals press list. But I am sure – actually I am very sure – you will have better ideas. Think the self-perpetuating nature of Facebook.
Maybe you’ve all been on the inside (of the party that is) so long that you’ve forgotten how impressive it is that the online presence is here at all, that it’s rich, and interesting, and lively, and passionate, and that not everyone works in Cowley Street, and that the newest recruit can tell the Blogger of the Year to shut up being so bloody rude (he ignored me, but I am counting that as a win. For liberalism, I mean). I found it oddly heartening when a few awkward cusses responded to Burma one-post day by arguing about how this was an attack on free speech – as that ultimate democrat Lord Vetinari (one man! one vote!) had it, progress is when men pull in different directions. We are the best advert there is for party political participation being worthwhile.
So a little self-promotion, a little pride wouldn’t go amiss. The party has an apologetic image in public that is totally belied by the thriving state of affairs online. Somewhere around the place on Lib Dem Blogs could that clever Mr Ryan do a word counter, so that every time a new post goes up it gets added to the daily total? “21,000 words today in the cause of liberalism” and could we identify ourselves collectively as “talking shop and proud”, “no-one’s throwing us out for asking awkward questions” etc?
Talking of which, a non-party member stopped by on LDV yesterday to ask a very reasonable, well-phrased and pertinent question. Put simply, it was a far more intelligent version of “What are the Lib Dems for?” Thinking about it, I’m not at all satisfied with the answer I gave. I know it wasn’t the thread for it, but we ought to be jumping on people like that who make courteous, sensible, honest requests for information, and signposting for them. That’s how messages and good impressions spread. Impatience is just smug and ghastly, I’m afraid. All the cleverest people I know got that way by asking questions – and, at first, considerably more stupid ones than that.
This made me wonder whether it mightn’t be an idea to have permanent pages on Lib Dem Voice with a few headings under a Start Here tab – “What’s our policy on nuclear power?”, “Are we left or right of centre?” etc. The stuff people actually ask, as opposed to the stuff we wish they would. These would not be copied and pasted party positions, but expositions from within the ranks – which might always include an explanation of how they fit into a coherent liberal ideology. Then people cutting their teeth or wanting basic information can post there without having to constantly google by-election results and wade through messy, offputting troll wars to work out what’s going on. I know they can go to the main party website, but it would be a nice conceit to offer them a sort of “grass-roots view” that they will perhaps be inclined to take more on trust. Can’t keep the trolls out, of course, but if their usual standards of debate are aught to go by, they’ll just make us look good.
And incidentally I’ve never seen suckers like us for feeding the trolls. If we put even a quarter of that energy into dreaming up ways to use ourselves as a party resource, into turning the blogs outwards onto the world and into courteously educating people who actually want to be educated – all of which costs the party nothing - we’d be laughing.
Even if we did all that, and it worked, we still wouldn’t be anywhere near making the fundamental shifts we need to make, as articulated by t’Quaequam. Online campaigning of any sort only reaches a certain limited sector, and one is assuming a certain mindset – okay, level of intelligence – in the punters. It changes nothing about the nature of political communication that I wrote about yesterday. But it’s a start, and a start is better than a largely non-existent grand plan.