Blogs and the ballot box

AS most innovations do, blogging started in the United States.With many of the opinion formers associated with the liberal, pro Democrat Party establishment of New York and New England, blogging was taken up by the right.

By Graham Dines

AS most innovations do, blogging started in the United States.

With many of the opinion formers associated with the liberal, pro Democrat Party establishment of New York and New England, blogging was taken up by the right. Neo-Conservatives and the evangelical, born again Christians of the Bible belt who have unfashionable views loosely in line with the thinking of George W. Bush's Republicans, found the unregulated Internet the ideal way to get their message across.

For the uninitiated, a blog is a web log where people write on any subject under the sun and invite comments from the growing community of Internet users across the globe.


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They're great fun. I've been writing my own blog Dines' Days on the EADT web site for the past six months.

The number of hits it is achieving has grown as the Labour leadership row and Tony Blair's future started to grip the interest of the region.

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My blogs from the Labour and Tory conferences in Manchester and Bournemouth have also received massive interest on www.eadt.co.uk/blogs.

These cyberspace chats are about subjects that may not make the pages of the newspaper - some may be off the wall, slightly flippant and couched in language not normally associated with a serious newspaper of record.

It may seem geekish to those who don't know what alt+control+delete means, but it's the future for the e-generation that may not buy a newspaper but likes to catch up with the news from their desktop computers. Blogs could be likened to the readers' letters column, but with the difference that the comments are almost instant - they have to be filtered for bad language and libel!

Blogs from the party conferences have been vying with the reports filed by journalists to newspapers world wide, especially here at the Tory conference. Everywhere you go in the Bournemouth centre, you bump into small armies of party of members acting as correspondents, seeing who can get the latest gossip from the bars and hotel lobbies on to their web log pages first.

Conservative Home has been the pioneering site in British political blogging. It took off last year during the Tory leadership contest and is home to the latest news of the so-called A list of candidates, those women, modernisers, and minority ethnic candidates who are trying to get themselves selected for winnable parliamentary seats.

Conservative Home this week recruited 30 unpaid correspondents to provide a rival news service to the print and broadcasting media.

The parties are encouraging the growth of this somewhat surreal activity, even though the views of bloggers may not particularly be on message. The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats are desperate to get a toehold into this new medium, which is having a growing influence, particularly at Westminster.

For the Conservatives, like the Republicans in the US, the Internet has been gaining in importance. When many newspapers turned their backs on the Tories, the lack of positive headlines was a hammer blow. The way to hit back has been to encourage people to write on-line, and to establish Internet circles which today encompass tens of thousands of younger Tories who talk to each other in cyberspace.

Among the keen bloggers are Harwich MP Douglas Carswell, who is one of the people behind Direct Democracy which is trying to promote localism by advocating devolution of services back to communities.

Iain Dale, the founder of Politico's Publishing who unsuccessfully contested Norfolk North for the Tories, can also be found writing a daily blog on www.iandale.blogspot.com while he looks for another constituency and right wing think tank the Adam Smith Institute is blogging from the Tory conference on www.adamsmith.org/blog

The Liberal Democrats organised a blog of the year contest, and the winner was honoured at a special reception on the opening day of their conference in Brighton.

Labour held a contest for an official conference blogger. The winner, Jonathan Roberts from North Yorkshire, communicated daily with an on-line audience about his impressions of the Manchester conference.

Tony Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell ran a World Cup blog, charting the progress of the England team in Germany, and which was inundated by thousands of comments from all over the world.

The first Cabinet minister to blog is David Miliband, widely seen as a future leader of the party. However, many have criticised the lack of humour and the relentless on-message style. Successful bloggers don't care who they upset - the more iconoclastic the better!

It's not just national politicians getting in on the act. Next week, Essex county council's Conservative leader Lord Hanningfield starts writing a blog on the authority's website. “I am very excited to be the first leader of a large authority to interact on line with voters and council tax payers. It's the future and Essex is going to be part of it.”

So, all of you out there - join the blogging generation. The Internet is a force for good and freedom of speech - click on-line and join the great debates on the issues of the day.

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