Thursday, May 21, 2009

To blog or not to blog...

... that is the question.

I promised this debate last month, when I resigned from my front bench position because I had got into trouble over something I wrote on my blog a few years ago.

I have been busy with other things, not least of which was our wonderful radio station, but now I am back and ready to have the discussion. I do hope people will be attracted to this entry and will engage with it, because I really want to know what people's views are, wherever in the country they are.

I started blogging before I was a councillor, because let's face it, I have always had plenty to say for myself and there is something very fulfilling about putting your thoughts and ideas out there, and having people respond accordingly.

As an active and long-standing Labour Party member, I have also always enjoyed using the blog for campaigning - bigging up our side and teasing the opposition for instance, great fun that is shared by many, on all sides, even while they are cursing me.

When I was elected to serve the good people of Kensington and Fairfield as a Labour Councillor, it gave me further opportunity to be able to talk about the issues of the day in the ward. To use the blog as a means to communicate with residents and other councillors about issues like regeneration, jobs, community, environment, equality and diversity, heritage, parks etc.

It is also a sort of round-robin, like the notes that some people send out with their Christmas cards. If my mates or family want to know what I have been up to, they can always come and take a peek, and often do.

And I love writing, I probably won't ever write a book, maybe not even a short story, but with a blog I get to write as often as I like, with the gratification of nearly instant feedback and engagement, you cannot know how heady that is until you have tried it yourself.

And my readers are wide and varied; some are fellow politicians - from Liverpool but also from other parts of the country, some are local residents, some are friends, family, former work colleagues, current work colleagues, and some come because they are attracted by a particular story - who did you think was the best Elvis impersonator for instance? or what is happening about 24 hour off-licences? Occasionally even an ex-lover will turn up and leave a comment, curious presumably to see what I am making of myself. And the final group that come to read my stuff are some of the agents, partners and council officers, RSL colleagues etc who work with me locally or in the city and want to see what I am saying about projects we have worked together on. For instance, I know the Registrars like to see what I am saying about the citizenship ceremonies and the Police want to know how I am reporting on their operations and projects.

100 people read the blog every day - and they wont be the same 100 people, although there is a lot of repeat traffic. I get really interesting stats about where people come to the blog from, and what words they used to find it, I can share those with you sometime if you would like.

But the question I want to debate here is about the political content.

I have generally been of the view that there is no need for me to comment on national stories, because the whole web is full of people talking about those and my thoughts will generally have already been expressed with greater eloquence by some like-minded person - and in case I have never set myself up as a mouth-piece of the party, even when I have held national or regional positions. Unless you consult with a very large group of people, it is difficult to claim to be speaking on their behalf.

However, there are occasions, like the business over the Parliamentary expenses, where I am very unsure about the right thing to do. On one hand I feel it would be dishonest of me, as a person and politician prepared to blog about most things, to somehow ignore this and pretend I have not noticed. But on the other hand, there is always the very distinct possibility that anything I say will be taken and used against me, or my party, certainly locally here in Liverpool.

There will be those who take the very firm view, and I think my Mum is one of them, that I have got myself in quite enough trouble already and the best thing I can do is keep my mouth shut and restrict myself to what Marc Waddington, journalist from the Liverpool Echo has called the anodyne.

But there will also be those who like the fact that their politicians (and sometimes fellow politicians) are prepared to put themselves out there and engage. That such things are able to be discussed, that there is a entry upon which they can vent their own feelings, particularly if they can do so anonymously - and generally they can on here. The only comments I don't publish, generally, are those which are personally abusive, either to me or to a colleague.

We are told repeatedly as politicians that we should harnass the power of the web in our efforts to engage, and I cannot help but think that does sometimes mean having to defend ourselves or our party, when things go badly wrong, and sometimes it means being critical of things we have not agreed with.

Marc talks about transparency in his blog and about the many blogs that hide behind anonymity to stick the knife in to others. We have a plethora of those in Liverpool, some of which are most definitely published by elected politicians. It is easy to say whatever you like, to defame, to slur and to ridicule when you are hiding behind a persona, nothing brave about that.

What makes my blog different is that it bears my name and my photograph. I have always been proud of that, being honest, open and up-front, but that can be where the problem lies too. If I say something which someone objects to, then they can move against me, as with Steve Radford in this case. Or they can print something on a leaflet, like my comments several years ago about wheely bins which found themselves onto a LibDem leaflet.

Of course it is incumbent upon me not to provide bullets for other people to fire, either at me or my party, but although I do try to think really hard about things before I post them, sometimes I get it wrong. Although in my defence, unless there are some unfired bullets I am not currently aware of, nothing I have said in the last couple of years has got me or the party into bother (or if they have, I have forgotten them just now). I expect you will remind me if there are any such.
The choices would seem to be as follows;

1. Vanilla entries that offend no-one (but which maybe no-one reads? Would you still come if there was never anything remotely controversial?)
2. Anonymous blogging (and just hope to heaven that no-one finds out who wrote it, because they always do in the end you know, you have been warned!)
3. Keep on keepin' on, but try harder to steer away from the ice-bergs.

Thoughts please? All entries welcome, even from LibDems, I don't mind anonymous entries but it might be useful if you at least say which party you represent (if you do) when responding.


Paul said...

Having just become leader of the Labour group, I asked myself whether I should change by blogging style and just focus back on the local rather than batter stuff out about whatever took my fancy.

Then I thought 'sod it', and got on with blogging. Yes, I'm sure it'll get me into trouble at some point, but does that really matter that much in the grand scheme of things? I decided I'd rather have my say and regret having said it rather than regret having not said it.

So my view is: yes, blog away.

scouseboy said...

I think your blog is open, honest and compulsive reading, unlike a certain Fib Dem blog of the canine variety, which seems to exist to direct humiliating and personal insults toward Labour members.
Your blog is an added means of communication with your constituents. I think your comments on the expenses fiasco was spot on, and while I am no longer a member of the Labour Party, nobody should even think about taking measures against you. I think you reflected the thoughts accurately of many labour Party members.
Please carry on blogging.

Geoffrey Crayon said...

Yes Louise, do keep blogging.

I'm delighted to hear officially that you love writing but I think it shows anyway.

Tannoy said...

Doesn't matter to me that you are a Labour councillor and I am not a Labour supporter, I would rather any politician have a considered viewpoint on an issue and have the bravery to let it be known, than hide in the shadows of anonymity and rely on focus groups and polling to ensure that they give out only the messages they think the voters want to hear.

Political debate is sadly lacking in some areas and I for one want my elected representatives to be challenging each other and the issues, because its only then that the truth comes out and differences in approach are exposed and understood. Those are the bedrock of representative democracy - if I don't know where you stand on issues then how do I know whether I want to vote for you?!

David Bartlett said...


I've written a blog post on this. My view remains that you and others should blog. I appreciate that not all councillors will have the inclination to blog like you do, but I do think it is important that both of the major parties in Liverpool are well represented on the bloggosphere. So I'd say you must go with option three.

steve faragher said...

in the words of Sid James
"Carry On Blogging"

Dave Williams said...

I am glad that you blog in the style you do. It's a pity more political figures are not more up-front, open and honest as yourself. I like the mix of personal, and locally relevant items you post. And its nice to know my councillor is accessible like this. So I say; Keep up the good work, and if I spot any ice-bergs in Kenny, I'll let you know.

Steve "Mums gone to Iceland...bugger" Faragher said...

No Ice Bergs in Kenny, just Icelands and maybe an Ice Rink

steve "half man half worm all biscuit" Faragher said...

Talking of shops I'm thinking of starting a new shop on kenny called "Can O' Worms" , angling supplier and vermiculuture specialists. Could make a fortune when the can of worms is opened?