Monday, May 17, 2010

Thoughts from the Train: the future of Liberal Democrat blogging?

And so, the deal is done, and a bunch of people that I know are running the country. It has been a very unsettling week or so, with all of my political assumptions having been challenged as talk swung between coalition with the Conservatives and coalition with Labour. It turns out that talking about collaborative government means, at some point, you actually have to decide who to collaborate with, and on what terms.

From my unusual vantage point, I can testify to the stresses and strains that those negotiations generated, and am astounded by the steadfastness demonstrated by the negotiators, the Party leadership and the senior management team in Cowley Street during those five days. When the history books are written, one wonders just what will emerge.

But now 'Liberal Bureaucracy', like any other Liberal Democrat blog, faces an unexpected challenge. How do we relate to a new government, particularly now that our Members of Parliament are part of it?

At times like this, there are advantages to writing like a civil servant, in that this corner of the blogosphere is relatively vitriol-free. I prefer to address ideas rather than people, playing the ball rather than the man. And generally speaking, my fellow Liberal Democrats are of a sunny mien. Oh yes, there are exceptions, but we can't all be alike, can we?

There will be challenges. Given the imbalance in the relationship between the two partners, there will be government policies that we are uncomfortable with, sometimes deeply uncomfortable. Occasionally, a Liberal Democrat minister will be delivering them (it's that pesky collective responsibility thing again...). The danger will come if we choose to unleash any pent-up vitriol on our own side - the media are going to be on the lookout for splits as times get tough. And yet we don't want to becoming cloyingly on-message loyalists - that just isn't us.

So, interesting times ahead for us all. Good luck and God bless in the brave new world...


Andrew Hickey said...

My attitude is quite simple - I support the Liberal Democrats, and I support the Liberal Democrats in coalition, but I do not support the government (and still hate the Tories).

I think that government criticism by Lib Dems is going to be more important than ever now we're part of the government - especially now we're working with a party so many of us despise so thoroughly. We need to pressure our MPs at every opportunity to ensure the commitments *to* us aren't reneged on while we make no further concessions in return.

Caron said...

If it has to be a choice between something I write being taken by the media and protrayed as splitting the party, and becoming a toadying loyalist which will do the party no good and just simply not be credible, then I'd take the first option every time.

Having said that, I'm not known for throwing buckets of vitriol about the place and as someone who loves the party, I'm hardly likely to want to do it any harm.

It's simply not possible for the party, even if it wanted to, to control the blogosphere and I'd hate to think that it would ever try. While we will have to try to give our ministers the benefit of the doubt, they will also have to accept that we're going to subject the government to some robust analysis too.

I wrote this the other day as some friendly advice to our Lib Dem ministers and I've had feedback from people in Scotland who were in there at the sharp end in our coalitions that it's quite sensible. What do you think?

Jennie said...

* hug *

I am feeling much better about things since yesterday. Tugging your beard was a part of that ;)

Mark Valladares said...

Andrew, I think that you have an entirely reasonable approach. Graham Watson once wisely suggested that controlling Liberal Democrats was like stacking frogs in a wheelbarrow, and I tend to agree with that. Our MPs now have the strongest imaginable mandate to insist that the agreement be adhered to (I sense that there are Conservatives who wish that they had been given such an opportunity).

Caron, it would be fundamentally wrong of me to judge other people's approach, although I did like what you had to say about gender issues. I'm a firm believer in constructive discourse, even when it is in opposition to a party stance. It will be critically important for the Party to avoid the stagnation that power can sometimes bring, and I sense that the blogosphere can play a role in advancing debate of new ideas.

The recent use of the blogosphere and Twitter to rally support behind the recent Conference motion on the Digital Economy Bill was a fine example of the positive force that we can be, and I hope that the Party centrally will not lose sight of the need for radical thinking.

And Jennie, dear Jennie, feel free to tug my beard if it helps... sorry that I didn't have time to stop and talk...

Jennie said...

No need for apologies; the time of a first lady is finite, and I appreciate this. I didn't get time to talk to many people at all, past "hello" anyway.

"feel free to tug my beard"

You may come to regret saying that.