Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why you still don't know what Party committees are up to (part 2) - a brief, personal history of ‘reporting back’ via blogging

Curiously, blogging, as a reporting medium, has been decidedly underused, given its relative simplicity. I blogged on events on the London Regional Executive from the point when I started ‘Liberal Bureaucracy’ in late 2005. I tended to be fairly cautious, as much because of my own innate sense of discretion, as a deep and abiding suspicion amongst many of my senior colleagues.

The next year, I joined the English Candidates Committee, having been directly elected by English Council. Naturally, I covered events there, making sure that, where I was expressing an opinion, this was made abundantly clear. Otherwise, if discussions took place which impacted more widely, I sought clearance from the Chair to publish.

On the Regional Executive, I wasn’t the only blogger. Susanne Lamido was already reporting on events, without much restraint and, occasionally, accuracy. Her stance was that it was all about freedom of speech. It would be fair to say that she was in a pretty small minority and I found myself torn between disclosure and discretion. There was evidence that individuals were withholding their opinions on controversial issues for fear of having those views broadcast to a wider audience, especially where there was a contradiction between the Regional position and that of their Local Party - not that unusual.

Of course, the blog was one of the factors which led to the revocation of her membership, and my reputation suffered by association. In 2007, there was an attempt to remove me as Regional Secretary, on the grounds that my discretion was suspect. There was no evidence that this was the case, except that I had a blog. It was most dispiriting and, even though I survived by the skin of my teeth, it was never as much fun after that.

Meanwhile, there was little in the way of reporting back from the Federal Executive, which, given the absence of bloggers in senior positions, came as no great surprise. There was certainly little in the way of official reporting, and if you wanted a glimpse of how decisions were taken, you were reliant on Liberal Democrat News - hardly a source of controversial and dogged investigative reporting.

Of course, in 2008, a contest for the Party Presidency emerged. Ros had been campaigning for the role for some time, and Lembit had always made his intension to run abundantly clear. The use of the new media was an area of some debate, and Ros’s commitment to use technology to reach out to members was certainly attractive. Her election, the first non-leadership internal party election to take place in an era of ‘mass’ blogging, set the bar by which some would later judge.

Tomorrow, I'll look at what went wrong in Camelot...

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