Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Official Blogging

I have stuck my oar into a subject which it seems is causing some friction within the LibDems.

It started off with Mark Valladares declaring an adjustment to his own publishing policy to remove any suggestion that he is merely "a lackey of [his] wife", party President Baroness Ros Scott.

Other members of the committee he sits on clearly felt he was badly positioned to report dispassionately and objectively and this may lead to a destabilising effect. As he describes himself, a disclaimer and self-denying ordinance were not enough to satisfy the need to be seen to be non-partisan when it comes to matters under discussion.

Paul Walter introduces the subject of Party President Ros Scott's deletion of her blog and clearly gets very worked up about this. He has a point because she did mention her intention to communicate directly with members through her blog, which is mentioned in this thread at LibDem Voice.

Meanwhile Liberal Vision supports Paul in the need for 'a running commentary' of events.

There are several issues at stake here which I've confronted myself in publishing my Reading List monitor.

Firstly, it is important to understand the insatiable need for information and means to interpret it. For this there are different types of journalism to satisfy different demands. Some people want pure undiluted facts; some people want to know how it will effect them; some want to know how they can get involved and have an influence; other just enjoy consuming the drama of a clash of views as it helps them make decisions.

Secondly, we need to recognise that a liberal party must defend freedom of information consistently. This means we need to use a bit of lateral thinking and creativity to get round conflicts of this nature and reconcile the different camps who are all responding to valid concerns.

I'm unhappy that Ros has deleted her blog rather than mothballed it during a period of reflection, but it also shows decisiveness on her part - which is a good thing in her role. Whatever we may have wished at the time, there is no looking back now, and any regrets will just weaken the beer.

I'm sure a lot of members are agitated by the expenses scandal (I know I am) and the discussions surrounding Chris Rennard's decision to stand down as Chief Exec at the Federal Executive (coming as it was suggested he had abused the second home designation) will have been of vital interest - our continued support for the party depends on the ability of our reps to uphold our mutual principles. With this in mind the advice produced by the committee was not enough - critics wanted a demonstration of positive conviction to make a clear statement of intent.

Mark is in a slightly different position and I think the pressure mounted on him was more of a case of avoiding negative perceptions - especially in the context of an atmosphere of general distrust in political office-holders plaguing the public realm. There is no reason why reports from the English candidates committee should not be published, but it would be unfair for Mark to do so, despite his offer being voluntary.

So what has been created is disatisfaction with the limitations of the current LD blogosphere. And I agree - it is inadequate. Reportage and commentary cannot be fulfilled simultaneously.

So what needs to be done to create the space where information and context can be supplied?

I think the LibDem network needs to evolve and grow.

Currently on my sidebar I have listed the main platforms - there is LibDemVoice (the independent membership site) which connects with LibDemBlogs (the aggregator of individual sites). Then there is the leadership's platform, LibDemNews, and the spaces for factional wonkery Liberal Vision and the Social Liberal Forum.

All of these are excellent resources for what they do, but there is a clear gap in the market for an 'official' site dealing with specifically internal issues. Such a site needs designated people to be held accountable for what is published. This means they need to be members of those committees, and suggests to me that the secretary of each committee could be delegated a shared responsibility.

I'm not bothered what it is called, but I certainly think we need one.

LibDems have been highly innovative in using the internet to build new connections and we can steal another march on our opponents to unlock the mysteries of political bureaucracy - it might even drive up our standards!

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