Monday, 28 September 2009

Bloggers As Candidates

Iain Dale has confirmed he is on the shortlist as a candidate to replace Andrew MacKay in Bracknell.

Leaving aside the fact that his connection with Conservative Party deputy chairman, Lord Ashcroft (who owns a 25% stake in Dale's Total Politics magazine) makes him by far the establishment candidate, I find it interesting that he has used his 'celebrity' status among online political activists to position himself as the 'popular' contender.

Bracknell Council leader Paul Bettison had apparently attempted to assure his selection as the only local candidate, but found himself in hot water with Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles as the local party under his leadership became associated with the policy of 'bin taxes'.

Cllr Bettison had been a major critic of across-the-board cuts promoted by shadow chancellor George Osborne, even going so far as to speak out at the party conference last year, saying people will ask 'where's our library?'

As Paul Waugh describes, this is a sore point for the ideological base of the party who are strongly motivated by issues having a bearing on the state of their pocketbooks. And any split between local councillors and the national leadership represents a massive threat to the Conservative election strategy.

It also throws up some major questions about their credentials as a prospective government-in-waiting, as they have refused to allow a man who is one of the most highly respected local government experts and a major player in the LGA the chance to stand before his local members.

Which brings us back to Iain Dale and the grassroots movement of online commentators, who he has been most responsible for turning into a community with some real political clout.

Considering Andrew MacKay's expense claims on his second house were all the more embarrassing because he shared them with his wife and Bromsgrove MP Julie Kirkbride - while not even owning a home in the Bracknell constituency - it strikes me as potentially very dangerous for them to parachute in a favoured candidate who has little local knowledge. And yet they still felt it was more dangerous to have their local chief!

While many representatives publish their own blogs this may set a precedent as the first occasion a candidate rose to prominence by being a blogger first (although Dale spectacularly failed in 2005 when he was previously the candidate for Norfolk North, turning a LibDem majority of 483 into one of over 10,000, and was subsequently rejected after the first interview stage in the selectioin process for Maidstone and The Weald in 2007).

So maybe we should ask whether it is his name recognition which is being counted on to mobilise the public, and if this represents a shift in how to launch a political career.

I've been asked whether this is my intention as a 'political blogger' and I have to say I hadn't considered it until now.

In the medium-term I can see blogging will become a medium by which individuals will be able to gain respectability (or not) and familiarity (or not) by publishing their considered views, but at the same time I can also see that one's blog develops a style for more local or national issues which can be either a help or a hinderance when it comes to campaigning in an area.

So I have to say this is one process I will be following very closely.


NB I also note that the Conservative majority in Bracknell was just over 12,000 in 2005, making it just safe enough for Mr Dale!

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