Watlington has already extensive chronicled the rise of the Tory bloggers
and the genius of leading bloggers like Iain Dale and ConservativeHome (see Is a new Conservative Coalition emerging in the UK?, Is it the end of the centralised Conservative Party as we know it?, and Tim Montgomerie, Iain Dale and Stephan Shakespeare: The true authors of the revival in Conservative fortunes?). However, despite their success, these bloggers have one signficant flaw. At best they do not do enough to stop misrepresentation by their critics, at worst they allow themselves to be smeared by their opponents. This flaw has been highlighted in recent times by the Melissa Kite tantrums (see Melissa Kite bites back) about Iain Dale and Tim Montgomerie's criticism of her piece on the forthcoming Tory frontbench reshuffle. For Miss Kite, these blogs are representatives of the "Christian reactionary right". Even for David Cameron and his entourage, ConservativeHome is viewed as "a right wing debating society" for grassroots malcontents (as he hinted in an answer to a question at a press conference today by Tim Montgomerie).
The smear campaigns by the opponents of ConservativeHome is very successful - it allows uber-modernisers in the Conservative Party to benchmark their policies against the reaction of the "right wingers" on ConservativeHome. It permits people to suggest that Iain Dale is just David Davis's vicar on earth - something he patently is not. The effect of all this is to play into the hands of the left – who try and "expose" Iain Dale and ConservativeHome as the true extremist voice of the Conservative Party - witness Tom Watson's (Gordon Brown's boot boy thug) nasty blogs which attempt to trash Iain Dale, Montgomerie and other Tory bloggers like Dizzy and such like.
Of course nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is Iain Dale a remarkable and shrewd character with real friends at Westminster, he is also a highly talented moderate voice who has helped transform Tory blogging in this country. Similarly, Tim Montgomerie has turned ConservativeHome into the first real voice of compassionate conservatism in many a year.
But these blogs need to do more to counter their opponents. ConservativeHome in particular should have more articles and comments from people in the centre and left in the party. They should also hook up with left leaning organisations like Mainstream and the Tory Reform Group and look to campaign for policies on which they are allied. Perhaps ConservativeHome should develop a section exclusively devoted to explaining the broad roots of the website and have a strapline saying "ConservativeHome - representing the mainstream of the Conservative Party". There will come a time when Tory blogs like ConservativeHome and Iain Dale will replace the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph as the true voice of Conservatism in this country. ConservativeHome in particular has the power to become an incredibly powerful medium in its own right, representing thousands of Tory activists. But it will only do so if it destroys the smears of its enemies and the misrepresentation
from its critics.
He certainly has a point. I deliberately did not respond to Melissa Kite's piece on the Spectator blog and my response to her article yesterday was much weaker than I would really have liked as her article was even more flawed than the original one I fisked. But I see no point in entering a war with her.
The left of centre blogs have decided to target me and ConservativeHome in particular. I find some of things they write about us hilarious and others downright insulting. But if you think my face looks bovvered you'd be wrong. The fact that they attack us shows they are concerned by the impact we are having - not on setting the political weather, but by influencing media agendas.
The left have lost the blogging war, if ever there was one. Even LibDem blogs are far more readable and influential than the left wing blogosphere. The left can't understand why Tim Montgomerie appears repeatedly on Newsnight to talk about Conservative politics when not a single representative from the left wing blogosphere ever gets invited on. It's because they have very little of interest to say. They know it and the media knows it.
But Watlington has a point. Maybe we on the right are too guarded in responding to criticism. My lack of response to Melissa Kite was in part because I refused to fall into the trap which she had set. Any response would have been strong in argument and in language. And that's what she cannot seem to cope with. She accuses Tory bloggers of being mysogynist without understanding that by accusing us of something so ridiculous she perpetuates the myth that female journalists are somehow a downtrodden, weaker form of her male counterparts.
The other point is that whenever bloggers do hit back, and then other people rail in behind them, they are accused of 'sock puppetry' - i.e. overtly encouraging others to support them. I have even been accused by some left wing bloggers of writing anonymous comments on my own site, as if I hadn't got enough of a sad life already. There is no arguing with these people. They have an agenda and we on the right had better recognise it. There was a time when I thought I could use sweet reason with them. It doesn't work.
But what I cannot abide are flame wars. Some of the blogs on the pseudo-left specialise in trying to start these in order to increase attention to themselves and drive traffic their way. Some on the right are not averse to this either, it has to be said. These never end in victory for anyone and should not be entered into lightly.
So while I think that while Watlington makes his point very well, choosing your battles is very important. It would be completely counterproductive to overreact to any minor criticism, but he's probably right about Melissa Kite's attacks in the Spectator and the Telegraph. Tim and I should have been far more robust in our responses.
UPDATE: Dizzy's response HERE.