Wednesday, November 19, 2008

MP Bloggers Censored by Commons Authorities

The House of Commons authorities are stamping down on MPs who say anything remotely controversial on their blogs. The BBC reports that Labour MPs Paul Flynn and Derek Wyatt have been taken to task, not because their blogs are overtly partisan (although they would be the first to admit that they are) but becasue in Flynn's case he had criticised or poked fun at other MPs (including Labour ones) and in Wyatt's because he had uploaded some "unsuitable" videos.

The Commons authorities told Flynn he couldn't use the House of Commons communications allowance to fund his blog if he was going to make fun of MPs and demanded he delete the offending entries. Flynn told them he had no intention of being censored and is now going to pay the £250 running costs out of his own pocket.

In my humble opinion I think it is impossible for an MP to write a worthwhile blog if they fund it out of their allowances. If you are not allowed to indulge in party politics, your blog would be so vanilla as to be not worth reading.

So to any MP thinking of setting up a blog, the message is this. Blogs cost nothing to set up or run and have no server costs if you use the Wordpress or Blogger blogging platforms. There are plenty of people out there who will charge you hundreds, if not thousands, for the pleasure of setting up a blog. But the simple truth is, you don't need them. If you are in any doubt, just get in touch.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

Though there is the time commitment cost.

Womble On Tour said...

You're quite right. there's no point in MPs using public money to fund their blogs, and arguably the Commons authorities are right for telling these MPs that they've crossed the line.
If I were an MP I'd have my own blog, free of State funding, and say whatever I liked. Then again, because I say whatever I like, I'll never be an MP anyway !

Anonymous said...

Why should we pay for Paul Flynn to make fun of other MPs?

More importantly, why did Paul Flynn ever remotely think that was a good use of our money. He's already claiming £140,000 in expenses.

http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/paul_flynn/newport_west

PS the word verification for this was 'preen'

Anonymous said...

this is ANCIENT news.

Peter Mc said...

Also interesting that MPs are covered by absolute privilege in the chamber, but that some civil servant has the arbitrary power to approve what they write.

The communications allowance is a shameful bit of pork, and should be abolished.

Anonymous said...

The problem with "free" blogs is what happens when you want to do more than just blog on your website.

Let me give you the example of John Redwood who pays me to design and host his website and carry out any technical maintenance. Sure, he could have gone to Wordpress.com or Blogger.com, but what about when he wanted to start putting press releases onto the website that didn't show up on the homepage. On self-hosted WordPress this is easy, but on the free platforms not as much.

Then there's video sections, photos, a seperate "contact" and "about" page. Blogger.com can't handle much of the advanced features that an MP would need. WordPress.com charges you to unlock CSS editing just in case you want to deviate and have your own look and feel.

The option, therefore, is to have your website and blog as seperate entities. The website paid for and the blog free. But, how many MPs offices will want to be bothered with running two different systems? I would imagine that most would want a "one-stop-shop" approach, which becomes very difficult on free platforms - and the office staff and MPs probably won't have the time or the skills necessary to make that solution work. Nor should they be sitting there tweaking templates and updating sidebars.

So I would advise great caution when looking at free platforms for things as big as MP offices.

When paying for somebody to take care of the solution for you, you're right in saying that it doesn't cost much. Once the hosting fees are covered for the year it's just a case of billing the time needed by the contractor to do all the templating, manage backups, etc, etc. The costs in this area will vary depending on how big and popular the site is and how important things like backups and uptime are.

To conclude, yes it's easy for an MP or their office to click and sign up for a free blogging service, but they should think carefully about where they might want to take it over the course of 12-24 months and if their initial choice is going to be a problem for the practical requirements in the future.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

"vanilla"???

Vanilla, proper vanilla is an exquisite flavouring. It is very intense and totally necessary for custards and real ice cream.

Oranges are not the only Tutti-Frutti.

scotch said...

I thought you had been very clear in the past that you were not a blogging expert. In fact you have been adamant.

Why then would you advertise yourself as such?

Iain Dale said...

Purely and simply to annoy people like you, no doubt.

scotch said...

Have I not asked a fair question?
Perhaps a blogging expert could tell me. Anybody?

Anonymous said...

The blog is clearly open to serious misuse-those who are abused without right of reply should have some recourse..all the more heartning then to hear of the recent attempt to closedown Guido by the Labour Party in the South-East following allegations against certain named individuals on that site..

Anonymous said...

@scotch: Leave him alone. If he wants to share his experiences, thoughts and opinions on blogging then I should think he has every right to do so without the need to call himself an expert. You don't have to be an expert to share and encourage best practice. That said, Iain has been in this game for years and has been on a free service for years too. He's walking the tightrope of managing a blog and a website and I for one think the experiences gleaned from that should be shared with MPs looking at blogging and their web presence.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate what you're doing here Iain - I'm LibDem but as a dedicated blogging fan, I like it that you want more, not less of the participative democracy that blogging represents. It shows you're a big person extending offers of help to Labour MPs like this.

Also tends to point the finger at the Commons authorities as self-serving, hidebound and out of date.

scotch said...

Mike

Iain has quite vociferously stated, and, you know, made quite a thing about it, that he is not a blogging expert.

Yet he also admits to taking money to speak as such and pimps himself on this blog.
In what way should I 'leave him alone' on this?

Iain, I'm in the market for some blogging advice. What's the going rate?

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Scotch. Why are you a tosser? Are you an expert at tossing or do you just do it for a hobby?

Iain is not an expert. He's only been blogging for several years and he only gets thousands of hits every day and nobody but a few Cabinet Ministers, MPs, Peers, Economists, Academics, and other policy-makers read it,and he's won a few awards,and he is regularly invited to speak on the subject, so, on the whole, you may be on to something. NOT.

(did I miss anything out?)

Anonymous said...

Scotch, you're being stupid. Iain is offering himself as someone who has blogged for a long time and at a high nationally-known level and therefore has views to put forward. Give him credit for that, he may know something about the subject. He also is enthusiastic about the democratic value of political blogging and defends it, which is good to see.

Interesting from Mike Rouse, is all this video clip stuff not available through the freebies then? So do you use paid contractors/services Iain?

Anonymous said...

@scotch

I refer you to Wrinkled Weasel's comment above.

In addition, if Iain choses not to call himself an expert then that's up to him. He's not technical and wouldn't want to be either. If people want to pay him for advice on the general aspects of blogging and associated areas then that is their choice in a free country. There's no requirement for him, or anybody else, to be classed as an expert before taking any money in this way.

Of course, that is if they do pay him. More often than not you'll find that Iain lends his experience and opinions free of charge and has done for some time.

It's up to them if they act on any advice or not.

James Higham said...

Flynn offends Opik and look what happens. the comment above: "Why should we pay for Paul Flynn to make fun of other MPs?" has absolutely nothing to do with it.

Niccolo Machiavelli said...

'"unsuitable" videos'? derekwyatt.youngestonthenet.ru ?

Anonymous said...

Wrinkly Weasel at 3:28 PM


Yes, you did miss something out.

Iain is not a journalist. Nor is he anyone's researcher. Nor has he ever said he's either one of these things. He HAS said he is not a journalist nor anyone's researcher, just to clarify.

He does earn money doing those two things though, but he isn't either one of them.

I won't pass judgement on what he is though... just in case he throws another wobbler on me.

But while I'm here, can I ask... if a woman takes money for sex, is she not a prostitute because she never said she was one?

Ta

Carl Eve

Anonymous said...

anon @ 3.25 pm "Also tends to point the finger at the Commons authorities as self-serving, hidebound and out of date."

The Communications Allowance is public money and the Commons authorities are obliged to enforce the decisions of the House on how it should be spent.

If you have a problem with that, then change the rules, but don't confuse the actions of the authorities with the content of the rules.

Charlie Root said...

My problem is that Iain doesn't promote best practice and time and time again seems hypocritical of his stance.

I enjoy reading most posts on this blog and clearly most of us here share the same political outlook. Everyone who dares to critise or disagree is accused of being a Labour Troll (an insult to me I can assure you!)

While I'm sure Iain is a lovely man, I think he opens himself up to many accusations. For instance I'm under the impression that certain people have been banned from commenting on this site because of claims, insults I don't know but on the very same site are sometimes some really horrible comments from readers and sometimes Iain himself.

I think if you're going to offer advice to MP's on blogging it should be that the process should be as open as possible, we're trying to engage an electorate here, not drive them away.

I wish more MP's would have blogs and give more people the right to reply informally and allow MP's to further engage with a younger audience who epect everything to be online.

Helen said...

Any special reason why MPs should not use their own money to fund their blogs (presumably to pay someone to write ... errrm ... edit them) and promote themselves?

Iain Dale said...

Charlie, two people have been banned. Tim Ireland and John Hirst.

I know trolling when I see it and occasionally point it out.

Anonymous said...

Paul Flynn's blog is brilliant. One of my favourites. Judging from the number of comments posted he doesn't seem to get great traffic.
One of the reasons for that may be his blogs slightly odd format. He seems to post once a day with three or four different posts all in one section with a single comments section to respond. Moving to a more usual (and free)blog template might well help him. For those who haven't read his stuff. Go there... it's brilliantly unpredicatble. Whether you agree with him or not a free-thinking intelligent backbench politician is a joy to behold.

The Secret Person said...

Considering all these politicians have been doing to take away our civil liberties, it's a bit much to turn round when and describe not being able to use our money for partisan blogging as like 1984.