Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Joys of Blogging in Opposition

Charlie Beckett writes on CommentIsFree that bloggers are the new Opposition. He reckons that the only way that left wing blogs will ever experience a revival is if Labour is in opposition. And he believes that right of centre bloggers will have a different dilemma.

Of course, rightwing bloggers have a very different problem. It's generally accepted that they are more entertaining and more effective. This could simply be because they are in opposition. Perhaps the individualism of blogging better suits the less collectivist mentalities on the right.

They demonstrated their significance after David Davis resigned. The mainstream media assumed that Davis had gone mad and that this was a disaster for Cameron. But the Conservative blogosphere was exultant at this principled gesture in defiance of orthodox politics.

If their party wins power then mainstream Conservative blogs have a dilemma. Blogger Iain Dale is not a slavish Cameronite. He has spoken out against mainstream Tory opinion on occasion. But he wants to be a Tory MP and agrees with most of what his leader thinks. He is a lovely writer and a quick-footed online entrepreneur who has done much to popularise the genre. He now runs a neutral political wonk magazine called Total Politics, which seems to suggest he doesn't see much of a future for online political comment from a Tory perspective.

Likewise, Tim Montgomerie has had the backing to create Britain's most sophisticated political activist blog, ConservativeHome. It has taken the party to task on some issues and has a good feel for grass-roots Tory thinking. Will it be able to maintain even a moderately critical stance without upsetting the new occupants of No 10? In other words, are the Tory bloggers there for a debate or for power?

Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines) has been a terrific attack dog against what he sees as the corruption of New Labour. He spurred on mainstream media to help bring John Prescott down. But what does Staines do when David Cameron crosses the No 10 threshold? He professes to be a libertarian but he is definitely a rightwing one. However, he is not a Conservative with a capital C. He feeds off the Westminster journalists and advisors for his insider information. Unless Paul goes into rosé-drenched retirement in Provence, I reckon he will be tempted to take on the Tories as well.

Tory bloggers may well become her majesty's official online opposition. Meanwhile, the future of the Labour party will depend on its ability to come up with new ideas and an active supporter base. It's time for the leftwing blogs to grow up and prepare for power.

So what do you make of that? I reckon there are enough holes in his argument to create a sieve. The problem is, that if Labour go into opposition they will be like rats in a sack. LabourHome has completely failed to emulate its Conservative equivalent, partly, it has to be said, because it doesn't have anyone running it full time, like ConservativeHome does. Liberal Conspiracy is an interesting new site and has the potential to become a big player, but it seems to me from my less than frequent visits that it is more interested in attack dog politics than anything else.

There are some very good blogs on the left - Hopi Sen, Byrne Baby Byrne, Jon Worth and Tom Harris have become my four most oft visited lefty blogs.

As to how Conservative blogs will develop if David Cameron becomes Prime Minister, I can't say it is something I have ever given much thought to. I don't know of any Conservative bloggers who regard themselves as cheerleaders for the Conservative Party. Beckett is right when he says I agree with most of what David Cameron thinks - we are both Conservatives, after all. It ha snothing to do with whether I want to be an MP or not. But like most other bloggers, my agreement and support are not blind or unquestioning. Would this change if he was in power? I cannot see any reason why it should. And if it did, I would no doubt lose readers hand over fist. Has Boris been in power stopped me criticising his treatment of James McGrath? No. But nor has it it prevented me from praising him when I felt he had got something right (the tube drink ban, for example).

One thing we all learn as bloggers is that you cannot please all of the people all of the time. There was a ridiculous post about me on a blog I had never heard of before called Welsh Ramblings (a blog which certainly lives up to its name). The author (who styles himself Lenin Cymru) described me as a Tory mouthpiece. I pointed out that I doubted whether Boris Johnson or Ken Clarke would agree with that description. He then wrote...
Well, you have to have criticise the Tories sometimes to increase your credibility as an 'impartial' blogger.

I can't win, can I? If I say something positive about the Tories I am a mouthpiece, and if I criticise them just do it to appear impartical in a tokenistic kind of way. So I think I will continue to do what has brought 70,000 readers a month to this blog - call it as I see it. And that will continue whether the Tories are in opposition or government. Got that, Charlie?!


Anonymous said...

"There are some very good blogs on the left..."

Harry's Place and Stumbling and Mumbling are two of the better ones. You may not agree with their politics, but the writing and the quality of the regular commentors is second to none.

And best of all, they have a sense of humour, so sadly lacking in most of the other leftie blogs!

Anonymous said...

I certainly don't agree that Conservative Home as an instinctive feel for grassroots thinking.
The website seems to be less tolerant and pragmatic and more rightwing and dogmatic from my experience.

Anonymous said...

Well, as somebody who blogs both in opposition (on a UK level) and "in government" (Wales) I can only say that it is easier to blog in opposition, becuae it requires less thought.

Having said that, the balancing act between being "on message" and being honest/grass roots is one that Conservative bloggers such as yourself are increasingly having to perform in light of the Conservatives' position in the polls over the last six months.

James Schneider said...

Chris Dillow can't really be described as merely "lefty", he has his own philosophical framework and is willing to attack anything in the mainstream. He'll be the opposition regardless of whether the government is blue red yellow or green.

Matt Wardman said...

I was developing a theory on this in the comments over at A Very Public Sociologist", which may become an article.

I think the game has changed, and the environment is tougher now:

a) because the MSM do blogging quite well.
b) because the MSM do blog-style promotion better than most of us do.
c) because they will not leave the opportunity for indy blogs to have stories all to themselves any more (cf your blog Iain and - if I remember - Mr Prescott and Ms Temple).

There are niches around, but it won't be easy.

Matt Wardman

Unsworth said...


Never listen to what these Beaumont Old Boys have to say for themselves. Their intellects have been so stunted by a Jesuit 'education' that they never recover.

The reason for the failure of the Left to blog effectively is that the entire NuLab edifice has been built on false premises. You can't blog effectively from a position of intellectual and moral weakness.

Charlie Beckett should know.

And in fairness to Guido (Yes, I know, I know) he seems to attack both Left and Right as the mood takes him.

Anonymous said...

We shall have to wait to see what happens next.

New Labour was conceived and born into an analogue age.

New Cameron is their digital offspring.

At the moment I suspect serious is cloning afoot.

Anonymous said...

i'd agree with the idea that whatever side of the blogopshere is in opposition will find itself in the blogging ascendancy. adam bienkov's boris bashing attack blog is a bit like a leftist guido wannabe and is a good indicator as to how the left will blog in opposition

Anonymous said...

PLEASE take down the pop up of Gordon Brown.


Matt Wardman said...

>I can't win, can I?

I missed that Iain.

No you can't. JFDI anyway.

Anonymous said...

What is this blog about?

Is it about a bloke who is a Tory?
Is it about a bloke?
Is it about a Tory mouthpiece?
Is it Tory propaganda?

Why is this blog at the top of the pile?

Who reads it?
Who contributes? - Are they sad gits with nothing better to do?

Is this blog a function or index of democracy or does it stifle democracy? Or maybe it doesn't even merit a mention next to big words like "democracy" or "dialogue" or "the narrative"

Obviously, Iain is in a better position to answer some of the questions, such as "Who reads it?". My guess is that most of the major political commentators read it, along with politicians themselves and a number of other influential people. They do this because it is an indicator, with qulaifications, of what many people in this country think. But by far the majority of readers must, by definition be ordinary types like me. I know why I read it.

I read this blog, and contribute to it, because I sense it is part of a dialogue with a community, mediated by someone whose take on the subject matter is reasonable, human. I am not a Tory voter. I don't see this blog as particularly reflecting Conservatism, more that it reflects the thoughts of someone, like me, who is trying to make sense of it all, but unlike me, someone with less of a short fuse and a penchant for inclusivity and giving the benefit of the doubt. It is an attractive mix.

I don't see Iain changing much when the Conservatives get in. Because that is not what attracts the punters. What attracts the punters is the humanity, fallibility and honesty that comes through in every word he writes. It was demonstrated recently with some of the vox pops that Iain did; never too clever by half, never hectoring or condescending.

Regular commenters on the blog also make a great contribution. Those with an Identity are part of the creation of a communithy whose members you get to know.

Other blogs trade in tittle tattle and stories by "insiders". My guess is that Iain could fill this with gossip and scandal, but why should he? There is so much else going for Iain Dale's Diary and so much we can all learn if we want to.

Ted Foan said...

I see that our old friend Dirty European Socialist is running a "Boycott Tory Blogs" campaign - see:

Ironically, this links to what you say in your post and it shows how far behind the curve these Labour enthusiasts have become.

PS: Didn't the Boy Greer do well on the BBC paper review? Maybe he needs to stop overdoing the head nodding stuff? Julia Hobsbawn was very helpful to him though and so he began to relax. (He's started to fill out now so he doesn't look quite so young and he's flattened his accent but you can still hear Ulster - which is good.) Watch out Iain he'll get all your "extras" if you are not careful!

Barnsley Bill said...

Good morning Iain, This very topic hs been aired down here in NZ over the last few months as a total rout of the incumbent labour administration is looking increasingly likely..
My own view is that the right wing blogs will move into raking over the coals of a decade of labour sleaze and corruption. We have had some disgraceful thievery committed which has gone un punished and we will see a year or two of payback before the right blogs start to struggle for content.
The left wing blogs in NZ fall into two categories.
1. Breathless naivety of a sort that the sixth form common room used to produce and
2. labour party client blogs written by civil servants, union clowns, left wing uni students political staffers.
The desperate attempts to undermine our version of David Cameron have reached hysterical levels as the civil service (which has doubled in size since 99) face up to the fact that real jobs are going to be needed next year.

Anonymous said...


Interesting re Dirty European Socialist.

Does this mean I won't have the pleasure of DES posting comments on my own blog (in accordance with his point 4 "ADDING COMMENTS TO THEIR BLOGS ENCOURAGES THE IDEA THAT THEIR BLOGS ARE WHERE THE DEBATE IS.")

Or is he just another hypocritical Lefty?

James Higham said...

This could simply be because they are in opposition. Perhaps the individualism of blogging better suits the less collectivist mentalities on the right.

I think the latter is the case.

Anonymous said...

Th blogosphere is not one individual so you can't make a general statement regarding a single individual.

The left don't have a sense of humour so they won't be entertaining.

The left does have a cult-of-personality so you may find that developing. A kind of Stalinism, Leninism, Trotskyism etc.

Anonymous said...

Diablo said...

"I see that our old friend Dirty European Socialist is running a "Boycott Tory Blogs" campaign"

That dirty ***t***

The tory blogs are all doomed now. Doomed!

Andrew Ian Dodge said...

Harry's Place is a great blog I have been following since its inception. They do have sense of humour and have no truck with dolts on their side either. Some of the best right-left debate I have seen on line is on that blog.

Oh yeah and Harry is a decent bloke as well.

Andrew Ian Dodge said...

Harry's Place is a great blog I have been following since its inception. They do have sense of humour and have no truck with dolts on their side either. Some of the best right-left debate I have seen on line is on that blog.

Oh yeah and Harry is a decent bloke as well.

Anonymous said...

I wish the BBC make up people would paint it as it is. A long line of celebs and politicians are being made to look absurdly over made up.

Andy Marr has been made to look like Count Dracula today and George Osborne has been swamped in a cloud of face powder. Are the make up dept having a laugh?

neil craig said...

Blogs tend towards a libertarian individualist position. Online discussion groups tend towards collectist views. One is an individual enterprise 7 the other a collective one.

I'm not sure that the rightist blogsphere would consider itself in power if Cameron wins. I think it much more likely that, once he is in there, they will not be worried about rocking the boat & will feel much freer to Cameron & co wimps.

That would be a good thing because, as I have said before, our strong party system & FPTP electoral system drive politics into a "centrist" straitjacket & prevent political debate. If the only opposition to the Tories is from the Lab/Lib statists then it would be inevitable that the next turn of thecwheel would be to them.

Anonymous said...

Sixth form nonsense.

Democratic politics should be and always has been as far as I am concerned not a matter of left and right. Mainly because no clear definition of these terms exists.

The reason why this is so, is simple.

There is no clear difference. Other then this one.

Left and right are defined as the best method the establishment could come up with, to keep the people as clearly and evenly divided as possible.

In a straight democratic non corrupted media fight between authoritarianism and libertarianism the later would almost always win.

The establishment of course know this. Which is why the forces of liberty are deliberately divided between the political parties.

Where as the forces of authoritarianism dominate the media, the civil-service, all the known political parties and big business, in fact everything the big money can get their brown parcels accepted by.

In sort; it has always been a battle between US and THEM. IMO A battle we are losing, if not, already lost very badly indeed.

We are divided, as so we are ruled.

We are well past the time when left or right had any meaning at all. We will either unite to retain/return common law, individual property rights, and liberty, very quickly indeed or we will witness changes within a few short years, that will make us ALL truly sick.


Bill Quango MP said...

Neil Reddin said...

Does this mean I won't have the pleasure of DES posting comments on my own blog...
Or is he just another hypocritical Lefty?

errrmm..the second one.

Guthrum said...

The blogosphere will undoubtedly be double trouble for Cameron, as the left will definately have something to zero in on at last, as at present they defend the indefensible, the right and Libertarian bloggers will watch like a hawk Cameron and his fellow travellers in the political class. The country does not need more of the same it wants radical change, the English want a fair deal, not going to get that under Cameron, just a fudge, the country needs tax cuts on a large scale to get out of the looming recession, we are not going to get that under Cameron, just a committment to continue the same level of spending (and taxation)etc etc

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's as straight cut as the CIF article made out. I am a Libertarian blogger (of the Right) but I tend to be quite non-partisan in a sense, despite supporting the Tories for pragmatic reasons.

As Steve Norris once said regarding his support of Major in the Redwood challenge in '95: 'I voted for the least worst option'. I believe a lot of bloggers may support a party for similar reasons, but nevertheless remain fairly pure to their beliefs. And this shall remain regardless of who is in power - because bloggers are essentially, in the main, unpaid and are at liberty to speak openly of their opinions.

This isn't necessarily so for journalists, who whilst in the employ of editors, feel pressurised to tow a particular line. For obvious reasons.

John Demetriou, of BoatangDemetriou dot wordpress dot com.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that the right of centre blogs are more sucessful because they talk less shit than the left wing ones...

Anonymous said...

When the tories have been in power for a few years people will want only to read unmitigated criticism of them.

Your support of Spellman suggests you wont be there to provide it.

Big Andy

Anonymous said...

Why no link to Liberal Conspiracy Iain, out of all them? I'm amused.

Anyway, I'm also amused that you say LC is only interested in attack dog politics. What does Guido Fakwes write then? Policy papers? and you don't attack anyone?

In fact, LC carries far too many wordy pieces on policy and legislation and less attacking the right for my liking... but you can't have everything :)

Iain Dale said...

Sunny, apologies - it was an oversight. Fixed now.

I suppose I was drawing a comparison to ConHome rather than Guido or myself.

Anonymous said...

of course blogs that tend leftwards are not as entertaining to read. Left and Right are almost - tho' not quite - dead (at least the incarnation that they were seen in for most of the 20th century.) What remains is the attitudes of the former participants.

The right has usually tended to argument or consensus in the face of disagreement (viz "I don't necessarily agree with what you believe, but we do agree on this so that's what we'll do."). The left, on the other hand values total agreement: "I don't agree with you so we will go on and on and on about it until we have thrashed out all of the points". This explains why the left have historically taken longer to come to policy decisions, and also why they are more given to factions splitting off. That's not to say that factions don't exist on the right, of course they do, but they tend to exist more amorphously within a greater whole (as in 'he's a member of X but he's also a member of Y' where on the left the two would be mutually exclusive.)

What does this do to blogs? Well, it means that the rightist ones often get a good debate going,* whereas the leftist ones are either a consensus talking shop, or - on serious disagreement - one half of the argument takes its ball away and doesn't play any more. Which makes for a very boring blog, or two very boring blogs.

*although sometimes it does degenerate into "you're a ****", "no, you're a ****."

Stewart Cowan said...

Sick of Labour's treason, I started

My new site,, asks "Are the Tories suitable candidates to take over from Labour in this 'left-right' charade that is British politics?"

Let's be honest, all the main parties are bought and paid for by elite globalists and need to be exposed.

The Secret Person said...

Inspired by DES's campaign I might visit left wing blogs and comment, but his doesn't let me comment. Otherwise I would have picked him up on


He must be really deluded if he thinks comments like

"Many tory blogs are run by offensive Nazis, and people who think we should bring back the slave trade."

are "too clever".

I wouldn't ban him (although I am not a Tory, merely a small c conservative) he's hilarious and reminds me why I am right wing.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I was drawing a comparison to ConHome rather than Guido or myself.

Well, firstly ConHome is a funded operation so it makes it difficult to spend the same amount of time and resources.

Secondly - they have an editorial goal: to push the Conservative party into power and keep them there. Mine is somewhat different - to build a new liberal-left alliance / movement that isn't just Westminster focused. Mine is more ideological than party focused.

The problem is not only that you're just putting people into a left/right divide (LC has a very different editorial focus than say Harry's Place) but also the approach to politics is different.

As for the attack dog politics. I would venture that this is what scares you about the left - that it can be as viciferous and angry as the right on certain issues. This is why you're much happier reading non-threatening leftwing blogs that have good analysis but aren't challenging rightwing narratives.

Anonymous said...

Have to love Dirty European Socialist. We all had such fun reading his illiterate non-sequiturs and curiously argument-free 'arguments'. But what I really liked was this:

So what is the point in playing the game by their rules. Play it on the labour blogs play on labour's home pitch not on the Tory pitch. Would you play a game if every time you won the referee banned you.

Or, as anyone who was so much of an intellectual as to get themselves banned from an opponent's blog might have rendered it:

So what is the point in playing the game by their rules?. Play it on the Labour blogs; play on Labour's home pitch not on the Tory pitch. Would you play a game if every time you won the referee banned you?.

Even his own posts show signs of borderline illiteracy.

Pity IES will be joining us no more.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"Have to love Dirty European Socialist. We all had such fun reading his illiterate non-sequiturs and curiously argument-free 'arguments'."

So very true. Life is just not the same.

"But what I really liked was this:


And to think I fell for Iain's cover story of the ban being for abuse! Now I see the truth! Bring back the foreign dirtbag!