Lessons from Mr Brown’s outing in the blogosphere

Posted by Richard D North under 'Power To The People!' / Dare to be dull / Presentation or policy? on 14 April 2009

There is little surprise in finding that Gordon Brown’s vindictive nature has led him into doing serious damage to his own administration. His team’s failure with Red Rag has wider lessons, though.

The blogosphere may become a very useful place for governments or parties and the societies they serve. The web is a wonderful place and not necessarily scurrilous and dissident. Barack Obama’s success with social media demonstrates both that the internet is a place where politicians can reach to “the masses” and (less cheerfully) that it is often used for messages which are reduced to simplism.

Just because Gordon Brown’s team completely misread how the web’s informality might play for them, that doesn’t mean that other politicians can’t do well with it. (It’s worth adding that Red Rag would not have worked as intended even if it had successfully launched and been read. I write a bit a bout that at my more personal blog, richarddnorth.com.)

However, political parties ought to be aware that the informality of the web, whilst not necessarily an inevitable problem, can easily be a snare.

The lesson which David Cameron’s team ought to be learning is one that flows from the workings of the New Labour machine from its earliest days. This is that nothing – nothing – can stop the public in the end getting the message about the tone, attitude and style adopted by a party – whether in opposition or government.

It is on open question whether Labour can every recapture its reputation for idealism and public interest. At the moment, of course, it suffers from the public’s belief that Labour is more interested in itself than in the country.

The Tories face three enormous difficulties. One is that they are rightly perceived as a party which believes that its real reason for existence is to govern. That is an unromantic and not obviously idealistic reason for existence. It is not a million miles from Labour’s quite new condition of pragmatism.

Another difficulty is that the Tories are not obviously very superior to New Labour in their mode of operation. Their chief spin doctor is an ex News of the World editor and though he may be talented and public-spirited, it is hardly likely that he is a stranger to the dark arts. What’s more, the Tories seem to be run by a kitchen cabinet of insiders.

But the great difficulty is that at this moment there is very little sign that the Tories are making a concerted effort to demonstrate that they understand this is a field of major concern. Seeming and being straightforward, collegiate, frank and even formal – these are the signs that a party is conducting itself in a way which recognises how corrosive the last few years have been.

This is, by the way, the opposite of trumpeting oneself as “post-bureaucratic”, as David Cameron has been doing, not least in the Spectator.

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