In a speech to the Hansard society on Wednesday, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears MP, took the opportunity to attack political blogging. She claimed that bloggers are fueling political cynicism, encouraging a general disengagement from the political system.
Understandably, at the TPA, we take issue with this argument. While it may be a bit biased (considering the medium in which I write), I would argue that it is not blogging which fuels political cynicism, but rather politicians’ actions (or lack thereof). Blogs are merely the forum in which people express their political cynicism. And rather than encouraging disengagement with the political system, blogging actually opens up politics to previously disengaged parts of the population. Politicians such as Ms Blears are clearly uncomfortable with the democratization of politics, which blogging enables, and have realized that the press isn’t the only place they can find criticism of their policies.
Ms Blears’ direct attack on right-wing bloggers, who write “with disdain for the political system and politicians", was also telling. Her implication that blogging from a left-wing perspective is ok touched on the fact that the political blogs are dominated by centre right opinion. Centre-right blogs are simply better and more popular. But the beauty of the blog is that it does not have to be one sided commentary. People show no mercy to weak arguments or idealistic statements. Contributors from all sides of the fence share ideas and force more intelligent debate. Blogging has shifted the political discussions that took place in pubs and the office to a more interactive forum. I do not see the connection to disengagement. In fact, she could encourage engagement by providing a blog for her constituents to share their praises and criticism of government.
Later in the speech, Hazel Blears did manage to speak some sense when she observed that too many politicians have little or no real-world experience. Ms. Blears, on this we agree. In our paper, The Failure of Government Management, the TPA revealed what experience private sector FTSE 100 chief executives believe is needed to make a good manager. We discovered that few politicians in high ranking positions have any of the prescribed qualities. Senior politicians are seemingly exempt from the “relevant experience” section of a curriculum vitae. “Professional” politicians too often have few business skills or relevant knowledge with which to run their enormous departments or to make informed decisions that reflect the concerns of their constituents.
However, she fumbled again when she called for programs to help "ordinary" people from a wider range of trades and industries win elected positions. The claim that we need special programs in place to have ordinary working people elected is not the way to solve the problem. While electing our neighbors and colleagues does solve the lack of experience problem, what she is suggesting is effectively an affirmative action campaign to get them there. Perhaps, she could post a “help wanted” blog encouraging private sector professionals to answer the call to the political process. But then again, it is only the right wingers out there reading and writing them.