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Friday, 23 January 2009

LABOUR MISSED

It was meant to challenge ConservativeHome. We hoped it would be the activists' arena. Instead LabourList is top heavy, dominated by people centred around Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone. These three may make interesting bedfellows, but where is the authentic voice of the Labour Party? Where are the grassroots members who make Tory blogging so appealing?
By no means an expert, I have nevertheless been blogging for almost two years, often but not exclusively, on issues and events in the EU. As a MEP I am extremely concerned that there appear to be no European references on LabourList. Foreign policy in general fares little better. I know from my post bag that Labour Party members care passionately about foreign affairs, as my massive inbox on Gaza amply demonstrated.

I am immensely proud of the Labour Government's achievements over the last ten years in more than doubling overseas aid, writing off millions of pounds of debt and leading the world in campaigning for the millennium goals. Labour Party people are international people - it’s one of our defining characteristics. Conservative Home can’t beat us on this. The Tories stand isolated in the European Union with economic policies no other right wing party in America, France or Germany shares. Let them be Little Englanders, but let LabourList be a Labour InternationaList.

However, my biggest LabourList bugbear is its casual sexism. I expect it from ConservativeHome but not a Labour product. The Labour Party has striven to increase women’s political representation with all women shortlists and equal gender representation on closed lists. But frighteningly LabourList is taking us a step backwards by appointing just six women out of 34 as contributors on the site. Making up just 17 per cent of contributors, women are better represented in the Commons than they are on this Labour blogsite!

This gender bias is not just a loss to women in politics, but it’s a distinct loss to the quality of the site. In a recent discussion on blogs on women’s hour, media historian Professor Jean Seaton argued that political blogs run by men tend to be gossipy, aggressive and partisan, whereas those run by women are more often issue-led and constructive, with wider cross-party appeal.
On the same show, Iain Dale said that he is disappointed that women only make up 15 per cent of visitors to his site. This is not because women do not engage with blogging. Women fuel internet traffic with lively and amusing debates, for example campaigning on domestic violence on Nerys Evan’s blog and discussing women’s rights on the F-Word. The difference between these sites and Iain Dale’s, or some of the other overtly political sites, is that they open up blogging to real social problems, away from the arguments of Westminster, and into the day-to-day issues that affect people beyond the Village.

There’s an election coming. We have won the last three because we have taken record shares of women’s votes. New media should take us forward, not back. Sadly once again women must battle for their share of the political arena.

LabourList is also far too London centred. I say this as a London MEP. I truly believe London is the greatest city in the world, but LabourList needs more voices from the regions. Let’s have Bob Piper from the West Midlands or Grimmerupnorth, rather than yet another former minister or adviser from the London dinner party circuit.

LabourList should also make cleverer political judgments by, for example, remembering that the majority of Labour representatives, including myself, are in opposition rather than power. Someone like Stephen Cowan reporting from the frontline fighting the Tory Taliban in Hammersmith merits a slot. For a Trade union voice active in the Party, LabourList should perhaps include John Gray.

As a former member of the Labour Party in the South West region, I was especially pleased when Jim Knight won South Dorset. Up until university I spent my life in Tory areas. At times it was a little lonely as a socialist. One of the great things about the internet is the way it can bring people with the same views and interests together whatever the geography. So for the campaigner in a safe Tory seat, coming home and clicking on LabourList should feel like the embrace of solidarity from virtual comrades.

There is no doubt that a cohesive community has developed around Conservative Home. The feeling of working with like minded souls motivates Tory activists. Let’s reach out through the web to all Labour Party members in all parts of the country.

Labour Party activists frequently tell me how much they appreciate National Executive Committee member Ann Black’s reports on meetings. Why not sign Ann up to provide a forum where Labour Party supporters can discuss events after every meeting of the Party’s governing committee? She’s a voice from outside London too.

LabourList could also put the informative campaigning work done across the Party online. Someone like Mary Southcott in Bristol who sits on the National Policy Forum and the South West Convention, writes for Chartist and campaigns on Electoral Reform and Cyprus would be an ideal contributor. Such Party stalwarts are one of the strengths of ConservativeHome.

I know LabourList will not have much in the way of resources, let alone the Ashcroft untaxed millions, but I question whether the money is being used to the best advantage. Why only a weekday operation? Why the fixed deadline of the lunchtime list? Many Labour people will only be able to surf in the evening or at weekends. Most people can’t surf the web for long in working/childcare hours, and if they can very few will have LabourList as a priority ahead of Facebooking friends or making online purchases.

Too many of the initial LabourList bulletins contain large chunks of press reviews. If people want that they will sign up for a press summary service, a newspaper email service or get text alerts. It is not sensible to spend resources on such duplication. References to other media are fine; a Labour press list is not.

I think there is a real need for a blog space for Labour Party members and I very much want LabourList to succeed. I hope these comments will be taken in the spirit in which they are intended - to do the very best for the Party and the Government.

9 comments:

DaveHill said...

Very interesting post, Mary, including an excellent point about grassroots London bloggers.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/davehillblog/2009/jan/23/london-london

Ann Black said...

Thanks Mary - there have been delays in updating my homepage, but NEC and National Policy Forum reports since July 2008 are at http://blogs.labour.org.uk/annblack, or contact me at annblack50@btinternet.com to receive them directly (promise no spam).

DaveA said...

While I am on here commenting on the TICAP Conference I could not help but add to this article too. LabourList is viewed by many simply as a car crash. It is controlled by Labour and has nothing better to say than why the Tories are awful rather than why Labour are good. I certainly object to comments being sent to the trash can. They are viewable if you tick a box but this to me is no more than censorship.

ID cards, CCTV, snooping on private emails et al have marked the Labour Party out as one of the most repressive governments I can ever recall.

With regards to "Little Englanders," like most Liberal/left/BBC types who use this cheap epithet, is that I want to trade with the rest of the world unlike you "Little Europeans."

The bullying of the Irish electorate for daring to vote in the "wrong result", the bullying and insulting of the Czechs and now to cap it all banning the TICAP conference because it happens to disagree.

13% behind in the polls is looking terminal and with the Euro elections in June, I believe, I would anticipate many Labour MPs and MEPS scouring the jobs page in The Guardian for a new "non-job."

susan press said...

Mary, thanks for the plug and good luck in June. I think you're absolutely right. We should be embracing all areas of the Party - not only is there a gender issue on LabourList it also ignores voices from the Labour Left such as mine and Dave Osler etc.
Unless we start embracing the positives we can all share, feeling free to disagree on Government policy when appropriate, but trying to retain a spirit of solidarity with each other, then the elitism and top-down approach which Labourlist will continue to mean members walking away.

labourparty said...

Have you been excluded from posting on LabourList? I ask because it clearly states that "you" can post blog items there. I'm going to put that claim to the test shortly, but I do wonder whether you already have or not.

Fidothedog said...

Centred around Gordon of course, its top down New Labour.

John Gray said...

Hi Mary

Thanks for the plug as well and a great post!

http://grayee.blogspot.com/2009/01/plug-no-2-from-london-mep-mary.html

Sue said...

Actually, Labourist (run by volunteers), is not too bad. At least it's readable although the content is taken directly from Labourlist.

RobertEve said...

Overseas aid should be the first for the chop!!