Brighton & Hove claims to have the highest per capita proportion of digital companies in the country. Unsurprisingly, it also has a large number of bloggers but not, as you might expect, inside the local political class.
Despite the opportunity that blogging provides for free personal publicity, the majority of our local councillors appear unwilling to take advantage of it. The excuses are rather familiar. Some will claim that it takes too long but after the initial setup it takes as long as it does to write a letter. Some will claim that they are away from their workstation too often to make it convenient, even though it is a doddle to blog, as I do frequently, from a mobile phone. Some will claim that they do blog but in fact their blogs are so infrequently updated that they could more properly be described as moribund.
Written communication is a vital life force in politics. Clearly our local councillors have all grasped that, which is ironic given its chronic security issues. Correspondence from and to their local residents lies at the heart of their work.
Beyond that, there is the hum drum routine of meeting residents’ associations. (Of ours, their websites reveal a hilarious lack of understanding as to what to do with the apostrophe on the word resident.) The problem residents’ associations present to local councillors is that they claim to represent lots of less active citizens without much evidence to demonstrate that silent majority even knows who they are. Clearly, whilst the associations definitely include the most active members of a community their numbers are tiny compared to the turnout in local elections. The great unknown is how much influence they have? Much of what is said in these meetings is unreported to the outside world. Councillors blogging could cure that problem. The associations don’t manage it because, on the whole, they are staffed by exactly the wrong sort of elderly person to master their digital affairs properly.
We have an aging population. Most of our councillors are either elderly or they are late middle aged. In other words, they have not grown up with modern digital social media. They’ve been obliged to pick up computing skills along the way. They complain that young people don’t show any interest in politics and fail to grasp the ease by which they could discuss the issues that matter to them at a time and in a place which is convenient to them. Smart phones & other mobile devices are the main method of communication amongst our youth. Obviously, they’re not going to abandon them in sudden favour of the Brighton Argus (See what I did there?).
The Green councillors are marginally better than the other parties at individual blogging but, really, all the parties are equally to blame. Why do they spend their political lives praying for a mention in the local rag, with its unknown circulation inside the City, when they could so easily provide their own stream of ‘press releases’?
Whether the answer lies in the inertia of age, fear of revealing that they have nothing to say beyond bland platitudes or a futile desire to make the digital age disappear, it is a self-defeating attitude to politics. Being keen readers and occasional commentators on a prominent independent political blog is still a very passive approach (link is to a much commented on post there, for illustrative purposes).
This is a plea that our local politicians become more proactive in their communications. With their own blogs, they could readily rebut allegations that they are merely a party man or woman. They could insist that the established media print or publish the web address of their blog whenever mentioning them, they could take control of their own communications in a very public manner.
Here’s a list of the few active blogging councillors we have in Brighton & Hove, as of today. I’m happy to add to this list if I’ve missed anyone out, regardless of party but they will have to have updated their blog frequently.
Cllr Christopher Hawtree (Green)
Cllr Graham Cox (Conservative)
Cllr Jason Kitcat (Green)
Cllr Ben Duncan (Green)
Four out of fifty four? The other 90+% may claim to use other social networks but these systems (twitter, Facebook etc) are dependent on people being willing to become disciples. Blogs can be visited as and when it is convenient. Most people don’t want to form any kind of permanent arrangement with their local politicians. People want politicians to serve them honestly, diligently and publicly. A blog is the perfect vehicle for proof of that service.