By Derek Draper
Since the beginning of this year we have worked hard to build a Labour supporting presence online. 99.9% of that time was taken up by setting up LabourList and trying to build it into our version of ConservativeHome. I am proud of what we have achieved in those three months. But of course I regret the 0.1% of my time that I spent thinking about how we might set up a separate left wing “gossipy” site. We had been looking at the success of the right across the blogosphere and seen how effective their more scurrilous elements were. To be honest I think we were a bit dazzled by what they get up to.
But in the end both myself and Damian McBride came to believe that such a site would be wrong. That is why when you look at LabourList tens of thousands of words have been posted since those emails were sent back in January and the site we had kicked around the idea of – Red Rag – remains completely empty. You can see where my energy and passion has been going.
But Damian did write and send those emails, I did respond hastily and stupidly and now, thanks – it appears – to someone hacking into my private emails, they are in the public domain. Damian has paid a heavy price for writing them but I have to stress one important point: without the hacking they would never ever have seen the light of day. They were destined for the trash can. But we should never really have considered the idea and I am sorry we did. We got ourselves drawn into the most negative part of the blogosphere when we should have been concentrating exclusively on the more positive aspects as a model for LabourList.
So I am sorry. I am particularly sorry to the individuals mentioned in those juvenile emails, and especially sorry to Nadine Dorries, George and Frances Osborne and David and Samantha Cameron. I can understand why they – and others – may be sceptical but all I can do is absolutely promise that these stories were just daft ideas that never – and would never have – got off the drawing board.
So in those last three months we have had some successes and made some mistakes. The most obvious being this silly idea that the smears and slurs of the right-wing blogosphere could be challenged through setting up an alternative Labour supporting gossip website – whether it contained the infamous stories in Damian´s emails or more harmless tittle tattle.
LabourList has a lot of work to do to grow and support progressives online. I want to draw a line under this email affair and make it absolutely clear that we will be doing that by discussing issues, policies and campaigning. Dozens of people have posted and thousands of comments have been made, the site grows every day, and gets richer and deeper too. That is because LabourList is about ideas and not smears.
On that note, though, while I do think it is right that we hold our opponents accountable our tone has sometimes been wrong. On the specifics of Iain Dale I do think he should have condemned Carol Thatcher when she used the term Golliwog but I have never said he was a racist. From what I know – and hear of him – I don´t believe him to be prejudiced at all, and actually a rather decent guy, just wrong about that particular issue. If I ever suggested other than that I apologise to him too. It may also surprise you to hear me ackowledge that, from what I know and hear, Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes is also not a racist, though we did, rightly I believe, criticize him for hosting racist comments on his site, alongside other offensive material.
Maybe this affair will encourage the whole blogosphere, right and left, to commit to a new start, where offensiveness and personal attacks are avoided and debate is elevated not dragged down into the gutter? Maybe this can be a turning point at which we all redouble our efforts to tap into the internet´s positive potential rather than allowing its more peurile aspects to come to the fore? But that won´t happen without many many more people getting involved and taking blogging out of its ghetto.
For those who have suppported LabourList and feel they have been let down, I apologise. I would encourage them – and others – to stay with us: read the site, get involved, make some comments and write some posts. Join the community and make it what you want it to be.
That was always the way to build Labour´s case on line not getting distracted by silly plans for tittle tattle and gossip. I did realize that in time, but should have done so even earlier.. However I really am proud of LabourList and what we are trying to achieve and I rededicate myself to that 100%.