When you are passionate about a political party and its values, as we are at LabourList, it’s easy to forget that as the parties compete with each other for support, they all share a common responsibility to prevent public disenchantment with politics in general. 40% of those eligible to vote chose not to do so at the last election – more than the number who chose to vote for the winning party – and turnout at recent local elections has been lower still. Public trust in politicians of all parties is worryingly low, and disillusionment ultimately leads to disenfranchisement.
Everyone involved in politics – including on websites like ours – has a responsibility to try to arrest this decline.
Yet by competing with each other in the blogosphere, we sometimes risk exacerbating these problems – as recent events have proved. When political competition turns into personal attack, particularly if allegations are petty, malicious or downright false, there is a danger that this public disengagement can grow, as all involved are tarnished and voters simply give up on the political process.
And just as negativity and gossip cause people to switch off politics, so does the obsequious peddling of a particular party line. The politics of “we’re always right and they’re always wrong” harms all parties – when it’s employed by all sides, it leaves those without affiliation with nowhere to go but away from politics altogether and towards less blinkered and parochial forms of debate.
Such a state of affairs does more damage to democracy as a whole than it can ever do to any one party. Low voter turnout harms accountability and public debate; it also puts off high-calibre individuals who are considering careers in local government or national politics. Three weeks before the European elections, people are turning to extreme groups such as the BNP as they feel ever more detached from mainstream politics. The harm, in short, it is to our public life.
Yet it is also true that political blogs which support one party and challenge the others can add a huge amount to public life, providing forums for debate and platforms for individuals to articulate their points of view and hear those of others. Being provocative keeps people interested and arouses further curiosity in the process of democracy – and this should include challenging politicians as well as policies, for it’s impossible to reasonably argue that personality plays no part in politics at all (just think of Thatcher and the Miners, Blair and Iraq, Brown and the election that never was). But it is possible to be both provocative and challenging to your political opponents and still to avoid being vindictive.
With this in mind, LabourList is changing. Our name remains but our approach has altered.
We will speak to and for those within the Party, and interested observers from outside, who believe in Labour’s values. We will challenge the opposition parties – and the Government too – on the basis of those values and the views of rank-and-file Party members.
But LabourList will not be a mouthpiece for government, nor a place for one personality to push an agenda. Rather, it will become what it always said it would be – a place for all Labour-minded people, and those who disagree with us, to engage candidly on the direction and causes of the centre-left.
And so, over the coming weeks, we will refocus on the issues that matter to party members and voters, and to those whose instinct is to support Labour but who feel increasingly driven away by actions at the top of the Party. We will look again at the economy, public services, ID cards, the need for more openness about the conflict in Iraq, the Lisbon Treaty, MPs’ expenses and Welfare Reform. And while we will encourage online campaigning and engagement with the party leadership, we will never forget that the basis of our strength comes from activism at the grassroots.
In doing this, we will gather a range of views from people from across the centre-left online and offline communities and publish weekly columns and profiles of those who will shape our movement in the future. We will become both a forum for discussion of new Labour policy and a platform for developing the next Labour manifesto. And we will positively engage with – and not antagonise – the right-wing blogosphere, starting with an interview with Iain Dale and a reader debate on policy with ConservativeHome.
In achieving this, LabourList will become a space that is honest, provocative, diffuse and fun. But we will always take seriously the wider responsibility of all political blogs – particularly those bearing the name of the governing party – to political engagement and our public life. We hope that as we implement these changes you will continue to enjoy and value LabourList.