I’m often asked “why is the left lagging behind the right in the ‘web war’?” I’ve answered the question many times, saying the web war is more than just Iain Dale and Guido. I might get shot down for saying so, but Iain and Guido are amazing at what they do, especially the way they compete for mindshare amongst the mainstream media. We’ve got our own rising talent in that market but there’s so much more to the web than just blogging.
I’ve talked ad nauseum here and elsewhere about new media being more about campaigning and organising than blogging, but even in the blog market, there’s so much more potential for the left than finding a Red Dale/Guido.
As ever, the US points the way. Progressives have been engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy in the form of Fox News, talk radio and some of the more rabid blog-voices since 2000, but it reached its zenith during the run-up to, and fallout from, the Iraq war. Although the likes of Drudge, Instapundit and FreeRepublic were off the mark first, the fact-checking and media-balancing sites like TalkingPointsMemo (TPM) and Center For American Progress (CAP)’s ThinkProgress blog have struck back on behalf of the progressive agenda.
TPM works impressively to provide material for local press reporters and then amplifies their reporting on a national scale. ThinkProgress is rooting out the vested interests behind the anti-Obama spokespeople (especially on healthcare) and challenging the shrill media reporting on Fox et al with fact-based rebuttal.
The lessons are being learnt here. Step forward Will Straw, who spent time with CAP in the US and is importing their model here. He is sourcing experts in policy areas that can regularly fact-check and rebut claims made in the media and offer more balanced – and at times more sober – reporting of the key issues that the mainstream media are often only willing or able to report partially. This becomes crucial as more of our ‘trusted’ media brands effectively coronate David Cameron by stepping out of his way.
Straw’s LeftFootForward set out five red lines last week in advance of the PBR that it said the Government must not cross. They were well-researched and well-argued progressive economic principles that were used to unite like-minded interests on the web. The intellectual ballast was provided by the likes of Tony Dolphin of the Institute for Public Policy Research and the forensic tax accountant, Richard Murphy.
On the day of the PBR, Straw pulled in a coalition of progressive web-voices to live debate on the PBR, with the likes of TUC’s Touchstone blog, LabourList and Liberal Conspiracy igniting debate and binding together a variety of online audiences into a more coherent and stronger – if not solid or monolithic – network of interests that is starting to act as a block.
Murphy is particularly worthy of note. His strength comes as much from his offline influence as his blog writing but the TaxResearch blog is his shop window. It’s amazing how often he comes up top in Google searches on certain subjects; a sure sign in the democtarised world of the web that he has knowledge and influence. Remember, Google is the same route used by political staff and mainstream media when looking for information on key issues, so where it points these key opinion formers and how that plays into the wider discussion is crucial.
But the biggest win comes when all these people work together in a much more efficient and scaleable way than is ever possible offline. Knowing this, there are now large, informal groups of leftie bloggers and online activists who regularly discuss crowd-sourcing investigations, amplifying each other on certain topics in the process and acting as a block to become more influential than the sum of their parts.
It’s also eye-catching how often you see [follow the links] a policy supported by Vince Cable or Jon Cruddas that has been ignited in the media by Polly Toynbee or others, is backed by the research of Richard Murphy, diffused to the grassroots by Compass and amplified in the blogospehere by LabourList, Sunny Hundal, Will Straw, and Duncan Weldon, et al – just before a letter calling for action appears in the national press signed by all of the above.