Monday 20 April 2009

Why we blog: our ethic of progressive blogging

Please let us know what you think: you can sign this statement at, post or write about it on your own blog, discuss this here and with those who have signed it on the participating blogs linked below, or discuss it on twitter using the hashtag #cwn

We are a group of Labour party members and supporters who believe that blogging can make an increasingly important contribution to progressive politics. We are seeking, in different ways, to make our own individual contributions to that, and wish to set out the ethic which informs our blogging and the broader politics we are working for within the Labour Party and beyond it.

Many of these are truths which should be self-evident. We are well aware that the broad spirit which we seek to articulate has long informed what most Labour bloggers do, as it also does most of those who blog in other parties and in non-partisan civic activism. So we do not claim any particular originality; still less do we seek to impose our views as a new regulatory code, or to attempt to police others.

Our purpose is simple. We do not believe that new technology leads to inevitable outcomes, but rather that we must all make choices about how we use it and for what purposes.

So we wish to set out why we blog and how we want the party which we support to change so that it can connect to new progressive energy for the causes we support.

1. Ethical and value-based

We believe we must act as ambassadors for the political values we profess. This applies to all politics, online or not. The Obama campaign's power to mobilise was rooted in supporters living its ethic of 'respect, empower and include'. As Labour supporters, we wish to ensure that our values of solidarity, tolerance and respect are reflected in how we do politics as well as the causes we seek to serve.

So we oppose the politics of personal destruction. We believe that the personal can be political, where it reveals the hypocrisy of public statements, the wilful misuse of evidence, or breaches proper ethical standards in public life. Where it doesn't do that, it should be off limits. Politicians should be able to have a family and private life too. A politics of personal destruction violates progressive values and brings all politics into disrepute.

2. Positive about political engagement

We do not believe that the internet is inevitably a force for anti-politics. We reject the mythology of the internet as a lawless and ethics-free zone. Bloggers are subject to law, as well as to the ethical and civic pressures of our online and offline communities. We are clear that the left can never win a politics of loathing and mutual destruction, because the faith in politics that we need will inevitably be a casualty of war. The nihilistic approach practiced by a few online should not overshadow the greater energy and numbers engaged in constructive civic advocacy.

We believe that we can challenge our political opponents without always questioning their integrity. We believe that there are big political arguments to be had between the left and the right of politics, and the left has every reason to be confident about our values and ideas, which have done much to change Britain for the better over the last century and which are in the ascendancy internationally after three decades in which anti-government arguments have often dominated.

We also believe that what is pejoratively called 'negative campaigning' has a legitimate place in politics. Scrutinising the principles, ideas and policies of political opponents is an important part of offering a democratic choice. We should challenge the ideas, claims and sometimes the misrepresentations of our political opponents, just as we would expect them to challenge us. We believe that this is effective when it is done accurately, and that this will become ever more important as the internet makes politics more transparent. So we will point out where there is a mismatch between professed principles and policies, or where the evidence does not back up what is claimed, but we will try not to assume our opponents are in bad faith where we do not have evidence to support that.

3. Pluralist and open

We believe that pluralism must be at the heart of the progressive blogosphere. We believe that debate and argument are what brings life to politics. We want to promote a cultural 'glasnost' of open discussion within our party, to show that we understand that the confidence to debate, and disagree, in an atmosphere of mutual respect helps us to bring people together to make change possible.

We believe we must change the culture of Labour's engagement with those outside the party too, including those who were once our supporters but who are disillusioned, and new generations forming their political opinions. For us, democratic politics is about individuals working together to create collective pressure for change, but also about the need to continue to talk even when we disagree deeply. We believe in engaging with all reasonable critics of the Labour government and Labour Party, wherever we can establish the possibility of taking part in democratic arguments in a spirit of mutual respect.

4. Independent spaces

We believe that attempts to transfer 'command and control' models to online politics will inevitably fail. Labour must show that it gets that - in practice as well as theory - if we are make our contribution to the progressive movements on which our causes depend.

The government and the political parties should use their official spaces to contribute to and enable these conversations. We also want to see Ministers and MPs having the confidence to engage in political debate and argument elsewhere, while being clear that there is no value for anybody in seeking to control independent spaces for discussion.

5. Participatory and cooperative

We believe in a cooperative ethic of blogging, because the internet is most potent when it harnesses the creativity, ideas and expertise of many people. The internet is a powerful tool for individual expression. We believe it also enables citizens to interact and collaborate in ways that were never previously possible, and catalyse new forces for participation and activism. As citizens, and as bloggers, we believe in asking not only what is wrong with the world but how we can work together to improve it.

We hope that others will offer ideas and responses - supportive and critical - about these ideas and how they can help to inform the future of our politics.

We know that the outcomes of politics matter deeply, that politics is about passion and argument, and that we may ourselves sometimes fall short of the values and standards that we aspire to.

But this is why we blog - and what we hope to achieve for our politics by doing so.


Sunder Katwala

Nick Anstead

Will Straw

David Lammy MP

Rachael Jolley

Jessica Asato and

Karin Christiansen

Paul Cotterill

Laurence Durnan

Alex Finnegan

Gavin Hayes

Mike Ion

Richard Lane

Tom Miller

Carl Nuttall

Anthony Painter

Don Paskini

Andreas Paterson

Asif Sange

Stuart White

Graham Whitman


Captain Fun said...

I agree totally with every word of this. Thanks for putting it on-line

Stephen Smith -

Bearded Socialist said...

top stuff. The question is being posed as to why the Right is better at blogging than the left. I'm inclined towards the arguement that it is easier to be critical than supportive in blogging, and maybe the roles will be reversed after the next election, but the left needs to define its values and stamp them onto our bit of cyber space

Sunder Katwala said...

Thanks for the positive comments from Stephen and BeardedSocialist. As there are several parallel discussions of this, I will link up in this thread a selection of responses on other blogs, where people have made substantive points beyond simply posting the manifesto.

Tom Harris is supportive of the principles, particularly noting that "the idea that we can be organised under a single strategy imposed from party HQ is laughable and a waste of time, doomed to fail".

Harris sees no need to sign up himself, writing that "My only issue with it is that it sounds just a tad defensive. However well placed McBride and Draper were, their activities never reflected on me, on this blog or on the many, many other good Labour-inclined bloggers out there".

Sunder Katwala said...

The most extensive discussion so far is on LiberalConspiracy. Some of that got somewhat derailed into whether it was appropriate for a group of Labourites to post on a broader progressive site.

Interestingly, the very first response was from Paul Staines, who blogs as Guido Fawkes. Staines wrote that "Believe it when I see it. Many of the names on this list have engaged in the politics of personal destruction - destruction of me".

Staines exposed the McBride-Draper emails, adding to his reputation as the UK's highest profile political blogger. I responded to his scepticism about the manifesto by noting how he very regularly engages in a similar politics of smear and innuendo. Challenging Staines on such points seems to me to fall well within the principles of the statement, in challenging hypocrisy for example.

Sunder Katwala said...

Socialist Unity is a group blog of various left-of-labour Respect, Green, union, socialist and independent left voices.

Andy Newman posts that "I think they have the argument spot on, perhaps they have limited this to Labour Party members in an attempt to steer the party away from the negative approach revealed by smeargate; but I am am sure that many progressive bloggers outside the Labour Party will also fully endorse their general argument.

Sunder Katwala said...

Anthony Painter is among the signatories, and has written about why he thinks the statement is as much about the ethics of a new politics as about blogging itself:

"Gone are the days of Whitehall knows best; elitist models are not up to the task. Moreover, though ideas and analysis will flow from them, the media, think tanks, academia, and political figures themselves will not be able to act with authority without popular legitimacy. More importantly, the solutions they propose will not be sufficient or subtle enough to the task without public involvement or understanding of the decisions that impact their lives or the communities in which they live. Nor are nihilistic models able to improve lives. Each challenge requires a legitimate collective response. That is why active democracy is important".

Sunder Katwala said...

The World is My Country blog wonders if the partisanship of a group of Labour supporters could deter other progressive bloggers.

"Sunder Katwala, the general secretary of the Fabian society and a signatory of the statement confirmed that the specific references to The Labour party and its bloggers was due to concerns that a more general code would in some way burden Green, Lib Dem and other non-Labour bloggers with the current reputation problems faced by both the Government and labour blogs.

It is heartening to see a group of Labour bloggers to try and improve standards and to publicise the code of conduct to which they expect to be held. It is certain that many observers on the right will not be shy in requoting aspects of this statement in future clashes with Labour bloggers who have overstepped the mark ... This very public declaration is welcomed and supported but we feel it could have made a greater impact if an attempt had been made to engage with other bloggers who subscribe to the progressive agenda".

Sunder Katwala said...

politicalhackuk, a Labour member and activist in Birmingham, writes:

"I'd like to thank Derek Draper for the contribution that he's made to Labour. That increased Tory lead demonstrates how effective his blogging skills have been. Top marks Derek. Really. You can stop helping now.

On the up side, theres an interesting statement by a group of progressive bloggers on the Liberal Conspiracy site, proposing what is almost a charter for leftish blogging. I don't claim that I'll always manage to adhere to the ideals, but they are a starting point. If only Derek had been given a copy of this".

Sunder Katwala said...

David Semple on Though Cowards Flinch (a site which is much more red flag than red rag) thinks the statement is "fairly worthy if unremarkable material" but is critical of the signatories who have written for LabourList (including me). Both Stuart White (who hasn't written for LabourList) and I have responded in a discussion with David.

"By allowing themselves to write on the same website as politically illiterate leadership-supporting hacks, Tom, Sunder and the rest are going to find themselves unable to get away from that element within Labour which is ready to descend to Guido Fawkes level of conduct.

We need to realise that, while progressive strands survive within Labour, the unrelenting reactionary behaviour of our leadership complicates the relationship of Labour activists with the working class, and with other political activists. Taking that into consideration, rather than essentially being a populist shield for Labour ministers, we need a grassroots, ground-up effort that will function independently of our leadership until such times as our leadership ceases to function independently of us".

Robert said...

How many people bother with comments on any site ten twenty thirty, add them altogether and you mostly have the same people, 64% of people do not bother voting, and I doubt any of these blog. we are not like America in which a vast amount of people vote.

Sunder Katwala said...


I think you are right that blogging does not reach those not engaged in politics. I think it much deepens debate for those who are involved, but that is good. Others are more likely to occasionally pay attention through eg the 10 o'clock news.

But you are too pessimistic about turnout. In General Elections certainly. The UK turnout was 61% voting at the last election, though that was historically very low. So more people vote than don't.

US turnout is overall rather lower than in Britain: the record is in the low to mid-60s for Presidential elections, which is not much higher than the British low-point of 58% in 2001.

Sunder Katwala said...

Kerry McCarthy is writing one of the most engaging and non-command and control blogs of any Labour MP. She says:

"Labour bloggers have been signing up to this statement on 'Why we Blog', which seems to be a Fabian-inspired exercise. I'm sure it could have all been said in a couple of sentences, but there you go. Policy wonks do like their big words!"

Sunder Katwala said...

Hopi Sen has a very good response, which explains why he blogs somewhat more succinctly.

He says:

"I was asked if I wanted to be one of the statement signers. In response I said I’d be happy to be supportive, but probably shouldn’t sign, because if I was honest the reason I blog goes more like this:

1. I like writing about stuff

2. I like the Labour party

3. ???????

4. …Blogging!

5. Also, lolcats. heh. They’re cats, with captions!

…and I can’t really be much more intellectual about it than that".