I was sorry to see Iain Dale quit regular blogging today.
Iain did more than anyone to popularise political blogging, particularly offering a navigational role for both new readers and the mainstream media. His high profile reflected not just an effective personal conversational blogging voice, but also a savvy use of that 'first mover advantage' to champion the medium, and act as a media ambassador for it. His playing that role of First Lord of the Blogosphere, while it did not go unchallenged, will have encouraged people to engage with blogs and try it out for themselves.
Iain reports that he is also leaving behind active political engagement more broadly. Personally, I thought it was a shame he didn't succeed in his ambition to secure a Tory candidacy - demonstrating the limits to blogosphere fame in the political world even for one of his party's best connected networkers. Iain is highly amiable, and is probably correctly seen as a voice broadly on the socially liberal and somewhat sensiblist wing of the Tory party. That he holds pretty solidly Thatcherite, anti-spending, low tax and Eurosceptic principles probably therefore demonstrates how that ideological position remains dominant even among Tory mods. (Though I was surprised that he was part of the Tory climate-sceptic consensus, rather than developing a more Cameronite view of climate change).
But politics' loss will be a boon for the media and publishing world. And now that he is broadcasting for three hours a night on LBC, it isn't surprising that Dale hasn't really been able to give blogging the attention that he feels it needs. It has been good to see Biteback publishing succeed - having been prepared to make niche political books still possible, it is publishing major titles, such as David Laws on the Coalition and Anthony Seldon on Gordon Brown.
Dale's profile means that this has become an occasion for not just for post-blog tributes-cum-obits but also a fair amount of musing about the state of the blogosphere .
This mostly develops the theme of the last year of the growing confidence of the online left with a fair amount of anxiety, on the other side, about the weakening and fragmenting of the political right online.
Iain Dale pointed out in the Autumn that the right's blogosphere decline could be seen in how one of the few new stars on the right has been the young Norman Tebbit, who demonstrates considerable talent for reader engagement. The right is fortunate in having two very professional spaces - in ConservativeHome, and The Spectator's CoffeeHouse - but it increasingly looks a little thin, beyond the professional hacks and politicos. There has been more new energy on the broad political left.
Dale also suggested today that blogging has become too personalised and nasty. That isn't my experience, or not the dominant part of it anyway. While Guido Fawkes has most traffic - and somewhat defines the public image of the political blogosphere - the site's approach seems to me distinctive and atypical. On the whole, I detect a shift in the centre-of-gravity has moved away from the once dominant angry and sweary libertarian blogs, or hyper-partisan mudslinging towards sites on both left and right characterised by the editorial quality and engagement of sites like LeftFootForward, ConservativeHome and Labour Uncut and others. Tim Montgomerie makes some similar points at ConservativeHome.