Social media including blogs and, especially, Twitter, offer unprecedented opportunities for politicians to connect with voters. But according to one of the UK’s leading political bloggers, take-up remains low because party machines still see it as a threat.
“Even if you only have five hundred readers a day as a candidate, tell me any occasion when a political candidate gets to make a speech in front of five hundred people? It just doesn’t happen any more,” said Iain Dale, former Conservative Party candidate, in a podcast interview on the weekend.
“I try to persuade candidates in Britain that, yes, they should have a blog, and they should regard blogging as an opportunity rather than a threat,” he said. “But of course there are so many things that candidate bloggers have done over the years that have got them into trouble, that people tend to only look at those examples, and don’t think of the positives.”
Some UK politicians have re-invented themselves through their blogs, including John Redwood, a minister in John Major’s cabinet, and Tom Harris, a Labour MP who wrote a “brilliant” blog. “Very funny, but sometimes possibly too funny,” Dale said. “He is not in the Labour shadow ministerial team when he should be, and the clear reason is because of his blog.”
But while the parties “sometimes mouth the words”, in practice they fall short. In the last UK election, for example, the Labour Party asked candidates to submit all blog posts for approval.
“That clearly indicates that they don’t understand blogging, because it is the spontaneity of it that actually really makes it work,” Dale said. “If you can’t be spontaneous, if you can’t say at least 90% of what’s on your mind, then frankly no one’s going to read it.”
Dale believes Twitter has eclipsed blogging to some degree. It’s easier for him to tweet than write several blog posts a day. He also tweets bluntly, and admits his favourite word is “prick”. That, he said, is part of Twitter’s honesty.
“Well you’ve got to keep it real,” Dale said. “If I think someone’s being a prick I’m going to tell them that I think they’re being a prick. Now I couldn’t really do that on the blog, because it’s not the kind of medium that really lends itself to that. I don’t do it because I enjoy insulting people, but if someone has a go at me they’re going to get it back in spades, I’m afraid.”
Now that Dale is no longer a political candidate, he doesn’t have to worry about soiling the political brand. However, he is conscious that we are all brand on the internet, and that Twitter is a powerful branding tool.
“That’s the reason I started using Twitter because I knew that I could sort of — it sounds a terribly pretentious thing to say — but develop the Iain Dale brand through Twitter probably more easily than I could anything else.”
*Iain Dale is presenting the keynote speech at the Microsoft Politics & Technology Forum in Canberra tomorrow. Stilgherrian is also on the discussion panel.