British political blogging saw an outburst of internecine strife in the last few weeks as two of blogging’s biggest names trained their artillery on each other.
Campaigning blogger, Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads fame, broke a fragile ceasefire by opening a front on the notorious Westminster gossip peddler Guido Fawkes. Tim’s beef with Guido is largely a charge of rank hypocrisy. For all his calling of politicians on sleaze, corruption and cover-ups, Guido isn’t prepared to practice what he preaches – refusing to give a right of reply in his blog’s comments and deleting those comments that shine a light on Fawkes’ less than straight dealing. That transparency, fair dealing and freedom of information are concepts that don't apply to him.
Guido has not been too far away from some big political headlines in the last year or so and is seen by some as one of Britain’s most powerful bloggers. He made a false start last January when he made a squalid attempt at claiming some credit in the outing of Mark Oaten. He then proceeded to pick over the bones of John Prescott’s sex life and running with unsubstantiated allegations about Gordon Brown’s connections with think tank, the Smith Institute.
You’re probably asking yourself, why is this important? Well, blogging is an emerging medium beginning to directly challenge the mainstream media, particularly in the area of expressing opinions that newspapers and television news can’t or won’t find room for. Tony Blair’s former senior policy adviser recently accused ‘hostile’ bloggers of creating a ‘shrill discourse‘. Press Complaints Commission director Tim Toulmin has called for a voluntary code of practice for bloggers. What Toulmin fails to realise is bloggers already have a code of practice. It’s called common decency and the vast majority of us abide by it. Ireland and his supporters don’t think that Guido Fawkes does and that is why we called him on it. And Guido being the most prominent blogger right now means the rest of us are painted with the same filthy brush.
Predictably maybe, the bloggers that backed either Tim or Guido were split along political lines. Ireland pursued the matter with a series of blog posts and a spoof ‘Guido 2.0’ blog which Guido has so far refused to address in any serious fashion. Indeed, Guido has been content for his side of the argument to be fought by his proxies and flacks on other blogs who decided shooting the messenger was the way to deal with the issues highlighted by Tim. He was variously described as a stalker, an obsessive, a bully and other epithets not suitable for a family magazine.
Self-styled blogging guru and Tory A-lister, Iain Dale, described Tim as a ‘nihilist’ on his 18 Doughty Street webTV show. Now, at this point it’s necessary for me to declare my interest (this is how it’s done Mr Dale). Tim Ireland is a personal friend of mine. That might make me biased, but taking a look at the various campaigns that Tim has run over the past few years in order to foster positive political engagement – building blogs for MPs, organising tactical voting campaigns and protesting against the Parliament Square protest ban – and ‘nihilist’ is the last word you would use to describe him.
He’s certainly far less nihilistic than Guido with his self-confessed urge to ‘slash and burn’ the political establishment. Tim’s driven, yes, tenacious also, but a stalker, an obsessive and a bully? Well, these words are always tossed about by those who’d rather not discuss potentially embarrassing matters. It’s easier to smear your opponent (or better still, get someone else to smear them for you) than debate with them. It’s understandable that Fawkes and Dale and their hangers-on would take the path of least resistance. It’s indicative of the mire that politics in general currently squats in.
There are many of us who are passionate about blogging, its potential and the longer term concerns about freedom of speech. We’re not happy about the medium’s growing reputation being dragged through the gutter. Why not join the battle? Blogging needs YOU!