2007: the year that the blog grew up

And the political world lost its fear of new media

Two months ago I bumped into shadow home secretary David Davis in a corridor at the House of Commons. He had stopped me to wish me a happy anniversary. My blog, Bright's Blog, was a year old, he reminded me. What's more, it was the anniversary of the first cabinet minister to be brought down by a blog. A year earlier, in the first Bright's Blog entry, I had noted that a terrorist suspect had been one of the foreign prisoners who had been released by the prison service, rather than deported. The scandal had already engulfed the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke. However, I now have it on good authority that it was actually the revelation on the New Statesman website about the terrorist connection that finally persuaded Tony Blair that Clarke had to go.

It was a good start. At the time, I was asked whether this signalled some new kind of politics, where people in public life had to contend with the blogosphere, as well as 24-hour television news, as well as the conventional press. Had the "feral beasts", as Tony Blair later called journalists, simply been given extra teeth by the never-sleeping internet, or was there something more profound going on?

In fact, when I think about it now, the Charles Clarke story was a very conventional piece of journalism. We published online because the magazine had gone to press and I thought we might lose the exclusive if we waited a week to publish. The internet was simply a vehicle for getting the story out there. The rise of the political blog in 2006 meant that politicians certainly had new reasons to fear the media, but I don't think the tectonic plates of political journalism were shifting.

However, 2007 is different. This is the year I finally became convinced that the internet is changing the way the media covers politics and, perhaps, even the way we do politics. There has never been any doubt in my mind that the obsessive, internalised, world of the weblog, or social networking sites, such as Facebook, are perfectly suited to the weird mind of the political trainspotter, but only in 2007 did new media fully move out of the bedroom and become an integral part of the political landscape.

Oddly enough, Charles Clarke himself played an important role in this. The 2020 Vision website that he set up with Blairite "ultra" Alan Milburn in February, to spark debate within the Labour Party, had a genuinely galvanising effect. Whether or not its real intention was to create the momentum for a leadership challenge to Brown, it is impossible to argue that it did not have an impact at the time. It was also unusual in that it was an innovation coming from the left, where most of the running in the virtual political world has come from the right, often from specifically Conservative sites.

For all its absurdity, Webcameron allowed the Conservative leader to portray himself not just as an ordinary family man, but as someone young enough to be tuned in to new technology. He also seemed to understand the medium by sending himself up a little. In its attempts to enter the fray, this is where the government has fallen down. The Labour interventions on YouTube have been, for the most part, utterly lacking in humour. Most of the time, the left has been running to catch up. Where Conservative Home has led the way in providing the inside track on the Tory party, nothing on the left has really managed to provide quite the same level of service, Bright's Blog included. One exception is Sunny Hundal's Pickled Politics, which has become essential reading for anyone who is interested in Asian politics in Britain.

Iain Dale's internet-based TV channel, 18 Doughty Street, can make real claims to have brought citizen journalism to Britain. Despite catching him filming outside the New Statesman on one occasion, I still have to recognise that Dale is a genuine innovator, who has often taken up stories ignored by other media and given a new, if partisan, position on the running news of the day.

At the same time, some people on the wilder libertarian fringe of internet politics have been forced to get real. One key date was Thursday 29 March, when Paul Staines (aka right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes) was taken apart by the Guardian's Michael White, live on Newsnight. Until that point, Fawkes' blog had been genuinely feared around Westminster. I am sure this has made him a better person, but it has also shown that bloggers are not untouchable.

That is the real change that has happened this year: people involved in the real world of conventional politics have lost their fear of the blogosphere, while bloggers have been forced to accept that entering the real world of politics sometimes has a price (as Conservative Home found when it wrongly speculated that Tory MP John Bercow was about to defect to the Labour Party). Blog world is growing up, just as the grown ups have decided to join in.

This article first appeared in the 30 July 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Brown v Cameron. Game over?