Exclusive: Tory HQ in row with supportive bloggers

Complaints at private meeting that left is ahead

Tory-supporting bloggers have complained to the Conservative leadership that their failure to gain access to senior party figures is allowing the online left to steal a march on them, Newstatesman.com has learned.

The private meeting on Tuesday, which took place over a lavish three-course meal at the House of Commons, including braised wild boar and bread-and-butter pudding, was hosted by the shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured), the party chairman, Eric Pickles, David Cameron's adviser Henry Macrory and their new media team of Rishi Saha, Sam Coates and Craig Elder.

About 30 bloggers were invited to the event, though the "big two" -- Iain Dale and Tim Montgomerie -- did not attend. "The bloggers were critical of Tory web strategy, about not getting any support from CCHQ and about no access to senior figures," a source with access to the meeting said. One issue that came up was the failure of the official Tory site MyConservatives.com, which features broadcasts from Cameron, but which is said to have only about 80 users.

"Hunt basically told them to back off until after the election, which didn't go down well," a source said. "Bloggers made the point that Labour were catching up and that didn't go down well either."

The bloggers complained that -- unlike the Tories -- Labour invites bloggers to press briefings. Labour has private webchats for bloggers and supporters to quiz policy and campaign figures, and the party also held daily bloggers' briefings during its party conference.

It was pointed out that Labour's Membersnet applies all of the principles that MyCon is seeking to achieve, but it was launched many months earlier and without a fanfare of glitz and publicity. Sources say that as few as 80 people are using MyCon -- that's about the same number of bloggers as Labour used to beta-test the most recent modification of Membersnet.

Labour, it was said, regularly sources ideas from the blogosphere, as in Douglas Alexander's webchats, the Labour Campaign Network and the recent adoption of the Against the Odds Party Election Broadcast, as revealed by Newstatesman.com.

One common complaint is that ConservativeHome, once seen as an independent, grass-roots site, has been bought by Lord Ashcroft.

Meanwhile, Labour insiders say that Tangent Labs, Labour's technology agency, is largely responsible for Labour's progress on the web. "It gave a huge amount of time and expertise and spent the past 18 months learning and learning from the US, Australia and Europe. It's a story that is never told."

Below is the full menu from the meal. It is not clear who paid the bill.

 

First Course Options:

Roasted and spiced butternut squash with root vegetable crisps

Served with seasonal leaves, coriander jelly and toasted cashew nuts

Wild mushroom and tarragon pâté served with toasted brioche bread

With pickled winter root vegetables

Ham hock terrine with free-range egg, caper and parsley

Served with pease pudding

Cream of field mushroom soup with grilled red mullet fillet

SN Butternut squash velouté with roasted red pepper and sage oil

Main Course Options:

1.      Seared fillet of sea bass on caramelised Cox's apple mash

o    Served with curly kale, plum tomato and horseradish herb oil

2.      Roast corn-fed chicken supreme with Tromplet mushroom

o    Served with bow tie pasta, green vegetables and light chicken jus

3.      Braised game topped with a puff pastry lid

o    Slow braised wild boar, venison and rabbit, served with mushroom smoked garlic mash and rainbow carro

Desserts:

1.      Coconut parfait

Served with slow poached pineapple, sesame and pink peppercorn wafer

2.      Bramley apple cake

With nutmeg panna cotta and blackcurrant compote

3.      Traditional bread-and-butter pudding

With rum-soaked raisins and custard

4.      Tarte tatin

Served with vanilla ice cream and star anise syrup

5.      Pistachio meringue

Served with raspberries and crème fraîche

6.      White and dark chocolate Black Forest chocolate torte

With sour cherries

7.      Classic crème brûlée

Sugar-glazed vanilla custard

8.      Fresh fruit salad

Selection of fresh fruits served in freshly squeezed orange juice

9.      House of Commons fine cheeses

Served with biscuits and fruit

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.