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Channel 4 News carries an intriguing story from Malaysia:

Candidates contesting some posts in Malaysia’s ruling party will be required to set up blogs, an official has said.

The move was a surprising turnaround for governing politicians who until recently derided online political writing as lies and rumours.

Abdul Rahman Dahlan, secretary general of the United Malays National Organisation party’s youth wing, said all those vying for national youth posts must have blogs to introduce themselves and their programs ahead of party elections in December.

“All candidates must have blogs,” Abdul Rahman said. “If not, they are not qualified to be leaders.”

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The Daily Telegraph writer Robert Colvile has written a cogent paper for the Centre for Policy Studies about the way the internet is changing politics and policy, and the current failings of the political parties to embrace the brave new world.

And while I largely accept his argument (that the internet offers the potential to create a faster more chaotic, but more open, world in which politicians will have to find new language or risk becoming even more bland – and so less likeable) it is the caveats that he puts around that that I find just as compelling.

These essentially are that the on-line conversation leaves out swathes of the population and as such skews the debate. So while he says “67% of Britons use the internet in one way or another” he also says:

  • In the UK, in 2006, 51% of those earning up to £10,400 had never used the internet, compared to 6% of those on £36,400 or more.
  • 71% of those aged 65 and over in this country have never used the internet.
  • As we go down the age range, internet use grows rapidly – only 35% of those aged between 55 and 64 have never gone on-line, falling to just 4% of the digital near-natives in the 16 to 24 bracket.

So our on-line politics is likely to be dominated by younger, wealthier people; and I can’t help noticing that Colvile doesn’t talk about whether there biases around ethnicity or gender.

Which makes me think that, while he may be right in saying that the net savy MP (and for our purposes we can substitute councillor) will find that:

by inhabiting the same on-line spaces as their constituents on a day-to-day basis, MPs will interact with them in much more normal conditions – when the MP is not the privileged voice of authority, but merely one member of a conversation among many.

But the elected representative needs to consider how they’ll represent all of the views of all their constituents, not just those of us who are webheads, so the new politics will need strategies that reach beyond the net, even while they take the best of the net’s creative drive with them.

[cross posted on Someday I Will Treat You Good]

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Jeff Jarvis met a reluctant blogger the other day:

the woman next to me was troubled, bearing weight on her shoulders from having to fill her blog and manage her blog. To her, the blog was a thing, a beast that needed to be fed, a never-ending sheet of blank paper. I turned to her and said she should see past the blog. It’s not a show with a rundown that, without feeding, turns into dead air. Indeed, if you look at it that way, you’ll probably write crappy blog posts. I’ve said before that if I think I need to write a post just because I haven’t written one, I inevitably come out with something forced and bad. Instead, I blog when I find something interesting that I’ve seen and I think, ‘I have to tell my friends about that.’ You’re the friends. So yes, I said, it’s just a conversation. And reading — hearing what others are saying — is every bit as important as writing.

(via Shane Richmond)

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he Councillor’s Commission recently reported to government, making in the region of 60 recommendations for central and local government to consider.

One of the areas they took a look at was the support that councillors get to communicate with their electorates. They seemed convinced there was more that could be done to improve on the current state of affairs:

In terms of widespread public communication it seems that councils could do

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much more to utilise technology to enhance access to local councillors (particularly for the younger generation) and the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Local Government Group concludes, that ‘Councils need to develop the use of new media and, in particular, communication with local people through new media’ (Dungey, 2007: 6). For example, Lancashire County Council web-casts most of its public meetings and reports attracting an average of 1,500 viewers each month.

It was suggested to the Commission that councillors themselves should do more to embrace the potential of IT to interact with their communities, for example using blogs and web 2.0

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sites and perhaps extending schemes such as the mySociety HearfromYourMP.com service to provide a ‘Hear from Your Councillor’ service.

Their recommendation is broader

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than getting councillors blogging (as you’d want and expect), but they do think that blogs might be helpful:

As part of their corporate communications strategy, local authorities and councillors should promote the role of councillors using a range of communication tools, for example by:
a) using the media and communications resources of the council to work to build positive relations with the local media;
b) making use of council newsletters and other media publications;
c) harnessing technological solutions – such as email, web 2.0, blogs and texting – to make councillors’ activities more visible.

You can download a copy of their full report here

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A new report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation about the role of backbench councillors says:

there is a recognition that councillors will need new skills and techniques to engage different communities of interest and place that go beyond traditional ward surgeries and formal meetings. Action planning, negotiating community agreements, household surveys, community websites and councillor blogs [my emphasis] were among the suggestions put forward – all of which would require new, and more intensive, types of support from local authorities.

Members who are currently representing diverse communities felt that future councillors would need specifi c skills to help them understand and identify with a range of cultural values, including different conceptions of democracy and local political engagement.

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Bob Piper is perhaps one of the best known Labour councillors blogging today.

Bob should have been at the e-Democracy conference last week, talking about being a blogging councillor, but was not well enough to come down to London.

Andy Howell has a half hour interview with Bob that’s well worth listening to in which they talk about Bob’s approach to blogging, how he started his blog and the other electronic means he uses to communicate with his electorate, and why he thinks it’s important for him as a politician to be on the web.

Bob’s approach isn’t the one we’ll necessarily be urging people to emulate, I think we’re likely to advise people to talk about local issues a bit more than national, but it has what you absolutely need from a successful blog, authenticity.

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Shane I were at the e-Democracy conference yesterday – Shane was speaking, I just tagged along.  Here are a few of my unstructured thoughts on what I saw and heard.

First up was Stephen Coleman, who I think it’s fair to say was pretty challenging.  I’ve read a few of the reports that Professor Coleman has written about e-Democracy and new technology and there has always been something interesting in them even if I haven’t agreed with what he’s saying.  So too with yesterday’s key note speech.  It’s been my view that Professor Coleman doesn’t much like blogs, and yesterday he said that he didn’t see any point in any more councillor blogs.

Strange as this might sound I think he’s got half a point.

There isn’t much point in any blog that doesn’t try to become part an eco-system, by which I mean you need to read those that are writing about similar themes as you.  In this case councillors (it seems to me) should try to make sure they are connected to others who blog in their locality, they shouldn’t expect to be the hub around which the system works.

But that’s different from saying “lets have no more of these pointless exercises”.  And indeed I think Professor Coleman’s point was rather undermined when later in the day Councillor Matthew Ellis spoke about his conversion to using blogs as a way of connecting with his community.

Matthew told us that 18 months ago he’d been very wary, seeing them as too much trouble and of little additional value.  But 18 months on he’s had 200,000 visitors to his blog and seems to be signing up constituents to being automatically notified of new posts via email growing exponentially.

Clearly Matthew’s constituents are finding something useful in him having a blog and I’m sure that would be true of many other councillors both those already blogging and those that might take it up in the future.

I’m told that the day’s proceedings will be available on 18 Doughty Street at some point, and I also know that David Wilcox was there doing interviews with all sorts of people and I’m sure they will be worth taking a look at too.

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Andrew In NorwichHello, my name is Andrew, and most of the time I blog at Someday I Will Treat You Good, which is a blog that (0n the whole) deals with issues that are local to where I live; Lewisham in South East London. The photo on the right is me.

Along with Shane I spent last Wednesday afternoon meeting with 4 of the 7 councillors from Norfolk County Council who have been asked to take part in our project, Cllr 2.0, and a number of council officers who are helping make the project work.

We were there to explain a little bit about what we are hoping to do – encourage councillors and other civic leaders to use blogs to communicate with the public – and to hopefully give the councillors confidence that they could get some benefit from becoming bloggers.

My role in this is as someone who was – until May last year – a blogging councillor, and so aware of some of the advantages and pitfalls of taking on a blog.

Cllrs from NorfolkShane began with a presentation about the various ways elected representatives are using the web to develop their relationship with constituents, everything from participating on online forums, being available through social networking sites like Facebook, and participating in online events like LifeSwap, through to having their own website and blog.

My presentation focused on my own experiences and the lessons I’d learned over the 4 and a half years I’ve been blogging about my community.

These are the bullet point notes I’d made to accompany the presentation:

  • Councillor in Lewisham for 9 years
  • Increasingly unhappy about traditional communications
    • Many of the same faces at public meetings and surgeries
    • Doorstep campaigning left voters with very partial view of us; vote hungry, point scoring, and divorsed from real life
  • At the same time I started reading about blogs and became a lurker.
  • Saw Stewart Bruce (first councillor to blog) and Tom Watson’s blogs
  • Joined Lewisham Council’s cabinet in December 2003
  • Started a blog in February 2004
    • Didn’t ask permission from Mayor, Chief Whip or fellow ward councillors
    • It’s my role as a politician to communicate with the electorate
    • But did think about what and how I’d write
  • Rules I set myself
    • Be positive
    • Be engaged with the wider bloggersphere
    • Be accountable
    • Remember your audience – the public, your colleagues, your opponents and the press
    • Admit your mistakes early – “its not the crime its the cover-up that gets you”
    • Don’t edit posts to make yourself look better
    • Encourage feedback

I’ll add the slides from the presentation once I can load them up to SlideShare.

Update – Here are the slides I used to illustrate the talk I gave

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