Today, I have added my name to a statement about the purpose and conduct of Labour political blogging. It is the initiative of the Fabian Society and linked to their 'Change we need' programme- a discussion with which I have engaged actively. I actually signed the statement for a simple reason: I agree with every word of the declaration and it embodies clearly and succinctly the ethos of this blog. I'm not saying that this blog has never or will never fall short but we'll do our very best (we do occasionally try to add a light touch just for fun....!). The statement is also supported across the Labour family: figures from the Fabians, Progress, and Compass have all signed up.
Politics is vitally important. We can not resolve the critical economic, social, and environmental issues that we face without it. Some issues are reaching the point of crisis if they have not already arrived at that point- climate change, inequality, exclusion, community breakdown, inter-group rivalry and disrespect- all spring to mind. In all of these cases, complex issues need to be discussed and debated with all of us involved at every step of the way.
Gone are the days of Whitehall knows best; elitist models are not up to the task. Moreover, though ideas and analysis will flow from them, the media, think tanks, academia, and political figures themselves will not be able to act with authority without popular legitimacy. More importantly, the solutions they propose will not be sufficient or subtle enough to the task without public involvement or understanding of the decisions that impact their lives or the communities in which they live. Nor are nihilistic models able to improve lives. Each challenge requires a legitimate collective response. That is why active democracy is important.
This statement is about blogging which is just one outlet for this broad discussion and engagement. I actually would sign up to the statement even if it were not about blogging but about politics in general. To take the section headings is to outline the principles of a new politics that is sorely needed: ethical and value-based, positive about political engagement, pluralist and open, independent, participatory and open. Today's politics does not fall short in all regards. Funnily enough, despite the last week, I strongly believe it to be ethical and value-based- right across the mainstream spectrum. Some fall short but in expressing our outrage we can not allow ourselves to play into the hands of those whose mission is to destroy politics. Such voices are mainly to be heard at the extremes: those who resort to either violence, hatred, destruction, or simple trivialisation.
By signing this statement I do not wish to imply that bloggers who are not Labour do not espouse and demonstrate the ethos that the signatories of this statement hold dear. Such a suggestion would be crass in the extreme. I just believe that a new politics matches the need for the right collective responses to major challenges: they are two sides of the same coin. Conservatism- including in its more tepid Cameron-ite form- is likely to fall short in meeting both challenges.
As I have argued on this blog many times (an example is here), my main issue with Cameron-ite politics is that while his stated objectives- a greener, safer, fairer society with more opportunity for all- may well be 'progressive', he is unable, for political reasons, to pursue 'progressive' means to achieve them. For that reason, there will a huge conflict at the heart of a Cameron government between a neo-Thatcherite, isolationist agenda, and a more whiggish, one nation-esque approach. It is the former that is likely to prevail given the state of the modern Tory party and Tory-supporting media; David Cameron has done little to challenge that in fundamental terms. Those 'progressive' values will be set aside just at a time- with the economy, environment, and society as it is- that they can not be.
So the process, conduct and the outcome of politics matters. They are inseparable. To achieve a better society with better lives for all within it, we need both collectivism or togetherness, a more elegant and voluntaristic way of describing it, and its corollary, a democracy characterised by active citizenship. The internet- and blogging- should promote that not seek to destroy that. That is what Labour blogging must be about.
We are a group of Labour party members and supporters who believe that blogging can play an increasingly important contribution to progressive politics. We are seeking, in different ways, to make our own individual contributions to that, and wish to set out the ethic which informs our blogging and the broader politics we are working for within the Labour Party and beyond it.
Many of these are truths which should be self-evident. We are well aware that the broad spirit which we seek to articulate has long informed what most Labour bloggers do, as it also does most of those who blog in other parties and in non-partisan civic activism. So we do not claim any particular originality; still less do we seek to impose our views as a new regulatory code, or to attempt to police others.
Our purpose is simple. We do not believe that new technology leads to inevitable outcomes, but rather that we must all make choices about how we use it and for what purposes.
So we wish to set out why we blog and how we want the party which we support to change so that it can connect to new progressive energy for the causes we support.
1. Ethical and value-based
We believe we must act as ambassadors for the political values we profess. This applies to all politics, online or not. The Obama campaign's power to mobilise was rooted in supporters living its ethic of 'respect, empower and include'. As Labour supporters, we wish to ensure that our values of solidarity, tolerance and respect are reflected in how we do politics as well as the causes we seek to serve.
So we oppose the politics of personal destruction. We believe that the personal can be political, where it reveals the hypocrisy of public statements, the wilful misuse of evidence, or breaches proper ethical standards in public life. Where it doesn't do that, it should be off limits. Politicians should be able to have a family and private life too. A politics of personal destruction violates progressive values and brings all politics into disrepute.
2. Positive about political engagement
We do not believe that the internet is inevitably a force for anti-politics. We reject the mythology of the internet as a lawless and ethics-free zone. Bloggers are subject to law, as well as to the ethical and civic pressures of our online and offline communities. We are clear that the left can never win a politics of loathing and mutual destruction, because the faith in politics that we need will inevitably be a casualty of war. The nihilistic approach practiced by a few online should not overshadow the greater energy and numbers engaged in constructive civic advocacy.
We believe that we can challenge our political opponents without always questioning their integrity. We believe that there are big political arguments to be had between the left and the right of politics, and the left has every reason to be confident about our values and ideas, which have done much to change Britain for the better over the last century and which are in the ascendancy internationally after three decades in which anti-government arguments have often dominated.
We also believe that what is pejoratively called 'negative campaigning' has a legitimate place in politics. Scrutinising the principles, ideas and policies of political opponents is an important part of offering a democratic choice. We should challenge the ideas, claims and sometimes the misrepresentations of our political opponents, just as we would expect them to challenge us. We believe that this is effective when it is done accurately, and that this will become ever more important as the internet makes politics more transparent. So we will point out where there is a mismatch between professed principles and policies, or where the evidence does not back up what is claimed, but we will try not to assume our opponents are in bad faith where we do not have evidence to support that.
3. Pluralist and open
We believe that pluralism must be at the heart of the progressive blogosphere. We believe that debate and argument are what brings life to politics. We want to promote a cultural 'glasnost' of open discussion within our party, to show that we understand that the confidence to debate, and disagree, in an atmosphere of mutual respect helps us to bring people together to make change possible.
We believe we must change the culture of Labour's engagement with those outside the party too, including those who were once our supporters but who are disillusioned, and new generations forming their political opinions. For us, democratic politics is about individuals working together to create collective pressure for change, but also about the need to continue to talk even when we disagree deeply. We believe in engaging with all reasonable critics of the Labour government and Labour Party, wherever we can establish the possibility of taking part in democratic arguments in a spirit of mutual respect.
4. Independent spaces
We believe that attempts to transfer 'command and control' models to online politics will inevitably fail. Labour must show that it gets that - in practice as well as theory - if we are make our contribution to the progressive movements on which our causes depend.
The government and the political parties should use their official spaces to contribute to and enable these conversations. We also want to see Ministers and MPs having the confidence to engage in political debate and argument elsewhere, while being clear that there is no value for anybody in seeking to control independent spaces for discussion.
5. Participatory and cooperative
We believe in a cooperative ethic of blogging, because the internet is most potent when it harnesses the creativity, ideas and expertise of many people. The internet is a powerful tool for individual expression. We believe it also enables citizens to interact and collaborate in ways that were never previously possible, and catalyse new forces for participation and activism. As citizens, and as bloggers, we believe in asking not only what is wrong with the world but how we can work together to improve it.
We hope that others will offer ideas and responses - supportive and critical - about these ideas and how they can help to inform the future of our politics.
We know that the outcomes of politics matter deeply, that politics is about passion and argument, and that we may ourselves sometimes fall short of the values and standards that we aspire to.
But this is why we blog - and what we hope to achieve for our politics by doing so.
Sunder Katwala, Fabian Society www.nextleft.org
Nick Anstead www.nickanstead.com/blog/
Will Straw www.changeweneed.org.uk
David Lammy MP www.davidlammy.co.uk
Rachael Jolley www.nextleft.org
Jessica Asato www.progressonline.org.uk and labourwomen.blogspot.com
Karin Christiansen labourwomen.blogspot.com
Paul Cotterill www.bickerstafferecord.org.uk
Laurence Durnan www.blackburnlabour.org/blog
Alex Finnegan www.abigblockofcheese.blogspot.com
Gavin Hayes www.compassonline.org.uk
Mike Ion mike-ion.blogspot.com
Richard Lane www.politicana.co.uk
Tom Miller newerlabour.blogspot.com
Carl Nuttall www.blackburnlabour.org/blog
Anthony Painter www.anthonypainter.co.uk
Don Paskino don-paskini.blogspot.com
Andreas Paterson citizenandreas.blogspot.com
Asif Sange www.blackburnlabour.org/blog
Stuart White www.nextleft.org
Graham Whitman gtrmancfabians.blogspot.com
Post script: More on this over at Liberal Conspiracy.