I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish

These are the slides I talked to this afternoon.

The point that I was trying to convey to what was an audience of local government types was that there are some inbuilt barriers why there aren’t more councillors using this technology, but there are still some very good reasons why they ought to try to overcome them.

For me one of the reasons I started blogging was to extend the conversation I was having about my role as a councillor. I recognised that there was a small group of people who I met (quite) regularly who understood the sorts of things I was doing, either as their ward representative or as the cabinet member for the environment; but the vast majority of people had almost no idea of what I was up to, except that occasionally they’d see me on their doorstep asking for their vote for myself or another Labour politician.

I remember being very nervous about starting the blog. This is what I said about it when reflecting on my first few weeks in the ‘sphere:

I’ve done my share of public meetings, and am used to speaking at Council meetings and the level of nerves I’ve had about this enterprise is just as much as when doing any of those things. I’m not trying to be controversial, or create “heated debate” at this stage, but being a politician I’m aware that we don’t have the highest standing in society, and that might be reflected in how people respond.

I didn’t tell anyone inside the council that I’d taken the plunge for a few weeks, figuring that should I turn out to be a disaster I’d be able to walk away whistling and no one would ever need know (more fool me). When I did get round to telling Steve and my fellow ward councillors they were okay about it, trusting my judgment wouldn’t lead me to make too much of a fool of myself, and pleased that I was going to focus on my political life.

Since then my view that blogging remains a useful tool for councillors has been confirmed, but I’m not blind to the reasons why there aren’t lots more of you out there.

  • Lots of councillors are in an age bracket that doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with the internet;
  • The internet isn’t a universal form of communication;
  • If you look at some of the bigger political blogs (and their comment sections in particular) the level of name calling and point scoring doesn’t uplift the soul;
  • It takes effort and in a crowded day this isn’t going to be a high priority; and
  • One slip and you’re going to be in the local paper for the wrong reason.

But, that said I still think there’s more to be gained from engaging with constituents online, be that through having your own blog, on social networking sites, or on other people’s blogs or forums and preferably all of these.

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About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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6 Responses to I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish

  1. Ross says:

    “These are the slides I talked to”

    did you get much response from them?

  2. Andrew Brown says:

    No more than I expected. 🙂

  3. Jimmy says:

    If councillors don’t feel comfortable with comments on their blog they can turn them off, it does not stop a blog being an easy way to promote the work they do and increase their name recognition. Today a number of politicians, councillors, and ex-councillors are probably better known from their blog than from public meetings and doorstepping.

    Personally I enjoy commenting on blogs and reading what others have commented. By definition there should always be more of your supporters than detractors reading your blog, so usually your point of view will be supported but your commenters. But it does provide an opportunity for people to question their councillors. Unlike writing a letter you are more likely to get a response if you comment on a blog (with a genuine issue) and councillors should be willing for such discussions to be seen in public. If you can’t defend your views on an issue, don’t blog about it.

    It is a shame that a number of Lewisham councillors have started blogging and then stopped. In general I think this shows their level of commitment to their roles as councillors – it really does not take a lot of time to post an article once a week – even if it is just a link to a site of interest.

  4. Andrew Brown says:

    Jimmy, many thanks for your interesting comment.

    The point I was trying to make is it’s less about being comfortable with comments once you’ve started but how intimidating the idea of them can be if your only blog experience is lurking around some of the bigger political blogs.

    Of course while discussion on councillors’ blogs can be robust it rarely gets to the sort of levels that that should worry anyone but the most thin skinned. But it does provide an excuse for not starting one.

    I know there are those who turn off comments – I even did it for a month as an experiment – but there’s something false about a blog without them in my view.

    Not sure about supporters vs opponents it certainly hasn’t always been experience that commentators agree with more than disagree; but maybe that explains why I lost my council seat!

    On the Lewisham councillors I’d love to see many more blogging than do at the moment, but I don’t take the view that if you find it’s not for you then that somehow makes you less committed to the role.

  5. Although some Cllrs may be wary of the comments they will receive, most of those I’ve talked too would be delighted to get some comments, any comments just to prove that someone out there is reading their blog and making it worthwhile.

  6. Andrew Brown says:

    Too true Shane! It’s a bit like the three bears in the Goldilocks story.

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