Paul Evans at Never Trust a Hippy suggests that good blogs by those close to power may be more interesting than those in power. I think he has a point, and also that some high-level blogging around issues of climate change may provide opportunities to promote the open source politics and conversational democracy that politicians and policy people agree is desirable. Here's how.
Paul notes the new chief executive of the RSA Matthew Taylor has now started blogging:
This is a good thing, as he has a very good vantage point. He's been a big noise in the Labour Party, he's been the gaffer at the IPPR and has worked at No.10. And he's waded into discussions about how blogging impacts upon politics without - IMHO - really understanding how the blogosphere works. He's now running the RSA, and I hope that his blog will evolve into a ministerial proxy-blog.
Why anyone wants ministers themselves to blog, I don't know. The Chatham House Rule throws up more of interest than any ministerial statements ever do. Matthew Taylor can offer a deniable sounding board - and that's what I hope his blog turns into.
As Paul indicates, Matthew Taylor sounded off at the e-democracy '06 conference against political bloggers contributing to a "shrill discourse of demands", and called instead for more deliberation online - as I caught on video. He is now at the RSA, and recently chaired an event where Tory Shadow Chancellor George Osborne promoted open source politics and got some strong support for a more positive use of the web. Internally Matthew Taylor is working on how the RSA can make far better use of the collective intelligence of its 26,000 Fellows.
Anyway, back to Ministerial and associated blogging. Environment Secretary David Miliband has been diligent in maintaining his blog, and yesterday posted a detailed rebuttal of the claims made in the Channel 4 programme The Great Climate Change Swindle.
Several people have said to me that they couldn’t quite believe what they were being told in Channel 4’s programme last week on climate change – and I promised yesterday in my interview on the Today programme to put the facts on my blog. Below I have set out what Defra scientists say about the 11 main allegations in the programme. You can read for yourself what the International Panel on Climate Change say or the statement of the Academies of Science of the 11 largest countries in the world.
On Monday Matthew Taylor started in on climate change on his new blog, reflecting on the twists and turns of Labour and Tory positions, and their coming together:
What should we make of all this? Obviously it is good that the politicians are putting climate change centre stage. After last month’s grim IPCC report (itself probably erring on the cautious side), there was nowhere left to hide on the issue. Environmental groups must feel like the only girl at the ball so assiduously are they being courted. Put both Brown’s and Cameron’s ideas together and you have a pretty serious action plan. Brown is right that action must be taken internationally; Cameron that the domestic requirements of such agreements will not be met by voluntarism alone.
But there is a danger in the environment being seen as a political fad. As the sociologist Stan Cohen brilliantly analysed in his book 'States of Denial', most of us rely on a capacity to turn our faces away from difficult truths. Thus were most Germans under Nazi rule able to deny responsibility for the Holocaust and even otherwise progressive white South Africans willing to live with Apartheid. And maybe it is how we can live affluent Western lifestyles while a few thousand miles away African children starve?
In persisting with denial we rely on certain mental tropes such as 'it's not really happening', 'it's nothing to do with me' or 'there's nothing I can do about it'. By making climate change feel like an issue of political point scoring rather then unarguable science and clear moral responsibility we run the danger of providing an easy route for denial.
Ultimately I believe we can tackle carbon emissions and have better lives, but in the short term we face some tough choices. Once this row is over, our politicians should try to find a basis for an agreed way forward.
Not many clues there yet to what's going on, but since the RSA has a major proposal for personal carbon trading, and the FT is commenting on Matthew Taylor's reaction to Tory plans, we can feel he is in the middle of it, and certainly talking to some key people offline.
There now seems to me a good opportunity here for Mr Taylor and Mr Miliband (who must know each other well) to lead the way in developing some of the online deliberation desirable around these complex issues ... as well as talking privately. The term "conversational democracy" cropped up when Paul and I bumped into each other at the RSA event, which reminded me that Stephen Coleman wrote a good pamphlet on that for IPPR and "the importance of building respect and empathy into the relationship between public and politicians". Matthew Taylor wrote a Foreword in which he said:
Stephen Coleman is right to urge a more sophisticated and ambitious use of ICT as a way of modernising and refreshing the representative relationship.
Good time to start. We now have a key politician blogging, and Mr Taylor leading an organisation committed to using social media more effectively to generate ideas and action, and a Big Issue. So I hope we will see, as a start, some linking and commenting on each other's blogs, and attempts to draw in others.
If distinguished politicians and chief execs just use their blog for declaration rather than conversation, we won't be any closer to open source politics or conversational democracy. I'm flattered to see I'm in Mr Miliband's blogroll. That's the sort of encouragement we smaller fish in the blogging pond need - and I'm sure they do too . Put Mr M and Mr T in your news readers and blogrolls now, and let's throw them some comments and links.
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