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Saturday, February 19, 2005

Blogs and Iain Duncan Smith

Iain Duncan Smith, MP, ex-leader of the Tory Party, has a rather endearing little article in the Guardian (via Real Clear Politics) entitled "Bloggers will rescue the right". Of course he means the Tory Party, and his basic thesis is the same one applied to events across the pond - that there is a metropolitan elite that largely decides what gets broadcast and printed, and the resulting media is biased to one side. There is a problem however, in that Iain Duncan-Smith seems to have fundametally misunderstood some of the differences between the UK and US media markets, and these differences inevitably will effect how blogs evolve in the UK.

Firstly, there really isn't a culture of national newspapers in the US. This might now be changing with USA Today, and moves by the NY Times, but the national print media market that exists in the UK simply doesn't in the US. What does this mean? Well, mostly it means a much wider variation of opinion in print in the UK. In a US print media market it seems you are lucky if you get 2, maybe 3, competiting voices. In the UK you get alot more - I can think of 8 off the top of my head. Moreover, these do shout from all parts of the political spectrum. The Tories have their very vocal supporters, not least in the Torygraph (Telegraph), and if you don't call the Daily Mail a conservative rag I don't know what you call it.

This is important, because it means one of the probable driving factors of the American blogosphere simply isn't persent in the UK. A partial exception might well be made for fringe parties like UKIP, but not for the main three.

Secondly, we have tabloids and the US doesn't. I think blogs can be quite similar to tabloids, and again that very personal perspective that tabloid reporting seems to bring seems to be less present in the mainstream US print media that I have read.

Perhaps in the realm of TV & Radio Iain Duncan Smith has something more of an argument, where there is much of a muchness. The BBC particularly makes a juicy target. However, the BBC by itself is not, I think, the necessary fuel.

What really needs to happen imo is the emergence of an issue about which conservative minded people can broadly agree. Perhaps Europe might be this - though I have my doubts on that. I also have my doubts about how much of a catalyst the forthcoming General Election might be - the campaign will simply be too short. Contrast the US where the campaign really started sometime in the autumn 2003 with the run-up to the Democratic Primaries - a whole year (if not more). We may have an election on May 5th - I recall there were some rumours hinting at the possibility of a snap election in March (almost certainly not to happen). And we might not yet have an election until next year. When its called we will have about a month of campaign, and then back to the normal business of politics, so there will not be this building run-up.

So mostly I think IDS is wrong. But only mostly. I do think blogs will slowly take a more important place in UK political life, but I don't expect the MSM-blogosphere rivalry to really carry across. There are two partial exceptions: the BBC and Rupert Murdoch, but the whole industry? I just can't see it happening.

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