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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 July 2006, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Tips For The Technically Terrified
Alan Connor
Tips For The Technically Terrified
by Alan Connor


Don't let the internet be a no-go-zone: The Daily Politics is here to guide you through politics on the web

More and more politics is being done on the internet: from gambling to propaganda, from protest to political analysis.

But it can be a daunting business trying to see the good sites among the bad, mad or downright scary.

Our reporter Alan Connor is on hand, though, to help.

Do it yourself?

The key to all of this online political malarkey is that the technology has changed.

With radio, TV and newspapers, it's easiest for a small group of people to talk, and for everyone else to listen.

Alan Connor on BBC2's Daily Politics
Only the foolish would deny the continued importance of these one-to-many formats, but there are more openings for you to get in there, inform yourself, and try to get things done.

Here are some of the best entry points for meeting other people, researching an issue or getting started.

The Public Whip lets you keep track of MPs' voting records, search for parliamentary votes on a topic you're interested in and test politicians against policies you care about. [Visit The Public Whip]

Downing Street Says takes the briefings that the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman gives to the political journalists in the "lobby", offers them up to the general public, and prints your comments on each day's briefing. [Visit Downing Street Says]

Alan Connor on BBC2's Daily Politics
They Work For You takes the notoriously-tricky Hansard website and rejigs the doings of Parliament for you to browse, comment on, and check speeches against Members' interests. [Visit They Work For You]

The Government Says provides an easy way of keeping up to speed with government press releases: you can subscribe to feeds, or get the site to email you when keywords of your choice appear in governmental announcements. [Visit The Government Says]

Write To Them takes your postcode and lets you send a free message straight to your elected representatives. It was originally set up by a group of concerned citizens, which makes it the archetypal piece of online democracy: self-organised, lively and working to a new set of rules. [Visit Write To Them]

Hear From Your MP is a constituency-based service which allows MPs to talk to their constituents or canvas their opinions. [More on Hear From Your MP]

I Voted For You Because says that "[e]lections measure the votes cast, but not why they were cast", and lets you tell your representative which parts of their manifestos you voted for -- and which parts you didn't. [More on I Voted For You Because]

And, of course, don't forget the BBC's own Action Network!

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So much to read...

Alan Connor on BBC2's Daily Politics
It allows people who aren't party and privy to the Westminster set to create debates of their own
Iain Duncan Smith

We all know that blogs are doing something interesting to British politics - but still few of us have much of an idea what weblogs actually are.

If you're one of the blogerati, you may prefer to skip another description of this complex and ever-changing system of self-publishing. If you're new to weblogs though, you may be wondering what makes them different from websites of old.

The most important thing is that they allow you to concentrate wholly on the writing: you can know next to nothing about computers and still have a good-looking website. At the same time, technology has moved along, which means that blogs can allow comments from users and link to each other in various useful ways.

And among an estimated 50 million blogs, there's no shortage of talk about politics. Here are some to get you started.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
Political gossip blogs are the ones which are currently attracting the most readers, which shouldn't be a surprise. They're among the funniest of the sites on offer, and there's always been a market for the scurrilous end of political coverage. And scurrilous is what you get at sites like Order Order, which is run by a libertarian troublemaker under the name "Guido Fawkes". Political junkies may find Guido's tittle-tattle irresistible, but for those of a shockable disposition, the BBC caveat about not being responsible for external websites applies double. Guido has also branched out into podcasting with another gossip blogger, Recess Monkey, where the sympathies are with New Labour, but the tone is hardly reverent. A recent new source of gossip is the splendidly-named Iain Dale's Diary, where the former Tory candidate offers podcasts, newsletters and traditional blogging, and one post states the philosophy of many weblogs: "It's Up to the Blogs to Make it Hit the Fan."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
Commentary is another avenue taken by a lot of blogs. Bloggers can find it hard to do traditional journalism, since they lack the hours, contacts and access of their cousins in print and broadcast. But political commentary is open to anyone who can write. (Most can't, of course, but then the same applies to the papers.) Some good places to start would be ConservativeHome, which gives a better picture of the state of the Tory party than any of the official sites; the site it inspired, LabourHome (strapline: "back to the roots"); Post Political Times, where former Lib Dem MP Richard Allan has the time to be thoughtful and the Adam Smith Institute Blog, your one-stop shop for free market snippets.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
Campaigning blogs keep appearing on the scene. Make My Vote Count has electoral reform in its sights, but offers a good overview of British politics; LibDem Blogs does what it says on the banner, aggregating from dozens of yellow-liveried campaign sites and Backing Blair does the opposite of what it says on the banner, offering news and campaigning tools in the hope that you'll get "Labour in - Blair out".

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
Linkblogs are one the oldest and snappiest uses of the technology. If you find a blog like this that you enjoy, it's a good way of getting a daily digest of articles and stories from other blogs and from the papers. The bewilderingly prolific Tim Worstall has a sometime focus on economics, but covers the gamut with élan; the same applies to Europhobia with regard to the EU and The Virtual Stoa keeps the blogosphere's brainy Marxist wing up to speed.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
Satirical blogs are where lampooners do the same as the commentators above. Computers have let bloggers do what would have needed an edit suite or developing studio not so long ago. In the world of satirical manipulation of photos and images, the best are Beau Bo D'Or and Bloggerheads, there are animations at Eclectech, and old-fashioned tasteless text at Chase Me, Ladies, I'm In The Cavalry.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites
Finally, there are the opinion blogs, which do much the same job as newspaper columnists - sometimes better; sometimes worse. The writing you enjoy the most may not be from bloggers whose politics you share: the easiest way is to dive in, try a few, follow the links from their "blogrolls", and remember the ones you've liked. In no particular order, then, have a peek at Dodgeblogium, Councillor Bob Piper, A Big Stick & A Small Carrot,Chicken Yoghurt, Blithering Bunny, Harry's Place, Samizdata and Blood & Treasure.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.
If you're overwhelmed with bookmarks, the best thing you can do is read about how RSS can help you manage your new reading.

And no round-up of UK political blogs would be complete without a tip of the hat to the BBC's own bloggers, including Nick Robinson's Newslog, Newsnight's Idle Scrawl and Martin Rosenbaum's Freedom of Information blog Open Secrets.

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How do I find them?

Alan Connor on BBC2's Daily Politics
It can be difficult trying to find political information online. To find the Labour Party's manifesto, do you go to Labour Dot Com? Maybe New Hyphen Labour Dot Co Dot UK?

And making matters more frustrating are the annoying pranks played by political parties pretending to be each other online.

So we've been through all the spoof sites and dead ends so that you don't have to: here's a long list of political parties. And do help us keep it up to date by emailing any changes you've noticed to alan.connor@bbc.co.uk.

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Are they any good?

Your immediate thought on hearing that MPs, councillors and Euro-representatives have taken up blogging might be: "Oh great. Another medium in which they're all going to fail to shut up."

Far more exciting is the web's potential to counteract some of the worrying trends in our democracy.

That would be a tad harsh. Weblogs let politicians talk in a different way. They're still accountable, but they can be less formal and, so far, less cowed by the whips.

Some, like Sandra Gidley use their sites to keep up with constituency matters. Some, like Boris Johnson, just seem to like talking. And others (say, Austin Mitchell's) are a pleasing mix of different styles and aims.

Find one you like by browsing our list of politicians with blogs, and again: please help us keep it up to date by emailing alan.connor@bbc.co.uk.

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And how to keep in touch

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.

If you've got a question that isn't answered on the site, or if there's a political site you think we might have missed, please don't hesitate to get in touch by emailing Alan on alan.connor@bbc.co.uk, texting to 82237 or by using the form below.

We'd also like to hear from you if you're one of the bloggers inspired by the Beeb to get your writing out there, drop us a line.

Happy surfing!

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Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.

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