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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 July, 2003, 06:54 GMT 07:54 UK
Bloggers take message to MPs

By Ollie Stone-Lee
BBC News Online politics staff

House of Commons
The House of Commons can seem inaccessible to many

In the hall which heard Charles I and Sir Thomas More condemned to death, there was a new breed of revolutionary waiting to make history.

Instead of swords they brandished laptop cases; instead of talk of revolution there was talk of broadband subsidies.

The occasion was Parliament's "blogging seminar" - which saw more than a hundred people pack into a timber-roofed committee room in Westminster Hall.

The implications politically are going to be much more in developing democracies than in safe democracies like the UK,
Steven Clift
E-democracy expert
They were here to discuss blogs or weblogs, which are essentially online diaries - personal web pages that can be frequently updated.

With two MPs already publishing their own blogs and another set to follow, this meeting was designed to explore their potential impact on the political landscape.

It immediately became Parliament's first ever wireless web (or wi-fi) event - with people's laptops connected without a plug in sight.

James Crabtree, from organisers Voxpolitics was anxious to calm any shimmers of excitement.

"There is a tendency for people who are enthusiastic about technology to get terribly excited about it," he said.

Like Lassie?

That could be a particular problem because techno-talk could be completely lost on politicians.

Traditionalist MPs might have been alarmed by the document which likened blogs to cocaine, although comparisons with soapboxes and an episode of Lassie ("the dog is always trying to tell people something important") might have provided ample reassurance.

Tom Watson, proud holder of the title of first blogging MP, especially now there is a second one, said his weekend had been spent answering emails from angry teenagers from around the globe.
Internet cafe
Can web logs reshape the political scene?

That might have something to do with the fact that BBC News Online ran a story last week about his site.

"It is slightly disconcerting that I might have emailed some of you here but I won't know who you are - particularly after the last few days because you might have been stalking me," said the Labour MP.

Mr Watson had news of the bloggers' (or po-loggers as politicos on the web may soon be called) first victory.

The campaign for the prime minister to get an email address had won - Tony Blair would be online from next month.


A third MP, Labour's Sion Simon, was thinking of joining himself and Liberal Democrat Richard Allan by publishing a web log, said Mr Watson.

"I think we are on the cusp of something very special," he continued.

He will be taking part in a 24-hour "blogathon" on 26 July and is appealing for people to get involved with his efforts.

"I want to pick a 24-hour wish list for this government," he said. "I want to pick 24 themes, one an hour and want you to engage in that."

That could produce real nuggets which could be fed into political parties' policy development.

Mr Allan said blogging did not help with elections as instead of emailing voters in his Sheffield constituency, his correspondents were just as likely to be in Canberra.

In a questions session where people gave their web address rather than their home town, some sceptics at the event feared political blogging was just casting the net of the focus group wider.

Political journalist Stephen Pollard pointed to the way Democrat presidential candidate Howard Dean had raised 7m for his campaign through using weblogs.

That could work against establishing political parties, he suggested, although he was wary about making any big predictions.

Campaign tool

Blogs were also being used as a critique of political speeches, policies and, yes, bloggers were pulling apart his articles too.

American e-democracy expert Steven Clift instead argued blogs were best as a political tool for campaigning than as a democratising weapon.

But he pointed at the example of Iran, where there has been a crackdown on weblogs to show how easy it had made internet publishing.

"The implications politically are going to be much more in developing democracies than in safe democracies like the UK," added Mr Clift.

Amid such excited talk, mobile phone expert Pernille Rudin offered caution from her experience in Japan.

There, many once popular blogs have closed down because of the pressures of "feeding the beast" with regular updates.

For that to happen in Britain, the bloggers' invasion has a lot further to spread.

Online communities get real
29 May 03  |  Technology
Gagging the bloggers
02 May 03  |  Technology
Fame or misfortune beckons for weblogs?
18 Feb 03  |  Science/Nature
I blog, therefore I am
04 Feb 02  |  dot life
Is wi-fi good for developing nations?
27 Jun 03  |  Technology


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