Page last updated at 20:33 GMT, Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Blears attacks political bloggers

Hazel Blears
Hazel Blears is a former local government lawyer

Political blogs are fuelling a culture of cynicism about politics, communities secretary Hazel Blears has claimed.

Ms Blears also attacked the "deeply unhealthy" number of government jobs given to career politicians with little experience beyond Westminster.

In a speech she said a new generation of working-class politicians was needed such as Labour's Dennis Skinner and Conservative maverick David Davis.

One blogger suggested political spin was more to blame for voters' cynicism.

In a speech on political disengagement to the Hansard Society Ms Blears, who had a career as a local government solicitor before becoming a politician, complained that some Westminster colleagues live on "planet politics" and lacked real-life experience.

'Narrow base'

"Increasingly we have seen a 'transmission belt' from university activist, MPs' researcher, think-tank staffer, special adviser, to Member of Parliament and ultimately to the front bench."

She said the political class should not be drawn from a "narrowing social base" but from a range of backgrounds such as business, the armed forces, scientists and teachers.

And more MPs were needed who knew "what it is to worry about the rent collector's knock, or the fear of lay-off, so that the decisions we take reflect the realities people face."

We need more MPs in Parliament from a wider pool of backgrounds
Hazel Blears

"In short, we need more Dennis Skinners, more David Davis's, more David Blunketts in the front line of politics," she said - calling on parties and trade unions to actively recruit them.

She called for a new programme to help people in ordinary jobs to win nominations for elected positions.

James Purnell, David Miliband and his brother Ed are among several younger cabinet ministers to have followed a career path that has included spells as ministerial advisers and think tank researchers.

'Corrosive cynicism'

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg also spent time as advisers to politicians among other jobs.

In her speech, Ms Blears also complained about a "spreading corrosive cynicism" in political discussion.

She turned her fire on political "bloggers" - accusing them of fuelling disengagement by focusing on "unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy" and of being written by "people with disdain for the political system and politicians".

We are not here to 'add value', or do what politicians want
Guido Fawkes blog

"The most popular blogs are right-wing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes," she said.

But she added: "Unless and until political blogging 'adds value' to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and pessimism."

Conservative blogger Iain Dale told BBC Radio 4's PM programme it was a shame more politicians did not use their own blogs.

'People like scandal'

He said bloggers, including himself, should ask themselves whether they were "just against everything" or should be "a little more positive".

But he added: "People like reading about scandal, they like reading about politicians being hypocritical - that's why Guido Fawkes has the highest ratings of any blog in the country - whether Hazel likes it or not."

In response on his blog Guido Fawkes blamed spin, "focus-group derived policies" and partisan positioning for the cynicism described by Ms Blears.

He added that she misunderstood the relationship between a free press and politicians.

"Take a memo Ms Blears, we are not here to 'add value', or do what politicians want, Guido has his own values and aims to hit back at political hypocrisy and lies. Politicians make laws, so they should be held to account, to a higher standard," he wrote.

Ms Blears told the BBC that politicians not giving straight answers could be an issue, but said a "grown up political discourse" could only happen if people were prepared to listen.

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