Page last updated at 09:40 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 10:40 UK

Where now for Labour bloggers?

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

It was the mountain of croissants that lingers in the memory.

Derek Draper
Will Derek Draper carry on editing Labour List?

The Labour Party may be strapped for cash but, General Secretary Ray Collins explained to the assembled guests, it could still run to a bit of hospitality for a special occasion.

The party had laid on the pastry treats, piled high in the kitchen of its Victoria Street HQ alongside pots of coffee and tea, for the latest in a series of "bloggers breakfasts".

It was just a small sign of how seriously it was taking the internet these days, the assembled new media types and journalists were told.

They had certainly put together a stellar line-up - New Labour godfather Lord Mandelson, International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander and Cabinet Office minister Tom Watson and, via recorded video message which bordered on the surreal, born again blogger John Prescott.

The most engaging and successful political blogs - of whatever hue - are those which are written by independent-minded free-spirits
Jonathan Isaby, ConservativeHome

Derek Draper, the ringmaster of the event, was on bullish form - boasting that the furious criticism he had provoked from right wing bloggers since he had crashed on to the scene proved he was "doing the right thing".

A few short weeks - and some leaked e-mails - later it is a very different story.

Mr Draper is once again cast into Labour's outer darkness - with the party's high command attempting to put as much distance between themselves and the controversial former spin doctor as possible.

Axed from his unpaid role as Labour's internet guru, he is reportedly contemplating whether he can continue as editor of LabourList, the supposedly independent site he set up as a rival to the popular grassroots Tory site ConservativeHome.

'Internet election'

Questions continue to be asked about who knew what about Red Rag - the never launched gossip site that led to the downfall of Downing Street aide Damian McBride - after e-mails suggesting smears against senior Tories were leaked.

But there is also the question of where all this leaves Labour's attempts to boost its presence in the blogosphere.

Nick Assinder, site editor of and former BBC political correspondent, says the party desperately wanted to catch up with the right wing bloggers who were dominating debate.

"Party bosses looked at the US and Obama's hugely successful use of the internet in his election campaign and decided that the next UK election really would be the 'internet election' everyone has been predicting for so many years.

Lord Mandelson
Soundbites are not dead, Lord Mandelson says

"So the whole Derek Draper/LabourList project was created in a rather panicky attempt to match the likes of Tory-leaning bloggers led by Iain Dale, Tim Montgomerie's ConservativeHome and, to some extent, Paul Staines' now famous Guido Fawkes site.

"It was decided to try and mirror these right-wing sites. John Prescott started a blog, which has proved quite successful and entertaining but they really needed a ConservativeHome style site with an added dash of Guido's spice.

"Sadly, Labour tends to be riddled with control freakery so from day one Labour List looked like it could have been written in Labour HQ - dull, loyal to a fault, not very well written and not giving much of a voice to grassroots, dissident opinion.

"It was just starting to get its act together though when this happened."

Like many, he believes Labour can not recover its online credibility until Mr Draper has quit the scene.

Jonathan Isaby, of ConservativeHome, believes the row reveals something about Labour's "top down" approach.

"The very fact that both LabourList and the never-launched Red Rag were inspired by the Labour Party centrally just goes to show that the Labour machine just doesn't get the blogosphere.

"The most engaging and successful political blogs - of whatever hue - are those which are written by independent-minded free-spirits, supportive of, yet not slavish to, a party line.

In that context, my top Labour blogger is Tom Harris, the former transport minister, whose blog includes the perfect mix of politics and personality."


Mr Draper may have gone to ground - his last post on Twitter was on 6 April - but the site he still nominally edits, LabourList, continues to host debate and opinion, even if the signed pieces by cabinet ministers, which were a key feature when it launched, are conspicuous by their absence.

In his most recent LabourList post, on Sunday, Mr Draper apologises for his part in the Red Rag affair and admits that he and Mr McBride had been a "bit dazzled" by the success of right wing bloggers.

We are not philosophically too controlling or too 'top down'
Alex Hilton, LabourHome

He writes: "Maybe this affair will encourage the whole blogosphere, right and left, to commit to a new start, where offensiveness and personal attacks are avoided and debate is elevated not dragged down into the gutter?

"Maybe this can be a turning point at which we all redouble our efforts to tap into the internet´s positive potential rather than allowing its more puerile aspects to come to the fore? But that won´t happen without many many more people getting involved and taking blogging out of its ghetto."

But this seems unlikely to satisfy his many critics, including John Prescott, who have called for him to quit.

The stream of vitriol and scorn that follows his online mea culpa will certainly make sobering reading as he ponders his future.

'More fun'

Alex Hilton, editor of the respected LabourHome site, said it was too early to say how much damage has been done by the row.

"I don't think we know just yet. We don't know whether Derek Draper is going to remain in our world or not."

He said the key to recovery for Labour bloggers was to be honest and credible but not hold off from attacking the Tories "if they deserve it".

And he hit back at right wing commentators' claims that Labour's control freak tendencies prevent it from truly embracing the internet.

"We are not philosophically too controlling or too 'top down'. I am not top down," he told BBC News.

But the right's argument was borne out, to some extent, by the debate that took place at February's bloggers' breakfast.

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson dutifully declared his love of the internet but also spoke of how it did not mean the end of New Labour's cherished soundbites.

"Instead of forcing our message through the old media you have to bring it alive with jokes, video clips and debate," explained the former spin doctor.

"We will still have our slogans and soundbites. They need to be repeated to get through to people. The difference is you now have a chorus of amplification via the internet".

The internet, he promised, would make politics more "engaged and engaging" and, in what would turn out to be a less than accurate prediction, for Labour at least, "it is also going to be more fun. It is going to be nicer to be in politics".

Mandelson's strategy ("bring it alive with jokes") has indeed started.

Did anyone see Brown's performance on YouTube? That was certainly a joke.
MaxSceptic, Avon

The most sorely overlooked site is Labourhome. In many ways it beats all the other political sites by allowing anyone to blog and voice their opinion on the site.

That's how political sites should be run, by the many, not by one person or a select group of people.
TimDavies, Manchester

The Labour party are forever tainted by its misuse of the media.We the people need Blogs like Guido's that expose the hypocracy and fraud that is prevalent in modern day politics.If politicians have nothing to hide they have nothing to fear.
John, Workington, England

The Red Rag is alive and well at Not quite what Draper & McBride hoped for though. It was set up on the day Smeargate broke to spoof the whole farce. It is a wonderful irony that Labour's control freakery has resulted in yet another attack blog against them.
Peter Thompson, Warrington

Is there a place for the Labour party in this century? Labour are not as democratic as the other two parties, combined with succesive failiure in office one has to ask the question should the party be put to sleep
simon blake, london uk

Draper's hypocrisy in his most recent comments are astounding. He has learnt nothing over the years and continues his New Labour drone ad nauseum with not a hint of genuine self criticism or awareness. Does he not realise how two-faced he sounds? Does he really think we're that stupid? Of course he does. He's a mid-lifer carrying on like a mid-teens student union agitator.

And as for Mandy's doublespeak re being nicer to be in poltiics...with him around...shome mishtake shurely?!?

Repeat after me: We are not top down, we are not top down...
H S Grewal, London

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