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How To Run a 'Proxy' Weblog on Behalf of Your MP

June 2004 (updated August 2004)

Introduction: What I'm asking you to do here is pretty simple; start a weblog and blog on behalf of your local MP. MPs have had more than enough time to discover the power of this new publishing format and take action. Facilities exist that allow any MP to set up a weblog at zero cost and with almost no tech skills. The time has come to show how easy this is, and at the same time take blogs from the status of luxury to necessity.

It needs to be pointed out that Tim Yeo is not my local MP. I only started to blog on his behalf because he was being a total hypocrite about Interweb accessibility. The blog itself serves very well as technical example, but do not assume that the blog you start on behalf of your MP has to be an aggressive one. In fact, a general amnesty has now been declared at the Tim Yeo weblog and an open offer to to hand the whole thing over lock, stock and barrel is on the table so Mr Yeo may turn it from a liability into an asset.

It would be much better if you chose from the outset to make the blog as useful as possible to your MP and be ready to hand the finished product over when they finally wake up to the potential of this publishing/communicating format. A good example of this can be seen at the proxy-blog for Jim Cousins.

Or - if you feel you must - you can simply speak your mind and make them realise that if they won't talk with us, we're going to carry on with the conversation in their absence (but do realise that if you start blogging in this way, you're more likely to scare them off).

Why/When Run a Proxy Weblog For Your MP?

- If they don't have a website.
- If their website isn't updated frequently enough to be useful.

Why a Local MP?

- You will have better knowledge of local issues.
- You will have easier access to local newspapers (many of which do not publish/archive any/all of their articles online).
- It's cheaper to meet with them and/or call their constituency office for clarification/information when necessary.

Why a Weblog?

For the constituents:
- To better enable transparency/access via search engines.
- To make recent/'hidden' information more readily available.
- To bring an end to the fish-wrapper mentality.

For the MP:
- To encourage them to get their own damn weblog.
- Two words: Public. Servant.

How to Get Started

- Go to www.blogger.com
- Open a (free) account.
- Use a nickname for your 'Display name' if you wish to remain anonymous.
- (Even if you already have an account with Blogger, you will need to start a new one for this weblog if you wish to be able to hand it over at some stage.)

- Include the name of your MP in the Blog Title.
- Make it clear that it is not the official website of this MP.
- Include the name of your MP in the URL.

MPS and blogs - screen capture 1

Name availability may be limited, especially for more common names. You can use 'MP' in the URL if you like, but do be aware that if your chosen MP then takes up the weblog, they will not be able to use it during an election (as, during this time, they will not be an MP, but a candidate). Not a big deal, just something to be aware of. Some examples of suitable variations follow:
- http://john-smith.blogspot.com (preferred)
- http://johnsmith.blogspot.com
- http://john-smith-constituencyname.blogspot.com
- http://john-smith-partyname.blogspot.com

- Choose a design template.
- Post!

What to Include In Your Design Template

- Contact details for your good self.
- Contact details for your local MP (not always readily available).
- A link to their profile at TheyWorkForYou.com
- Links to other official/relevant profiles/websites.

Extras You Will Need - Image Hosting

- Blogger.com does not allow for the hosting of images.
- To host pictures, scans of newspaper articles, etc. you will need your own (anonymous?) webspace or an image host.
- MSN offers free image hosting and here are some tips for using the service.

Extras You Will Need - Tracking

- Blogger.com does not offer tracking.
- You will need tracking to know that your weblog is reaching readers.
- You will need tracking to know where they are coming from.
- Free tracking including referral data is available from Statcounter.

Getting Listed

- Most important listing is with the Open Directory Project.
- Search for name of biggest town in the constituency, follow link to category and submit your site.
- If there are no/few editors for that town, you may also choose to volunteer to edit this category.
- Some high-profile MPs have their own category in the ODP. You should submit to this category also if it exists. You can even volunteer to edit this category if you're feeling cheeky. (But you will be expected to list existing/new sites objectively!)

MPS and blogs - screen capture 2

- Link to other weblogs.
- Make valid contributions via their 'comments' feature(s).
- Ask me and other bloggers (nicely) for added link support.
- You should be in Google within a few days.

Here's an example of how this works: - Tim Yeo weblog launched Thursday, June 19, 2003
- Wednesday, June 25, 2003: 4th in Google for 'Tim Yeo'
- Friday, July 18, 2003: 1st in Google for 'Tim Yeo'
- Weblog now top search result for 'Tim Yeo' in every major search engine.
- Every time Tim Yeo appears on TV or radio, 50 new people end up at the weblog.

Handy hints: - Use the MP's name and relevant keywords in your subject headers; e.g. 'Tim Yeo and top-up fees', 'Tim Yeo defends education voucher/passport/gift-certificate scheme', etc.
- Configure your blog for individual post pages.

MPS and blogs - screen capture 3

What To Put On Your Weblog - News

- Extracts from (and commentary on) news articles - local or otherwise.
- Quotes and scans from local newspapers.
- Use Google News Alerts to keep track of latest news and information published online (alerts sent direct to your Inbox).

MPS and blogs - screen capture 4

What To Put On Your Weblog - Parliamentary/MP Records

- Quote/link relevant parliamentary activity (speeches, questions, answers) and feed what you can to Google.
- Hansard publishes online 'the edited verbatim report of proceedings in both Houses'. It's searchable and indexable by larger search engines, but too big to be of any use via these external search engines.
- Advanced Search allows you to find exact quotes for any speaker within specific date ranges.
- Alternatively, you may find the presentation/organisation of this same record provided by TheyWorkForYou.com to be more user-friendly, but when you quote from any record, please ensure that you provide a link to the actual/relevant record.

What To Put On Your Weblog - Overview

- Your job is to take the most relevant information and post it individually with a strong association to that MP's name.
- Add commentary (and allow comment) to provide improved context. (What does the information really mean?)
- People searching for information relating to your MP (or issues that concern your MP) will normally find your weblog - and your take on this information - first.
- Once you draw an audience, you may also wish to co-ordinate and/or prompt action. The first order of business, obviously, would be to campaign to get your MP to take on the weblog of start one of their own.
- Wit/humour is not necessary but it engages your audience and can be a very powerful tool.

Some Final Thoughts

You'll have to be prepared to actively communicate with constituents and turn thoughts and opinions into actions when necessary, (kind of like an MP is supposed to) otherwise your blog is just a very fun noisemaker. Again, this is where the Tim Yeo weblog falls over by way of example (*hangs head in shame*).

UPDATE - Rob D, who is currently blogging on behalf of Sarah Teather MP (see below), has some very good advice for 'proxy bloggers' here.

UPDATE - Proxy-bloggers who have populated their blog and drawn an audience are making a lot of progress simply by getting in touch with their MP and letting them know more about the weblog and their intentions (but obviously, you're probably not going to get far on day one - you need to hold your water and then show the machine in action). As of early August, two proxy-bloggers have met or talked with support staff and lined up a meeting with their MP to discuss the benefits of weblogging.

UPDATE - Proxy-blogging claimed its first success in September 2004. In reaction to approaches from the authors and interested parties, and after seeing her proxy blog and other blogs in action, Sandra Gidley launched a blog of her own. This blog is currently running at http://romseyredhead.blogspot.com/, but there are plans to integrate the blog content into her official website sometime in the near future.

Blogs are now being written on behalf of the following MPs:
(blogs listed in order of launch, most recent at top)
Martin Linton - Labour MP for Battersea
Paddy Tipping - Labour MP for Sherwood
Paul Keetch - Lib-Dem MP for Hereford
Steve Pound - Labour MP for Ealing North
Glenda Jackson - Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate
Michael Clapham - Labour MP for Barnsley West and Penistone
Jeff Ennis - Labour MP for Barnsley East and Mexborough
Eric Illsley - Labour MP for Barnsley Central
David Blunkett - Labour MP for Sheffield, Brightside
Keith Vaz - Labour MP for Leicester East
David Lepper - Labour/Co-operative MP for Brighton, Pavilion
Frank Dobson - Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras
Nick Raynsford - Labour MP for Greenwich and Woolwich
Lewis Mooney - Labour MP for Kirkcaldy
Mark Pritchard - Conservative MP for The Wrekin
Alan Milburn - Labour MP for Darlington
Sandra Gidley - Lib-Dem MP for Romsley
Sarah Teather - Lib-Dem MP for Brent East
Jim Cousins - Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central

Read Why Politicians Need Weblogs.