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September 19, 2005
Paul Leake chooses his blog over his party
Paul Leake, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Durham, has been asked by his local party to remove any "controversial" posts from his weblog and to give them the right to vet future posts. He has refused, and stepped down from the party:
Paul Leake - Constituents vs Party - Constituents must win every time: Looking back on posts I don't think I have once criticised any of the hardworking City Council staff, or other Lib Dem Councillors. I have however sought to inform members of the public why I, as their local councillor, have done what I have done and voted how I have voted, as well as inform them about what their council is doing.
I only have a second-hand report on how BBC Radio Newcastle reported this, but I trust the source:
The report on the radio said that the blog is closely monitored by the opposition Labour councillors. The only bit closely approaching a quote I can remember was Denis Jackson, another Liberal Democrat on Durham City Council, saying something about Labour councillors using the blog to find "lurid headlines" and "he joined the party to be part of a team and not to go off and do his own thing". Needless to say, I couldn't find any lurid headlines on the blog today.
Well, I've spoken to Paul Leake and Denis Jackson, and this appears to be what has happened...
A Labour election agent has claimed something along these lines in recent election literature:
"A senior party spokesmen for the Liberal Democrats said that when it comes to policy Labour beats the Lib-Dems hands down."
This election agent appears to have got his hands on a curt email sent by Paul Leake and quoted him out of context... but one can easily see where senior Lib-Dems have made the connection with the weblog and decided to exercise caution (you may remember Jody Dunn's bloggage being quoted out of context in the 2004 Hartlepool by-election).
I've experienced similar behaviour over at the Anne Milton weblog. Conservative members, campaigners and councillors - usually posing as concerned members of the public - have tried on a number of occasions to take comments made by Lib-Dems on my website and misrepresent them. Click here to see a Tory putting his foot in his mouth by threatening a press release labelling Lib-Dem a homophobe... and not realising that his target is homosexual.
OK, let's get this straight (no pun intended):
Paul Leake is not a loose cannon, and his former party-masters are not the bad guys (though they do need to pop by and ask the Lion, the Tinman and the Scarecrow for a cup or three of ready necessities).
The main problem here - and it's an all-too-common one - is party activists looking for any weakness they can exploit, and thereby undermining the willingness and ability of elected officials to communicate openly with their electorate.
And this shit has got to stop. People who do this kind of thing deserve an online 'buckwheating'...
Andrew Brown: Paul Leake has been put in by what looks like a mixture of poor political management by his former group and partisan use of what he's written. Any of us who blog as elected representatives know that we may attract readers who don't always wish us well and we need to take a view on how to manage this.
Griff Wigley: I think Leake's situation is a great example of why it's important for an elected official to have a weblog that's not part of an existing organization, political party or otherwise.
More in Comments.
(As it happens, I've just now reached the section of the upcoming Westminster seminar that deals with this kind of thing (beginning with Slide 57, dontchaknow). I'll post the relevant passages sometime today or tomorrow to see if we can't reach consensus on a sensible take and approach.)
Posted by timireland on September 19, 2005 12:11 PM in the category Fighting Ignorance
The Welsh Labour party is using an anonymous blogger - http://www.natwatch.co.uk/ - to generate the same kind of cheap and nasty headlines here in Wales - there is strong, but circumstantial, evidence that the blogger(s) are Labour Party activists. Out-of-context quotes are a speciality, as is publishing the contents of emails sent in apparent confidence. I've been blogging about it for a while, but since my blog is in Welsh, I am pissing into the journalistic wind. I did one post in the thin language, in case you're interested. It's a bit long-winded, I'm afraid (insert ethnic stereotype here).
Posted by: nicdafis at September 20, 2005 7:39 AM
All of us in public life - whether we blog or not - face the possibility of having what we say taken out of context and used in a partisan way.
So isn't the issue here about political leadership and trust? Fraser Reynolds, it appears, didn't trust Paul Leake to be able to write about his life as a local politician without bringing his party political problems; and he didn't appear to be able to trust that he and his colleagues could cope with any problems that may have occurred.
I have to say I admire the stand that Paul's taken, but would hope for a more reasonable response from my party colleagues were my blog to be the source of similar claims by my opponents.
Posted by: Andrew Brown at September 20, 2005 11:47 AM
Andrew's right. Having things taken out of context and used in a partisan way is simply the nature of the beast. I've had similar discussions with Labour colleagues who are nervous about the whole idea of a blog, allowing comments etc.
My view is that we have a duty to interact with constituents in this way. A politician (councillor, MP, MEP etc) that fails to communicate with residents via newsletters, street surgeries, advice sessions, attending public meetings etc is wrong. We now have to add the internet/blog into the mix. Many people don't have time to engage in the democratic process by attending meetings etc but that doesn't mean they aren't interested in what happens in their neighbourhood. The blog simply provides an additional channel.
Posted by: Stuart Bruce - PR Consultant at September 20, 2005 12:08 PM
Perhaps my reference to Leake's former superiors being in need of a little courage, heart and brains was too obscure. Y'see, there's this cult movie that goes by the name of The Wizard of Oz... erm, and the soundtrack is by Pink Floyd.
My point is that we shouldn't meekly accept this kind of behaviour - particularly when a more robust blogosphere will give us the power to fight it.
Primary reasons why direct engagement should be pursued include:
1. The need to bypass mainstream media and their often selective use of your views and opinions (to be more in keeping with the agenda of the journalist, editor or owner involved).
2. To need to recapture the interest of those who have turned their back on politics because they're sick to death of childish bickering and point-scoring.
Posted by: Manic at September 21, 2005 8:52 AM
Set the Controls to the Heart of the Yellow Brick Road... yeah think I've heard it somewhere.
I don't mind bypassing the mainstream media but given its reach, compared to mine, I don't want to entirely ignore it. (More people have said they saw me on the one o'clock news last week, or in the pages of the local freesheet than admit to reading the blog.) In fact I'd quite like to entice the mainstream media to use my blog as a starting point for stories.
Look forward to seeing your thoughts on how we avoid being put in the position that Paul faced.
Posted by: Andrew Brown at September 22, 2005 9:41 AM
That might take a while. I have the first part, but not the second... and have to sort some paying work first.
Posted by: Manic at September 22, 2005 10:24 AM
Posted by: Manic at September 22, 2005 1:55 PM
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