All entries for Wednesday 24 May 2006

May 24, 2006

Political Blogging starts shaping the agenda

Things are a–changing on t'internet. It all began at the weekend when it was revealed in the Daily Mail that Cherie Blair/Booth had signed a copy of the Hutton Report (you know, that one into the death of Dr David Kelly), for auction – the proceeds of which would go to the Labour Party.

Regardless of your political persuasion, the move was grossly stupid, if not downright tasteless and insensitive. It's a bit like signing the will of a man who people close to you were (unintentionally) responsible for the death of. Pretty sick.

But the story went quiet for a couple of days, except on the 'blogosphere', where it very quickly became a big deal, predominantly on Conservative blogs, but on some non–partisan ones too (if I hadn't been revising I might well have blogged on it!).

And the interest online has made a huge difference. It's now slowly creeped up to the third biggest story on the BBC's Politics website (bear in mind that the Home Office debacle and the Education vote are one and two), and has made headlines in every single newspaper since yesterday.

It's not too much of a stretch to suggest that the blogs turned the story into a big issue and caused great embarrassment to those involved. I suspect it wouldn't have been raised at PMQs today if it wasn't for the online involvement.

Iain Dale, and Guido Fawkes, editors of the book I contributed to, have done much to push the scandal onto a wider audience.

Does this mean we are starting to see a real evolution in the media where people not employed by any media organisation are playing a big role in deciding which stories enter the public consciousness?

Particularly, with British political bloggers leaning very definately to the right, are the Conservatives going to find themselves given an easier ride by a blogging community which is largely in support of them, and who have no rules about bias to adhere to.

It's a tricky situation for journalists to deal with. Not only are they finding themselves beaten to stories by people who aren't under the same pressure to get exclusive stories, but they're going to have to be careful in ensuring that they don't take blogs necessarily at face value. Even those which claim to be non–partisan (perhaps including my own) are highly likely to have political views which shape their writing. And while hundreds of blogs may be united in their criticism (see above), that doesn't mean that there isn't an inherent bias in the blogosphere as a whole.

It seems clear to everyone that the scandal involving Cherie is a dispicable act which demonstrates a complete lack of political sense, not to mention plain manners.

But as the blogs gain influence, journalists need to be wary of who is doing the talking when anonymity is so freely available to those on the internet. Future stories emanating from the internet may not be so factual.


Today we find come closer to finding out where the country's first 'super–casino' will be built, along with the locations of a number of smaller casinos.

The front–runners for the main attraction appear to be Blackpool, the Millennium Dome or Cardiff.

Having visited all three (not specifically to check up on their need for a casino, I should point out), I hope it goes to the Dome.

The last thing Blackpool needs is another way for local people to throw money away. The place is pretty destitute in places, and I think the casino's main customers (if built there) will be people who really need to spend the money on something else. What's more, I don't see that a super–casino in Blackpool will be enough to attract some of the high–rollers, who might expect a little more than the grubby streets of the Fylde coast. It's not exactly Vegas.

Cardiff's a possibility, although the city feels very small and I wonder whether the poverty gap might be worsened with the ease–of–access that the casino will provide.

And then there's London. Personally, I hope the Casino goes to the Dome. Virtually the only way to get there is on the Tube (£6 for a one–day travelcard!), and it's much more likely to attract the high–rollers which will prevent it from turning into a high–class Mecca Bingo. While there's a lot of economic problems in parts of London, the city's big enough to insulate the effects that the casino will have. The high cost of travel acts as a deterrent too.

Coventry is one of the contenders, and I don't see why the city is applying. They claim it will 'bring growth' to the city, but I don't think they realise that beyond the low–wages the staff will be on, the casino is hardly likely to be Coventry–owned. The Gambling bill was only brought in to allow big US casinos a piece of the British market. What's more, a casino isn't exactly a status symbol. Coventry, Blackpool and to a lesser extent Cardiff, seem to think they're playing Game of Life, when actually they're going to be messing with the wellbeing of some of their most vulnerable residents.

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