A number of years ago Labour started a blog, Red Alert, run from a sub domain of the Labour party website. However it has gone a bit quiet lately. I have commented on Red Alert a little bit in the past. But it was never high on my list of blogs, but it was an interesting insight into the inner thoughts of Labour MPs.
Most of the other parties leave it up to MPs to run their own blogs, if they wish to. Some MPs start them, then do what a lot of bloggers do, and then quickly forget about them. They may post once every so often, but it is nor predictable. Red Alert presented a way to get around this. With all of the MPs having access to a single blogging platform, it was possible for each MP to blog less often, but the blog as a whole to still look busy. It is a similar approach to that taken by The Standard and Public Address.
Red Alert explains itself thus:
These are the voices of Labour MPs on issues that we care about – and we’d like to hear what you think too. What you’ll read are the individual opinions of MPs. We won’t always agree with each other and sometimes our opinions may change.
The potential was there. A place that allowed MPs to actively discuss issues in depth and engage with voters presents a unique opportunity. However there were some execution issues. There were accusations of heavy handed and unbalanced moderation of comments. This is a potential issue with any site dealing with political issues. There were also issues with the content of some of the posts, however this is more an issue with the way MPs dealt with issues and is not an issue with the concept of a single, united blog site for MPs.
Back in May 2009 when it was launched, there were 5 pages of posts, in May 2010 there were 11 pages. Since then the pace of blog posts on Red Alert has slowed down a lot. There have been no posts at all this month so far, two in May, none in April, one in March and two in February. Having a blog that is not used actively is worse than having no blogs at all. This slow, inconsistent use is likely to have caused a downturn in viewership, which in some ways will have then driven a further slowing down in blog posts, so it becomes a downwards spiral.
I have said before that Twitter is a great place for MPs to get a feel for how a certain sector of society feel about issues. A party blog offers the potential to do this even better. More people are likely to comment, plus there is room for deeper discussion of the issues. Trevor Mallard made a specific attempt at doing this:
I am not sure how well this went for Trevor, but it was a great example of what could have been.
The other potential advantage that something like Red Alert presented is the ability for different MPs to blog about the same issue, but from different view points. Differing view points within a party is not a sign of weakness, there is a time and a place for people to express differing views within a party and a unified blog is one of those. A party that is able to have public discussion of different issues is a party that is strong.
Labour have spent a lot of time and effort developing ideas and policy around Open Labour and Open Government. Yet they have let Red Alert slowly die? Did MPs get tired of blogging? Did they find that it wasn’t producing the results they wanted? Or did the comments section just become full of party hacks, from both sides? I would be interested to hear from those involved. But I can say that it’s decline is likely to be seen as a reason for other parties to not attempt something similar.
I would be surprised to see Labour actively pushing Red Alert again before the election, but I would like to see a reboot of the idea post election. Despite the title, I don’t think the idea is flawed, It is just this experiment with it that has failed, for unknown reasons. The idea sound, it is worth retrying. Promoting open discussion and engagement between MPs and voters is a good thing. Technology allows quicker, direct, but remote, interaction with MPs, it should be encouraged.