Douglas Carswell

31 DEC 2011

The power of the web

According to research by Hanover Communications, the Labour backbench MP Tom Watson had a higher media profile in 2011 than every shadow minister, except for Ed Miliband and Ed Balls.

Even a few years ago, the idea that a mere backbencher would have a higher profile than, say, the shadow Foreign Secretary or Home Secretary, would have seemed bizarre.  Today it is a fact. 


Many will put it down to the phone hacking scandal, in which Watson had a starring role exposing wrong-doing, and think no more of it.  But I suspect something more is happening.

One clue lies in the fact that Watson is an ex-blogger, and a prolific tweeter.

On the Tory side, too, many backbenchers have a far higher media profile than many  ministers. 

And what do many of the most high profile backbenchers have in common?  Louise Mench posts some wonderful  tweets. John Redwood writes brilliant blogs.  Nadine Dorries does both.  Grant Shapps, who has the highest profile of any MP not in the Cabinet, does so too.

Several years ago, after reading Chris Anderson's The Long Tail, I realised that I'd have to start blogging.  Why?  Anderson's book is ostensibly about the impact of the internet on retail, but as I read it I started to see what the internet might do to politics, too.

The internet is democratising communication.  It has smashed that old hierarchy of party press officers and lobby correspondents who once got to decide not only what was news, but who the rest of us listened to.  

Today MPs can get their views out there directly.  Daily blogs have taken over from press releases. Tweets can get the message out there while party spin doctors are still discussing "the line to take".

Back in the early 1990s, Peter Mandelson apparently got to decide which half dozen MPs would speak for Labour in response to requests from the media for interviews.  This ability to decide the message and the messenger gave him tremendous influence.  In the age of twitter, parties simply cannot control the message - or the messengers - that way.

Some MPs understand how the internet changes the way parties need to communicate.  I am less certain that political parties have.

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