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Blogging blossoms in British election

Blogging blossoms in British election

Once Britons wanting to vent their political spleen either had to write to the Times or take their soapbox to Speakers Corner in London's Hyde Park for a rant. Now they can blog. The campaign for the May 5 election has witnessed an explosion of Web logs -- "blogs" -- from candidates to journalists and political snipers tearing chunks out of the bombast pouring out of party media machines. "I think this is probably the most interesting phenomenon of this election," said Stephen Coleman of the Oxford Internet Institute. "This is a low level form of entry into politics," he told Reuters. "The key thing about blogs is that they are grass roots and somewhat subterranean. "The party Web sites are extremely technocratic and centralised. The blogs are more what people were hoping would come out of the Internet." The main topics are those that have dominated what has universally been dubbed a dull campaign -- immigration, education, the economy, crime, taxation, the Iraq invasion and above all whether any politicians can be trusted. All the parties come in for criticism, from Labour and the Conservatives to the anti-war Liberal Democrats. "It's a pity that the Tories and Lib Dems are adopting the approach of calling the Prime Minister a liar ... The words 'pot calling the kettle black' spring to mind," said one message. YOUNG VOTERS The blogs will not have any impact on the outcome of the election, in which Labour is set to win an unprecedented third consecutive term. But politicians might be well advised to pay them heed. "The classic bloggers are Internet savvy," Coleman said. "They are young. They are mainly male. But they are not hugely disenfranchised. Most of them are quite articulate people. "Most are fairly non-partisan," he added. "It is almost a given amongst bloggers that they don't like the (Conservatives) but it is also pretty given that they don't like Blair either. "So they are pretty disengaged from the tribal aspects of politics." The blogs range from discussions on tactical voting to simple rants about politicians only being interested in themselves. One that caused the biggest stir was a spoof blog of Blair's Machiavellian media manipulator and election strategist Alastair Campbell which was actually written by a 30-year-old woman working in the marketing department of an online bookmaker. TWO CAMPS Bloggers are split broadly into two camps -- those taking themselves seriously and those poking fun at the whole process. The former tend to be populated by parties and candidates as well as reporters and analysts, leaving the latter mainly to the sceptics, satirists and disgruntled -- of which there are many. "They are a mouthpiece for people, a way for people to find others who think the same thing. But they do not have any political leverage -- at least yet," said Will Davies from the Institute for Public Policy Research think-tank. The phenomenon of British parliamentary blogging was started by Labour parliamentarian Tom Watson to get closer to his constituents and develop their trust. But its success has been seized upon by other party politicians. "It is very cynical -- and transparent. Even Blair now has a blog and everybody knows he simply hasn't the time to actually write it. It is just spin," Davies said. Richard Kimber of Keele University has created a web page pulling together links to hundreds of Websites and blogs which is at www.psr.keele.ac.uk/area/uk/ge05/electionblogs.htm. Another site with links to a vast array of blogs is at www.perfect.co.uk/edemocracy. Coleman's favourite blog is www.notapathetic.com which allows people not planning to vote on Thursday to explain why. "Well I might vote, if there is a Looney candidate," said one message, referring to the Monster Raving Loony Party, a long-standing fixture of British election campaigns. "There is no other truly honest party in politics and there is nothing to choose between the lies of the rest of them," the message wailed. For Coleman this is poetry. "In effect non-participation becomes participation," he said. UKFast is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites.

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