When Labour set up the Red Alert blogsite they were congratulated for creating a vehicle to engage with constituents.
it’s been a troubled existence. If you read any post on any topic on
Red Alert, it’s normal to find that at least half of the comments are
negative and critical of the blogpost author. Some of this is down to
trolling from the right, but there also seems a sense that many on the
left are unhappy with what they are reading.
challenge with using social media is that it’s dynamic, fluid and
collaborative. You can carefully craft a press release on a policy and
send it forth into the world to be debated by media commentators,
analysts and bloggers alike, but when you stick something up in your
site and let people comment you’re allowing the public to give you
direct and instant feedback. That should be good in theory, and we
should welcome this form of participatory democracy, but the trouble is that if only
one of the two main parties does it while the other continues to issue
anodyne and polished releases, the impression can be created that a
whole pile of people don’t like one particular party’s policies or
The other trouble is that I don’t think
Labour has yet worked out how to use social media effectively. People don’t like
negativity in their politicians, so overly negative posts just invite
counterattack. If you have a crack at someone and then arm their
supporters with the means to swipe back (i.e. a loosely moderated
comments policy), then of course they will.
The left has also traditionally been good at defining others on the left who aren't 100% aligned with them as class enemies. It's something Labour politicians have occasionally been guilty of. This post, for example, was probably a mistake.
poorly-conceived posts are fodder for National’s cadre of attack
bloggers, and allow them to demonstrate to their audience that Labour’s
MPs are hopeless, foolish or dishonest.
also gets a lot of flak from the left for the way it communicates its
messages. Although some of the criticism from the left posted on Red Alert
appears to be a longing for Labour to be more like National without
being, you know, more like National.
National’s media strategy of maximum non-engagement with the online
community is working a treat, because the necessary social media
presence is being provided by proxies like Kiwiblog. That enables the
official messages and policy announcements to be carefully stage-managed
for maximum effect, while still giving a voice to the online community
of National supporters. Attacks can be launched on opposition MPs, often
vicious personal attacks, and National can claim it’s not their doing.
What this then
comes down to is a perception that in communicating some of its online
messages Labour lacks internal discipline.
So what's the solution? Shut the blog down altogether?
Possibly. Another option
is to have all posts vetted by a committee of MPs and its communications
advisers, and to moderate the hell out of comments. In other words, to
turn the site into a vehicle for the type of bland releases National
My own opinion is that people leap a little too much on Labour's bloggers. Far from being arrogant and out of touch (a constant accusation), they are trying to engage with people, even if in some cases perhaps the way they are doing it needs work. If occasionally one of them lets slip their frustration at the way the polls and media are reacting to their efforts, that should not surprise anyone. They are humans, not robots.
If people want their politicians to be robots then perhaps it's time for the Red Alert experiment to come to an end. I'd be sad to see that happen, but right now it seems to be more a weapon for Labour's enemies.