Assembly members spurn blogs, but why are they so scared of talking directly to Wales?

Come on AMs, let’s talk

Image: mnd.ctrl @ flickr

In the world of politics, May is looming: these local elections will include a vote on devolution, where the public will decide how they wish to see the future of Wales. Assembly members should be scrambling to connect directly with the Welsh people, to swing the debate wide open, and to incite voters. But where are these politicians?

They’re certainly not here – making there presence known in the blogosphere.

I’ve counted only 6 AMs (out of a total of 60) who blog about their political work and life; Bethan Jenkins, Jon Morgan, Leanne Wood, Peter Black, Nick Bourne, and Leighton Andrews (I’m sure there has to be more – let me know. I haven’t included the likes of Nerys Evans because her blog isn’t directly about her political work.)

The common argument for not having a blog is one of time constraint. But as a politician, if you don’t have time to talk to voters then you shouldn’t be in politics. Other reasons could be technophobia or the belief that it is an inefficient way to reach the public.

Technophobia: Blogging isn’t technical, it’s as simple as sending an email. There are loads of social media classes out there and the Assembly should be supporting its members to improve their IT skills and communication with voters.

Efficient: The Welsh political scene on social media is thriving (For just a tiny handful see:  Cardiff Blogger; Welsh political twins; Welsh ramblings; Cambria politico; Peter Cox). If you’re not engaging with their debates, especially if you disagree, it demonstrates that you’re not willing to directly engage with the issues that face Wales and its people.

Scared to be wrong

Yet, these arguments don’t address why AM’s aren’t blogging. There is a simple answer – fear. Blogging about real issues – rather than spouting PR – makes politicians vulnerable to direct debate, direct criticism and real engagement. Just as journalists feared social media, so do politicians.

The trouble is that like journalists, many politicians are not experts. There will always be people that have more expertise on a given topic and they are ready to challenge and debate – engage with them, learn from them, and improve your policies.

As Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC’s technology correspondent, said about his time as a trainee journalist:

“People who complained were ignored and treated like mad men!”

Journalism is moving on from this attitude, it’s time politics did too.

Statistics show that in the UK 46% of the public said they trusted local MPs, compared to 26% when asked about MPs  generally. (Committee on Standards in Public Life, survey 2008). This suggests that personal knowledge of a politician makes people respond favourably to them – why aren’t AM’s capitalising on this?

I’m tired of hearing politicians moan about voter apathy and how the media skews the issues. Solve this problem and directly engage with the people.

Come on – you’re politicians, you should be the first to join the debate.

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An environmental journalist and communications trainer, Bethan specialises in nature conservation and social justice

Posted in Politics
9 comments on “Assembly members spurn blogs, but why are they so scared of talking directly to Wales?
  1. bethan john says:

    Seeing as Alun Davies (Twitter @AlundaviesAM) is the only AM to join the debate so far, blog or no blog, he should also be recognised as trying to engage with voters using social media

  2. deri says:

    You are right, connecting with the public is huge, if theres demand for serious questions from professions in their fields then the politicians should try to learn from them not fear them thinking they are out to sink them.

    I care a lot about health and food, if I wanted to get through to someone I wouldn’t be out to name and shame, I’d want to help and get things changed!

  3. Mike says:

    I don’t think blogging necessarily means that you are talking to Wales. How many people in Wales read blogs? You hear bloggers talking about the large number of hits thy get. But that could be like being hit by a seagull passing by on his way to Morocco. How many people in Wales read blogs, possibly the same number that live on Pitcairn Island? Twitter did not get Obama elected, it may have helped. Politicos need to get in touch with the public the old fashion way, just look at the support the Cardiff may sites on Twitter and FB have.

    • bethan john says:

      @ Mike I see your argument that if you were to rely solely on blogging to connect with voters then you’d be ignoring huge numbers of the population. Yet I don’t see this as a reason for AMs to refuse to debate on blogs and engage with the political blogging community that exists here in Wales.

      Your reference to Obama is an interesting one, as you say Twitter didn’t win him the election but engaging with social media meant that he could speak to voters directly, rather than just being represented by right-wing newsgroups. It’s a shame he hasn’t kept it up to the same level during his presidency. Sarah Palin’s use of social media is perhaps a debate for another time.

      I am not suggesting that blogging should replace any other form of communication with voters, but it certainly is one that should be utilised. As the quality of mainstream media within Wales seems to decline daily, in the future people may rely more on well-debated and engaging blogs.

      Let me know what you think. Out of interest, are there any specific old fashioned forms of communicating with the public you think politicians have forgotten?

  4. Mike says:

    Bethan.

    Blogs and social networks should be used by politicians to communicate with their constituents (this would have to be a first before you consider Wales). At the moment from what I have observed most Tweets seemed to be between the politicos themselves than with those they are elected to serve. I know that because I tweeted some politicos when I was living in their area. No reply, yet they were tweeting all over the place. The only exception was Peter Black because he was following me! Most ordinary folk I know use FaceBook, and not twitter, and the only politico I know that communicates with his constituents is Neil McEvoy, who also understands the value (for better or worse) of the letters page of the Echo. I think my Seagull theory holds up with regards the blogs in Wales. however we should still have them.

    You ask how have politicians lost the old fashion art of communication. Probably they never had it to begin with. That cliche “we only see you when you need my vote” is not a cliché is it.

    Solution? When I worked at a Tesco store I would see Rhodri Morgan every Saturday night heading for the reductions (poor guy had repuation for being cheap). It occurred to me that politicians need to be where the people are. The Roman forum where the plebs would legislate was the market place.

    Local politicians need to meet their people in places where they are. Town meetings need to happen with bingo or potlucks offered to encourage people to out.

    I am sure that some do that, it should be institutionalised. then you will lose some of that cynicism recover that old Anglo-Saxon concept of the “Moot” that one finds in the US.

    Can we change?

  5. bethan john says:

    @ Mike I couldn’t agree more – maybe focusing on blogs exclusively skewed my point.

    But as you say simply using social media for the sake of it, without engaging with your constituents, is absolutely pointless. As is choosing one platform over another; it’s so easy to integrate all three – Twitter, Facebook and blogs – that you can utilise all without any extra effort.

    It’s up to politicians to reach out to the people where they are, and not the other way around. Can we change? It’s a difficult question – maybe I’m a natural pessimist but I don’t see the signs of change. As the referendum looms, and the Welsh voters are being ask to commit to a point of no return, the very least politicians could do is engage with them.

  6. Bethan,

    Good name;-) I blogged before the election in 2007 to give myself the profile as a new candidate. I needed to create this profiel before getting media attention on the radio/ television etc. In fact, once I started blogging, journalists merely picked up quotes directly from my blog to use in the local papers, and they still do this now!

    So it does work to blog, and to communicate with the electorate. I meet people all the time who tell me they read my blog- people who may not actually comment, but are regular readers nonetheless. Yes, there are risks- politicians are afraid of opening up too much to the electorate in many ways- and yes, you are right, many are scared of losing arguments.

    I’d say many still don’t see the benefit of keeping a blog, but to me, its another way of communicating with the people I represent, and the people who want to engage with me generally on issues of importance. Its not the only communication tool one should use, but its certainly a good one. Keep up the good work!

  7. Peter Black says:

    At least one of the AMs you refer does not have a blog but a standard website. Jonathan Edwards is an MP not an AM.

  8. bethan john says:

    @ Peter Ah my mistake, cheers for letting me know. There were only 6 when I first started, I got carried away with finding more!
    @ Bethan Thanks for joining the debate, I appreciate it. Do you think this mindset of being scared to loose arguments, and therefore being scared of directly debating with the electorate, is a worrying one?

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