Changing the nature of communication in politics

The re-located blog of newly-appointed Secretary of State for the Environment David Miliband has got off to a running start as awareness grows about the most senior member of the British government who writes a blog.

Comments are beginning to appear thick and fast to some of his posts since he was appointed to his new job last Friday.

I think we’re seeing something quite extraordinary happening in a couple of ways.

First, extraordinary in that it is a senior government minister – a member of the Cabinet no less – who is providing the means for anyone to directly let him know what they think by writing their thoughts and opinions as comments to his posts. Who knows what influence anyone’s comments may have on his own thinking on particular issues.

At the very least  he will get often-spontaneous opinions that otherwise would be unlikely to reach him. You don’t need to write him a letter or try and figure out how to reach him directly through long-established and formal means of communicating with a government minister, typically involving quite a few layers of people (filters) along the way. Just visit the blog and leave a comment.

Some of those comments undoubtedly will be, shall we say, less than well meaning (take a look at the typical comments to any post on the blog of EU Commissioner Margot Wallstrom to get an idea of that). That’s the nature of blogs and transparency (and politics) – the good and the bad. It’s open.

The blog does have a comment moderation policy, as increasingly do blogs written by prominent figures in the business world. But if you don’t violate that policy, your comments will make it through to being published whether Miliband likes what you have to say or not.

Second, the Cabinet minister who blogs is seen by some as a rising political star. A potential prime minister, perhaps, but with some major challenges to address right now. And one who is out there, transparently, putting into practice the value of social media like blogs as a means to engage directly with people, informally and conversationally.

His blog could be a major communication asset in helping him build engagement and trust with voters and other constituent groups (even journalists). I think the real test of that will be in how Miliband completes the engagement cycle – how will he engage with those who leave comments. So far, we have his posts and people’s comments. No real dialog yet, no actual conversations.

He doesn’t have to wade in to his own posts and leave comments – a very rocky path, I’d say. What I’d like to see is a post that directly addresses a point or issue raised by a commenter. And then see how a conversation develops and where it goes.

Another things I’d like to see on the blog are trackbacks so you can connect all commentary and opinion wherever it takes place.

Based on how things have developed since Miliband started his blog, I’d say the prognosis for such things is looking good.

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Drew B

    I think it’s great what Mr Milliband is doing. He’s the trailblazer. I hope soon we’ll see this from more cabinet ministers.

  2. neville

    Absolutely, Drew. I would imagine some of his colleagues are following his experiment with interest. In one of his early posts, Miliband mentioned that Hansard was going to produce a study of some kind on the effectiveness of the blog.

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