Friday, 10 July 2009

Welsh Blogosphere Lacks Audacity of Hope and Change - Denis Campbell

It’s easy to take the sure open shot on a basketball court or football pitch. Bloggers of all stripes do the ‘outrage’ thing very well. We can call an opponent out, take the Mick out of public gaffes, exploit weaknesses (indeed, there are enough of them) and generally be cynical or negative.

What’s missing and takes more work is trying to build something of value out of the “ashes” of a country more interested in celebrity, being/feeling important and yet not lifting a finger to either bring real change to its institutions. When Sir Humphrey talks about an MP being “courageous” or doing the heavy lifting for our future, we laugh. The prevailing thinking is; “Ashes opening ceremony seat on telly, check. Next on list, secure prime Ryder Cup opening tickets for September 2010.”

For 6-years I’ve been a journalist, pundit, business owner and tax-paying guest in Wales (I suppose now being of colour, I’m also a prime target for the BNP, my boat thankfully was the Calais ferry from NL and it did not sink, but I digress). I worry about the hole we find ourselves in yet… continue to dig. The Welsh Assembly Government thinks they alone can provide economic development leadership without acknowledging that an active public/private partnership is required to close deals to attract businesses (that means moving at the speed of business not taking 2 weeks to respond to an e-mail), bring real growth or reverse the truly stunning level of voter apathy at all levels.

Depending on whose figures you believe, between 65 and 72% of every pound of economic activity in Wales comes from government employment and/or the dole. Real unemployment, factoring in not just those recently laid off but those working part-time who want full-time work, the underemployed, long-term discouraged and those who have given up completely is closer to 20% than the fanciful figures everyone wants us to believe.

Yet we have a National Assembly seemingly unable to get through the day without mentioning the words ‘Broadband internet access’ as the seeming magic bullet stymieing Welsh economic development. That works much better in home districts than doing any real developmental heavy lifting to attract inbound investment capital. Sorry, I’ve been to the “million visitor” Folk-Life Festival in Washington DC seven times in the 1990s. Whilst crowd numbers are wildly over-estimated (I think they included lunch time joggers along the Mall), I could not tell you what the featured countries were in any of those years. They were on one of three stages between the Pennsylvania waffle cakes and sausage stands.

No one cared.

As a Maryland resident I sought nothing but a day out with my family. So is it that small a wonder we’re cynical when a junket for 88-people to a meaningless festival in the name of economic development is how precious development funds are spent?

And as the political parties gear up for the general election, most will adopt a “business as usual” summer off. Print the flyers, stuff them in post boxes and ignore social media… it’s just a fad we can sneer down our noses at and look cool. Now that the EU election is over and all is quiet, there is little digging, innovation or real insight because it does require getting out amongst the electorate.

When I compare this level of inactivity to the activity 10-months out in the 2008 US presidential campaign, I am disheartened. Having trekked across frozen tundra of Iowa, New Hampshire and the warmer climes of South Carolina watching candidates Clinton, Edwards and Obama, it was interesting to see how truly hard they worked to secure every vote, organise in every community and meet nearly every voter in these desolate early states. They spent months holding town hall listening tour meetings, giving stump speeches and dialoguing with individual voters in true retail political form. I’m waiting for a sweat to broken anywhere in the UK.

What the Welsh blogosphere needs to do is shame the current crop of politicians out onto the streets and have them answer constituent tough questions and demand they answer without SPIN, rejection of every difficult question’s premise, doublespeak non-answers and just plain avoidance. Sincere face-to-face retail politics is needed across the UK, the first party that gets this will score big gains. We paid for that gleaming glass building on the Bay. Now it’s time to demand accountability.

For 10-months I’ve written the 2010 general election would be a change election. Now… I’m not so sure. What’s missing is the raw, furious fire in the belly “fierce urgency of now” that drove Obama’s campaign. That is where Welsh, UK, US and global bloggers need to come in. We need to ask tough questions the MSM (main stream media) seem unwilling to ask, drive news cycles forward and demand accountability from elected officials.

The MSM are fighting for survival and access, so they allow bullying and non-answer answers. Bloggers need to parse through words and build their audience by not letting anyone say anything patently untrue in the spirit of ‘equal time’ vs. truth.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs calls his job “feeding the dinosaurs.” The press briefing room contains 56 chairs ‘owned’ by the likes of The New York Times ($1B in debt), LA Times and Boston Globe (near death) and recently deceased Seattle P-I and Rocky Mountain News (who had their seats reassigned). The furore over Huffington Post blogger Nico Pitney standing in the back of the room and asking President Obama a question, thus violating the press room question order protocol, is one of many signals of changes still to come.

The blogging world order is changing and we must do more than just spout off when we feel like it. We become relevant when we hold each other to a high standard. Every blogger misstep gives those in the MSM more ammunition with which to say, “see, I told you so.” I prefer they run scared and rely on us for source material. When I write for Nico, I know my material has to be top quality. If Welsh bloggers bring that kind of journalistic commitment, it won’t be long before they too are called upon, not merely as squeaky wheels, but the true citizen journalists they are.

So take a few days off then make sure you ‘push the pedal to the metal’ for the rest of this race to the General Election. It’s our duty to make this every bit a change election as November, 2008 was in the USA. Demand the best from our politicians and each other and it will be an interesting season. Do anything less or allow ‘business as usual’ and we get the government we deserve vs. the one we need in these difficult times.

(Written by Denis Campbell, Editor-in-Chief, UK Progressive)

This is post twenty six of a series of articles giving a chance to Welsh bloggers to have their say on the state of the blogosphere and where it's going. If you're interested in contributing place feel free to contact me at

5 Responses to “Welsh Blogosphere Lacks Audacity of Hope and Change - Denis Campbell”

Al Iguana said...

Absolutely right. We bitch and moan a lot, but don't actually get off our arses to do anything about it. (By WE, I don't been the blogosphere, although we do it to. I mean the Welsh in general).

A lot of that is down to conditioning. We are taught of the mines and the chartists, but we're not FIRED UP by it. We're taught about Henry Tudor, but we're not OUTRAGED by it. In short, this country needs a serious kick up the booty.

I know.. we all know... that most of our circle of family and friends are content with their big TV and the occasional ticket to the Rugby. Why?

Hate to quote something as dodgy as Mel Gibson, but there is a line in that Braveheart movie that sums up how I feel:

"You're so concerned with squabbling for the scraps from Longshank's table that you've missed your God-given right to something better."

We can have better. We just have to do it!

Wow, erudite, incisive and powerfully written stuff my man. Hope you're enjoying the cricket!

Excellent piece, Denis. It takes a cool hard look by a 'professional' from 'outside' to show how far behind we are in Wales. Truly we don't have a democracy or politicians of proper stature.

Anonymous said...

every terminal report sent to my parents from grammar school said 'this boy can do better' - and it has been massive driver in my life ever since

maybe the problem in this country is too much mollycoddling - 'this boy is brilliant and will go a long way' is probably what comp. school terminal reports say nowadays

i hated the institutional prejudice and systematical i encountered at grammar school - but it made me 'do better' just to prove to them that i could

its a pity that i also proved them right

"Truly we don't have a democracy or politicians of proper stature."

Dear me, this from a apparently professional journalist.

It is very easy to bitch and moan about Wales and its democracy. We can write poetically about America like it is some land of the free and a bastion of democracy, the fact remains we are masters of our own destiny. It is always worth looking at other countries, but slavishly measuring ourselves against straw man examples from America is just lazy.

Bloggers shouldn’t have to do anything, we are not some unionised, homogenous blob. We just write what we think, dreaming up some crack pot revolution beyond that just seems to set it all up for a fall.

Remember, Politics Cymru, a blog, DOES COVER the lobby briefings in the Senedd – guess they don’t deserve a mention when we can recite some West Wing inspired paean to America. America has one of the most corrupting political set ups in the world – where even the President is beholden to big bucks – big bucks that he simply could not have become President without.

We must get a sense of perspective here – “Print the flyers, stuff them in post boxes and ignore social media…”

I wouldn’t mind if that was based on reality. The fact remains that every credible study shows that television, not the internet is king – Obama raised all those millions online, he then went and spent most of it on TV Advertising. Lets get real about ‘social media’, it is bloody cart before horse.

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