The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Why There’ll Never Be A British Kos

Posted by The Futility Monster on October 24, 2009 @ 09:00

Kos, Greece. Can you tell I struggled for a picture to illustrate this post?

Kos, Greece. Can you tell I struggled for a picture to illustrate this post?

In my last post I went into some detail as to why the American liberal activist site Daily Kos has been such a success. It was a combination of good fortune, good timing, beneficial political environment and something that hadn’t previously been possible without power of the Internet to bring people together.

Many people have wondered why British political blogging has not taken off in the same way it has in America. Over there, blogs are now an accepted part of the debate. There is, naturally, some tension between the mainstream media and the blogosphere, but they are now a critical part of the discourse. So much so that blogging is looking ever more institutionalised when compared to Twitter.

In the UK, the picture is very different. Blogs are rising in importance, and have had plenty of moments in the sun. We saw it very recently with the Trafigura debacle. But blogs are generally only important because politicians and the media read them, who in turn relay the information they read. There is no widespread culture of activism on the net; no recognition that great swathes of people keep politically in tune by using internet sources. Far from it. British political culture is as full of armchair warriors as ever.

This is very different to America, where there is now a whole generation who have grown up using and trusting blogs as their only connection with the political world. And, in addition to that, using blogs as a community mechanism. Which British political blogs can boast a community in the sense of Daily Kos? The comments section of Guido Fawkes is filled with bile and invective, smear after smear and rumour. It works for him, but in no way can it be seen as a community.

Blogs appear to have different functions across the Atlantic to here. This is primarily down to the bottom-up nature of American politics, and the requirement to do a lot of fundraising on a personal level, with no party involvement. Though blogs aren’t just about raising money in the States, they do a fine job of it, of bringing people together to fight for a common cause.

Here, blogs behave differently: more like journalists and pundits than community organisers. That’s because the top-down, centralised nature of British politics means there is no variety across the country. Our political communities are already fully formed and extremely unlikely to change, and so there is no need for a bottom-up built community. Instead, we have parties that are much more coherent, and a common policy framework has almost always existed, in contrast to America. In this respect, the parties here have been doing what the likes of Daily Kos has only achieved in the past few years. The key difference, of course, being that top-down structures are generally not all that conducive to fulfilling party debates and engagement.

Kos succeeded because it was started by an outsider, and has always held that mentality. People are rightly suspicious of sites like MyConservatives because they see it as another tool via which the central party can monitor their minions. Conservative Home has been successful because of its staunch independent streak – but there can be no doubting that such a site is broadly for those already politically engaged and aware – at times feeling more like a news aggregator… and there is just the suspicion that as power gets ever closer, the site gets more and more on message…

British political culture has no heritage of grassroots activism. We consider a grassroots protest to be a rally organised by a local councillor or council candidate outside a post office. There are no great movements started up in Britain these days that are fundamentally about policy. It’s all about petitions and letterbox stuffing. It’s just not real engagement. We’re just too cynical to care about politics and politicians any more.

There is no doubt that there is a gap in the market for a British equivalent of a Kos. Nature might abhor a vacuum, but sometimes they exist for a reason.  Such a site would not succeed in the same way because we just don’t see politics as being interesting or worthwhile. We know we’re going to fail. We see political activity as being a little geeky if it’s any more than casting a ballot in an election, and even then we only really care about the General Election.

Our cynicism is a natural barrier to entry; and that’s before even considering that the centralised nature of British politics doesn’t really require a British Kos to debate and formulate policy, co-ordinate action, motivate activists and fundraise for candidates. We’re totally reliant on our parties to do that already. We pretty much know where we stand and we’re happy to let our parties do the thinking for us.

Maybe that’s not a healthy trend for British democracy. Maybe we’re more in need of a British Kos now than ever.

The tragedy is that it will never work.

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