Monday, October 31, 2005

Who Gives a Toss?

An interesting topic has been raised over at the Sharpener (interesting for bloggers anyway). The top US blogs exert far more influence over political debate than their counterparts on this side of the water. The question is why?

To my mind, there are a number of reasons.
  1. The US has an established blogging culture. That, of course, doesn't explain why the UK does not have such a culture.
  2. The UK media provides a wider range of views than the US media. This does, I think, partly explain the lack of a political blogging culture in the UK. The UK media fills many of the niches which might otherwise be occupied by bloggers.
  3. The UK is not undergoing a clash of ideologies in the way that the US currently is. I believe this clash generates greater interest in political matters and thus, an interest in political blogs.
I'll expand on that last one a little (alert: poor attempt intellectual elitism approaching at considerable speed). Currently, the great British public are generally just not that interested in politics. OK, that's a massive generalisation but I think it's basically true. The UK public is hugely dissaffected by the political process as it is currently practised. Joe Public just doesn't care. This is partly because there is no clash of ideologies, it's partly frustration at the evasion of modern politicians, and it's partly because of the broken promises of the past and present. How often do you hear this vox pox: "It doesn't matter to me. Well, they're all as bad as each other."? It's a widely held view. The splendid people at NotApathetic had a good idea but I suspect they misjudged the depth of apathy which exists in the country. Of course, most of those people are unlikely to have bothered to give their opinion on the site because, well, it's politics and they just can't be arsed with it. Not that some didn't but by definition their opinions are unlikely to have been fully represented.

The turnout at the UK general election tells its own story. 61.3% of those eligible actually voted. There are undoubtedly many people who are very interested in politic but who still didn't vote, but I suspect they are very much a minority. In fact, most of the 38.7% of people who didn't vote were probably totally apathetic about politics. And, perhaps counter-intuitively, I also suspect that a considerable number of people who did vote also don't have any great interest in politics. They voted because they always vote, or because the family has always been Labour, or what have you. Ask them to take part in a discussion about policy and they'd be off down the pub before you had time to finish the question.

I certainly know a huge number of people (mostly but not exclusively 18 - 30 year olds) who fall into the category of just not being interested. They find my political interests to be extremely peculiar, not to mention mind numbingly boring. They'd prefer to watch the next episode of Lost, or go out for a lovely binge drink (with maybe a pill and a dance to go with it), or play GTA Violence City or something. Anything which isn't politics really. There's a debate to be had about how this has happened but I don't think the fact that it has is debatable.

So, basically, UK political bloggers don't get high readerships because they are concerned with a minority interest. The question is akin to asking why "Noodle Knitting Magazine" doesn't have a wider circulation; very few people want to know about knitting with noodles. Likewise with politics. In the UK, very few people care.

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