Blogging and democracy

GarthturnerHaving been stuck at home sick far too much lately, I’ve been following political news more than usual. Garth Turner’s banishment from the federal Conservative caucus is a fascinating story. With all the optics of a heavy-handed reaction to control independent thought and expression by a draconian and communications-obsessed Harper PMO, John Ibbitson argued that the move could blowback on the Conservatives.

Garth’s blog is central to the whole episode – he spoke his mind, freely, openly and with total transparency like a good blogger should. Passionate about the possibilities of “digital democracy”, now Independent MP Garth of Halton is a socially-progressive libertarian. But party politics, particularly in a highly centralized policy shop like Harper’s Conservative government, makes such independence, transparency and openness a career limiting move. I’ve found it fascinating to follow his story and inside perspective of parliament, including today’s post about the often infantile, frequently entertaining drama of question period and the continuing saga of Belinda and Peter’s star-crossed love. (Seen here in happier days.)

BelindapeterThe Garth Turner episode is a fascinating collision between two sets of values: those of openness, transparency and accountability and the values of political power and control. Are blogs a solution to responsibility and accountability failures in politics? Maybe, to a point. Political action and party politics require a degree of control over message in order to maintain the power necessary to move an agenda forward. It appears that blogging (and the conversations it enables) tends to come with those values of openness and accountability firmly embedded. But I think that widespread adoption might just turn politicians’ blogs into just another mainstream medium for messaging and spin without authenticity – just like bad, boring corporate blogs. It is Garth’s independence, and the controversy it sparked, that makes his blog worth reading for a wider audience today. With that national platform and audience, Garth’s blog and the story of his turfing from caucus has released a couple of memes into the wider culture. How can social media change politics? Is central party control the only way to govern this country?

Politics and blogging are strange bedfellows. Because of my role as an independent consultant who has been doing work for the Ontario government, I have avoided writing about politics on this blog. I have tried to focus my writing on my interests in public policy, technology and business in a politically neutral way. But everything is political, so drawing those lines becomes more and more difficult. So, I added a Politics category and I’m letting myself venture into the issues of the day in the hope of encouraging conversations on topics neglected in mainstream media.

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