Tories look to blogging to engage public

From Webcameron to Wideo Video, new media was the talk of the town in Bournemouth earlier this week.

Bournemouth was a policy-free zone this week, with the focus of the Conservative Party Conference on the need to present a softer image and shed its ‘nasty party' tag. Blue skies, sunshine and, of course, oak trees dominated the conference backdrops.

David Cameron's various ‘policy commissions' do not report back with their proposals until some time next year. And so a major area of debate was the style of engagement the party needs to deploy to appeal to the public - specifically the use of new media.

At a Hansard Society fringe meeting sponsored by BT - and badged ‘Listen to me! Can politicians ignore the new media?' - Tory blogging pioneer Iain Dale warned: ‘The cosy little cartels that exist in the political and media worlds are being broken up. The party that gets new media will reap the rewards in extra votes.'

He attacked Communities minister David Miliband for defeating the purpose of new media by ‘trying to control the blogosphere' while using taxpayers' money to fund his own blog.

Dale added: ‘Politicians can give their views [on blogs] without the filter of the media. Voters can see their words interpreted raw.'

Not to be outdone by the party leader's launch of Webcameron at the weekend - the video weblog in which he proffers his views from settings including his kitchen - former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe revealed her plans to launch a Wideo Video.

Referring to politicians' efforts to be relevant to young, first-time voters, she said: ‘You can't reach them through a medium of your choice but of their choice.'

She added: ‘When we have anything to say we get ourselves in a complete lather about getting on the Today programme, whereas we should do a dozen or so local radio stations. You'd speak to more people whom you don't normally reach, with presenters so glad to have you they don't interrupt.'

Located among the exhibitors at the conference was a ‘blogging surgery' (in reality, a stand). James Cleverly - a black hopeful on Cameron's A-list of election candidates designed to make the party more representative of the country - showed delegates how to set up a blog. Undermining the view of blogs as the preserve of the young, he said he had received interest from a range of delegates, including a ‘Kent councillor in his 50s or 60s'.

He claimed initiatives such as Webcameron would ‘win over the imagination' of the public. ‘Traditionally we have concentrated on getting the policy and message right, but we need to create a positive environment for that message,' he said.

Cleverly cautioned that blogs were not the ‘panacea to all political issues', but he predicted that when the party's policy commissions report their findings, they will be open to a ‘cross-party army of scrutinisers in the blog space', leading to ‘more workable policies'.

Time will tell whether the Conservatives' new politics of conversation and engagement take hold.

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