Writing on The New Statesman website yesterday, Dan Hodges highlighted the role of Labour’s new ‘cyber-spinner’ Alex Smith, previously editor of the LabourList website.
‘He is attempting to bring the discipline of modern press management to the chaotic arena of online politics,’ wrote Hodges, a former PR professional who is also contributing editor of the LabourUncut website.
The article names Sunny Hundal of the Liberal Conspiracy website, Will Straw of Left Foot Forward and Sunder Katwala of Next Left as key bloggers that have been nurtured by Smith.
‘He pulled these guys together during Ed's [leadership] campaign, and he's kept them tight,’ one insider told Hodges.
The influential right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes heralded the report as confirmation that ‘the leading left-wing blogs co-ordinate their strategy and attack lines with Miliband’s office’.
But the bloggers in question have hit back against the charge that they are controlled by Smith.
Katwala, general secretary of the Fabian Society, said: ‘Dan blogs entertainingly. But the piece is wrong... Did Alex Smith create a group of Katwala, Hundal and Straw who he keeps close? No. I have known the other two for several years longer.
'Does Smith send this group briefings and lines to take? Not in my case. I should have no objection if he did. Do that group agree? On some things, not others. Sunny and I collaborated on a challenge to traditional identity politics in 2006 but have quite different perspectives more generally.’
Hundal said: ‘You always have to take stories like this with a pinch of salt; the rhetorical flourishes and smell of conspiracy make people want to believe them.
‘We share emails and chat to each other about events like lobby journalists would too. That's not a conspiracy. If Alex Smith was that good at keeping us in line, I wouldn't have just called for Alan Johnson to go!’
Smith could not be reached for comment but writing on Twitter, he insisted: ‘Don't believe the hype. There's no email briefing list.’
Meanwhile members of the Labour’s leader’s entourage rallied around him. One insider told PRWeek that Smith was now performing a wider role than he had done during the recent leadership campaign, when he was focused on online comms for Miliband.
The source said: ‘Alex’s role with Ed is now much broader than that, involving briefings, managing relations, general comms. Alex knows the internet can’t be managed. Of course, he talks to bloggers, but his role is more subtle, and wider, than is being suggested.’