Friday, December 05, 2008

Welcome, Comrade Bloggers!

Two new Labour blogging sites to report here in the North East. Firstly, Malcolm Clarke from Lanchester has just started up a blog which looks like it will provide some interesting reflections on both local and national politics. You can see his blog here.

Then my colleague Cllr. Simon Henig, Leader of Durham County Council, has also started up a blog - perhaps the only council leader in the country to do so?

It's a brave and welcome development - not least because Simon has been fairly scornful of the potential impact of the internet in politics, and blogging in particular. As a ward councillor in Chester-le-Street, he's told me in the past that he receives no complaints/comments from residents via email. Separately, the Echo's Pete Barron reported on Simon's aversion to blogging here.

I guess that as the new leader of a big rural council with diverse communities, Simpn has calculated (correctly in my opinion) that a blog will promote transparency, allowing residents to see what he has been doing on their behalf, but also provoke some debate too. It's a great way to communicate directly with the people he represents without the sometimes distorting filter of the press or the propaganda of other parties.

Since the blog started at the end of October, the blog has received several messages. Simon's also taken the trouble to reply to some of the queries (and received some appreciative feedback in response).

Simon has floated the ambition of all 126 Durham County Councillors blogging. And if only a fraction take up the idea, then that will represent a massive stride for online politics here in the North East.

My only reservation would be that Simon is using an "official" County site, rather than something under his own direct control via the likes of Blogger or WordPress. No doubt this has the benefit of handing over some of the site admin to officers, rather than fiddling with technical stuff as the rest of us do. It severely constrains what can be blogged about however, and renders impossible any debate between parties, which can be very enlightening for residents confronting new or unfamiliar issues.

Still, at a key time for the County, as the lingering districts disappear, it should be a valuable source of information for residents straight from the horses mouth. I wishSimon (and Malcolm) all the best.


Anonymous said...

Clarkes website is horribly boring.
Simon Hennigs site has a sweet pinkness to it.
Do you like Simon Nick?
Are these guys joining the world of internet blogging because like you they think that the world excitedly awaits your every breath.
Do you look forward to your daily helping of Simon Hennig?
Does the thought of logging onto him get you excited Nick?

Darlington Councillor said...

*Sigh* Malcolm's only been blogging for a couple of days - at least he has the bravery to put his name to his opinions, anonymous.

Otherwise - Get a Life!

Malcolm Clarke said...

Appreciate the link Nick and site welcome!

You don't think I decided to become actively involved in discussing Politics to be popular did you anon?! Appreciate my blog does not have the allure of Perez Hilton, if that's your thing...

miketually said...

It's always good to see more politicians blogging. Welcome to the blogosphere. (Blogosphere's a horrible word, isn't it?)

Like Nick, I'd agree on using your own domain as it allows much greater freedom.

Where the funding comes from is also important. I believe this is why Alan Milburn needs to take his site down in the run up to an election, just when it would be most useful!

I also think politicians should use their name, rather than title. If, say, someone who was a Councillor in Darlington were elected to be an MEP, for example, but had used the words Darlington and Councillor in their blog URL... ;)

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes.....

It would be great to have an Ask Nick section in your blog. It might get away from the, how should I put it, questionnable postings, but there again it might not.

Can I start the ball rolling? Where do you stand Nick on the Government's Children's Database which will contain all the personal information on all children in this country, unless their parents refuse?

The database is looked after by a quango called Contact Point and information is collected through a questionnaire called Common Assessment Framework. The cost to thetaxpayers is £224M. Some of the questions asked are very intrusive indeed e.g. secret fears and feelings, sexual behaviour, any serious problems in parents relationships. This is a step too far towards an authoritarian state.

The incoming Conservative Government has thankfully pledged that they will scrap it.

I have consistently opposed this because the Government, nor any other Government agency has any business knowing personal information about my children and certainly it is an infringement of civil liberties.

I would be interested to learn where you stand on this?

Anonymous said...

Alan McNab (Libdem) writes
"The incoming Conservative Government"
Not a chance. get yourself to the bookies and put your money on another Labour victory...easy money.
Cameron is finished, he is now resorting to playing party politics with the Speaker of the house, he has no idea how to manage the credit crunch and his upper class toff demenour is getting worse.
Gordon Brown is proving to be a good, solid pair of hands.
Make yourself a few quid and get on Labour now. You were told!!

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes....

I thought that would provoke a reaction.

Darlington Councillor said...

Hi Alan.

To be honest, I wasn't entirely convinced the post at 7:49 was actually from you. The angels in Heaven are, however, rejoicing at the sinner who hath repenteth (lol).

Unfotunately, blogger doesn't offer anything fancy like a Q&A feature. You raise an interesting point about the database, however, and I'd comment as follows;

At the moment, whilst some information is held centrally regarding children, it is for each authority where there is a Children's Department (usually a County, Metropolitan or Unitary Authority, like Darlington) to keep its own information.

This is absolutely fine, but it can lead to complications when children cross LA areas. There are arrangements in place to cover these moves - for example from one school to another - but sometimes children fall through the net. There is obviously a real danger of this when adults want for whatever reason to mislead the authorities.

Having a central repository of information means that assessments shouldn't be replicated, for example, and it should also cut down on waiting times for fresh services.

Importantly, from a safeguarding perspective, it will help keep track of adults who are violent either to children or to other partners.

There is of course a pay-off, with some campaigners claiming the database will be intrusive. From a Police and social work perspective, keeping track of children about whom adults have expressed concerns, or adults who can pose a risk to children, is invaluable.

There are important questions to be asked about who has access to the system, and fundamentally (in light of problems with other big IT projects) about its security and reliability. I don't minimise these issues.

At the end of the day, however, we as a society need to decide whether we are happy for this information to be kept piecemeal across the country, or whether we want it to be shared readily by professionals.

At the moment, people who mean children harm can to some extent rely on the liaison problems between local authorities to slip through the net. In the 21st century, with the technology we have available to us, I don't believe that this is an acceptable state of affairs.

Darlington Councillor said...

And perfectly timed to underline Alan's thinking: -

Poll in the Times has the Tories' lead over Labour down to 4 points, with Brown & Darling favoured over Cameron & Osbourne by 40% over 31%.

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes...

Thanks Nick. The Children's database is a very contentious issue. Yes by all means keep track of children 'at risk' or those in school who need extra support and provide that maximum support in a co-ordinated way through different agencies, but is there a need to include all children in a huge database? I think the answer has to be no.

I am impressed with your biblical reference.

Perhaps I was getting into the pre Chrstimas spirit over the election result. No offence intended, but did point to the Tories gaining a majority. They have changed again this morning which is interesting.

Anonymous said...

Alan Macnab writes....

The last sentence doesn't make sense and it should read:

"Perhaps I was getting into the pre Chrstimas spirit. No offence intended, but the polls a few days ago pointed to a Tory win. The polls have changed again this morning which is interesting."