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The politician and his weblog

by Giles Turnbull -- 2003/04/10

Politicians are not known for being very interesting. Nor are they renowned for their ability to keep up-to-date with modern technology.

Which makes Tom Watson somewhat unlike your typical Member of Parliament. The Labour member for West Bromwich East appears to be the only Honourable Gentleman with a weblog, and therefore is something of a pioneer.

Not many MPs have interesting web sites, although there have been a few notable exceptions over the years. One of the best known is perhaps Ann Widdecombe's Widdy Web, in which the combative member for Maidstone manages to gently poke fun at herself and post some fun pictures of her cats.

Tom Watson, though, has taken the political web site one step further, and embraced the weblogging concept.

His site is quite unlike any Parliamentary site I've ever seen before. Updated every day with snippets of news, opinion and links to interesting things found on the web, it has the same appeal of many well-written weblogs with the added interest of its author's occupation.

I got in touch with Watson to ask him more about his decision to start up a weblog. I started by asking if he was, so far, the only weblogging MP.

He said: "I think I'm the only one. Ed Davey of the Liberal Democrats updates regularly but it is more local news than weblog-style musings. Oh and (American Presidential candidate) Gary Hart started one a couple of weeks ago.

"I started with a 'normal' website when I was elected last year. It was rarely updated and frankly dull to read. Then I visited a school in my constituency and found seven-year-olds designing web pages and writing PowerPoint presentations. The lights came on and I realised that the political world was about to spin on its axis.

"I started digging around weblogs. The second stab at the site was a kind of half weblog. I could update from my desk but couldn't provide searchable archives. Having trawled through about 1000 weblogs I sort of knew what I wanted - a proper weblog using proper weblogging software like Movable Type."

With help from another weblog owner whose site he admired (Tim Ireland, creator of Bloggerheads), Watson set about creating his new web site.

"Tim Ireland was running a one-man campaign to get the Prime Minister to make himself contactable by email. I tabled a motion in the House calling for all front benchers to be contactable by email. Anyway, we got talking and he took pity on me and helped sort out the site."

It is a huge political risk (Watson's spoof page for teenagers caught the eyes of the national newspapers last week) but Watson is determined to stick with it.

Watson admits: "I'll get some stick but I think eventually people will see that is fundamentally a more honest way of communicating with people who want to know what you think and do. Oh, and its also great fun and slightly addictive."

What's more, Watson is convinced that weblogging will catch on among his fellow MPs.

"If the software makes publishing your thoughts and ideas easier, it will certainly catch on. For me, there is the advantage of getting ideas and opinions in the public domain quickly, without the reliance on your good profession (journalists) to interpret/edit what I've said." [Fair point - GT]

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