Thursday, 4 September 2008

State of the Northern Irish blogosphere

O’Neill has drawn attention to a new blog, written from a unionist perspective, entitled The Dark Eleventh Hour. I must confess that I’m a little unsure as to what the author, ‘Union First’, means by his mission statement, carried at the right hand side of the blog. Presumably over weeks and months, he (I’m judging by his choice of photo to illustrate a story about a cannabis seizure) will outline in more detail what the broad terms of this manifesto entail. He is clearly opposed to ‘poor and weak governance’ delivered by the current arrangements at Stormont, however, choosing Germany in 1933 as an archetype of people ‘throwing off the shackles’ of such government is an unfortunate analogy, to put it mildly.

Nevertheless, assuming that the intention is not to endorse Hitler’s rise to prominence, it is good to see another unionist voice arriving in the blogosphere. There is a good spread of Northern Irish unionist blogs in particular developing and the strength of unionist blogging has been reflected in Iain Dale’s list of UK political blogs. On Redemption’s Son, Ignited has put forward the notion that a Unionist Home site, drawing together material from the various unionist blogs is now the way forward. This is certainly an idea to be considered. As yet, I suspect, mainly Northern Irish blogs would define themselves primarily as unionist, but there are exceptions, for example the excellent site Scottish Unionist. From my perspective, to make any Unionist Home viable, it would need to assemble material from unionists across the United Kingdom.

To examine Northern Ireland specifically, 5 of Dale’s Top 10 Northern Irish blogs are unionist. In contrast three are nationalist, with only one written from a republican perspective. The Top 100 list for the whole of the UK contains no representatives from nationalism, whilst three specifically unionist blogs join Slugger in the list. Three Thousand Versts was voted 70th, Unionist Lite is only a few places behind, at 74th and Redemption’s Son comes 86th. Last year, to my knowledge, no unionist blog found itself in the top 100 and this blog weighed in at 224.

Slugger O’Toole is Northern Ireland’s biggest blog by any standards. It is the only site which seriously aspires to complete coverage of Northern Ireland’s politics and attempts to reflect views from across the political spectrum. Slugger’s contributors offer a diversity of opinion, but the comment zones are disproportionately dominated by republicans. Yet Balrog is the only republican blog within the Northern Irish top 10 and its content is an appalling brand of tub thumping sectarianism and abuse. There are, from the evidence of Slugger’s comment zones, articulate republicans who wish to give their views on the internet, but they are certainly not starting blogs. In contrast there are a number of good moderate nationalist blogs, ranging from El Blogador to The Belfast Stoop.

Similarly, there are no blogs, to my knowledge, which are written from a predominantly DUP perspective. The bulk of unionist blogs which have achieved some recognition are written either from a liberal unionist, if not explicitly Ulster Unionist, outlook or from a dissenting, hard-line viewpoint. Only Fair Deal, on Slugger O’Toole and Our Kingdom, consistently writes blogs sympathetic to the DUP, but these are not carried on a standalone platform.

Given that the DUP and Sinn Féin are Northern Ireland’s two biggest political parties, the lack of blogging in their favour is a little puzzling. Possibly it is because both parties operate in a centralist, authoritarian fashion and do not encourage members to interpret their message individually. Alternatively it may be that although they garner support, their messages are simply not compelling ones to propagate.

Update: Total Politics has available a PDF of the Guide to Political Blogging, which includes a State of the Irish Blogosphere piece by Mick Fealty. It's a negative article which simultaneously seems to refute the view that journalists setting the blogging pace is a positive thing, whilst also according far too much reverence to their blogs (Stephen Dempster's blog! Please!). If blogging is a bottom up activity, what's wrong with a diversity of blogs, none of which are full-time? Mick would do better to stop looking at who writes the various blogs and start reading what is on them. And while he's at it, perhaps a look on his own doorstep, where an ex journalist is overrunning Slugger with quantity rather than quality, might be instructive.

8 comments:

Aidan said...

Timely post. I was thinking exactly the same thing recently. It would be really nice to have moderate nationalist blogs articulating views in the same way as you and Unionist Lite in particular do. I like reading your material but since we diagree on the constitutional question it is inevitable that I will always disagree with a lot of it.
One thing that you continually emphasize is the need for unionism to sell itself. One would think that nationalism also has to justify itself and where better a place to do it than the blogosphere.

Chekov said...

There is a disparity, although as I say El Blogador, Belfast Stoop and O'Connall Street are worth a read. It seems on both sides of the constitutional coin, there's more moderation represented than in the actual political sphere, which I find interesting.

fair_deal said...

ignited/chekov et al

Please contact me by email on the topic of Unionisthome.

Beano, Magyar and I had some disucssion of this about 18 months back and the issue was progressed some.

fair_deal2005@yahoo.co.uk

(it'll be a few days before i get back - up to my oxters)

beano said...

I'm curious about it as a concept as well.

I see 2 potential routes (I touched on over at Redemption's Son):

A site that syndicates blogs such as 3000 versts, Unionist Lite, RS, EU, etc. (a bit like BritishBlogs.co.uk or NorthernIrishBlogs.com)

Or a single blog where various unionist bloggers can post (a bit more like Sluger for unionists).

O'Neill said...

From my perspective, to make any Unionist Home viable, it would need to assemble material from unionists across the United Kingdom.

On my links list there are 22 blogs from all four parts of the UK that would take the Unionist line. The difference however with sites like Croydonian or Glynn Davies and the NI blogs (and Scottish Unionist) is that their Unionism is not their main reason for blogging. There are undoubtedly others out there, it's just that it takes time finding them...eg setting up The Friends of the Union Top 10 that I've done a couple of times is a 2 or 3 hour job.

Peter Munce said...

'Unionist Home' would be a good idea but getting agreement on the mechanics would be hard but not insurmountable.

Ignited said...

I just think there is a lot of potential and a PR win for unionism in such a venture.

I would leans towards option 2 beano as opposed to a directory but saying that it would also promote personal blogs.

Chekov said...

I think the difficulty with option 2 is that you're probably going to need someone editing and then a line will begin to develop which necessarily will be more pro UUP or pro DUP. With ConservativeHome and LabourHome obviously one party message is put across and that is less problematic. That's why I'd be keen to see the pan-UK element coming through. Perhaps no. 1 lends itself better to this type of looser arrangement. A 'friends of the union' type gathering point for pro-Union articles. Another model is the Witanagemot Club (although obviously with a very different message).