I spent yesterday afternoon at Canary Wharf at Progress' Labour 2.0 conference. I took part in a panel discussion on whether Labour could dominate the internet while still in office (my answer being 'no'). Also on the panel were Prospect magazine's James Crabtree (thank you James, btw, for the very generous remarks about ConHome) and LabourList's Derek Draper.
Derek Draper has had a lot of cyber sh*t poured all over him - to use his expression - over recent weeks and a good part of it has been deserved. His suggestion that Iain Dale is in any way racist is nonsense to all who know Iain. Iain doesn't have a bone of prejudice in his body. DD has also got into unnecessary scrapes with others - not least his attack on MessageSpace which rightly angered LibDem-inclined Mike Smithson. I do wonder, however, if all the attention that the right-wing blogosphere has been giving LabourList and its creator is counterproductive.
PR Week has already noted various leftist new mediacrats who have rallied to Derek Draper's side. The clear impression I received from yesterday's Labour 2.0 conference was that the right-wing's hostility to him was encouraging many left-wingers to embrace him. Right-wing blogs could hardly have given him more links and publicity. And - you know what - despite some teething problems, LabourList isn't all that bad. It is beginning to include a diverse mix of articles. If DD can cut out the student politics he might turn LabourList into something significant.
Despite the title of my panel session the real opportunity for the left-wing blogosphere will be after the General Election when Labour is very, very likely to be in opposition. To an enormous extent the debate about Labour's future will take place online. The lazy Westminster media won't have to travel to cold church halls and faraway working men's clubs to take the temperature of Labour's grassroots. It'll all happen in the blogosphere. LabourList and John Prescott's GoFourth will then be significant powers in the Labour movement. My guess is that that will be when things will get very interesting (and potentially most useful for the Conservatives). The Democrats' netroots were unhelpful to their party until the Obama effect overwhelmed everything. The Dems' fractious online army attempted to pull the party to the unelectable margins of political debate. Labour will struggle to resist the same forces in opposition. Years of frustrations will boil over. It'll be interesting to watch Derek Draper attempt to keep New Labour's values alive in that cauldron.
PS Interesting that Labour held a conference (and a good one at that, with one of Obama's web gurus) on internet strategies yesterday. The Tory edge in all things www won't be maintained if we are complacent. Thinking caps on please!