Thursday, 17 July 2008

Previous Welsh bloggers who lost their jobs: This is a new ballgame

The following is a round-up by Matt Wardman on former Welsh bloggers and the state of the Welsh blogosphere:

There’s been a bit of discussion about Welsh Political Bloggers who have previously been sacked, mentioning “four cases”, following on from the current conversation about the author of the Christopher Glamorganshire blog.

I’m only aware of three, and among those the Christopher Glamorganshire case is unique because it involves a Civil Servant employed under the Civil Service code.

The other two are Dave Collins and Marcus Warner, both researchers employed by Labour AMs. I think that both of these basically came down to the positions of the individuals being untenable due to their boss’s political embarrassment.

But we are now in a position where there is an opportunity for the “rules” for Civil Service Bloggers in Wales to be made clear, following on from recent clarification spearheaded by Tom Watson.

I think it is quite important to get that clarification in place in case more of the political blogosphere in Wales dissolves into the ether.

Dave Collins
Dave Collins worked for Vale of Clwyd AM Ann Jones as a researcher. He commented on the Keir Hardly blog (Source: Wales Online):

Personally I share the view of [early 19th Century politician] Daniel O’Connell when he said, ‘I can witness without a sigh the decline of the Irish language’. One aspect that doesn’t seem to have received much attention so far is consideration of the language as a class issue. To what extent does the requirement to teach Welsh at all key stages and the right to access all public service provision through the medium of Welsh assist or hinder the prospects of the under-privileged?
He added, “Moreover it isn’t an issue simply in terms of all the time that is wasted on it. Compulsory Welsh may also diminish young pupils’ enthusiasm for education and their confidence in their ability to master a subject. You cannot successfully teach a practically brain-dead language to young children whose families don’t want it revived or couldn’t care less about it.”

The thing that did for him was “practically brain-dead language”. Taking my life in my hands and commenting on a Welsh political question from England, if there is one hornets nest in Welsh Politics not to douse in petrol and set on fire, this is probably it.

Ann Jones maintained a stony silence in public ("Ms Jones refused to comment"), the bilingual lobby went into overdrive, Dave Collins resigned soon after, and the other parties made hay while the sun was shining.

This was September 2007.

Marcus Warner
Marcus Warner worked for Islwyn AM Irene James - also as a researcher. He lost his job in late September/early October 2007. He ran the Renewed Labour blog where Dave Collins posted the offending “brain-dead” comment.

Marcus also ran the Clear Red Water and Keir Hardly blogs (Ordovicius: “serial blog vanisher”), and more recently the Southpaw Grammar blog (with - in my opinion - a far better style). Marcus has now retired from that as well to run a record label cum PR company. I like the background image from the website (right); curved windows are cool.

I have some sympathy with Marcus - while, shall we say, not supporting the use of quite so many blogs in quite such a period - since I think losing a position because of an action of a third party feels harsh. On the other hand, we all know that in politics decisions get made and jobs get lost because of external events - as many can testify even at Cabinet level.

Hat-tip to Miserable Old Fart for most of the information for the above potted account.

The Glamorganshire case is a different ballgame

Now to get on to the point of the post, and my reason for reprising history (and my apologies if I have embarrassed anyone).

Christopher Glamorgan was the only one who was employed by the Welsh Assembly government who was therefore subject to the Civil Service Code (Wales Version).
Essentially, Dave Collins and Marcus Warner lost their jobs because they became an embarrassment their political bosses. And that - to me - is simply an occupational hazard for research and administration staff working for politicians.

But we are now in a position where there is an opportunity for the “rules” for Civil Service Bloggers in Wales to be made clear, following on from recent clarification spearheaded by Tom Watson .

In the last week we have also lost Normal Mouth, who has closed down partly due to speculation about his identity despite not being a Civil Servant:

I am not in breach of any guidelines relating to my employment, nor am I a civil servant. In fact, I have explicitly gained written approval from my employer to maintain both this blog and my Golwg column. What is clear, however, is that it is no longer tenable for me to continue to blog without the question of who I am persistently clouding what I say. I take that to be very largely my fault, for not setting out arguments that people feel are worth responding to on their merits alone.
I think that most people would agree that blogs have made a strong contribution to political debate in Wales - expecially due to the smaller overall population making the maintenance of a national media more “challenging” (!). The old Video Blogging slogan from 2005 “We Are The Media” has meaning here.

Wrapping Up
Even if we have 3 not 4 people who have left their jobs after blogging, among a Welsh Political Blogging community (illustrated on the right) of perhaps not much more than 100, that is one hell of an attrition rate for a short period. The Total Politics directory currently has 60 blogs listed under “Wales”, but that is quite a significant underestimate in my view.

Perhaps ironically, if I was looking for a person to employ as a researcher, I would deliberately consider people who had left jobs as a result of blogging for exactly that reason - it is probably an excellent way of developing good political antennae. If it had happened three or more times I might change that judgement, however.

For the same reason Contractors who have been thrown off site a couple of times for upsetting employees - regardless of who’s fault it is the contractor usually loses any argument due to the dynamics and loyalties in the situation - develop good interpersonal skills very quickly (or leave the industry).

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