Ian Burrell: Readers have an appetite for politics that hasn't been satisfied – until now
Viewpoint: The political bloggers that have emerged have managed to find only a niche audience
The blogger Guido Fawkes will like this no more than the director-general of the BBC, Mark Thompson – but the media in all its many modern guises is still failing miserably to engage the public in politics.
And it's not true that people find the whole thing a bore. New research shows that three-quarters of us claim to be interested in party politics, the workings of Westminster and the decisions that affect local education and health policies.
Yet as the British media has evolved, rushing to personality-based stories, the lobby journalists, bloggers, television producers and political editors have struggled to turn the drama of Parliament into a narrative that the public outside the Westminster village finds compelling.
This sad state of affairs is sharply revealed in a study of the political media conducted by Britain Thinks, which this month conducted a poll on the public's political media habits. It showed that only one person in 20 has bothered to follow an MP on Twitter in the past two months. This in spite of the apparent excitement created by Diane Abbott's recent racist tweet gaffe, Ed Miliband's clumsy Twitter tribute to Bob Holness, and Energy Secretary Chris Huhne accidentally tweeting private messages. Not to mention the prolific use of the platform by key parliamentarians in the phone-hacking saga, such as Tom Watson and Chris Bryant.
The Democracy Live feature on the BBC website is invaluable for those wanting to keep abreast of events at the Leveson inquiry but 86 per cent of those questioned by the pollsters had never even visited the site. Indeed, most people (54 per cent of those questioned) have never looked at the politics page of the BBC website.
For all the talk of how the internet has mobilised the public to political causes around the world, the array of political bloggers that has emerged in the United Kingdom has managed to find only a niche audience. The feisty Guido has attracted notoriety in Westminster circles for his right-wing website, but it was unknown territory for 90 per cent of the public and only one in 50 of those polled admitted to having visited the site more than twice in the past two months. The specialist Politics Home and Politics UK sites managed only a similar level of impact while left-leaning bloggers on Labour List and Left Foot Forward were a regular destination for only 1 per cent of respondents.
Of course newspapers have greatly expanded their footprints as they have moved online and the Daily Mail site now has a monthly audience of 80 million. But only 16 per cent of the 2,048 respondents to the Britain Thinks poll said they had visited broadsheet newspaper sites (The Independent, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times) more than twice in two months.
The research was commissioned by an organisation called Wilkes, which is pleased with the findings because it believes they demonstrate a vacuum into which it can launch a new form of online political journalism next year.
Named after the radical journalist and MP John Wilkes, who was arrested for sedition in 1763, the site is intended to be politically impartial and will be staffed by experienced journalists and the young bloods currently emerging from media studies courses only to find a dearth of employment options.
Wilkes is being set up by Jonathan Heawood, director of the free expression organisation English Pen, with the support of political journalist Martin Bright, the head of the job creation charity New Deal of the Mind. "There's a big potential audience who care about the issues [but] the current media is not serving their need," says Heawood.
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