Here in the US, political blogging goes from strength to strength. Mainstream radio and tv news broadcasts frequently refer to and quote from blogs (without having to explain what they are) and at least one news show has a daily segment dedicated solely to what the blogs are saying.
Can the same be said for British blogging? It seems to me that UK bloggers are still far away from the 'tipping point' that their US counterparts achieved some time ago. Despite some high-profile successes, blogging still seems firmly in the margins compared to the situation stateside, and still a very long way from achieving the level of public recognition they have here. Why should this be?
Of course, there are many reasons, but I'd like to home in on one that has been bugging me for some time. I used to believe that it was because British bloggers had not learnt enough from their American cousins. Now I think it's more likely to be because we have learnt too much.
US political blogs are, crudely, divided into 'conservative' and 'liberal' camps. This translates well into the regular media, as this is how the mainstream news divides the political spectrum. So, in an item on the Senate, one might have John Smith, the conservative Democrat from New Mexico, and Jane Doe who is one of the more liberal Republicans from the North East. The language used by the blogs speaks immediately to Main Street USA, and so the mainstream media is more than happy to quote them, knowing that they will be immediately understood.
British bloggers (and I make no claims to virtue here myself) have for mysterious reasons chosen to ignore the political and historical realities of our own country and followed the American example. British blogs too sling brickbats between conservatives and liberals. The problem here is clear. The word 'conservative' may pass muster (just), since conservatives tend to be Conservatives and vice versa. But 'liberal' is altogether a different kettle of fish.
In Britain, the word 'liberal', in terms of political party, philosophy and everyday political shorthand, has a pedigree quite distinct from the one it has in the US. We British bloggers seem to have forgotten this.
It is nonsensical in a UK context to describe, say, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, or indeed any member of the Labour party as being a 'liberal'. The ordinary voter and most politicians use the word 'liberal', if at all, to describe Charles Kennedy and his crew. Not so the blogs, for whom the word 'liberal' has now fully assumed its American meaning. But if we do not use the English language in a way that reflects the reality of political life in our own country, it is perhaps not surprising that we are less successful at finding a resonance. For Americans, 'liberal' is an everyday term in political debate that the whole population understands. In Britain, it is either short for the LibDems, or a rather specialised term of art. To those not intimately involved in political debate, the way it is used by many British bloggers is at best ambiguous and at worst downright misleading.
In this fundamental way, therefore, British blogging vocabulary simply does not translate into the language of mainstream British media and normal British political life. We may well be understood by our colleagues in the States. But, by forgetting our own specific party-political heritage, we run the risk of being permanently marginalised from the non-blogging population of the country about which we are writing and we may well end up talking only to ourselves.