I've followed a number of political bloggers and Twitter accounts for a little while now. I suppose I use Twitter in the way the prolific bloggers intend me to use it: I follow a couple of hundred people, many of whom blog several times a day. Too many blogs to subscribe to, but enough that I can have a steady stream of chirps emenating from my TweetDeck with some tempting straplines and a link to a blog post. So far, so good - and as a result, I can keep an eye on plenty of blogs that may be some way away from my own particular political views.
As a result, on my "Following" list on Twitter are both Paul Staines aka Guido Fawkes and Tim Ireland aka Bloggerheads (who tweet from @guidofawkes and @bloggerheads respectively). Guido is one of the most heavyweight of the Tory bloggers, and doesn't pull his punches, while Ireland is a militant left-winger whose anti-Daily Mail stance and general sense of morality appealed to me. Both provide insights and leaks that the mainstream media may take days to pick up on if at all.
But as of today, I won't be following either of them any longer. Neither of them would thank me for saying it, but they're like two peas in a pod: they suffer from rabid negativity and paranoia that is simply depressing to read.
Ireland feels the whole world is against him, and writes increasingly delusional rants against...well, quite a list of people actually. He appears to be involved in swathes of libel claims and counter-claims, threats and counter threats, and generally consumes himself in his own outrage. Were he to put his manic energy into something a little more constructive than obsessive diatribes against obscure "terrorism experts", Tory MP Nadine Dorries, and bloggers Guido and Iain Dale, then he might be quite influential in this election and not come across as merely a fruitloop. Both Dale and Dorries describe Ireland as a "stalker" - something which he denies, but the incessant flood of tweets every few minutes asking in outraged tones why Dorries hasn't answered his last question, and torrents of blog posts analysing Dale's activity to every last detail suggest that their claims are hardly wild flights of fancy. He is also paranoid in the extreme. I genuinely have no idea what Ireland's own political views are as his blog and Twitter are too crammed with wild accusations to actually have any positive content. While his abrasive stance is entertaining, and I applaud his mission to hold the muckier tabloids to account, the simple fact of the matter is that my Twitter feed has become dominated by one person who tweets dozens of times a day, and it's just become too much.
On the other hand, Guido Fawkes has the luxury of being considered a "mainstream" commentator. Unfortunately his commentary is restricted to a steady outpouring of anti-Gordon Brown vitriol and negativity which just becomes tedious very quickly. Auther Staines rarely gives convincing arguments why any reader should be more tempted to vote Tory than Labour; instead one is subjected to endless holier-than-thou tabloidesque snippets of drivel about dodgy Labour comms professionals and moaning about the economy. Yes, the economy is in a catastrophic mess. But I don't need Guido Fawkes to tell me that. The "summary" comments, in red type, are in the style of the Sun, whether intentionally or not. The only appealing aspect of the blog is the comments section, where hordes of Guido-ites trade juvenile anti-Gordon slurs with voracious appetites, only taking time out to nip over to Nick Robinson's blog on the BBC to accuse the Beeb of wholescale bias with amusing predictability. Insightful this blog is not, whatever its influence.
It may seem strange that following Tim Ireland led me to check out Iain Dale's diary - and even stranger that today would be the day I decided to follow Dale's Twitter. This morning he published a cartoon which quite simply and explicitly compares Gordon Brown to Hitler. The artist, Louis Sidolo, provides a typically hopeless (for an artist) piece of English masquerading as a statement, which rather vaguely justifies the comparison by the fact that both Brown and Hitler were once chancellors and "caused huge economic damage". Dale, spectacularly naive, claims that he is merely "reporting" the art without any approving opinion. Pull the other one, Iain; for an influential blog, crammed full of opinion, to simply publish a piece of art without any accompanying text except for the unabridged artist's statement, is as much of an endorsement as you can get. Personally I didn't find the cartoon offensive, I just didn't find it very amusing (whisper it, but I didn't actually recognise the PM).
In spite of that, Dale comes across as both intelligent and articulate, and appears to be "in the thick of things" where the breaking stories are concerned. My early impressions are that he has more than an ounce of humanity about him. So for now, I'll keep half an eye on his Twitter and see what happens.
As I wrote elsewhere, and as others have written in many places, social media could easily tip the balance of the upcoming election. There has been wave upon wave of brilliant satire at Clifford Singer's My David Cameron, both from Singer himself and many other contributors - which became viral and hit mainstream headlines. I've personally had some of my laughs of the year from that site. Finally, some Tory efforts appeared (slightly bizarrely copying a spoof of a Tory poster) at My Labour Poster. Some of the Labourites (and Singer himself) claimed that the Tory efforts lacked humour and were vicious personal attacks; looking at them objectively, I found them no worse and indeed some of them were very funny. Singer, meanwhile, has said that he won't continue the site any further as the satire has run its course and humour could turn to bitterness. This is a dignified decision and the correct one. The original spoofs of the ridiculous airbrushed pictures of Cameron were the best of all - the site has done its work, provided a great many laughs and made the Tory comms team look slightly foolish. Social media is providing British politics with a huge new injection of nastiness and negativity and the less we see of this, the better. So I'll take my chances with Dale, and watch out for Singer's next project with interest.