Categories
tech

MPs’ Web Sites

When I set up Planet Westminster in 2006 I thought it would be a relatively simple project to maintain. Over the years, more and more MPs would start blogs. Every couple of months I’d add the new ones and everything would be great.

It hasn’t worked out like that at all. MPs’ web sites have proved to be really difficult to keep track of.

The problem is, of course, that the vast majority of MPs have absolutely no idea how web sites, blogs or web feeds work. That’s to be expected. What’s less expected is that many of them seem to get round that problem by delegating the work to people who also have no idea how web sites, blogs or web feeds work.

I’ve just done a clean-up of the feeds I’m currently monitoring. Here are some of the problems I’ve dealt with.

A few MPs (including Douglas Carswell and Caroline Lucas) changed the address of their web feed. Just changed it. No notification as fas as I can see. No attempt to redirect the old address to the new one. Just an old address returning a 404 error. Anyone who was subscribed to the old address would have just stopped getting updates. It’s almost like they don’t want people to follow what they have to say.

Ed Miliband’s web site has just ceased to exist. It now redirects you to the main Labour Party web site. Because the leader of the party obviously has no constituency responsibilities. Or something like that.

John McDonnell seems very confused. In 2007 he had a web site at john4leader.org.uk. In 2010, he was at john-­mcdonnell.­net. Both of these sites are now dead and he’s at john-mcdonnell.net. It’s like no-one has told him that you can reuse web site addresses. I wonder what he’ll do once he’s run out of variations of his name on different top-level domains.

Eric Joyce has just lost control of his domain. His ericjoyce.co.uk address currently goes to an unfinished web site campaigning for “John Smith for State Senator”. It doesn’t look as though Joyce realises this as he’s still promoting the web site on his Twitter profile.

Then there’s Rory Stewart. His web feed was returning data that my RSS parser couldn’t parse. Taking a closer look, it turned out that it was an HTML page rather than RSS or Atom. And it was an HTML page that advertised an online Canadian pharmacy pushing Cialis. Not really what an MP should be promoting.

Stuff like this happens all the time. MPs need to take more notice of this. And they need help from people who know what they are talking about. My theory (and it’s one that I’ve written about before) is that MPs’ web sites and blogs are often overcomplicated because they are developed by companies who come from a corporate IT background and who dismiss the possibility of using something free like WordPress and over-engineer something using tools that they are comfortable with. It can’t be a coincidence that many of the worst MP web sites I’ve seen serve pages with a .aspx extension (sorry – only geeks will understand that).

I’m going to repeat an offer I’ve made before. If any MP wants a blog set up for them,then I’m happy to help them or to put them in touch with someone who can help them. It needn’t be expensive. It needn’t be complex. But it can be very effective. And it will work.

Update: Eric Joyce replied to me on Twitter. He said:

Thanks. It’s being worked on and they seem to have pointed it at an obvious specimen page.

Categories
politics

MPs on Twitter

Did you ever make a chance remark that plants a seed of an idea which then grabs hold of you and refuses to let you go until you’ve done something about it?

That happened to me on Sunday. I was cleaning up some broken feeds on Planet Westminster when I tweeted:

Cleaning up some broken feeds on Planet Westminster (http://bit.ly/47fCK) Interesting how many MPs’ blogs have vanished since the election.

And a couple of minutes later I added:

Someone should monitor the numbers of MPs actively blogging and tweeting over time. Maybe that should be me.

And that was it. I realised that I’d get no rest until I’d started work on the project.

Yesterday I published a graph of the number of MPs on Twitter over time. It’s only the first step. I want to start tracking how active they are and how well they interact with other Twitter users. Expect more graphs to appear on that page over the coming weeks.

I have to thank the nice people over at TweetMinster. They are doing all the hard work of actually tracking the MPs on Twitter. All I’m doing is processing their list.

A few caveats. Currently the graph is generated manually, so it won’t be kept up to date automatically. Also it just works from the date that people on the list joined Twitter. It doesn’t handle people leaving Twitter – they’ll just come off the list and all of their data will vanish from the graph. So it doesn’t track, things like Nadine Dorries’ two (or is it three) flirtations with Twitter.

You should also note that I also don’t handle people joining Twitter before they become an MP. For example, the first MP to join Twitter was Julian Huppert on 2nd May 2007. But he didn’t become an MP until three years later.

So take it all with a pince of salt, But I think it’s an interesting start. Let me know what you think. And feel free to suggest other useful graphs that I could create.

And, yes, I’ll get round to doing blogs too at some point.

Categories
tech

Not A Broadcast Medium

How do you use Twitter? Do you see it as a tool for interacting with people, or do you simply use it as a broadcast medium? Is it a place for dialogue or monologue?

I started thinking about this over the weekend whilst thinking about Nadine Dorries, the MP for Middle England. Back in May, Dorries had a very strong opinion on Twitter. She wrote:

In discussion over lunch today the conclusion was reached that twitters use twittering, by and large, to moan and complain. It’s a virtual gnashing of the teeth, or beating of the chest. A cyberspace ‘well I never’.

And:

Twittering has to be a symptom of a dysfunctional society.

Before reaching the conclusion:

Anyway, safe to say, I shan’t be joining the legions of twitters any day soon.

It was therefore surprising, to say the least, to see @NadineDorriesMP appear on Twitter late last week. She did, however, acknowledge her change of heart:

I did attack Twitter initially and for that I do eat humble pie, however, you will never know when the milk in my fridge is out of date or I’ve run out of tea bags, of that you can be sure.:)

Whether she’ll be true to her word this time, only time will tell. But it’s interesting to watch how she uses Twitter. Out of almost thirty tweets, only two of them have been replies to people. A few more mention other Twitter users. But the vast majority of her tweets are just a broadcast message and there’s no evidence of her actually engaging in discussion with anyone over her opinions. Twitter search shows that there are plenty of people trying to engage with her, but she has so far chosen to ignore them.

You can also look at the number of people who she follows on Twitter. As I write, that’s eleven. There are close three hundred people following her, but she’s only interested in reading what eleven twitterers have to say. That’s not a ratio which makes me think she’s interested in hearing other points of view or getting involved in conversations.

That’s when I realised that there are two different ways that people use Twitter. Most people (or, at least, most people I follow) see it as a powerful way to interact with people. Even people who have huge numbers of followers engage with at least some of their followers. Take, for example, three people who I follow who have huge followings – Tim O’Reilly, Stephen Fry and Neil Gaiman. If you look at their tweets, you’ll see that they’re full of replies and retweets. These are people who are using Twitter to build and deepen the relationships they have with their followers. You’ll also notice that they all follow large numbers of people. They all know that the more people tweets that you read, the more interesting stuff you’ll find and the more useful Twitter will become to you.

On the other hand, there are the people who see Twitter as just a broadcast medium. People who just speak and don’t listen. People who only like the sound of their own voice – or, at least, don’t mind giving that impression. These people (and Dorries is only the most recent example I’ve found – I won’t embarrass any others by naming them) seem to only be using Twitter because it’s the newest platform for getting their message out there. They seem to have no interest in talking about their ideas. They aren’t interested in what we have to say in reply. That may not be a true representation of how they feel, but by not talking to people on Twitter that’s the impression they are giving.

It’s something that can be measured. I think there are three ways that you can measure someone’s “socialability” on Twitter.

  • The ratio of the number of people they follow to the number of people who follow them
  • The percentage of their tweets that contain references to other twitterers
  • The percentage of their tweets that are retweets

Twitter makes it easy to get this data for all accounts. I think it would be an interesting project to rank Twitter users by how socialable they are. But like all good ideas, I’m sure that someone else has beaten me to it. I’ve done a quick bit of Googling, but I can’t find anything obvious, so if anyone knows of a site that produces these stats, please let me know in the comments.

And to Nadine Dorries (if she ever reads this), please interact more.

Categories
politics

Unsaying Things on the Internet

I think that one of the reasons that a certain type of politician is wary of the internet is that once you’ve said something on the internet, it becomes very hard to unsay it. If you’re used to dealing with the world of newpapers and broadcast media where everything is ephemeral then it must be quite a culture shock to deal with a medium where everything is archived and people can carefully compare what you said last week with what you are saying today. Of course, if something is published on your own web site you’d think that it was easy enough to alter what you wrote and claim that we’ve always been at war with Eurasia. But it’s not that simple.

Here’s a good case in point. Last week Nadine Dorries wrote a piece on her blog entitled “All’s Fair in War and Politics”, where she questioned the credentials of one of her opponents. It was an astonishing piece and not something that a careful politician would ever write. Here’s what she said:

My Labour opponent had a very strong letter in the Beds On Sunday this week.

In the letter he deployed his usual tactic of distorting the facts, something I’m becoming used to these days; however, he also said:

“I fought for as a soldier in Iraq in 2003”.

Anyone who reads my blog will know how pro-military I am.

I stand in awe and admiration of our soldiers, their professionalism and bravery.

Only last week, I wrote of how moved I was when I heard a Scots Dragoon Guard use his moment on TV to talk about the moment a soldier receives his pre-assignment message: ‘ contact with the enemy is certain’ – and what it is that fires that soldier on, one of our heroes, into battle.

So, you can imagine, when I read the words “I fought as a soldier in Iraq” I was quite impressed. Gosh, thought I, good job I’m the MP or I may be tempted to vote for him myself.

Only, did he fight in Iraq? Did he go out into the danger zones along with the a regiment on Op Telic 8, and risk his life and limb side by side with our soldiers, for the sake of freedom and democracy? The values for which he claims to have “fought in Iraq” .

I will be interested to find out the answer.

Claiming to be a hero when you write a political letter as the Labour candidate in a newspaper is a very big claim indeed. One that secures advantage and wins you votes.

Let’s hope it’s true.

I got that from Google’s cache of the site because it’s no longer on her web site. It seems that someone has had a quiet word in her ear and the piece has been somewhat toned down. Here’s what it currently says (I’m not just linking to it in case it changes again in the future):

The local press are picking this up now, I will leave it up to them.

Anyone who reads this blog will understand that I have the hugest regard for all serving military personnel, TA, Army, Navy and Air Force and consider myself very lucky indeed to have two bases in my constituency. RAF Henlow, Chicksands and a TA training base.

I talk to many soldiers, regular and TA before they leave to serve, and as detailed in my blog, ‘A Soldiers Tale’, when they arrive home. I know and understand well exactly the danger and the operations they engage in.

However, the one thing I have learnt over the last few weeks is that in the battlefield of politics, one needs to be absolutely honest AND precise. Nothing less will do.

Which is, I hope you’ll agree, completely different to the original piece. It’s so watered down that the original point has been completely lost (it’s like homeopathic blogging!)

I’m not sure what Dorries intended by editing this post. Or, more importantly, editing this post without saying what she had done. A more responsible blogger would have struck through the original text and left a note saying why it had been done. Or, if the text needed to be removed for legal reasons, replaced it with a note explaining what had happened.

Editing text without any explanation really looks like that you’re intending to fool people into thinking that the current version is what you had always believed. And that’s dishonest. And we don’t expect dishonesty from our MPs[1]. Luckily the internet has a longer memory than that.

We have always been at war with Oceania.

[1] Well, ok, yes. Of course we do expect dishonesty from our MPs. But we shouldn’t.

Categories
politics

A Missing Blog

Looks like Nadine Dorries might have gone too far this time.

She’s been on extremely dodgy ground for the last week, since the Daily Telegraph’s investigation into MPs’ expenses started looking at her. Over the last week she’s been posting an increasing bizarre stream of consciousness on her blog. She tried to explain what was going on with here expenses but only succeeded in raising more questions than she answered.

Over the last couple of days, she excelled herself with three astonishing claims.

  • MPs are really worried that this investigation will lead to suicides in their ranks.
  • MPs were told to see the Additional Costs Allowance as part of their salary and were encouraged to spend as much of it as possible.
  • The Telegraph’s investigation into expenses is a plot by the Barclay brothers (who own the paper) in order to destabilise the main parties and boost UKIP’s chances at the forthcoming European Elections.

Yesterday she did a round of media appearances where she repeated all of these claims and compared the Telegraph’s investigation to a McCarthyite witch-hunt. This was too much for David Cameron, who publicly rebuked her – she denied this on her blog but it got plenty of press coverage.

You’ll notice that I haven’t backed any of this up with links to her blog. That’s because it doesn’t seem to be around at the moment. It seems that The Telegraph objected to her article and sent in the lawyers. That’s a shame, especially given that she was doing such a good job of digging her own political grave.

Categories
tech

Overcomplicating Matters

It is, of course, a truism that the larger and more complex a project is, the less likely it is to come in on budget, on spec or in time. When the project in question involves IT, the chances of any of the original targets being met approach zero.

This is why one of the tenets of the Agile Programming movement is “the simplest thing that can possibly work”. When faced with a problem, solve only the current problem. Don’t waste time complicating matters by adding extra features (“you ain’t gonna need it” is another of their slogans).

Writing a blog engine is a pretty simple project. A reasonable programmer could produce a pretty good first attempt in a weekend given the right tools. But ask any of the worlds most talented programmers for a blog engine and the chances are that they won’t spend the next two days writing one. Because that’s not the simplest solution.

The world already has more blog engines than it really needs. And many of the existing tools are quite capable of handling just about any requirement that you might have. Unless you have very specific requirements there is just no need to write your own.

Hold that thought.

Five or six years ago, blogs started to become popular. Tim Ireland wrote this article. What Tim realised was that the blog format was a great tool that politicians could use to communicate with the electorate. By their very nature blogs encourage two-way communication. The blogger posts information that they want people to be aware of and people can add their comments. Also, the web feeds that are an essential feature of blogging engines make it easy to disseminate and aggregate this information.

Later on, Tim launched the Political Weblog Project, where he offered to set up blogs for any politician who wanted one. What Tim and his team would have done was to set up blogs using the existing free tools like Blogger and Movable Type. They also wanted to offer advice on the most effective way to use blogs. As I understand it, only two MPs (Tom Watson and Boris Johnson) took Tim up on his offer.

Time passes. At some point in the last couple of years the popularity and usefulness of blogs finally started to seep into Westminster. MPs started to want blogs. A small number of MPs did “the simplest thing that could possibly work” and got a blog on Blogger or WordPress. Many others didn’t do that. And that’s where things start going wrong.

I have an interest in blogging MPs. I run a site called Planet Westminster which attempts to aggregate all of the blog postings from Westminster MPs. At the last count there were about 40 MPs blogging. I say “about” as it’s hard to keep track. Some MPs have a burst of enthusiasm for a few weeks and then give up. It’s hard to be sure when their blogs are dead so I can remove them from the list.

But the biggest problem I have is that most MPs blogs are crap. And I don’t mean that what they write in them is crap (though that’s certainly true for many of them). I mean that they are crap from a technical perspective. When faced with the desire to set up a blog, it seems that most MPs had no idea where to start. And that for some reason many of them ended up with horrible proprietary systems that bolted on to their existing web site. These systems were often written by people who really didn’t seem to understand the simplest things about how blogs or the web worked[1]. One good example is Nadine Dorries blog. A basic requirement for a blog is that each entry has an address (a “permalink”) which refers to that entry uniquely and permanently. Dorries’ blog has some weird date-based system which gets horribly confused if she blogs more than once a day.

Planet Westminster is a feed aggregator. So most of the contact that I have with MPs’ blogs is through the web feeds that they produce. Web feeds seem simple enough to produce, but the various formats are picky enough that it’s a hard job to get exactly right. That’s another reason for using the existing tools. They get it right far more than some home-brewed system will. My local MP is Martin Linton and it was a problem with his web feed that galvanised me into writing this article. I’ve been tracking Linton’s web feed for several years. It often vanished without warning and, on further investigation I find that it has changed address (there are methods for handling that without losing existing subscribers – but that’s another area where MPs’ IT knowledge seems to be lacking).

Earlier today I realised that I had seen nothing from Linton’s feed for some weeks. Checking his site I saw that the feed has moved again. The new address is:

http://martinlinton.org.uk/?FeedId=VSYFBABEXQ9OE01VSVkQCVJNHXIGD1MNVA9XRR1XSUFDCAYc

Now, I know I can be a picky about wanting nice-looking URLs. But, honestly, how much faith can you put in a system that produces URLs like that? Unsurprisingly, the answer is “not very much”. Checking the feed with a feed validator revels a relatively small number of errors, but they are really serious ones. In particular, having incomplete URLs in a web feed renders it almost completely useless. I should run all of the MPs’ feeds through the validator. Well, really, the people creating their feeds should. They might learn something useful.

So we have a situation where a small number of MPs are publishing blogs and most of the ones who are doing so are using seriously sub-standard tools. And this is where we come back to my original point. The simple blog systems that are already out there are perfectly adequete for what our MPs want to do. In most cases using the tools is free and it takes less than an hour to set up a blog that is more functional than the ones that most MPs currently have.

I know that most MPs run their office on a tiny staff. And that they probably don’t employ IT experts. But every week thousands of people set up blogs and they do it using the existing tools – because it is cheap and effective. Even people like Iain Dale who know nothing at all about blogging have been able to choose a decent blog platform. Why do our MPs feel that they need something more complex? Why do they waste time and money on systems that aren’t as good as the free solutions? It doesn’t need to be that complicated.

I believe that Tim Ireland’s points from 2003 are still valid. Blogs can be an important and useful tool for politicians. And in the run-up to next year’s General Election they will become more and more important. I predict we’ll see a large increase in the number of blogging MPs over the next year.

So I’m going to repeat Tim’s offer from 2005. If any MP wants a blog set up for them,then I’m happy to help them or to put them in touch with someone who can help them. It needn’t be expensive. It needn’t be complex. But it can be very effective. And it will work.

[1] A lesser writer might make the point that a large proportion of these broken system are written in ASP. But we’re way above such petty point-scoring here.

Categories
politics

Ministers Want To Conceal MPs’ Expenses

The government are seriously considering moves that will remove MPs’ expenses from the list of items that the public can demand to see under the Freedom of Information Act. I hope it’s obvious why that’s a terrible idea, but if you need convincing, please read Matt Wardman’s blog post on the subject. Writing on the MySociety blog, Tom Steinberg suggests ways that you can help to combat this move.

Update: Score one for democracy.

The government has shelved plans to hold a vote on controversial
proposals to restrict the amount of information published about MP
expenses.

Categories
politics

Missing MPs’ Blogs

A while ago, I set up Planet Westminster – a pretty simple site that simply aggregates all of the MPs’ blogs that I could find. It was largely created to scratch a personal itch. I wanted a simple way to subscribe to all MPs’ blogs in my feed reader. And that’s really how I use it most of the time. I just read it in Bloglines rarely bother to look at the site (which explains why I haven’t fixed the character-encoding problems that are obvious to anyone visiting the site).

But I had a look at it today. And I tweaked a couple of presentation problems. As part of the process, I ran the software which aggregates the feeds by hand a couple of times. And that showed me one interesting issue that I had previously missed. The program displays an error when it can’t find the feed that it’s looking for. It’s currently generating eleven “missing feed” errors. That’s out of thirty-six feeds that I currently monitor. Perhaps a couple of those could be put down to temporary network glitches, but that’s potentially over a quarter of the (small number of) blogging MPs who have either given up on blogging or have moved their feeds without putting redirection in place (that’s starting to become quite a regular topic round these parts).

At one point it looked like MPs might start blogging in reasonable numbers. We’d broken the 5% barrier. It would be a shame if they decided if it was a waste of their time and started to abandon it.

The errors I’m getting are as follows (with links to the missing web feeds) . If any of these are your MP, then perhaps you’d investigate what’s going on and report back. One of them is my MP, Martin Linton, so I’ll start by investigating him.

Update: Having looked into it a bit further, I see that many of the problems are down to people moving their web feeds without putting redirection in place. Obviously I don’t blame the MPs for this, but it indicates how little their “tech support” people know about how this stuff works.

A few of the blogs have closed down though. And it’s interesting to note that in a couple of places a blog feed has been replaced by a news feed.

I need to put aside some time to do some more research into this in order to ensure that the date I have is up to date. And this is exactly the kind of information that PoliticalWeb is supposed to provide.

Categories
politics

Nadine Dorries is Confused Again

You have to feel sorry for the electorate in Mid Bedfordshire. When they elected Nadine Dorries in 2005, I’m sure they couldn’t have know what a huge mistake they had made.

You might recall how she accused Ben Goldacre of publishing parliamentary secrets. When Goldacre pointed out that the facts he had published were in the public domain, she ignored him. When people tried to point out the errors on her web site (which she calls a blog even though it’s nothing like one) she responded by removing the ability to comment.

It’s therefore nice to be able to report that Ben has caught her out again. This time she is propagating a well-known urban legend which has been doing the rounds for almost ten years. The story goes like this. in 1999 Dr Joseph Bruner carried out an operation on a 21-week-old foetus. During the operation a photo was taken which shows the hand of the foetus apparently holding to the surgeon’s finger. Anti-abortion campaigners like to use this image to show that carrying out abortions at this age is wrong.

[Update: Previously I called the photo an “internet hoax”. I think that’s inaccurate. I’m not saying that the photo is faked. I’m just saying that it doesn’t show what the anti-abortionists say that it shows.]

There are (at least) two problems with this. Firstly, Dr Bruner is clear that the foetus was fully anaesthetised throughout the operation. There’s no way that the foetus could have moved in the way that some people claim. Secondly, even if the foetus did move in the way described, that is no measure of the long-term viability of the foetus.

Anyway, that’s a debate that I don’t really want to go into now. The point is that the photo has been around for years and that there has been enough debate on it to at least throw severe doubt on the interpretation that the anti-abortionists (and Dorries is a loud member of that group) like to place on it. It has just taken me ten minutes with Google to work that out. Surely it’s not too much to ask that our elected representatives put in a bit of effort to verify things they publish as fact.

Let’s also remember that Dorries is very keen to mention the fact that she used to work as a nurse. So you might think that she has the medical knowledge to realise that what she is posting as fact is (at the very least) rather suspect. I know that we can’t expect MPs to be experts on every subject that they have to deal with. But this is an area where Dorries claims some level of expertise.

I don’t know if anyone in Mid Beds reads this blog. But if anyone from the constituency comes across this entry and is considering voting for Dorries in the next general election then I urge you to reconsider. The constituents of Mid Beds deserve better than this.

Update: Dorries has responded to some of the criticism in post that is laughably called “the hand of truth”. I suppose we have to give her some credit for responding. Usually she just ignores her critics completely. But her response does absolutely nothing to either address the issues or enhance her reputation as a medical expert. Firstly, she asks why the surgeon would bother to anaesthetise a foetus – apparently forgetting that the mother and the foetus share the same blood, so it’s hard to anaesthetise the mother without effecting the child. Secondly, she seems to think that the foetus must have made the incision in the uterus wall that we see in the photo as it’s jagged and no surgeon would be so untidy. I didn’t realise that a foetus had the strength to break through the mother’s skin. If that’s the case then surely it’s surprising that so many of them get carried to full term.

She also implies that the surgeon might lying about what happened because he’s in fear of the “vociferous, and unfortunately violent” pro-choice campaigners in the US. I don’t know about you, but I can’t ever remember reading about violent pro-choice campaigners. From what I’ve seen, it’s the anti-abortion campaigners that you need to worried about crossing.

But it’s how she closes which annoys me the most. She says:

Finally, don’t listen to me, don’t listen to the pro-abortionists. Trust your own eyes, believe what you see.

And she ensures that you don’t listen to the other side of the argument by failing to actually link to any of the criticism (you can find a lot of it by googling for “dorries hand of hope“). To me, that indicates that she isn’t interested in a fair debate on the subject. She just wants to lie to the electorate and push her biased view of the world.

Don’t believe what you see. Question everything you see and everything you’re told. Research the subject and see what the experts say. And decide who you’d rather believe – the surgeon who was carrying out the operation or a stupid MP who is obviously pushing an agenda.

Categories
politics

Nadine Dorries’ “Blog”

Nadine Dorries is the MP for Mid Bedfordshire. On her web site she has something that she calls a blog, although it only really resembles one superficially. Up until a couple of days ago, the biggest problem with it was that it didn’t allow linking to a particular entry, you could only link to a page containing all of the entries on a particular day. A couple of days ago things changed and the site became even less blog-like.

You’ll have seen the recent news about the Commons science and technology committee’s report on the abortion law. Dorries was one of two members of that committee (the other was Bob Spinks) who didn’t agree with the report’s findings and issued their own “minority report“.

In that report they say this:

We were greatly concerned to read in the Guardian on 27 October an article clearly aimed at undermining the credibility of Professor John Wyatt, which contained detailed information about Wyatt’s evidence, which was passed by him to the committee after his oral evidence session, and which could only have been passed on to the journalist concerned by a member of the Select Committee. There should be an enquiry about how this information got into the public domain and as to whether such a personal attack represents a serious breach of parliamentary procedure..

The author of the article in question was Ben Goldacre of the Bad Science web site. In a blog posting, Goldacre points out that the information that Dorries and Spinks are so concerned about him having access to is all in the public domain.

Readers of Goldacre’s blog tried valiantly to post comments to Dorries’ blog explaining her error, but none of these comments were published. Eventually Dorries posted another entry on her blog explaining that she would no longer be publishing any comments on blog. She claims that it’s because she doesn’t have time to moderate the comments before posting them. A cynic may well think that it’s because she doesn’t want to run the risk of people pointing out her errors.

And this is, of course, where Dorries’ web site loses all right to be called a blog. Too many politicians are deliberately misunderstanding the point of blogging. A blog is a great way to build up an interaction with your audience (in the case of an MP, your constituents) but too often these days we see blogs just being used as a monologue rather than a conversation. Even when sites allow comments, too many people prefer to remove (or not publish in the first place) comments that show them in a bad light or try to hold them accountable for their mistakes.

Of course, people should be free to publish or not publish whatever they want on their web sites. but if you’re not prepared to have a decent conversation with your readers, then don’t call it a blog. It’s just a marketing tool.

More on this from several other blogs. And Tim has set up an alternative place for people to comment on Dorries’ output.