Every year I rewrite this piece to review my experience of blogging:
I’ve been writing this blog since December 2008, and I thought that I’d scribble a bit on blogging itself and my experience of it.
Firstly, from a personal point of view, along with writing fiction (sometimes the two blend) it is a very satisfying outlet. I see things online or on TV and want to scream at the screen, and with a blog I can get it out. Does anyone actually read it? Certainly the number of visits I get every month has risen pretty much every month since I started.
Does it make a difference? Probably not, although I have been told of one former politician who seems to partially blame me for their fall from grace. As an ex-girlfriend of mine pointed out wisely to me, if I wasn’t blogging she would have had to listen to my rants. A fair point.
Having said that, I am constantly surprised at the people I meet who read the blog. I did get a column with Dow Jones Marketwatch.com out of it, occasional invites on to radio shows and TV, the odd newspaper or magazine interview, and even get the odd stranger introducing themselves to me in the street. Also invitations to speak at things. It’s one of the curiosities of the modern media: there is a demand for people who actually think about stuff.
But what’s more amusing amusing, of course, are the people, from a political background, who actually state to me that what they tell me is “off the record”, which I find incredibly flattering.
What have I learned in these five years? What advice can I impart to a new blogger?
1. Be consistent. Either commit to regular posts or don’t bother. I have actually reduced the number of posts to maybe one every two days or so, unless something interesting pops up that warrants an instant comment. I did this because a number of regular readers pointed out that I was posting stuff faster than they could read it, that is, they only pop onto the blog every few days and were finding reams of material. But unless I have written a very long piece, I try to give readers omething new every 48 hours at least.
2. Not every post has to be a tome or a well thought out treatise on a subject of great gravity. Funny things happen to people all the time. Write about them. Don’t forget that book or new TV show you’re reading or watching.
3. You will be surprised how some posts, which you put a lot of work into, fail to take off, yet other casual posts catch people’s attention and end up being tweeted all over the place.
4. Controversial one this: don’t be afraid to recycle posts. Depends on the subject, of course, in that there’s no point running a “But where is Osama now?” post. I write a series on Irish politics, “The Occasional Guide to Irish Politics”, and I find that many of the topics remain live and unchanged years later, hardly a surprise in Irish politics, I know, but still. Recycle, but tell people you do it. I have never had a complaint. Don’t forget that not everyone pays as much attention to your blog as you do.
5. Twitter. I’m not hugely active on Twitter, as I haven’t really the time given the nature of my job. But as a means of drawing people to new posts I find it works well. But be very choosy as to what posts you highlight, as there is only so much naked self promtion people will tolerate. I tend to go for the more thoughtful ones, and get a good response.
6. Ireland needs more partisan bloggers. I don’t mean party drones pushing out the usual “My party or die” garbage, but thoughtful stuff from a party base. For example, my readership spikes every time I write a piece about the future of Fianna Fail. Not an attack on FF, but a piece on “should FF do this or that?”. I get contacted privately (a lot) by FFers on the posts, some complimentary, some critical, but it’s all robust and sincere debate. Only once has an FFer got cranky with me, outraged that I, an Irish voter, had the cheek to write about his party and that I should “mind my own business”. I asked a couple of FFers about him, and one summed him up as “Yeah, we tend to put him in a corner with a packet of crisps and a Club Orange, and try to avoid startling him with loud noises.”
7. There are some nasty types out there, but not as many as you think. The web has given every anonymous mouth-breather an opportunity to get out into the world in an attempt to wreak revenge on their frustrations, and I have attracted a few. Some would say I’m one myself. I’ve been accused of being paid money by large and secret corporations (which I would take if offered, by the way), snorting cocaine, hiding my former Progressive Democrat affiliation (seriously?) and, most bizarrely, and one poor soul regarded this as a cutting insult, liking Bearnaise sauce. Just be aware that the poor bastards are out there watching until their mother calls them down for their tea. Do not engage with the crazies, though. You make their day, and they always have more time than you, because this is all they have. Don’t forget, they regard their anonymous vomits on politics.ie as a “body of work”.
8. Recognise that not all of your audience are from your own country. About 40% of my readers are from outside Ireland (US, UK and, cough, a certain city in Belgium) so occasionally write a piece aimed at them. And don’t be afraid to invite guest bloggers. Just make sure they don’t libel anyone.
Finally, be nice to the people who take the trouble to engage with you. I try to reply to all the emails I get from people, and NEVER EVER quote non-public people without their permission. I get a lot of emails from political people telling me stuff going on in their respective parties. Some of it will be of the hatchet variety, which I don’t use, but other stuff can be very telling. Take Ogra Fianna Fail’s transformation into THE place for young gay political activists to go, for example. I was tipped off to this not by openly gay young FFers but still-in-the-closet young politicos who were surprised at how open Ogra had become.
Is blogging worth it? If, like me, you carry a notebook around with you and always have a few draft blogs knocking around in your head, yes it is. It’s the cheapest form of therapy you’ll ever find.
Even the other members of the Save the Seanad campaign roll their eyes when he comes in to host his cheese and wine fundraiser in his stately pile “just off Ailesbury Road”, suddenly very busy checking their phones or in a rush to get to a meeting in Castlebar.
The irony is that not only is he, by his own definition, the most left wing person in the room, he is almost certainly the wealthiest, the family being old money. Enda’s referendum is a “power grab”, the government steamrollering through a near century of checks and balances, he says. But get a few glasses of wine into him, and the real reasons start to seep out.
“Look at Mary Robinson, or Catherine McGuinness, or David Norris,” he’ll say, over his third (large) glass.
“Don’t tell me they’ll elect people of that calibre in Athlone or Ennis or one of those places.” “Ireland,” he slurs, “needs Seanad Eireann because we need a mechanism where the masses can be protected from themselves! Now, don’t get me wrong. Your average Sean Sixpack is a fine fellow, and of course he should have the vote! For the Dail! Of course! And I don’t care about all them county councillor fellas either, bunch of Fianna Failers the lot of them! I’m just saying that (hic!) we need a mechanism where people of refinement and yes, who went to the right college or even that one out near Teilifis Eireann, can ensure that a certain level of quality is maintained. Because…is there any more of that delicious red?…oh lovely…have you tried the Wensleydale with the cranberries..better than sex!…look at that! All over my cravat. I’m a disgrace! Where was I…oh yes, because let’s be honest…there are plenty of people in this country, the gays, minorities, the working classes…darling, did Magda load up the dishwasher before she took her day off? Good, good…there are plenty of people in this country who can’t speak for themselves, or don’t know what it is they want to say, and so need someone to stand up for them! You know, the little people. Magda! Magda! We need another red! Where’s that bloody girl gone now? I don’t know. She seems to take a day off nearly every week! Hic!”
1. If it was as good and as useful as some people say, don’t you think you might have noticed?
2. The Seanad’s PRIMARY function is to provide an emergency parachute for failed TDs. That’s why it’s elected 3 months after the Dail, to give them time to canvass, elected by OTHER politicians (because real voters rejected them) and reserves 16 seats for candidates nominated by other politicians. Do we really need to create 54 spare jobs for failed candidates?
3. How can it be a power grab if the Seanad has no power? In 76 years the Seanad has blocked 1 bill. 1. By accident. In 1963 a senator got drunk and lost his way to the chamber. Power grab?
4. Fianna Fail, who designed the Seanad to stop 97% of Irish citizens from having a vote in it, now say they want a reformed democratic Seanad. Fianna Fail, along with Fine Gael, Labour, and the Progressive Democrats, blocked democratic Seanad reform EVERY SINGLE TIME they were in power. EVERY SINGLE TIME.
In your gut you know we need a Dail, ministers, and a supreme court. Probably even a president. Does your gut honestly tell you we need 60 fully paid and pensioned taxpayer funded senators? Really?
Make your first Seanad vote your last. Vote YES to get rid of this yoke.
There’s been a lot of talk of “checks and balances” and “scrutinising legislation” from the Save The Seanad crowd. Let’s be clear about one thing: the Seanad exists first and foremost to provide an emergency back up job for failed TDs.
Don’t believe me? Look at the structure:
1. Seanad elections are not held on the same day as the Dail elections? Why? To give failed TDs 3 months to campaign for a Seanad seat.
2. The Seanad is elected mostly by county councillors? Why? Because real voters have already voted down the candidates. Why do you think that scandal over senators taxpayer funded free post erupted? Because councillors were getting free envelopes from someone. I wonder why?
3. Within the Seanad election, 16 out of 43 senators are reserved for candidates nominated by Oireachtas members, EVEN IF THEY GET LESS VOTES.
4. Even if those three helping hands aren’t enough, there’s always appointment by the Taoiseach.
The Seanad: the most expensive parachute in democratic history.
In a Seanad in another dimension, Senator Yoda swings into action on the bondholder question.
I spoke recently in a debate in the Law Society in UCD on Seanad abolition, and I must admit, I was convinced. My opponents spoke about a senate that was full of deep thinking public servants, working the People’s business, and holding both the government and a Mad Max style Dail of yahoos and scoundrels in check. It was a beauty to behold. I expected to see Senators Homer, Cicero, Yoda, Mr Spock and Plato up there with the same dozen names that are always mentioned with the Seanad. How could we possibly abolish this, our last bastion of civilisation against the savagery of the zombie hordes that infest the Dail?
Then it struck me what the core of the opposition’s argument was: the Seanad is grand, just you people are too stupid to appreciate it. You people, who object to the rigged elections for people rejected in Dail elections, are too dense to see how subtle it is.
Sure, it did nothing about PPARS, burning the bondholders, eVoting, massive Tribunal costs, corruption, local government reform, political reform, banking regulation, massive pensions for retiring politicians, etc, but it did accidentally get drunk in 1963 and stop the Pawnbroker’s bill. Have you people no sense of gratitude?
The Seanad: if it was any good, do you not think we might have noticed?
If you’re interested in seeing a world class display of ballet, you could do worse than watch Fine Gael and Labour carefully tiptoeing and pirouetting through the political reform agenda. It’s a masterful performance, full of energy and grace, leaving nothing changed on the political stage after the show.
Consider the facts: Seanad abolition, whilst worthwhile in its own right, will have no effect on the political system in a structural way. Nor will reducing the voting age nor the age of candidacy for the presidency. There is the slightest hint, with the property tax and the possibility of an elected Dublin mayor, that something might change, but you can’t help thinking that in the final laying out of the cards they’ll avoid anything genuinely radical.
Why are the parties so cautious? Some will say they just want to hold into power, but I’m not sure that’s true. After all, so many Irish ministers are happy to just be in office, as opposed to arriving with a clear agenda. I wonder is it more to do with an incredible lack of imagination? Do ministers not see that political reform, especially if done radically at local level, would have the potential to transfer a whole raft of political problems to their political opponents?
Imagine dozens of directly elected Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein mayors across the country suddenly tasked with 100% control of the property tax and county budgets. Barred from contesting Dail elections whilst in office, it would deprive the opposition of their strongest general election candidates, whilst giving Govt TDs local targets to blame for failure in local services.
It’s a no-brainer. Yet the government parties, so paralysed by inertia and fear of change, seem happy to leave the local government system as a free, funded platform for the people determined to take their seats of them in the next general election. Labour in particular seem quite content to sleepwalk into political oblivion, their fear of change even more powerful than the fear of humiliation at election counts. Remarkable.
When I’m not shouting at the sky about the state of Western politics, what I’m reading, what’s good on telly, or writing about locking moose in safes with hand grenades (Yes, I did. Look it up) I write political/sci fi short novels and short stories, all of which are available on Amazon as eBooks here. For those those of you unfamiliar with my oeuvre, I thought I’d do a little self promoting summary.
The Ministry of Love: my first novel. The tale of a plan by a British Prime Minister to create a state agency to match lovelorn citizens together, and the hitman (“The Stoat”. Well, The Jackal was taken) hired by Big Cake, who really don’t want single women to be too happy. There’s a serial killer murdering really annoying celebrities in there as well. Its unofficial theme song is Joss Stone’s L-O-V-E.
The Gemini Agenda: The billionaire great grandson of the man who sunk the Titanic plans to take over the world, until he discovers that a sinister transatlantic political organisation is already trying. The book was inspired, incidentally, by former Republican presidential candidate Wendell Wilkie, a proponent of world government, and the Eurythmics song “I saved the world today”. True story.
Earth One: Supposing there was software that could actually run a country, or even the planet? Would we trust it not to go all “Skynet” on our asses? I must be one of the few people in the world who saw the cult 1970 scifi movie “Collossus: The Forbin Project” about a giant supercomputer and was quite happy with the ending. Earth One was inspired by, I kid you not, the Pointer Sisters song “Automatic”.
The Gorgeous War: I’m fascinated by our society’s obsession with beautiful people. TGW is about what happens if a company develops a means of making nearly everybody beautiful, and the effect it would have both socially and politically. And how would the beautiful people react?
Anyway, all are available on the link above. I’m currently working on a three story collection which I hope to publish early next year. Enjoy!
Don’t forget to comment on Amazon if you do buy. And be honest. It matters.