Andrew Neil

The shape of things to come | 26 March 2009

The shape of things to come | 26 March 2009
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Today the Daily Politics stages the battle of the bloggers — on the New Labour left, Dolly Draper, on the libertarian right, Guido Fawkes — and we do so on a day when we have a compelling example of how the internet is re-shaping our media and politics.

After Gordon Brown delivered his speech to the European Parliament on Tuesday, he was subjected to a three-and-a-half minute riposte in the Chamber by Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, which many thought devastating.

Established broadcasters, while recognising that the Hannan attack was a cut way above normal party political banter, didn't quite see how "Tory MEP savages Brown" made it a story. Then the bloggers got a hold of it -- they have made it not just a story but a phenomenon.

The right-wing bloggers posted it and emailed it around. Before long, the speech was racking up tens of thousands of hits on YouTube and, not much longer after that, it made the Drudge Report which gave it far wider trans-Atlantice exposure. No surprise that Mr Hannan was soon popping up on Fox News and other sympathetic news outlets.

Mr Hannan’s cheerleaders in the blogosphere are claiming that, with over two thirds of a million hits already recorded on YouTube, it is on course to be the most viewed political speech in the quickest time in internet history.

It is an intriguing development, of which we'll see more as we head for the first ever "broadband" election. Gordon Brown was the target of Mr Hannan's rhetoric and many will think he hit his target hard and effectively; but many Tories will also be wondering quietly why Mr Cameron or Mr Osborne have not mounted such sustained and brilliant attacks. Do they have the ability to do so? No doubt they will be pondering all this as Mr Hannan is hailed as a new Conservative hero on both sides of the Atlantic (and across the Channel too).

This is the shape of things to come. Before the net became a vehicle for video, people depended on pretty much what established media thought they should know. Now they can make up their own minds what's important -- and the established media has to follow their lead.

I expect this to be an important feature of the next general election campaign. The internet played a minor part in the 2005 election but now its impact could be enormous, with the spread of broadband allowing video clips to be distributed in high quality. The political parties and the media will continue to make their judgements about what is important to cover and what issues matter; but the bloggers will also be making theirs and when they tap into opinion the parties or the media have ignored or undercovered, they will make news too -- and affect the course of the campaign. I wouldn't be surprised if the parties and pressure groups even start making US-style political commercials in the hope of getting massive hits on YouTube. The general election of 2010 will show just how far the web is changing our politics -- and our media.