One of the lesser-known innovations in government this year has been environment secretary David Miliband’s personal blog, in which he muses on everything from climate change to longhorned cattle.
He started it while minister at the then ODPM, and luckily his views have been kept for posterity, including his remarkable reduction of the work of Jane Jacobs, author of The death and life of great American cities, to four bullet points.
The liveliest debate on the blog, predictably, is the question of its cost. A couple of weeks ago the environment secretary was forced to set the record straight, revealing that it cost £6,000 to set it up at ODPM, £1,250 to move it to Defra and £900 a year in ‘technical costs’.
He continues: ‘Since I write my own blogs, read comments, and don’t have a shadow blogger the admin costs are low: one valiant official spends part of his time posting blogs and comments.’
Reactions have been mixed: some have been akin to the guy who used to fix our plumbing, who’d inspect the shambles before him, screw up his face and mutter: ‘Someone’s been ’avin’ a laugh’. Others think the idea of communicating directly with a minister is like discovering the streets of London are paved with gold.
While some of the content is disappointingly bland, I’m in the glass half full brigade. The best thing about a blog is that anyone can join in - unlike the usual policy debates, where you have to be in the loop to be aware they’re going on, and one of the great and the good to be taken seriously.
It’s a shame, though, that none of Mr Miliband’s successors at DCLG have picked up the baton. Ruth Kelly would certainly benefit from a regular blog, given some of the mythology that has caricatured her as a minor character from The Da Vinci code. And what about senior civil servants? If we’re going for genuinely open government, let’s have a few revelations about decision-making processes in Whitehall.
No doubt many would dismiss the idea as self-indulgent frippery, a world away from weighty affairs of state. That would be a mistake. Affairs of state are about all of us - and whatever flaws a blog has, at least it introduces a desperately needed element of equality.
Julian Dobson, editor, New Start Online magazine
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- David Miliband's blog - www.davidmiliband.defra.gov.uk