Last week I interviewed UK political blogger Guido Fawkes over Skype. I wasn’t intending to blog the interview, but I’ve been asked by a few bloggers if I could post the transcript, so here it is. I’ve edited it slightly. This is one of five interviews I conducted for the next issue of Totalcontentandmedia. I wanted to know Guido’s thoughts on the potential political campaigning uses of Twitter.
Once we got that out of the way, we rambled very pleasantly through a number of other topics. I was so focussed on the Twitter thing I didn’t think to line up a bunch of other questions to ask him – oh well, next time. I’m blogging this tonight because, as Guido mentions in out chat, he’s just done a slot on the BBC TV programme Newsnight.
Do you think [the use of Twitter and other social networking tools by politicians] is bandwagon jumping or what?
They generally are experimenting and reaching out, but they’re used to being in broadcast only mode and not interactivity and it’s completely unrealistic. I speak as someone who gets 300 – 500 emails a day. I give one word replies to a lot of them. It’s unrealistic to expect a politician with a busy schedule to genuinely reply to everybody and really interact. It’s just not gonna happen. Not theoretically impossible, but CEO’s can’t do it. Anyone time pressed can’t do it. Cameron is diarising half an hour a day to do his own blog. I mean that’s huge. It helps that he doesn’t have to run the country though, doesn’t it."
By definition anyone who has a successful blog has an awful lot of time on their hands. If somebody who’s running for Deputy PM is seen to be spending a lot of time on blogging, Twitter, whatever, then perhaps they’re not using their time as best they might. We both know that using blogs is a two way process, but as you’ve just said, that’s impossible for people who are far too busy.
Yeah. Correct. I’m not starry eyed about Web 2.0 and interactivity. It’s just a platform. The good thing about a blog is that there is a demand for more honesty because of the comments. They get shot down – I know they moderate them – but they’ll get shot down pretty sharply if they’re not honest. I think that’s the best thing. All these other means of communication. They go in fads. You remember it was orcut, it was facebook, it was myspace. There’s always a new fad for them. I think it’s a little bit ridiculous to have them all on facebook though, isn’t it. I mean I opened up a facebook account just so I could ‘poke’ everyone and see what happens.
Why did you open a Twitter account?
I could never work it out. I don’t understand what Twitter’s all about. I thought it was a way of getting text messages for free from my mates. I thought if I could email Twitter and could distribute to my friends. You know, I could have a list of my drinking buddies and my poker buddies. You know "Poker on Friday 7pm" and it would go out to them and that would be great.
You can subscribe to someone’s Twitters without being a member of Twitter.
My first question is does it cost anything?
It’s free on the web. I don’t use it from my mobile much, but it’s just the same as sending an SMS if you do use it from your mobile. If you have an account where you have to pay to receive your SMS messages on your phone then you’d have to pay in the normal way. Potentially, if you’re getting 200 twitters on your mobile every day it could cost you a bit, but I pretty much just use it on the web.
I don’t think I’m gonna use it. It sounds like complication on email. If you’ve got a Blackberry what’s the fucking point?
I’d recommend you experiment with it a bit…
I’m fascinated with all the business models because I was an investor first time round in Web 1.0 and now Bubble 2.0. And I’m bemused – although I am the man who turned down half a million dollars worth of Google stock because I thought it was overpriced at the IPO.
There you go. All these firms, Twitter included, seem to have a business model which is ‘Google or Yahoo! will buy us out’.
But is that new? It’s often been a case of working your arse off for a year and selling. That’s where the money is, isn’t it. That’s why VC’s invest in Web 2.0 companies.
But they don’t actually have a profit model that I can identify.
Yes, true. We’re slightly getting off topic here, so I’ll continue off topic… you have a kind of a profit model with your advertising and you’ve gone public a bit. Are you looking to branch out a bit to become more of a face in the real world as opposed to a face online?
You won’t see my face on tele.
No? Not like Iain Dale? He’s been dong a fair bit.
The reason Iain Dale is on tele all the time is because I won’t do it.
Why won’t you do it?
Look at what happened to Matt Drudge when he went on tele. It’s part of the fun. Like I won’t let my name be mentioned on my own website. It’s a bit ridiculous because if you go "who is Guido Fawkes?" in Google and go on the wikipedia page, it’s all revealed in all its glory. It’s a bit of a gimmick, but I think… I mean I saw Nick Robinson yesterday and I was interviewing Nick Robinson for Newsnight. All the political TV programmes always try to get me on and I never do it and then (Miles?) people made me an offer I couldn’t refuse and they said we’ll give you five minutes live and I thought "Oh fuck."
Ha, Oh dear. You’ve gotta be better than your blog.
It’s like that scene in a poker film where the boss comes over and says, "$100,000. One game." So, I said to them I want a camera crew and my own production team and do the editing and they said, "Oh we can’t do that." But then Newsnight contacted me and said, we’re up for it. I’m completely fucked. I’ve got no excuses. 5 minutes, my own hand on the production, the editing suite, so I better not fall flat on my face had I?
So, you’re interviewing Nick Robinson?
I’m directing it. I’ve giving a voiceover.
Will your face appear.
No. I think there’ll be some out of focus shots or something. No, I don’t see any point. What’s the value in it. That’s why I don’t go along to all these PR company organised kind of bloggingfests. I never go to them.
I went to see you at Robin Hamman‘s fringe event – I didn’t go to see you, you were there – That was great. It was really interesting and I thought you were among the better speakers there.
Well, it just causes lots of problems, doesn’t it. In politics when you’re a kind of, and I’ve got an agenda obviously, you know I have to be really careful. My wife has certain rules for me. I have lots of nutcases.
I’m sure you do.
Who don’t see it as… I mean… I see politics as a game to some extent. I can go out for a drink with Gordon Brown if he was so inclined, other people can’t see it that way.
But what do the nutcases think?
Oh, I’m the devil incarnate. Some of these people think I’m CiA funded, evil, get my marching orders from central office. It’s absolutely bonkers. Someone found out my wife’s address. I’m very cautious. I thought a lot of things through when it started to take off. I am a foreign citizen, domiciled in a foreign country. I pay taxes in Ireland and I take advantage of the system to make sure that the British government can’t do anything to me that I don’t let them do. Because weird things happen. You don’t really appreciate just how murky things get until it starts. I’ve had to take precautions. There’s this poor woman who shares my wife’s maiden name. She gets harassment. Can you believe it? Someone else with the same name. They had to call the police in. I think I put on my blog once my wife’s a corporate lawyer. Somehow they found out my wife’s name. There’s another corporate lawyer in London with the same name who gets harassment because of me. It’s just bonkers.
I guess the blog’s not getting less popular.
No. I thought last summer we’d topped out. I said to Iain Dale that’s it, we’ve peaked, but almost every month it’s more. I think you can see that in the comments. It’s like everyone says PopBitch isn’t as good as it used to be. My comments are much worse than they ever were in terms of ‘Vote tory’, ‘Vote labour’, ‘You’re gonna lose’, ‘We’re gonna win’ all that kind of nonsense. It’s just not funny and I hate my comments to some extent.
We are going off topic/Yes we are…
I think all these gimmicks; facebook, twitter, myspace they’re just communications tools. I think some of them like twitter and facebook aren’t actually that good. A blog with comments and interactivity is probably better.
Do you think it also comes down to something as simple as these politicians seeing the kind of traffic blogs like yourself, Iain Dale and Tim Ireland and other people get and just thinking well, there’s an audience there, we want a piece of that, what do we need to do.
I’m very up with the webcameron thinking. They actually came to me and said what did I think. I don’t know if you remember the first David Cameron blog when he went to India. I said don’t have a corporate one, have it nice and simple just like every other Joe Blogger. Get a free Blogger account and all that and now he’s got the advertising people in and now he’s got Webcameron which I think is best of breed to be honest. Some of the labour party deputy leadership candidates are gonna have pretty good systems.
Have you had a look around those?
I’ve had a quick look. They’re gonna try to be interactive. I know Hilary Benn‘s people had a huge fuck up. They had a contact form that didn’t work. They were having a panic, they thought they’d got no support.
Did you have a look at the Alan Johnson one?
No. Not yet. [I IM the link to Guido] Yeah it’s not bad.
The PR is Stuart Bruce. He’s writing all the material at the moment.
He hates my guts. I always laugh at those people who say, you know, we won’t have a link to Guido. Like Tim Ireland, who had a tragic time because the game won’t work if you don’t have a flame war back. He now sees his job as attacking every right wing blogger. I don’t know. I think it’s a very unproductive use of his time. When right of centre bloggers come to me and say Oh we’re gonna set up a Tim Ireland pisstake parody blog and I say what’s the point, do something productive and not derivative. There are three different Guido parody blogs and you know… what’s the point?
Getting back to the point slightly here…
The person who understands politics and the internet best is Zack Exley. He’s the guy who was shipped in to help labour during the election with their email campaign. Although he’s politically opposite to me, he absolutely understands the limitations and capabilities of the internet and I totally sing from his hymn sheet about how to do things.
Internet outreach is very important for activists it doesn’t make much difference to the general public. You can motivate your base, you can communicate to your base. It’s why it’s incredibly important something like the Deputy leadership elections because the fight will be on the web for them. I don’t know whether it will be on Labour Home or where. For the Tories the fight was on Conservative Home. The amount of lobbying we got was incredible. It was where people went to keep up with the twists and turns. I’m not sure where it’s gonna be for the labour one. I think it’s probably gonna be labour home.
You can never really predict where these things go. It’s the herd instinct isn’t it really.
Labour Home people are presuming… I know their website is going to be completely revamped. It’s already done, they’re just waiting for the official announcement. I think we’ll see more online advertising. They’re gonna do video ads. I know that from my involvement with MessageSpace. You’ll see that for the first time which is happening in the states for all the primaries. You’ll see a mass of spending on blogs. Hilary is already writing cheques to bloggers. I don’t think you’re gonna see cheques going to bloggers, but you will see paid for adverts on blogs.
You’re talking about Hilary Clinton. She’s paying people to blog?
Taking or being paid for advertising?
No. Getting $8,000 on the quiet.
Just to post nice stuff?
Well, it was coincidental that he was posting nice stuff wasn’t it. Funnily enough when I go round public affairs people they’re always asking about paid for advertorial and I say I don’t think that’s gonna work.
Do you know the legal set up in the UK for using social media as a fundraising tool?
There’s no special legal status. It just comes under PPER2000. Same rules. Interesting thing is about that rule that foreigners can’t give more than £200. I reckon I could get around those rules quite easily. If say private equity companies decided to advertise on someone’s blog and they came to MessageSpace and said we want to pay £10,000 to advertise on Iain Dale’s website, well he would be circumventing the rules. He’d just be advertising on his commercial business.
It’s a loophole?
If the tories or labour produce a booklet that’s gonna get sent out. They do this with their conference magazines and they charge an outrageous amount for an advert in there. Well, that’s a business transaction. They don’t have to declare it. I think the deputy leadership campaigns will be interesting in that they will be fighting it out on their websites, but I think it’s just gonna be like pamphlets online. Whereas the tory one was more fought in the comments of Conservative Home.
Do you think this whole emphasis on blogs and whatever online is a significant indicator to show that the web, the social web, is becoming a very important political force.
I don’t know what the social web is. There’s the web.
Well, you know, the interactive, rather than the static, old traditional web presence.
I don’t know if social web is some kinda buzzword, but there’s only the web and the web is interactive or it’s nothing. To my mind, blogs are just better bulletin boards. Don’t get religious about it. It’s just a very handy, convenient way of publishing.
I absolutely agree. That’s all it is, but it is hyped up beyond belief.
It’s hyped up by people who don’t actually do it. That’s the interesting thing. All the people actually operating and doing things are much more realistic than the people who are writing about it. When I do go to those Thinktank things when they’re talking about it I think, you haven’t got a fucking clue. You’re not actually doing it. You just read somebody else who’s writing about it.
This is one thing I do get asked quite a bit about blogging and I say to understand it you have to do it. And you have to do it not just for a week, but you have to do it for six months, a year. Then you’ll understand. If you just post something and forget about it and do it half heartedly, then you’re never gonna understand anything.
That’s right. Look, I suggest you talk to Alex Hilton, contact Tim Montgomerie who wrote that IDS article in The Guardian – although he probably won’t admit that – where IDS predicted that the right would dominate the internet which is pretty much true. There’s only one successful left wing website and it’s called pm.gov.uk and the only reason it’s successful is because millions of people go on there to say how much they hate Tony Blair (hhahha). It’s the only political website that has higher traffic than me or Iain Dale. There’s nobody even close. The most popular blogs in the UK are Guido, Iain Dale, Political betting, Conservative home, Slugger O’Toole in Northern Ireland where he is basically Comment is free, Conservative home, Labour home, LibDem blogs all rolled into one for Northern Ireland. He’s got that kind of first mover advantage. You’ve got to bear in mind that Iain Dale is read by more people online than The Spectator is. I think it was a real shock to the parties when they found out Iain Dale – I know the tories were absolutely stunned – when they found out that Iain Dale’s website got more hits than the conservative party website. People are more interested in gossip than they are in press releases.
Thanks Guido, you’ve given me a lot there and plenty of leads. I know we went off topic, but it’s all interesting stuff. Just one last thing, when will the Newsnight thing air on TV?
I think it’ll be out next week.
I’m sure you’ll blog about it, but I’ll keep an eye out.
I think Michael Crick‘s job is still safe 🙂
UPDATE: Here’s the video from Newsnight of the piece Guido Fawkes put together with various interviews.
The video below is the postscript debate piece from Newnight – I hadn’t seen this before writing the above post or adding a comments below or anywhere else. Lastly (I think) Oliver Kamm offers up his view on this mini-brouhaha.