I’m really surprised at the sudden backlash against David Miliband, secretary of state for the environment, and Britain’s first blogging minister. A piece in Friday’s Independent, based on ‘research by the Liberal Democrats’ urbane front bencher, Chris Huhne‘ estimated the cost of the initiative at ‘somewhere approaching £40,000 a year.’
First off, let’s remember that Chris Huhne isn’t an entirely neutral observer here. The LibDems see the environment as ‘their’ territory, so it’s no surprise to see them having a pop at anything DEFRA does. And of course, in his role as shadow Environment spokesman, it’s Huhne’s specific task to hassle David Miliband.
And whilst I’m sure there is some convoluted calculation which brings the total cost to £40,000, I’m not buying it. By the time you factor in every overhead, as I imagine Chris Huhne has done, you could probably inflate the cost of any task to five figures (or worse!).
The other criticisms, rounded up by Antony Mayfield, seem a bit petty. It may or may not be true that every word is written and typed by Miliband himself. It may or may not be ‘widely ridiculed for its dull content’ (as claimed in Monday’s Independent). But folks, this is government. This is how it works. Virtually nothing happens without going through several layers of sign-off (sadly). And a lot of day-to-day government business is not sexy. Just how exciting did you expect the work diary of Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to be?
As reported here a couple of weeks back, I’ve been involved in setting up a blog-esque site for the Department of Education and Skills. It uses a blogging engine, specifically Typepad. It uses blogging methods, like permalinks, RSS feeds, categories and chronological presentation. We could choose to allow comments and trackbacks – but we chose not to, because we didn’t feel we could commit the necessary resources to do a good job. And so far, the results are pleasing: we’re getting respectable traffic and good search engine placement.
These are baby steps. The only way we will build the confidence within government to do these things ‘properly’, is to show concrete examples which dispel the scare stories.