Comment is (not) free?


mark flewitt

Anyone who reads the blog of Southend Tory councillor Mark Flewitt (just me then?) may have noticed that he has started adding the following legend to his blogs:

NO COMMENTS WILL BE ANSWERED AS TO THIS ITEM*

Now, there are many things that can (and will) be said of it, but suffice it to say that I think this is a bizarre statement to make, belying Mark’s commitment to a fully democractic politics and speaking to an over-sensitive nature on the part of someone who aspires to be one of the major political actors of a British town.

Blogs — or most of them — have comments. My blog has comments. I’d welcome a few more if I’m honest, but there you go. The set up I have presently is that I am alerted and asked to approve any comments which are made, which helps in filtering out the surprising amount of spam which this site attracts. Blogs, however, don’t have to have comments.

WordPress — which both I and Mark use — has an option to turn off the ability of readers to comment on posts. I am looking at it right now. I’m not going to check the box, because I value the interactivity which comments give me. People can feel free to give opposing views, and I will respond with my counterpoints.

Now, I suspect the reason that Mark hasn’t gone so far as turning comments off is less about him realising how bad it looks for an elected politician to basically say “I don’t care what you think or have to say.” I suspect it is more that he doesn’t know how to change the settings.

I suspect part of the reason behind Mark’s winging is the tendency of other local bloggers to comment critically on his posts. I am one of them, and my own comments have been deleted by Mark. I know of at least two other people who have shared their responses, only for Mark to decide he isn’t prepared to accept criticism.

On the one hand, this is fine. Mark’s blog, Mark’s (completely inconsistent) rules. On the other, this is a senior politician (well, sort of). Mark has sat in previous cabinets, and is clearly positioning himself hopeful to become leader of the Conservative Group on the council. This would mean that there was a possibility of him becoming leader of a future administration of Southend Borough Council.

For a little perspective, both Nigel Holdcroft (previous Tory council leader) and Tony Cox (former cabinet member) allow my often-critical comments on their blogs. And usually respond. I can’t say that they allow all critical comments, but mine are scarcely brown-nosing. And yet the man who would be king is so insecure (rightly, I would say) that he will not open himself up to challenge and criticism? That doesn’t speak of strong and confident leadership.

So here’s my response: I’m turning off the comment¬†filters on my own blog. This will mean that comments will immediately appear underneath a post once they have been published by the commenter. Practically, this will make no difference — I will simply take the spam ex post facto. But it’s a principles thing.

Because this blog is somewhere I write to expand debate, to provoke it and enhance it. I am someone with opinions, but I am not a would-be demagogue wanting a platform to spout my views without dissent.

*This has actually been on at least one blog which he has deleted. Mark’s blog is such a fluid and confusing beast that it’s actually hard to keep track of what is there and what isn’t on any given day.

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3 comments

  1. I also have an open comments policy. I do reserve the right to block trolls and remove anything offensive or potentially libellous. Like you, I also delete Spam.

    What sort of democracy is it that will not allow critique?

  2. Like both you and Julian. I have an open policy. Once I have approved one comment from a person then all the rest they make will automatically be approved. This ensures that spam comments that don’t get caught by the spam filter don’t automatically show up on site, but also allows people to comment freely.

    This to me is the most sensible solution. Having a no comment policy on a blog pretty much means it isn’t a blog. Certainly for a politician to have that policy is way off.

    1. I completely agree, Neil.

      Mark also has a very strange habit of deleting blogs as soon as they get any attention. I’m not sure he completely grasps the concept of a blog…

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