thoughts on netrootsUK

this weekend was netrootsUK. As DailyKos Liberal Conspiracy, Netroots Nation was intended to be copied as NetrootsUK.

And I’m not quite sure what it was, but it was a rather wierd event. Not in a bad way – even the trolls on twitter were entertaining for those who gave them more attention than they were worth. I’m not entirely sure what the event was trying to be, and as such, not sure whether it succeeded in it’s mission.

With 2 plenary sessions, and 2 sessions each with up to 9 workshops simultaneously, the balance felt very wrong. The first plenary seemed to be enjoyed by few, and criticised by more. I picked spending some extra time with the friend who let me crash at their place – I think that was the right call. Showing up just before the first break, the various breakout sessions were, as these often are, of differing quality based on interest, pre-existing knowledge, and expectations, and those didn’t seem to be set that well.

I popped in to a couple for a little while, but the interesting ones had no space left at all (not even standing room, it was more like levitation space only). It was, however, a fantastic time to catch up with a load of people who were all there for the event.

I’m not sure whether it was intended, but that may have been the value of the event. People in the same room talking about the same things.

At the Convention on Modern Liberty 2 years ago, it was in some ways a “labour-bashing” type event; whereas this was definitely a Govt-policy event, but there was a strong theme that Labour wasn’t a huge amount better.

Tom Watson spoke of his political journey over the last N years, and how it has lead to some slightly contradictory positions when naively viewed over time, but I wonder whether the critical mass of the labour party will end at the same destination. The path doesn’t matter a huge amount, the destination and its integrity does.

And, maybe that was the tension at the heart of this year’s netrootsUK – those with a focus on ideology , and those with a deeply practical focus on making things identifiably better for people. And while there’s disagreement on what that is, it is directly measurable if there’s an agreed metric of what better means and improving looks like.

The thing that was dramatically different over this time last year, and has changed in parts of the party, is that if feels like the labour members (and of course, this is a self-selecting group already filtered) are willing to talk about what they got wrong. A friend who, prior to the election would have defended Phil Woolas, even privately to those outside the party, now feels able to say what they really think. And that increases trust. But it can be lost just as easily should that transparency changes.

There were a number of impressive speakers, Tom Watson was on top form as usual, but one person who I’ve heard various good anecdotes about by Londoners is new MP Stella Creasey. In terms of someone who “gets it” from the activist community, she’s taken that into Parliament, and seems to have kept it all moving in the right direction.

If you’ve seen the videos of Gordon Brown speaking at TED and Citizens UK , it was a speech which could follow those two.

And, in the broadest possible sense of marching – doing someting in the real world – netrootsUK was trying to be about the sentence after “Let’s March”.

posted: 10 Jan 2011