Introducing The Agora: a new sort of discussion site launching on 11th May

A few days ago, I put up a new page at http://www.jointheagora.com to announce the launch of the Agora on May 11th – a new discussion site. In keeping with my previous post, here’s the summary:

It’s a site where anyone can discuss current affairs and the subjects that should be covered by politics, but without the partisanship.

We regularly hear how “politics is broken” and that “politicians can’t be trusted”, but politics (or rather, government and parliament) covers some incredibly important fundamental aspects of how the country is run. At the same time, we are in the middle of campaigning over whether or not to change the voting system, but democracy should be about more than just voting.

The Agora is built to provide a place to discuss how we run our country without resorting to political labels or party affiliations.

When the Spending Review was announced, Alan Johnson accused the Coalition of making “ideological” cuts. He didn’t expand on this, but I do wonder why he didn’t. For the government’s part, the line has been that they don’t want to make the cuts, but must, so there hasn’t been a chance to debate the issue. Whatever your stance on the matter, there hasn’t been a debate as to whether certain cuts can ever be a good thing. If you did believe this (and arguably, any supporter of “efficiency savings” does), then making ideological cuts wouldn’t be something the opposition attacked. There’s nothing wrong with an ideology you can effectively defend, even if someone disagrees with it.

What if we could have an effective debate in the public domain? What if we entirely forgot about “left” and “right” and instead talked about the core of the issues? Jon Stewart rightly points out that “most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives”, and we shouldn’t assume a similar thing here. There’s nothing to stop someone supporting more rehabilitation and less imprisonment, whilst advocating smaller government, but the two stances are branded as “left” and “right” respectively.

What if we talked about this sort of thing as an accessible public debate?

That’s what the Agora aims to do. You can sign up to the mailing list for a reminder when it launches on May 11th at jointheagora.com

The Role of Blogs

The 2008 U.S. Presidential Election clearly showed the potential for the political use of the internet in campaigning. Our own general election here in the U.K. is likely to be no different, particularly with blogs such as Iain Dale’s Diary and LabourList already featuring prominently in discussions in the mainstream media.

Yet when there was originally speculation about the political role of blogs, it was suggested that they provided little more than a platform for the views of an individual. The comments sections seem to contradict this. Whilst yes, in some cases people are angered or seek to provoke others, there is also opportunity to hold the blogger to account and discuss issues further. Bloggers have taken to publicly asking questions of each other and answering them – as when Guido Fawkes of Order-Order questioned Daniel Finkelstein’s approach to tax.

Edward Murrow’s maxim holds true:

the fact that your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other

Both comments and the network of blogs (I refuse to use the term “blogosphere”) inform reader and writer alike. The change in tone from dismissing blogs to accepting them is one that has, and hopefully will continue to, expand discussion and debate.