Around the web: Starved of resources

Phil Hamilton casts his eye over the Socialist Campaign Group News' website

While the websites of Tribune and Labour Left Briefing (see Weekly Worker July 17, July 24) will not be blazing a new path for the internet left, you could at least argue that these publications are run on a shoestring that would rather put scarce resources into their respective publications. The same could not be said of the Socialist Campaign Group News website, being the ‘official’ umbrella of well-paid leftwing Labour MPs and (in theory) having access to a more generous pool of funds. So how does it fare in comparison with its stablemates?

First impressions are pretty basic. The main field is taken up with featured articles from the latest edition, offset against a sickly lime border. This carries a small site navigation box, the hosting company advert, and the SCGN legend. Could the shallow appearance belie hidden depths, tucked away in obscure corners of the website?

Unfortunately, it really is a case of ‘what you see is what you get’. Diane Abbott’s headlining article from the July issue dominates the page, accompanied by a photo. The piece itself is nothing special, dealing with Blair’s difficulties arising out of his cabinet reshuffle fiasco. The list of contributors reads like a who’s who of the Labour left. MPs such as Alice Mahon and Jeremy Corbyn share space with Billy Hayes, Mick Rix and Labour exile Ken Livingstone. Contents boil down to the war, reclaiming the party, asylum, and the far right.

Of particular interest is the review of national policy forum documents, which exposes the warmongering neoliberal agenda hiding behind Blairite buzzwords. ‘Westminster news’ is quite a handy page, allowing the viewer to follow the parliamentary activity of SCG MPs throughout June. However, a degree of accountability could be served here with the inclusion of links to the relevant parliamentary transcripts from Hansard.

The archive is quite respectable by the standards of the left, carrying an unbroken run of issues back to June 1998. The problem is that these are relatively meagre as well. Blame for this cannot be placed at the webmaster’s feet, as SCGN articles cannot be conjured out of thin air. Next in the navigation box is ‘Subscriptions’; a simple page allowing the viewer to subscribe online or by snail mail. In keeping with the whole website, ‘About SCGN is yet another pinched affair. Dedicated articles, helpful links to themed archive material and what the journal stands for are conspicuous by their absence. Instead we are treated to contact details, the editorial board list and disclaimers.

Rounding the page off, apparently “SCGN welcomes letters and articles from readers”. It is a pity that none of them are featured. The next link in the box opens a page listing the 27 SCG MPs. It is reasonable to expect profiles and relevant links to be included with this list, but once again another opportunity to make this a decent website is missed.

How can a website with such high-profile backers be so bad? The finger of blame cannot be pointed at the web designer - after all her professional home page has a portfolio of well-designed websites. Could it be that the 27 sponsors are yet to grasp the political possibilities of the internet? A quick survey of their cyberspace presence seems to suggest that this could be the case. Diane Abbott, for example, appears to lack a site of her own - my search threw up only a few short paragraphs on the Hackney Labour Party and Operation Black Vote web pages. Tony Banks is similarly elusive, confined to constituency surgery information on his local party site. Not even Jeremy Corbyn has an internet presence, apart from a short personal statement and information run off the Islington North CLP home page.

Out of a sample of 10 MPs I ‘googled’ only three turned up dedicated sites. Ann Cryer has a basic website/archive hosted by epolitix.com. Ian Gibson is responsible for a DIY page that looks as if he knocked it up during a lunch break. Finally Neil Gerrard’s is the only one with policy, speech and profile links. It is certainly functional, but if set alongside the website of a Blair loyalist such as Peter Mandelson, it is really left in the shade.

The websites of the SCGN and the MPs that sponsor it are either practically non-existent or seriously underresourced. It is as if they have reacted against the Blairite obsession with image management by denying the importance of presentation altogether. Hardly a way to attract fresh forces to the fight for the ‘soul of Labour’, though.