“On Tuesday, this was a serious Conservative Party policy proposal, being reported in national newspapers. Now, it’s ‘never’ going to happen,” trumpeted web campaigners 38 Degrees in an email last night.
They were, of course, referring to the Tory idea that it would be all right to restrict consultations with an NHS doctor to three per year per person – presumably the Rupert who dreamed it up thought everybody who mattered would have private health insurance instead, and this seems to be borne out by the material in the rest of the policy document.
I’m perfectly happy with this result. In fact, I think it is blogs like Vox Political that helped make it happen because – as you’ll know, o loyal reader – Vox reported on this particular scandal on Sunday, two days before.
I’ll admit, the material in the article was sourced from the newspapers, but what’s interesting is that it took a further two days for the mass – or as I intend to call it from now on, the ‘snail’ – media to cotton on that the whole idea is utterly ludicrous and the public won’t fall for it.
During that time, the Vox article went viral, and Vox readers have never really been known for keeping their opinions to themselves.
A ‘snowball’ effect then ensued, leading to reports in the papers of the public reaction and the 38 Degrees petition, which resulted in Jeremy Hunt’s grumpy tweet: “In case being misled by ‘neutral’ 38Degrees e-petition, it IS NOT and WAS NEVER going to be Conservative policy to limit GP appointments.”
He’s only upset because we spoiled his fun, I expect.
Vox Political was not the only blog covering this story, as far as I’m aware, and I certainly don’t want to suggest that it was any more instrumental in this little victory than anyone else. What I’m saying is it demonstrates that bloggers are starting to drive the political agenda.
The problem is the length of time it takes the mass – sorry, ‘snail’ – media to catch up.
Consider this story on the BBC News website (powered by Atos, in case anybody forgets) yesterday:
Under the headline ‘Incapacity benefit test claims ‘conflated figures’ – watchdog’, it states: “Suggestions that 878,300 benefit claimants dropped their claims rather than take a medical test have been challenged by the statistics watchdog.
“Tory chairman Grant Shapps was quoted saying that nearly a million people had “taken themselves off” incapacity benefit instead of sitting the test.”
Again, it’s great that this nonsense has been challenged, and the challenge has been reported. What’s not so great is the timescale.
Because the Skwawkbox blog, run by Steve Walker, challenged this nonsense almost two months ago.
The comment in the BBC story – by Andrew Dilnot, the now famous head of the UK Statistics Authority – was that “research by the Department for Work and Pensions suggested that one important reason for those cases being closed was because the person ‘recovered and either returned to work or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation’ instead.”
That is uncannily close to Steve Walker’s comment that “this represents nothing more than ‘churn’ – a turnover of claims withdrawn because of perfectly normal things like people getting better, or finding a job they can do even if they’re ill” – published on April 2!
I’ll accept some people may dispute the blogs’ influence on the outcome of the ‘NHS consultation’ issue, but on this one it seems unlikely there can be any doubt. Mr Dilnot’s letter followed an inquiry from Sheila Gilmore MP, who follows Vox Political and is certainly likely to have read my report on this matter. It seems likely that she also follows Skwawkbox. The amount of time between those articles’ appearance and the piece on the BBC website is the time it took for her to receive a response to her inquiry on the matter from Mr Dilnot.
Isn’t it a shame that the BBC didn’t do any fact-checking for itself?
So there you have it: If you want proper political news – and proper analysis of events – forget the ‘snail’ media and go to the blogs. We’re faster and more accurate, and what’s more, we make things change.
For the better (in case Iain ‘We’re changing their lives’ Smith was wondering).