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Is all change good?

Posted on 15 March 2009 | 10:03am

Since getting into blogging, Twitter and Facebook, it has been interesting to see what kind of message, tweet or status update gets people going. I’d love to be able to say it is the serious heavyweight political contribution or call to arms, and to be fair, I have been impressed by the level and nature of the debate the big political points can get going.

As you will see if you get the New Statesman on Thursday, there has been a great response to my appeal for one sentence ideas for Labour’s next manifesto. Also, I was so taken with the analyses of Tory policy appearing here and on my Facebook page, from one of my most assiduous commenters, Alina Palimura in Washington DC, that I have asked her to write a piece for the magazine. I hope Labour ministers take note of the call for more aggressive demolition of David Cameron’s threadbare case.

The other bonus politically has been that I have been able to engage in direct debate with broadly sympathetic people, and turn supporters into members and activists for Labour. So that is all well and good.

Some of the biggest responses, however, have been to anything that shows humour or, dare I say it, indulges in a bit of personal or cultural trivia. Fiona saying I can’t load a dishwasher, for example. Whoosh! Again, that’s fine. No harm done, and it builds the sense of camaraderie between a near random set of people calling each other friends. Someone posted a comment yesterday, in response to my blog on a date with 130 Burnley women, that it was nice to wake up to a laugh. It’s nice for me to wake up to know someone’s had one. And if I can combine a laugh with a political point (I won’t pretend there were any in the Burnley Ladies Day blog, just politically incorrect perhaps) even better.

Then the other area – and I am finally nearing my point here – is that you can always provoke a debate if you say something about life online. Last night, I was trying to put a message on Alina’s wall to thank her for sending me a Canadian review of my novel, and for doing the New Statesman piece. It went up as a status update. So then I put up something lamenting my failure to differentiate between a message and an update, and added as an afterthought … ‘and where did this new [Facebook] design come from?’

Whoosh … in they came, messages from people in the main agreeing that they were finding recent changes very hard to follow or manage. So it was not only me. Someone spoke of the need for ‘people power’ to be generated to get the Facebook powers that be to change. I’m hoping that someone who works at Facebook will find their way here and take some of the complaints on board.

But the comments that really caught my eye were the ones, much smaller in number, that suggested I was scared of change. I suppose it was particularly striking because when I was working with Tony Blair, I was often the one saying to people they should not be scared of change, they should stop seeing only the downside of the process and instead try to keep eyes fixed on the progress change could bring (which, whatever complaints people have, a decade of Labour has done).

I know the ste

ady transformation of a country through three Parliaments is not the same as a few annoying little tweaks on a social networking site, and equally I know that the internet has been one of the genunely historic changes of recent times, but somewhere in there is the argument that defines all significant human activity. The question is not whether we need change. We always need change. But we also need constancy and stability. Getting good change as opposed to bad change is the hard call.

So this morning I tried to work out whether I was already, after just a few weeks, becoming a bit small c conservative about life online, (like those right-wing bloggers who can’t get used to Labour people being here now, and pick us up on our Twitter etiquette, whatever the hell that is) or whether in fact, the design changes made are just bad changes made for the sake of change.

I will mull all this as I go out on my road bike in this beautiful sunshine, and prepare to watch the new film on the environment, The Age of Stupid, later today. Now that is going to be a changemaker. I just know it.

I would have explained myself better if I had been able to track back through comments on a few earlier Facebook postings. Or if I could find a way, quickly, of scanning through all the comments that came in to various updates in the last 48 hours when I have been away from my desk. But I couldn’t for the life of me work out how to do it. I could do it the day before yesterday.

  • Obnoxio The Clown

    “I hope Labour ministers take note of the call for more aggressive demolition of David Cameron’s threadbare case.”

    If Cameron’s case is threadbare, just how bad does that make Brown’s?

  • Johnny Mills

    I don’t think you were using Facebook when we endured the last big format change. There was uproar – petitions, questions wanting asking in Parliament and requests for public floggings. It was all over in a week, people adjusted to the changes, appreciated the benefits and life moved on.

    The same will happen with the latest update.

    I think the reason people comment more on your day to day blogs is that they understand them and being tribal, feel a need to say, “Yes, that happens to me too”. They’re on safe ground. Whereas, the heavyweight material requires more effort and its complexity means that we risk making arses of ourselves when trying to post a thoughtful comment. I guess it’s that tribal thing again – not wanting to stand out from the crowd , to be the wilderbeast the lion picks off.

    Change is good – it keeps things fresh and as long as we’re changing, we’re striving to be better. Mind you, I’m biased – I’m a Change Manager (not for Facebook)!

  • Richard Tod

    I have spent most of my life instigating, implementing and encouraging change in industry, local government and now in the water industry. It can only really happen when people see that NOT to do so is more painful than making the change. The pain comes from pushing people out of their comfort zone into something new where the effects are unknown.

    Humour, involvement and full explanation of the benefits in a consistant and persistant way is the only effective solution. The tories use this approach through the media by debunking every success and using every opertunity to convince people that change is necessary because the alternative (a fourth term for Labour) would be more painful. I agree with you, we should be debunking every single comment they make to as wide an audience as possible.

  • marcus Dillistone


  • Frances Wood

    The thing is too that you have to take so much of difficult change on trust. Let us know what The Age of Stupid is like

  • AC

    Apologies to Alina for mis-spell of surname. It should be Palimaru, not Palimura. Promise not to mis-spell in NS

  • Alan Quinn

    ” I hope ministers take note of the the call for more aggressive demolition of Cameron’s threadbare case”….

    Too hopes there Ally.. Bob Hope and no ****** hope. The ones who tried to call for a more agrresive approached to Cameron’s lack of policies have been ignored.
    Last year Cameron said on the Andrew Marr show he would take the UK out of the Social Chapter. Potentially with the Warwick Agreement guaranteeing that employers can’t count bank holidays as annual leave, workers could lose the right to nearly six weeks paid holday per year thanks to the party that always says it’s “family friendly”.

    Did the numpties at Labour HQ seize on this? No!

  • Andy G

    Can I add my voice to the people who are calling for a “more aggressive demolition of David Cameron’s threadbare case”. There’s nothing worse than hearing a Labour minister do a really poor interview. It creates the impression they’ve given up. If they were a bit more combative, people would be more interested in what they had to say and it would certainly enthuse their supporters.

  • Catriona Smith

    Is it just me or are the times of these posts a bit wonky?

  • Marcus Dillistone

    How about bIogging on the benefits of brevity?

    “Beanz Meanz Heinz”.

  • Charlie

    It is likely that more flesh will be added to Tory Policies as the date for a General Election is clarified. Will Brown be bold and go for June 09 or will he dither on til 2010 in the hope that some “Event” will come to his rescue?

    In the meantime the Tories seem to be doing ok just watching the extraordinary spectacle of Labour reverting to type and imploding before our very eyes……

    Labour certainly seem to have forgotten everything “New” that you, Tony, Mandy and Philip taught them. (Did Gordon ever really get the hang of it?)

  • Bendy Girl

    The comments coming in from the disabled community are that the recent changes to facebook make it even more inaccessible. Not really surprising from a site which still allows groups set up to mock people with disabilities in a way which would create outrage were they mocking race or religious orientation
    Bendy Girl

  • paulcanning

    Also looking forward to The Age of Stupid – there’s a great ‘making of’ film about it on The Guardian

  • kevin Hollingsworth

    The leadership of the Labour party and most of the media savvy upper ranking members should be TOLD to join a paintball club. This would give the media plenty to concern itself with whilst also getting The Labour head co-ordinated on winning this war against the regressive Tories.

  • Jane A

    Like the blog re big and good change, being change averse (cannot think of you in same sentence as conservative, small c or not) and Facebook change.

    The latter is beyond irritating, like someone came into my house and put the furniture where *they* want it. Grrrr.

    Re big/good change, I’ve been watching US media take on Obama for the past two weeks (CNN tracking the days, 54 and counting yesterday) and the fact they are all vexed and flustery about “is he doing too much?”

    Can you imagine the epic scale of fuss if they jointly decided he was doing too little?

    I think he’s just doing it different ; it’s a change, and everyone seems to have gone a bit Scarlett O’Hara with the vapours-ish as a result.

    PS: If anyone knows how to revert to Facebook #2, please post. Someone usually figures it out.

  • TheMonkeyMan

    You’re very right when you point out that there is a difference between progressive positive change (the emergence of blogs, facebook, the internet) and change for its own sake (lets make google pages fluorescent yellow instead of white).

    For me personally, change is a paradoxical experience. 90% of the time when I do new things, go to new places, I experience a huge amount of anxiety which can make the experience incredibly difficult. But getting through those things without quitting gives you belief, strength, and a life with more meaning.

  • Keith Horrell

    Say hello to Liz for me – Now head teacher married with 4 kids