Once upon a time but not all that long ago, blogs were new, there was no Twitter, and the Conservative Party was in opposition. And shortly after Tim Montgomerie began ConservativeHome in 2005, there was excitement among many Party members about the new leader, David Cameron. The site was far smaller – there were fewer categories of feature, for example – and people with views about politics make had little alternative but to make them on the threads, or those of newspaper and blog threads elsewhere. None had migrated to Twitter to broadcast their views to the world, for the simple reason that it didn’t exist.
The best part of ten years on, a great deal has changed. For a start, many of those people have now taken to Twitter. And whether you’re a fan or a foe of Cameron, you will agree that the buzz of those early years have faded. Party loyalists, a category into which most members broadly fall, are not particularly active on this site or, as far as I can see, on any other. It’s claimed regularly that they have been driven off ConservativeHome by UKIP supporters. And, certainly, a slice of those who now comment on the site appear to be people who are unhappy with the Cameron leadership and are, presumably, older and retired, since they have quite a bit of time to contribute during working hours.
However, it is not always easy to distinguish an older conservative who supports UKIP with an older Conservative who is unhappy with Cameron (a category into which roughly a quarter of party members fall, or so our surveys suggest). And both should be at liberty to express their views on the site, within the limits set by the comments policy. The presumption on ConservativeHome, as on any of the newspaper websites, should be for free speech. If Party loyalists are unwilling to argue back against, say, UKIP supporters, then that is telling Number 10 and CCHQ something that they need to know.
In any event, the site is bigger and the editors happy to let the regular core of those who comment do so as they please. There are two big exceptions. The first is breaching the Comments Policy. The second is going off-topic – particularly in the form of gratuitously trying to work the conversation round to the EU and UKIP. Repeat offenders will simply be expelled from the site. Everyone who comments now has to register, so doing this isn’t technically difficult. I’m sorry if this upsets anyone but, for all the changes of the past ten years, ConHome is still a home, and homes must have house rules.