Monday, March 09, 2009

Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part LXVIII: Toby Flux

Toby Flux is the creator and editor of Labour Matters - one of two volunteer editors who work every day to publish news from across the country from Labour newsmakers.

He joined the Labour Party at 18 and became a Councillor aged 22, serving eight years on Kingston upon Thames LBC, during which time he became Chair of the Tolworth Neighbourhood Committee and Leader of the Labour Group. Deciding not to seek re-election he became Agent and lead Labour to its greatest success in the 1998 local elections since the 1970s, winning 10 seats. He worked at Labour HQ when John Smith sadly died and was succeeded by Tony Blair.

He is an award winning Web designer and developer.

Labour politicians wishing to contribute to Labour Matters should email their press releases to

What made you decide to start blogging?

Labour Matters isn't the first blog (if it can be called a blog at all) which I have contributed to. The first blog for me was in fact a satirical blog about the then Tory leader Michael Howard which I wrote during the 2005 General Election. More recently I contributed to a blog advocating the merits of Barack Obama as the best Democratic Party candidate for President.

What is your best blogging experience?

Being provided a tip about a Conservative front bencher calling for speed cameras to be ripped out nationally whilst he was campaigning for new cameras to be installed in his own constituency. It was a story taken up by The Mirror a couple of days later. That showed that a blog run on a shoestring and written in my spare time really could influence the national debate.

And your worst?

As a result of a lack of due diligence on my part, because I was exhausted after a long and difficult working day, I confused a Tory blog and a Labour blog with similar names. The Tory blogger had announced that he was closing his blog and I mistakenly lamented his loss to the political blogosphere. Within hours other Tory bloggers poked fun at my error and attempted to use the error to undermine the credibility of Labour Matters as a project. One Tory blogger was particularly scathing, despite me using his comments section to admit my error as soon as I realised my mistake. A few days later the same blogger made an error in fact himself but couldn't bring himself to admit his own mistake, which told me all I needed to know about the character of the man.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?

By its very nature, Labour Matters not really being a blog in the traditional sense, it's difficult for me to single out the work of others as the best article Labour Matters has published. I know which article has received the most attention from readers, which by one criteria would make it 'the best', though I suspect that you're more interested in literally style than political impact, and I think we can all agree that Labour Matters is unlikely to win an Orwell Prize.

Favourite blogs?

On the domestic political scene it would have to be the much criticised LabourList. It epitomises a recognition by Labour that it has hitherto mistakenly neglected to harness the power of the Web, despite good intentions, and I like the mixture of thoughtful blog articles which seek to advance political knowledge and discussion with more lighthearted (often attack) articles.

I like to keep abreast of US affairs too, and for that the Huffington Post is my first port of call. In many ways I think the HuffPo points to the likely future of the mainstream media and the political blogosphere.

What inspired you to go into politics?

I can't really remember a time when I wasn't political, with a small 'p'. The product of a single parent family, which meant that my Mother had to work three jobs to keep a roof over our heads, my Grandmother would care for me after primary school. In those days she took The Daily Telegraph and we would often read it together and discuss the issues of the day. She was no socialist though.

I lived through the inconveniences of the Tory 3-day week, which had a much greater impact on our lives than Labour's Winter of discontent. I saw the effect on honorable working people of Thatcher's destruction of the coal mining industry first hand, living as I was then in a town dominated by the pit. More recently, Gordon Brown's 2002 (I think it was) budget speech - which was dominated by assistance for small businesses to get into ecommerce and use the Web - inspired me to pay attention to the Internet.

How does Labour Matters work in relation to other Labour blogging networks, such as Labourhome?

The biggest difference is that Labour Matters uses blogging software to publish news releases from established Labour groups and MPs. It's not really a blog per se. We use our 'asides - what others are saying' section to highlight blog articles which interest us, which is a form of blogging, but Labour Matters was never intended to be about the opinions of the volunteer editors, which is why, until now, I've tried to divorce who I am from what Labour Matters is by keeping my name in the background.

Have you had any feedback from CLP's about Labour Matters?

Not from CLPs specifically, but certainly from Labour Groups, MPs, and the Party regionally and nationally who have given us their support by regularly contributing their news for publication. I'm yet to receive a negative message from a CLP etc about Labour Matters' aims, but that might just mean that those who think it worthless don't bother writing!

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?

I'd like to go to Australia before climate change makes it too hot to visit!

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?

The Czech Republic to bring my dog back to the UK. I hope to be able to do this before the year is out, work prospects permitting.

Who, excluding the present leader and Prime Minister, do you regard as the best British Prime Minister, and if different, the best Labour leader?

Labour PM: Attlee, I guess. Leader: Neil Kinnock for paving the way for a Labour Party able to be elected three consecutive times, and hopefully for four.

Which political figure has been your greatest inspiration

I'm not really a fan of celebrity, particularly in politics, but if you read the answer to the question about what inspired me to go in into politics then you'll see that events, and the people behind them, have helped shape the direction of my life and my political views.

Favourite Bond movie?

I don't really have a favourite. Sean Connery was the best Bond of my youth, but I think the current Bond is better because he plays a more gritty Bond which is I think truer to Flemming's intention.

Favorite Doctor Who?

We're supposed to have fond memories of the Dr Who which made us hide behind the sofa in our formative years, which would be Tom Baker, but I much prefer Tennant.

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?

Who says that I have to choose to exclude two of them? Variety is the spice of life, so I'll have a scoop of each in a bowl please. In truth though you can keep all of them if you provided three scoops of coffee ice cream instead.

Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?

I think I'd have fun watching The Clash, but in truth I think I'd have more fun at a Bob Marley concert.

In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford, Cambridge, or Barsby, Leics..?

I've only been to Oxford and I have fond memories of my weekends there, but I would like to see Cambridge too.

Favourite national newspaper?

The Guardian although I rarely buy it because it seems to be pushing for a Cameron victory (or a hung parliament) far too much for my liking.

What would you say your hobbies were?

Politics, which is mostly confined to being editor of Labour Matters nowadays, is my hobby. I also enjoy long walks with my dog, and look forward to doing so again very soon.

And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books
(Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?

Some songs remind me of specific times in my life more than others, but I wouldn't call them my favourites. Neil Arthur's I Know These Things About You has some terrific lyrics and it reminds me of a few ex-girlfriends. I always like to hear The Rolling Stones' You Can't Always Get What You Want too. But if I had to choose one piece of music above all others, Desert Island Disks style, then it would have to be Mozart's Requiem.

As for favourite books, that's much harder for me to list than, say, favourite films. Umberto Eco's The name of the rose I can repeatedly read and I consider his most accessible novel. Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is a good novel, although it reminds me of when I first read it - recovering from food poisoning on holiday in Bulgaria. Finally, I guess Machiavelli's The Prince has to be in the running. My secretary gave me a copy for my Birthday when I was Leader of the Labour Group, but insisted that he had little to teach me. To this day I can't quite work out whether that was a compliment or not!

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