Does the Church of England Need a Social Media/Blogging Policy?

Over the past few days there has been rather a furore over some comments by the Bishop of Willesden, Rt Rev’d Pete Broadbent (@pete173).

He’s most definitely a republican, as many people in the Diocese of London already know. He made a throwaway comment on Twitter when the impending Royal Wedding was announced about booking a trip to France on the day, which was then duplicated onto his Facebook page and kicked off a discussion where he made a number of other comments. All of this is on a Facebook page that is viewable by anybody. Comments included describing Prince Charles and Princess Diana as “Big Ears and the Porcelain Doll”, and the impending wedding as a bit of “national flimflam” and added in various other comments about the monarchy in general, and in particular their previous track record with marriages, and gave this marriage seven years.

Whilst it was public on the Facebook page it took a couple of days before it went beyond that, unfortunately what then happened was the Daily Mail found the discussion and wrote a front page article on it , and that article was picked up around the world. The Bishop issued a full apology on Monday, which many thought would draw an end to the matter. However he was absent from General Synod this morning and shortly afterwards his boss the Bishop of London, a personal friend of Prince Charles and rumoured to be a possibility for taking the wedding issued a statement saying that despite the apology he had asked Bishop Pete to withdraw from public ministry until further notice.

There has been much outrage online over the response of the Bishop of London, many feeling that he has overreacted, but is that justified?

The situation is not new, indeed the Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) and Shel Israel (@shelisrael) book Naked Conversations : How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers talks about exactly these kinds of situations in a corporate context. If you look at the Church as a corporate structure, Bishop Pete as a senior manager described the son of the Chairman of the Board (the Queen is Supreme Governor of the Church of England) as “Big Ears”, poured scorn on a number of their marriages and was just downright rude. In any corporate situation he would be sacked, no question about it. As a senior representative of any organisation there is an expectation that even if you have some latitude to publicly express personal opinions, you publicly represent the organisation and are expected to act as such.

The real problem is that again like many corporations the Church doesn’t have a formal Social Media and Blogging policy – many organisations don’t get one until something like this happens.

My current employer now has such a policy, under which I can’t say who it is I work for. The policy was introduced amongst other things as a result of a newsworthy event that I blogged about here, but was subsequently asked to remove the post. Employees were also discussing working for the company on Facebook and elsewhere. As a result the most recent revision of the internet guidelines introduced a blogging and social media policy that banned employees from blogging about or talking about the company on social media. Hence I cannot say who I work for or give any details as to what I had posted about and was asked to remove.

The church has no such policy but plenty of members, clergy and several bishops blogging and actively using Social Media, Bishop Pete being only one such example.

So does the Church need a social media and blogging policy? I don’t think so. Whilst Bishop Pete is a high profile case, up to now there hasn’t seemed to be much need, the Church of England is so broad that there is always a breadth of opinion on many topics, and a good deal of debate goes on online. Whilst a policy would maybe give clearer lines for those of us blogging within the Church and on Church matters, up to now common sense has seemed to prevail. As a Bishop there is that same expectation of common sense, as someone who is supposed to be a uniting figure it is obvious that there will be a diversity of opinion amongst the people he represents. Whilst there are many who agree with his opinion of the Royal Family, equally there are those for whom the Royal Family are an important part of both our country and the Church of England, a Bishop sometimes has to put aside or restrain his personal opinions for the good of the whole. Probably the most high profile example of this is Archbishop Rowan who much to the frustration of many on the more liberal wing of the Church is steering a path for unity rather than following the agenda one would expect given some of his previous writings.

So was Bishop Pete fairly treated? It may not be a popular choice, but I think he was. He’s kept his job which is more than someone in business would have, indeed some were calling on him to resign anyway. Cranmer explains in much more detail the vows that Bishop Broadbent took, and as a senior representative of the Church of England whether or not you think it is right that church and state are so closely intertwined, having taken those vows it is quite right to expect that he should uphold them. Swearing allegiance to the Queen and her heirs and successors, doesn’t really sit well with referring to one of them as “Big Ears”. When you accept the post of a Bishop you give up some of your freedom to express your own opinions, you become a Bishop of the Church of England, and there is an expectation that you’ll toe the line. You have a lot of latitude to express your own opinons, but it’s not unlimited.

Finally, if anyone in the Church, particularly someone senior is considering becoming active in the blogsphere or social media, should this put them off? I’d say not, but it is a salutary warning. You need be aware of what is public and what is private. Certainly in any public forum you need to be watch what you say, it’s very easy to relax into thinking that you’re having a private conversation when in fact anybody in the world can see it – that is precisely the trap Bishop Pete fell into. You can bleat about how unfair it is, but ultimately people know what the British press is like. Certainly there is an argument to be had over controlling them but it’s very difficult to argue that from a position where you are under attack by them. I’d also recommend having a read of Naked Conversations, the book has plenty of examples of bloggers, Scoble included publicly disagreed with their organisations and survived, but also plenty who didn’t. Ultimately it all comes down to common sense, know your role, and know what your superiors will accept, and stick to it. By all means try and push the envelope, but referring to the next Supreme Governor of the Church of England as “Big Ears”? Not a good idea.

The Art of Management by Stuart “The Brand” Baggs

If you’ve been watching the latest series of The Apprentice over the past few weeks, you cannot have failed to notice Stuart “The Brand” Baggs – he famously said that everything he touched turned to sold on the first programme of the series. He is notable in being the youngest candidate ever to appear on the series, and currently runs his own telecommunications company on the Isle of Man.

This week he finally got his chance to shine, and demonstrate his unique management style. Here we present some of the key techniques he demonstrated, so others can emulate his success.

  • Modern business is mired by too much sitting around in meetings discussing things. As manager only your opinion matters so cut off all discussion and make bold decisions… and then make them again several hours later when you change your mind.
  • A key strength needed for management is “extreme masculinity”. Make sure you enforce this masculinity by driving very fast around a race track whilst your minions do your bidding hardworking team perform their designated tasks.
  • Remember your age is a key strength. Make sure you’re aware of the age of older members of your team and enforce your superiority by highlighting the age gap. Women feel particularly motivated by being reminded of their age especially if they’re over thirty.
  • The best place for vital information is in your head, writing things down is for the weak.
  • If something is selling well, put the price up by fifty percent and leave your sales team to explain it to the customers.
  • Make sure everybody on your team knows what they are responsible for and clearly states to camera the jobs for which they will be fired instead of you.
  • Don’t waste too much time on the tasks you have assigned yourself such as quality control. If it all goes wrong, blame Stella as she’s old and has to write things down so she doesn’t forget them.
  • There is no need to take deposits for sales, people will be sure to come back to collect their DVD’s.

Sadly, whilst Stuart “The Brand” Baggs was bad, Sandeesh was worse, and despite having sold more DVD’s than Stuart had messed up the budget and pricing and ended up losing by £40.

There’s always next week…

These Aren’t The Clocks You’re Looking For

You might have spotted these great Lego Star Wars figure Alarm Clocks promoted on Electric Pig this week.

They are further hooking in with the phenomenally successful tie up between Lego and the Star Wars franchise producing giant sized Star Wars Lego figures with built in alarm clocks. The downside being that according to the Electric Pig article you have to go to ThinkGeek and pay in dollars to get them.

Fear not, a dig around and it seems the guys at Firebox are doing the self same figures for the princely sum of £24.99 – and if you buy through the link here it goes towards helping our site to keep running.

By the way, those of you who are thinking these sound like they might be a good Christmas present for me, I’ve added it to my universal wish list over at Amazon!

Lying to Get Elected

One of the big political stories of the past couple of weeks has been the spectacular fall from grace of Phil Woolas who became the first Member of Parliament in almost a century to be booted out of office, having been found guilty of knowingly misleading voters over his main opponent, i.e. he lied on an election leaflet. Typically other MP’s are worried saying that the ruling will affect ‘robust debate’.

The timing of the ruling was personally somewhat ironic, as it almost exactly coincided with the arrival of the official transcript of a question I asked at a recent Wokingham Borough Council Executive meeting. There was a newspaper report of the meeting published in which I get a mention – pretty good considering that there were forty-three questions in total asked on that night – however the report does simplify my point quite a lot.

If we roll back the clock to before the election, the first point of note is late summer 2009 when the then shadow minister Caroline Spelman wrote to all local councils highlighting that if a Conservative government were returned in the upcoming election they would quickly and radically change the policy on housing. The letter suggested that councils should not adopt any core strategy until after the election, and also referred councillors to the newly published policy documents on Returning Power to Local Communities and Building Homes and Communities. What is striking reading those documents is that they are very much about building more homes – the radical shift is from the Labour stick, to a Conservative carrot, so councils who build more get more money.

Looking at how this was greeted locally, Wokingham Borough Council adopted their Core Strategy as planned in January 2010, and the new policy was uniformly presented as being the ability to cut housing numbers. This ability to cut housing numbers was presented verbally, most notably by David Lee at a local residents meeting, and can also be found in this election leaflet from our local councillor and then Executive Member for Planning, Gary Cowan.

After the election there was an almost instantaneous U-turn, with everybody now saying that the policy would result in Wokingham Borough having to build more houses, therefore the Core Strategy was the only thing keeping us safe.

This led to my question:

The leader of Wokingham Borough Council has said on several occasions, including at a Public meeting of the Arborfield Garrison Residents Action Group in April 2010, that if a new Conservative government were elected they would abolish the previous government’s top down housing targets, and that he expected WBC to significantly lower the housing numbers planned for Wokingham borough. Furthermore, in answer to a question from the floor about how he would deliver this expectation in the face of potential appeals from developers, he said that WBC would engage Queens Counsel to defend their position.

The position was further stated in election literature from the former Executive Member for Planning which said ‘If a Conservative government is elected they will abolish the high housing targets forced on Wokingham, leaving Wokingham Borough Council free to amend its plans and scale down the targets’, and echoed by the Conservative MP for Wokingham, John Redwood in the local press and online who has stated that with the abolition of top down targets WBC should revise the figure.

Now that the recommendation quoted in Item 68 is that ‘WBC is to continue with the housing numbers included in the Core Strategy’, would the leader of the council detail the reason(s) for his complete U-turn?

To some extent I knew what the answer to the question was going to be, hence why I took along a copy of the offending election leaflet – the point where I held it up produced a laugh from the assembled locals, and the apology from David Lee – what I objected to was the implication that they had been taken by surprise by the policy, when in all honesty I don’t think Wokingham Borough Council would have merrily carried on without reading their own parties policy on housing! The purpose in asking the question is to air the point in a public forum, and get it written into the official record.

Looking back at what actually happened it seems to me that having read the policy documents, the local councillors realised that the new policy wasn’t going to help on numbers, which explains why they pressed on and adopted the unpopular core strategy. Realising that going into an election campaign admitting that they had no intention of cutting housing numbers would be tantamount to electoral suicide given local feeling, they carried on with the charade by promising to cut housing numbers whenever the opportunity arose, and then once elected maintained that the policy implementation had taken them by surprise.

Interestingly I had a private e-mail argument with Gary Cowan in the run up to the election over some of his promises where I said I didn’t believe him, and he got really quite defensive, but the policy documents were widely available online and pretty clear in their tone. As I said I cannot believe that local Tories with housing being such a hot topic locally would not have read their own policy, and the fact that they didn’t take the opt out on the unpopular core strategy seems to confirm this. It really just confirms the common conception that politicians will say anything, even lying totally to get themselves elected.