Other gubbins

My top ten blogs 2013

TOP10Welcome to my third annual list of my top ten blogs.

I have continued to read all the blogs in my previous lists, although a couple of bloggers took a bit of a break this year. So I am discovering that the process of compiling a top ten gets progressively more difficult every year. The challenge is who to leave out. I again considered moving to a top twenty, but resisted the temptation.

So when I say this is a list of my “top” blogs, what do I mean?

I focus on individual bloggers rather than group blogs. And I focus on independent bloggers rather than professionals or journalists who happen also to run a blog. These categories are, though, becoming increasingly blurred. In particular, there is a steady stream of bloggers who make the transition from independence to contributing to a blogging platform such as the New Statesman, the Guardian‘s Comment is Free, or Independent Voices.

Overall, I’m not too fussy about demarcation. As long as someone is still pretty active on their own blog then I’ve considered including them. Otherwise the basis for inclusion is largely subjective.

For a blog to get into my top ten it has to be one that I read regularly. But, more than that, these are blogs that generate a sense of anticipation. I’m looking out for the next post. That doesn’t mean I’ll agree with it. In fact, in some cases there’s a good chance that I won’t. But the experience of disagreeing will be stimulating in itself.

There are several blogs I’ve been reading regularly this year that came close to the top ten. This diverse group includes Iain Dale, Scriptonite Daily, and Pride’s Purge. I was pleased to see Stephen Baxter blogging independently again at It’s not the despair because he’s a great, thoughtful writer. The blog is nonetheless a challenging read at times, as he wrestles with a range of personal and professional challenges. Alex Wilcock’s Love & Liberty would have been a strong contender for inclusion – even allowing for the prominent Dr Who component, which very definitely isn’t my thing – but he hasn’t posted for a while.

Mark Thompson, who has featured in my top 10 in previous years, deserves a special mention. Although he continues to produce great blogposts, much of his energy is directed towards producing his House of Comments podcast alongside Emma Burnell. Unfortunately, I can’t really produce a companion top 10 podcasts because Mark and Emma’s is the only one I listen to with any regularity.

Anyway, those are some of the blogs that I read that aren’t included in my top ten blogs for 2013. Here are the ones that are, in reverse order:

10.     Phil at A very public sociologist operates at a very different point on the political spectrum to the one I occupy. Some of his posts are geared towards the intricacies of socialist/Labour internal disputes over theory and practice. Reading these posts can feel like intruding on a private conversation. I thought that once I’d left university I’d never again have cause to cross paths with the likes of Althusserian structuralism. It turns out that’s not the case. But Phil also brings a strong analytical intelligence to bear on a range of contemporary political debates and cultural phenomena such as the cult of celebrity. He regularly produces stimulating theoretically-informed posts. As a bonus Phil writes about retro video games, which is fine by me.

9.      The focus of A Dragon’s Bestfriend by Puffles’ bestest buddy has shifted somewhat this year. There is a bit less discussion of national politics and policy and a bit more discussion of local happenings around Cambridge. However, much of the locally-focused discussion relates to fostering political engagement and participation, including the possibility of new connections and modes of practice. The role that social media can play in creative forms of political engagement is a theme. Most of this discussion resonates more widely. It touches on issues that vex local politicians and communities up and down the country.

8.      Hopi Sen’s A blog from the backroom continues to provide some of the best commentary on political events, options and tactics to be found online. Most of it focuses on the challenges facing the Labour party. Hopi regularly offers rapid-response comment on political developments, and he does so from a distinctive and self-deprecating perspective that is well-suited to independent blogging. Some of his posts at other sites adopt a rather more conventional authorial voice. They are always interesting, but to me they feel a little less distinctive. On the other hand, they do get proofread! 😀

7.      Frances Coppola at Coppola Comment must now qualify as a regular on my list of best blogs. Frances’ profile as a commentator on all things banking and finance, as well as broader economic questions, continues to grow. The scandals around RBS and the Co-op bank, among many others, have given Frances plenty to comment on this year. As well as appearances in the national media, much of Frances’ work now first appears on the group blog at Pieria and, more recently, via her column at Forbes. However, Frances’ own blog continues to carry original posts of considerable substance.

6.       The genius of Flipchart Fairy Tales was recognized this year when it won the Editorial Intelligence Comment Award for best independent blogger. Flipchart Rick (as I will persist in calling him!) is another regular on my list of top blogs. He continues to produce evidence-based posts that, with great skill, considerably illuminate complex issues in a concise and compact form. The topics stretch from the most macro – addressing global economic trends or the ageing society – to the microlevel of intra-organisational relations. On Twitter I tend to end up retweeting a high proportion of Rick’s posts – not simply as a reflex but because I genuinely think that everyone should be reading them.

5.      Diane Coyle’s Enlightenment Economics Blog has cost me a lot of money. The blog has a distinctive niche. It is primarily a site on which Diane offers brief reviews of new books on economics – broadly conceived – and closely related topics. This has drawn to my attention to more interesting books than I care to contemplate. Books are one of my (very few!) vices. As a consequence,a trip to Diane’s blog is as often as not swiftly followed by a visit to Waterstones online to acquire a copy.

4.      Over a relatively short space of time Simon Wren-Lewis has established Mainly Macro as one of the leading economics blogs in the world. It seems to me he has also rapidly become recognized as one of the leading academic bloggers in the UK, regardless of subject. As the name suggests, most of Simon’s posts discuss macroeconomics – which is his area of academic specialism – but there is a smattering of posts on other public policy topics. Simon is not, it would be fair to say, a great fan of austerity economics as practiced by the current government. Simon’s posts generally start from the presumption that the reader has some feel for the economic arguments and then builds from there. But that doesn’t mean the blog is inaccessible. Far from it. There is the occasional wonkish post – as the econobloggers are inclined to say – but Simon generally does a great job of breaking complex topics down and explaining the issues clearly.

3.       Jules Birch (Inside Edge/Jules Birch) is, in my view, the foremost commentator on contemporary housing policy in the UK. He is one of the few commentators who tackles the full range of relevant issues. Although Jules is not an academic his commentary is strongly informed by respect for the evidence and the relevant bodies of research. He regularly produces posts – both at Inside Housing and on his own blog – that bring together several strands of emerging argument to make important connections and to provide a critical overview of the state of the debate. Jules is a critic of much of what the Government is doing in the field of housing, but his critique is not partisan.

2.      Unless you work in the field of housing research you probably haven’t heard of Ken Gibb’s Brick by Brick blog, which sprang into life in 2013. But if you have heard of it then you’ll know that Ken is getting well into his blogging stride. I should say that I have collaborated with Ken on and off for many years, so it was almost inevitable that his blog would cover issues that interest me. But, while we work together, Ken and I often come at the issues from different directions. And, even if we didn’t collaborate, I’d have no hesitation in saying that if you are looking for accessible discussions of contemporary housing policy informed by a close reading of the housing research literature then you should check it out. Ken is also Director of Policy Scotland, so the blog contains some interesting reflections on issues around Scottish independence, which will, of course, loom large in political discussion over the next few months.

1.      Having topped my list on both previous occasions, I did think that this year perhaps I shouldn’t put Stumbling and Mumbling as my No 1 blog again. But I concluded that this would really just be change for change’s sake. Because, as far as I’m concerned, Chris’s blog remains essential reading. He regularly produces the most interesting and thought-provoking posts that I encounter online. The blog addresses a range of contemporary social and policy issues from an economic perspective. The posts are always brief. They often seek to apply insights from recent research to an issue that has featured on the news agenda. Chris draws relatively eclectically on a broad range of literature to address macro questions, theoretical puzzles, and issues associated with the operation of individual markets. I don’t always agree with the analysis, but I never fail to take something positive away from it.

So that’s this year’s list. If there are blogs and bloggers here that you’re not familiar with then I encourage you to check them out. They may be very different in focus and feel, but they all offer high quality content that will get you thinking.

Image: © Tr3 – Fotolia.com

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