Every website or forum has its time in the sun, when it's the place to be. Politicalbetting.Com (or pb.com to its friends) has enjoyed such a period of pre-eminence in the political blogsphere. I would argue that since 2004 it has been the place to go for political and betting news and debate.
For a number of years, I posted there regularly and enjoyed considered, good-natured debates with a number of the other contributors from other parties and the unaffiliated. There was a genuine atmosphere of debate and dialogue free of personal invective and abuse where constructive comments were possible and ideas exchanged.
That place has gone.
Pb.com's founder, Mike Smithson, is a decent and honourable chap and has done his best to evolve the site into something useful. His guiding principle has been the free exchange of comment - unlike other forums, there is no registration and moderation is kept to a minimum. It used to work well on that basis because contributors respected other opinions and kept abuse to a minimum.
That also has gone.
Whether it is symptomatic of the times or symptomatic of the pervading political atmosphere I don't know but in the last six months, pb.com has become an increasingly unpleasant almost toxic place. Back in 2004-5, there was a healthy balance of contributors across the political spectrum but more recently the majority of contributors including a cadre who seem to post almost all day every day has become increasingly aggressive and intolerant. This new breed of poster is almost universally anti-Labour and anti-Liberal Democrat. Some are presumably Conservative supporters and activists and it bodes ill for the future if the lack of respect for other people's opinions visible now on pb.com becomes the lingua franca of the Cameron era.
The daily vitriol against Gordon Brown and the Government and against Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats has damaged the credibility of pb.com. Anyone who either tries to post opinions supporting Labour or Lib Dem viewpoints or who in any way dares to criticise David Cameron is rounded on by a feral pack of odious individuals and subjected to a tirade of abuse and invective.
These individuals, who are of course wholly unable to fashion anything approaching an argument, use abuse for no other reason. Last Saturday evening, I tried to make some points defending the attacks made on the economic culture of the 1980s by Nick Clegg to be rounded on by a pack of deeply unpleasant individuals whose single-sentence comments weren't counter-arguments but personal abuse.
Now, I've got better things to do with my life than put up with that kind of invective and I shouldn't have responded in kind but the fact remains that if pb.com is going to devolve into a bearpit then I want no part of it.
Thus, I won't post on pb.com for the foreseeable future or until Mike Smithson takes some definite action aimed at restoring some standard of respect.
There are those who will argue that the recession has poisoned the political atmosphere and we urgently need a change of Government or even change of political culture and they may well have a point. However, the attempt by Conservative activists to prevent by force majeure any critique of their party's policy suggests an unhealthy fragility and lack of self-belief.
This fragility is also hidden by their inate cockiness - a belief that winning the next election and inflicting as heavy a defeat as possible on Labour and the Liberal Democrats is all that matters. Restoring the economy doesn't matter, providing good governance is unimportant, they can't be bothered by the problems facing individuals, families and communities. All they want is the buzz of victory, the opportunity to gloat and the chance to stick their snouts in the political trough from which they have been excluded for so long.
It may well be that pb.com will be restored once we have a change in Government - I suspect many of those who enjoy being offensive now won't enjoy being defensive in 2012-13 and we will see a big change in those posting. There needs to be a constructive forum where political thoughts and ideas can be exchanged without descending into the noxious bearpit of activism that pb.com has now become.