October 2009


For some reason I’ve only just noticed Sara Bedford’s autumnal stew recipe from, appropriately, the first of the month. It is bubbling away as I write and smelling fabulous, so I thought, while we all wait for the The Thick Of It to start (heavens! I haven’t been this excited since Wednesday when the next DVD in the third series of the West Wing arrived from Lovefilm), let’s get a stew meme going.

Stew is perfect post-canvassing/local party social food because it keeps itself warm and can be stretched to accommodate unexpected numbers. If only it began with the same letter as “politics”. Also perfect for student parties for  much the same reasons. Plus people will want to shag you if you demonstrate  the ability to make stew for them. Trufax.

And so I give you Mortimer’s More-or-Less Normandaise Beef Stew, which is my attempt at recreating something amazing I ate from a stall at a French fair in Whetstone once (quantities are roughly speaking for three/four, but I’m not one of nature’s precision cooks, as you will soon see):

500g of casserole steak

Enough new potatoes, carrots and peas for the number you’re cooking for

One large onion, chopped

Two cored and sliced eating apples

Bottle of good quality apple cider

Beef stock

2 tablespoons of caramelised onion chutney (to be quite honest I’ve no idea how vital this is; I make it myself so tend to add it to everything)

1 tablespoon of mustard (more if you like a good peppery stew)

Lots of thyme

1 tablespoon of cornflour

A good 50ml or so slug of single cream

Seasoning

1. Brown the beef in a stockpot with plenty of seasoning and olive oil.

2. Add the potatoes, carrots, onions and apples. Cover with a mixture of three-quarters cider and one quarter beef stock; add the chutney, mustard and thyme and give it all a stir.

3. Cook on lowish for a stew amount of time (i.e. longer the better, but an hour minimum, in which case you’d better whack the dial up a bit) In the last quarter of cooking time, add the cream, peas and cornflour.

4. Check the flavour and season.

Serve with a green salad and vinaigrette, and crusty bread to mop up.

During his appearance on Question Time on Thursday, Nick Griffin revealed that he has, in fact, read some books. These books, we are to believe, support his notion of there being a 17,000-year old “indigenous English race” surviving in the modern population of the British Isles.

Actually, I shouldn’t say “we are to believe” because I can all too readily believe that books like that have been written. And I am therefore, obviously, reminded of the pyramids.

Graham Hancock is a writer, self-trained historian and archaeologist who writes hugely successful books called things like The Fingerprints of the Gods. It’s years and years since I read one or two of them (my verdict at the time: some interesting nuggets and it’s always good  to be reminded that history is all about questions, but tediously easy to pick method apart in places, and far too convinced of a Great Mysterious Overall Picture for my untidy mind). For a quick run-down of core theory I can do no better than quote Amazon’s blurb on Fingerprints:

The author has a highly controversial view of history and his theory of a mysterious, lost civilization that brought knowledge to other people around the world, has attracted a wide audience. In this new large-format edition, Hancock responds to critics and brings readers up to date with developments in the debate. He exposes the eerie network of connections between: the Great Sphinx and pyramids of Egypt; the Andean temples of Tianhuanaco; the Mexican pyramids of the Sun and Moon; the lost continent that lies beneath Antarctica; ancient knowledge of spherical geometry and astro-navigation; the myths and legends of humanity that have remained strangely consistent across geographical and social divides; and new theories concerning the causes of the ice ages. His new evidence suggests not only the “fingerprints” of an unknown civilization that flourished during the last ice age but also horrifying conclusions about the type and extent of planetary catastrophe required to obliterate almost all traces of it. Included are the BBC transcripts to the “Horizon” TV documentary.

This “Woah! Far out!” school of history is of course not new; the ancient Greeks believed explicitly in a heroic age before their own when the gods  walked the earth. Plato’s Atlantis myth has been treated as a morality tale, as a narrative history and as an object of parody in both antiquity and the  modern post-humanist era. But it’s certainly true that, while not actually new, alternative history and alternative archaeology can legitimately sell themselves as being “a breath of fresh air”, because most people’s experience of history – schoolbound history – is pretty stultifying.

It helps crank history that history in schools is taught with such poverty of imagination, but it’s not the core reason for its popularity. The real reason crank history is so terribly attractive is this: it offers people the chance to get one up on those whom they believe to be  distant, elitist, complacent snobs, to wit, academics. It holds out the tantalising possibility that, by reading just one book, you too can become an expert – and a much better one than the experts around at the moment! It trades on the same “superiority hit” as Ufology. If you doubt this, go and read the  Amazon reviews of any Graham Hancock book. Time and again we get this sort of thing [all sic, if you take my meaning]:

you do the general public a great service by questioning the mainstream of historians views on civilisations… i for one admire people like graham hancock who arnt afraid to push the bounderies

investigates the hypothesis of a Lost Civilisation, or Atlantis, an idea detested by scholars… it asks some fundamental questions about humanity’s past that orthodox scholars fail to respond to in a convincing way.

Often controvertial, particularly to the established view of prehistory laid out by academia, Graham is unapologetic about his findings,

Do your own research, come to your own conlusions, read this book.

For those of us who have pored through the works of Zecharia Sitchin and dared to ponder questions that the scientists and religious authorities regard as sacrilegious (after all, science itself is a religion), this is especially interesting material

Hancock is not a scientist or theologian, but this may in fact serve as his greatest qualification for tackling the types of lofty problems he embraces. After all, the vast majority of scientists and theologians dismiss without consideration the sorts of “wild” ideas discussed in this book; if not for the open minds of men like Mr. Hancock, many truths that have now been established would remain jokes told by the arrogant “experts” over tea

the irony is that these books are critisised by those who havent done any research and accuse the authours of taking snippets of infomation to make the events fit their notions, unfortunetly it is the orthodox establishment that has done this.

Now that I have read this book, I understand why there is such a disinformation campaign surrounding his work. The powers-that-be simply don’t want people to learn to think along these lines. It would upset the status quo.

who is the more close minded, those who follow homogenous beliefs or those who are able to do significant, unsarpassable analytical research and stand up to the discriminating old-boy views of mass orthodox perception

If all this language sounds a bit repetitious and as if it might have been learnt by rote, it’s because it has been.  The scourge of “orthodoxy” and the “arrogance” of scholars are recurring themes in the books themselves, from what I recall. They’re very much part of the sales pitch, as this publisher’s note from Amazon makes clear:

My own interpretation is that the people who hate Hancock – as I say, mostly academics – are militant materialists who have a horror of the spiritual…

The odd thing about these purportedly high-minded militant materialists is that they are prepared to resort to dishonesty in debate, so keen are they to stamp out the spiritual element. No doubt it’s all for a higher good.

No idea what the publisher is getting at in that second paragraph. But whether or not there’s a grain of truth in that insinuation in a way makes no difference. Controversy sells, conspiracy sells, an unorthodox hero battling the establishment sells and above all, a promise that you, the little man, can best the forces that “keep you down” in life and know better than “them” if you just read this book, oh, that sells like billyo.

It’s the same with the BNP. I don’t, of course, intend any direct comparison between fans of Graham Hancock in particular and BNP supporters. But the act of accepting crank history in general is characteristic of the sort of people who can believe the BNP’s message. The BNP’s beliefs are based on crank history not just because crank history enables them to rewrite the past for political motives. The sort of people  who feel the need to join the BNP are more likely to be attracted to crank history anyway. It provides the balm their wounded souls need to feel better about stuff again. If “the establishment” says something, then it must be a cover-up for the truth! And if it weren’t for “the establishment” and their cover-ups I could probably have got that promotion…

Mind you, I should also point out about cranks that just occasionally they turn out to be total geniuses (although probably only at one thing). They hang about in jealous, sneering groups rejecting the accepted academic standards of their day because it makes them feel interesting, crying conspiracy at every turn, and concocting theories about how the Sphinx is God’s doorstop and Atlantis is buried under Milton Keynes – and that 17,000 years ago there was an indigenous race of British people that has survived intact to the present day – and suddenly one of them says something like, “Hey, you know what? I bet the earth goes round the sun! I bet it does. Of course they tell us it doesn’t, but oho, there’s a lot we don’t get told about, I reckon.”

Even a stopped clock is right twice a millennium. What’s stunning is that everyone – but everyone - who believes in a particular crank believes that it’s their crank who’s going to turn out to be the Galilean exception to the Aristotelian rule.

The Trafigura business should make us feel good today. A not inconsiderable blow was struck for free speech, and it couldn’t have happened without the internet, or more precisely without social media networking.

That much is fairly indisputable.

But – and I hate to sound like I’m throwing a bucket of cold water all over your twittery love -  what exactly was the alchemy that transformed a Twitter trending topic into an admission of defeat by one of the world’s ghastliest legal enterprises?

Let’s summarise the timeline:

May-September 2009 – the Trafigura scandal unfolds, Carter-Ruck starts doing its hush-work, against the BBC Newsnight team for starters, and to be quite honest no-one notices a thing.

11 October 2009 – Carter-Ruck seek an injunction forbidding the  Guardian (and another paper apparently) from reporting on a question being asked in parliament which will, inevitably, draw attention to the Trafigura scandal.

12 October 2009 – the story that is not a story appears on the front page of the Guardian. Bloggers scent something amiss. Guido Fawkes does his thing and (I believe) is the first person to identify the question that is probably involved. Richard Wilson is, so far as is known, the first person to identify the question that is probably involved.

evening, 12th October – early tweeters on the Trafigura scene that I am aware of include @jackofkent and @dontbefooled. They bash heroically away at it until it starts to spread. Outrage begins to take hold.

c. 9am, 13 October 2009 – the People’s Republic stirs into wakefulness to find Trafigura at number 10 in trending topics, reads up on it, and joins in. But does it really matter that we’re all tweeting about it? I wonder aloud to my tweetmates. Are we not a tiny, self-selecting and slightly odd section of the population? Are we over-inflating our sense of importance here? What can we actually do to Carter-Ruck? How can we actually defend press freedom by sitting  on ergonomic chairs getting cross?

Never fear, says the wise Chicken Yoghurt:

Like blogs, it’s not how many but *who* is reading…

By 10am Trafigura is the top trend, and Carter-Ruck and the Guardian in various permutations follow closely behind. Up to 2pm it stays in the upper half of the trend board, and as of now (4pm) it’s still there, slipping slowly down. Outrage abounds magnificently all day. People run out of profanities with which to dub Carter Ruck. Stephen Fry gets involved. Tweeters from the Guardian spread the news that they are going to court at 2pm this afternoon in an attempt to get the injunction lifted.

11am - The Lib Dems request an urgent question and debate on the press’ freedom to report parliament. The move is carried out by two Lib Dem MPs, Paul Burstow and David Heath. The question and the call for the debate are carefully designed to elicit the same answer as Paul Farrelly’s question, but without mentioning Trafigura, the Minton Report or Carter-Ruck. This means the press can report on their questions, because not even the most myopically reactionary judge is going to grant  an injunction for these:

David Heath:

I would be grateful if you would give consideration to the following Urgent Question to the Lord Chancellor:

“To ask the Lord Chancellor if he will make a statement on the prevention of reporting of parliamentary proceedings by means of legal injunction.”

Paul Burstow:

I would be grateful if you would give consideration to an urgent debate under Standing Order 24 on the freedom to report on Parliamentary Proceedings.

That’s it. Carter-Ruck is well and truly Carter-Rucked. Even if their injunction against the Guardian’s reportage of Farrelly’s question is upheld, they can’t prevent the Guardian or any other outlet from reporting the much more broadly phrased questions of Burstow and Heath. Absolutely nothing except (more) bad publicity will result from seeking to uphold the gag. By the end of the day, thanks to those wretched Lib Dems, the whole story is absolutely guaranteed to be out anyway.

And so:

1pm The Guardian’s editor calls victory. Carter-Ruck has backed down.

I’m sure I’ll be horribly unpopular with all the true twitter believers out there, but doesn’t that slightly strike you as a game change right there between 11am and 1pm? A bit of an old-fashioned, corridors-of-power, meatspace game change? The Carter-Ruck office probably did not, whatever we may like to think, spend the whole morning staring in horror at the Twitterfeed. But they would have learned about the pesky Lib Dems and their demands for debate and answers. They would also know (this is where Twitter does come in) that the documents they were trying to suppress were all over the internet already.

This is what makes the internet a force for change. Not the act of tweeting itself, but what happens as a result. Chicken Yoghurt is right – it’s not how many people tweet, however much of a tidal wave it feels. It’s who’s reading. In this case, Lib Dems were reading. The opinion of thousands has to be matched with critical action by those placed to take it. People forget this in their fuzzy enthusiasm for the power of the internet. It has enormous power, yes, but unless channelled by some external agency it is like the power of a storm over the remotest stretch of ocean, roaring away to itself in the wilderness.

Kudos is due to everyone who tweeted, and enormous kudos is also due, I think, to the Lib Dem parliamentarians and their advisers for providing the channel on this occasion. They recognised the immediacy of the moment, saw they could, for once, actually make a difference, and seized on it.

The trouble is, this leaves us in a bit of a spot. Basically, it is my contention that without the terribly old-fashioned business of two sympathetic parliamentarians placing questions on the House of Commons’ order paper, Carter-Ruck would not have felt sufficiently under pressure to back down. Some power to the people that indicates.

We may not have sympathetic parliamentarians every time. We certainly don’t see responses this lightning from the Lib Dems every time.

To ensure our political life is proof against this sort of outrage we still need total reform of the political system, to make our representatives responsive to our opinions as a matter of course. Otherwise we’ll always have to do this, shout about an issue, big ourselves up and hope someone with some actual power notices, because without them we don’t stand a chance. I don’t think this is a system to be particularly proud of, whatever the outcome today.

Yesterday, children, we discovered that Mr Michael Gove was… what? Come on, it’s on your key words board. That’s it, well done – we discovered that he was a prize tit. We looked at his idea, that the incoming Conservative government should actually seize control of the curriculum and itself write the history syllabus for all schools, and what did we do? That’s right, we compared it to the interfering managerialism of Labour.

Who can remember why Mr Gove is being contradictory? That’s right – it’s because the Conservative party often accuses the Labour government of interfering managerialism, and  is now proposing to take an interfering and managerialist approach to education itself. Excellent. We’re going to keep that thought at the back of our minds, but for the moment, we’re going to suspend disbelief.

We’re going to pretend that Mr Michael Gove can personally rewrite the history syllabus without revealing himself to be a self-contradictory prize tit, and we’re going to perform some critical appraisal on his ideas for doing it.

So, let’s get out the whiteboard pen and have a look at his proposal for a new British narrative history curriculum.

The people who make up Britain – Celts, Anglo-Saxons.

The Roman Invasion

Dark Ages

1066

Liberty and the Magna Carta and Simon de Montfort

War of the Roses

Tudor revival

Henry VIII

Elizabeth I

English Civil War

Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights of 1688

Union of Parliaments in 1707

The Growth of Liberty in the early 18th century

Beginnings of industrial revolution

Napoleonic Wars

The Struggle for the Vote in the 19th century, including Great Reform Act, Chartists

Queen Victoria and Great Victorian scientists such as Darwin and Faraday

Growth of the mass media and the mass franchise in the Edwardian Age

Great War

Great Depression of the 1930s

World War Two, including Churchill’s role

New Elizabethan Age

SS Windrush and the New Britain

Modern history to the present

Right, who wants to kick us off with some critical analysis? Anything at all. Anything missing? Any comments on what’s there? Start wherever you like.

Yes, the fluffy elephant at the front - where are all the elephants? Yes, very good question. Elephants come from Africa and from India, and what do we know about Africa and India in relation to Britain? That’s right, fluffy elephant – much of their territory formed part of our  empire. So Mr Gove doesn’t want children to learn about the British Empire. Why might that be, do we think?

Yes, he could be stupid, or?

Yes, he could well be embarrassed, or?

Well, yes, I suppose he could be both embarrassed and stupid, or?

That’s it! I think you’ve hit on it, Startledcod. He has basically drawn his conception of a good history syllabus from that of a prep school circa 1965. Quite right. What else might that explain, do we think?

The fact that he still thinks it’s ok to call the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and 1066 the Dark Ages, yes, very good. Who can tell me a bit about the Dark Ages? What happened in Britain in that period? Give me some themes.

Emergence of warrior kingdoms reflecting our regional and dialectic differences down to the present day, yes.

Unification of England under Alfred, yup.

Foundation of the monasteries, beginnings of English biography and historiography and the 9th-10th century English renaissance, very good.

Ok, what else? What else can you tell me about Michael Gove’s list and how it’s similar to a prep school syllabus circa 1965?

He’s missed out America. Yes, he has, from the discovery and loss of the colonies all the way to Barack Obama. A bit of a glaring omission, and of course naturally follows on from the concept of a “British” narrative.

Nothing about the foundations and history of English law in the twelfth to thirteenth centuries, good.

Nothing about European events that have impacted immediately on the history of Britain, such as the French revolution and the militarisation of imperial Germany – yes, very good. Again, it flows from the artificial concern with a “British narrative” doesn’t it. Good, anything else?

Nothing about the history of Catholicism and Protestantism in this country and how we managed to narrowly avoid a bloody religious war unlike much of the rest of the continent.

Nothing about the intertwined history of England and France and the fact that great chunks of them were actually the same kingdom for much of the post-1066 medieval period, yes, and?

Nothing about the impacts of the industrial revolution on agriculture and traditional social patterns in rural Britain, nothing about the Corn Laws and other protectionist, er, Tory policies, nothing about the abolition of slavery, nothing about enclosures, the privatisation of formerly common land to great, er, mostly Tory landowners, nothing about the history of the poor law, the growth of cities and the history of public health. Yes, that’s all very good.

Nothing about the history of ideas in any period and only a highly selective mention of (Victorian) science despite the fact that Britain was one of the world’s first seventeenth-century scientific hotbeds. Yes,  any more?

Nothing about the crusades or any other interaction with Islam. Yes, indeed. Very good there from the bitter boy of bile.

A simplistic over-reliance on monarch tick-box teaching and totemic “Alfred burned the cakes” type events which undermines any attempt to teach continuity, pattern repetition or place any period in a broader historiographical context? Hm, that’s quite advanced, I think I’ll have to set you some extra work.

Anything else? Anything else missing?

Ireland, yes. Very good, boy with the, er, beard. Again, bit of an omission since we spent so much time forcibly subduing it, ruling it as foreign oppressors and then withheld corn from it at its time of most dire need with the result that many of its people fled from starvation and ended up being, well, us. Or indeed Americans, for which see above.

The Vikings, yes. They are missing from that first item, aren’t they, as one of the peoples of Britain. Why might that be, do we think?

Because Mr Gove is a southern tosser, now look, I will not have that language in my classroom. In fact, I have an idea he’s actually from Scotland originally. No, there doesn’t seem to be much Scottish history in this history of Britain, does there, except the bits where Scotland gets tied in to England.  Ok, I’ll just put “pig-ignorant” instead. What else can you tell me about those first couple of items, by the way? What comes before them chronologically?

We don’t know? Well, that’s not quite  true, we know bits about Britain before the Romans, don’t we – through what discipline? Archaeology, that’s right. So what does the period lack, up until the arrival of the Romans? Exactly – a written record. So why has Mr Gove chosen to start his narrative of British history roughly where the written records kick in?

Because he hasn’t the faintest idea about historiographical approaches to understanding written, oral and material cultures on the same terms as each other when the evidence is so very different, and how the whole artificial business of historiography is predetermined by the fact that we are ourselves a written culture. Exactly, very good. Why doesn’t he have the faintest idea about this, and about the interaction between history and archaeology, do you suppose?

Because he’s not a historian, yes, and?

He doesn’t really know anything about historical scholarship post-1950s, yes, and?

He conceives of history as a sort of collectors’ stamp book in which you have to fill in all the little boxes with kings, queens and battles in order to “know” history, yes, very good. Anything else?

If he advocated the same sort of ante-diluvian approach to the teaching of science, there would be uproar? Yes, that’s very good, there probably would.

So what does all this tell us about his whole concept of a “proper narrative of British history”?

It’s a bit shit. Ok, I’ll allow that. Anything else? Yes, girl at the back. You’re a very tall girl, are you sure you should be in this class?

You’re a teacher? Oh, er, well what do you think?

This “new” curriculum is exactly the same as the one  created by the QCA that you teach to 11-18 year olds?

Oh. Perhaps someone should tell Mr Gove.

I used to have a tutor (to whom I owe my extensive knowledge of middle Anglo-Saxon cemeteries), who once got himself into a spot of bother as follows:

According to [Dr Maddicott], students at Oxford can get through a degree in history, without knowing anything about Magna Carta or the Glorious Revolution. Mention the Black Death and you will get a blank look. Even the Industrial Revolution seems to have passed some of them by, he says.

“What Oxford historians know when they graduate is now largely a matter of bits and pieces,” said Dr Maddicott, a fellow at Exeter College. “It cannot be assumed that they have a working knowledge of how their own country evolved.”

Thirty years ago the bright young historians coming to Oxford waded through English history from the end of Roman Britain to the mid-20th century. Now it is being suggested the place is filling up with people who might know about witchcraft among the Azande but don’t know their Hanoverians from their late Stuarts.

Irritatingly, this piece from the Oxford Mail, and a brief mention in similar terms in the Independent is all I can find. I say irritatingly because I’m sure I remember reading an interview with him that fleshed out this rather simple-sounding viewpoint a little.

I’m pretty sure I remember him using the term longue durée. His point was not that young blighters today are learning too much  o’ this nasty ethnic stuff and not enough good old Bwitish material doncherknow, although this was clearly the interpretation that suited the Oxford Mail, ever keen to have a pop at Gown.

His point was that students weren’t acquiring any sense of the grand sweep, weren’t being forced to get to grips with the long-term evolution of institutions and cultural norms, how warrior kingship gives way to various flavours of monarchy which gives way to oligarchic nationhood which gives way to, er, when are are we actually getting popular democracy? The fact that British history is the most convenient fund to draw upon for this purpose is largely incidental. What are you going to do, retrain your entire academic corpus in French history? We are where we are, literally and figuratively.

This, at any rate, is how I remember his argument. Perhaps nostalgia is making me kind. But at any rate, one thing is certain, and that is that he had earned the right to hold such a view, on account of, you know, being an Oxford don and all.

Michael Gove, on the other hand, is not an Oxford don. Michael Gove is a tit:

The Shadow Schools Sec did a passable impression of Simon Schama today with a vow to bring back narrative history to the national curriculum.

“There is no better way of building a modern, inclusive, patriotism than by teaching all British citizens to take pride in this country’s historic achievements,” he said.

“Which is why the next Conservative Government will ensure the curriculum teaches the proper narrative of British History – so that every Briton can take pride in this nation.”

Hat tip to Paul Waugh – who asked for more detail, and by heaven did he get it, all the way from:

The people who make up Britain – Celts, Anglo-Saxons [sic]

The Roman Invasion [no, this is still broadly correct]

The Dark Ages [sic]

…through to the enigmatic-sounding “Modern history to the  present”.

Quite apart from being an object lesson in why you should never let non-experts lay out history syllabuses because they don’t have a bloody clue what they’re talking about, this is also an object lesson in why the Tory front bench, at its heart, has no grasp whatsoever of what liberalism really means.

Because yeah, after twelve  years of authoritarian, top-down micro-management from Labour, what we really, really need is some proper authoritarian top-down, micro-management from the Tories! Except this time it’ll be better authoritarian, top-down micro-management! None of these silly Labour goals. It’ll be our silly goals instead! Froth froth!

I hate this. This is exactly what I hate about how Labour operates the education system. Buckets of bullying, nannying, pontificating, interfering, busy-bodying, self-serving, ill-informed crap, poured on the heads of the people who do it for a living. It’s a daily insult, pure and simple – I feel it, and I’m not even a teacher.  I’ll take an argument like that from John Maddicott (and let’s remember he was talking about the Oxford syllabus) but I’m damned if I’ll take its intellectually defective shadow from Michael Gove, or anyone else elected to wield power over me.

I hate his wobbly-lipped “patriotic narrative” stance as much as I hate the current frenetic insistence on teaching World War II for its moral lessons and I really hate that. My poor brother had to “do” the Nazis three times at school, just to make sure he’d got it into his head that They Wur Eevl and he should on no account try Nazism at home. Other regimes that have used the teaching of history for self-styled moral purposes include Mao’s China. And that gets taught as an example of Eevl as well. Oh, stop, stop, the irony.

Gove’s appalling little turn displays exactly the same lack of self-awareness as evinced by other Tories when they accuse (most frequently, but not exclusively) Labour of “social engineering” via government policy.  Oh, and tax breaks for marriage is what? Just a few of the lads having a lark? Nope, looks damnably like social engineering via government policy to me.

These people are all authoritarians, red and blue alike. Make no mistake. It’s been making me increasingly furious of late, because the contradictions come pouring out of one end of the Tory party as fast as they can shovel faux-liberal propaganda out of the other end. Oh, it’s all “liberal” this and “liberal” that while they’re talking about stuff they approve of. But get on to any subject on which they have an Opinion, like marriage, or how to teach history, and suddenly it’s all “Oh, yes, well, obviously when we said we were all in favour of non-interference and individual responsibility, what we really meant was we’re in favour of it after we’ve laid down the inflexible ground rules.

And it’s not like the Liberal Democrat party doesn’t have its own problems with contradictory liberalism (airbrushing, anyone?) but at least, on the score of teaching history or anything else, we can hold our heads up high. Not for the first time, I find myself thinking, thank god for David Laws:

No school should be directly accountable to ministers…The 635 pages of the nationalised curriculum should go in the shredder.

Let’s replace it with something closer to the 21 pages that seem to do the job in places like Sweden.

Well, I mean, look at it. I mean, I’ll try and be gentle on the man because he doesn’t know much about these things, but really. An elementary glance at some Lib Dem sites could have sorted out some of these basic no-nos.

For a start there’s only one main menu, the line of buttons across the top. I mean, what sort of amateur only has one menu on the homepage of a political website?  And just look at all that pointless white airy space! Hahaha. You fool. Don’t you know that empty space is wasted space? You could be using that space to bombard visitors with your message, and leaving spaces between things just makes it look like you don’t have enough to say! What you really want to do is COVER IT WITH CAMPAIGN BUTTONS! Everybody likes them and clicks on them all the time!

And really, Iain, love, you need at least one more menu. At least. If you can do one on the bottom of the front  page as well as down one of the sides, that’s a bonus – extra points if you can make them all slightly different. What to put in them? Words, dear man, words! “Local news, Report a Fault, Campaigning for You, Party News, Contact Iain, About me, Our Campaigns, Join, Latest News…” There, that’ll give you a start.

Then, once your menus are in place, pop a couple of different things under each item. Doesn’t really matter what they are, and you can duplicate between categories if you like. People don’t really mind what things are in what places on a website, as long as they’ve got a lot of things to click on. People are like babies with an activity centre when they are on the internet. They want colour and flashy things and stuff that goes “bing”. That’s where you’re pitching.

Got that?

Ok, let’s have a look at content. I’ll just read down the front page…

Oh my dear fellow, five paragraphs?! I think not. You see, people can’t actually read, by and large. This idea that there are lots of people out there prepared to read five paragraphs in a row straight is really just a media myth, you know. And what’s this?

There’s a link to a detailed exposition of the kind of Conservatism I stand for, as well as my career background.

Oh dear me, no, this is quite wrong. Do NOT talk in a tone of personal conviction. Instead imitate how you think a parrot might talk  if it were trained and had  a rosette pinned on it. And the more you use the third person and mention “our local team” the better. People don’t really know what the word “exposition” means, you see, and they’re not interested in Conservatism or any other kind of -ism. They are interested in potholes. Potholes and hospitals, it’s as simple as that. What you want is to scrap all that silly boring writing and put something like “Iain will make sure your potholes are heard in Westminster!” and then have a lovely lovely picture of yourself pointing disapprovingly at some graffiti. Seriously, people lap that shit up.

Ha, just as well I’m here to pass on a bit of hard-won online campaigning nous from the yellow corner, isn’t it! Now, then, what’s this:

I’m not going to write an essay here pretending I am an expert on everything local, because that would be preposterous.

No no NO! Absolutely do NOT at any point concede that you might be anything less than a saviour borne upon the wings of an angel with an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything that happens within the constituency and that the people of Bracknell aren’t, frankly, lucky to have you! Fortunately for you, since this page contains yet more of your Silly Silly Writing, the chances are no-one will make it down as far as that sentence.

What else do we have here:

I will tell people my real views, even when I know they will disagree with me

Oh dear, dear, you haven’t really had much experience with political debate, have you? I mean, from time to time, yes, it may be necessary to have to disagree with someone, but you’re not supposed to advertise it! That is just asking for trouble! You need to sort of pretend that most people are going to be the sort of people who will probably hold the same views you do, and then hope for the best. If you take my advice, you’ll put off even a hint that you might have non-universal opinions until the last possible moment. Don’t even acknowledge that there’s no such thing as a universal opinion.

Is that clear? Wait… what’s this on your list of reasons why people should vote for you?

Can reach across party divides.

Oh, what a laughable error! Other parties do not exist in campaigning unless they are taking candy away from small children, do you understand? Nobody wants to know that you are capable of having normal working relationships with people from other parties! Trust me, what ordinary people want to hear is that you are a mindless drone who is allergic to people with different rosettes on and constantly harps on about their candy-stealing activities in letters to the local press.

And… no… I don’t believe it, this is worse than anything else. Look! Look at your sidebar.

You’ve linked to Mark Reckons. He is from another party! You are providing traffic to a blog written by someone who is in another party! What are you thinking! It’s always a far better tactic to ignore any online presence from other parties. If you ignore them, it’s like they don’t exist. Remember, you can’t run any risk of people clicking through to Mark Reckons from your site and thinking “Hey, this person doesn’t sound like they steal candy from small children at all!” Absolute disaster.

Mind you, I’ll give you one thing – I am loving that headline: “A new, strong voice for Bracknell”. You’re firmly in the Lib Dem campaigning tradition there. “Strong voice”, it has such a ring to it, doesn’t it? Tried and traditional is best with slogans, I say, people like the same old slogans, they react to them much more measurably than they’ll react to anything new. You’ve done exactly the right thing, kept your headline as comfy-sounding and devoid of inner poetry or meaning as possible. Excellent stuff!

One more thing though – where’s the bar chart? I can’t find it anywhere.

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