Every so often the editorial team at LDV towers inadvertantly posts something that ordinary people actually find interesting. Unaccountably, this is never about Land Value Tax, proportional representation or Trident. The stats graph buckles and the thread concerned fills with – usually – anger of some kind.

This first happened way before my time with the thread about social workers breaking up families (which did serve a purpose, as we were able to pass along all instances of people needing help to John Hemming, whose campaign it was), then more recently came the Gurkhas and, today, there is the Baby P thread. It’s not so much the length of the comment thread – a relatively modest 59 at the time of writing; we’ve had arguments about the existence of god that have gone on twice as long. The signs are in the names on the thread – totally unfamiliar – and the way in which, at times, their jarring illiberalism intrudes on our inbred circle. This is no surprise as, for reasons of interweb magic that escape me, the LDV story is the top hit when you search for Baby P on Google at the moment.

And yes, some of the comments on there make me shudder, for all that I can see where the revenge instinct comes from. Sterilisation, execution, torture – being beaten up in prison is the mildest thing most commenters are wishing on the murderers. But reading this sort of stuff at length makes one detect patterns. It occurs to me that, for all that people claim to want “justice” in cases like this, what they really mean is that they want injustice to be perpetrated against the guilty, the kind of senseless, unexpected injustice, alarming, probably physical and beyond the rule of law, that overtook the original victim. They want something of commensurate unfairness to happen to the culprit. Of course, you can’t get much more unfair than three adults torturing a baby to death, so the unfairness required to balance it is immense. In terms of the “fairness” of the case, how can you hurt an adult as much and as indefensibly as a baby? To be as “helpless as a baby” is the most extreme definition of helplessness against injustice there is.

No wonder people hate the justice system. Justice is innately concerned with fairness. A legitimate and proportionate punishment that the state is qualified to mete out is by definition a fair one. An unfair punishment is what the victim’s family – or in this case public defenders – really want. Something out of the ordinary, something that infringes the rights of the guilty one on a personal rather than state-sanctioned level. You start to see how principles such as lopping a hand off for stealing might start to gain ground again in this country, after several hundred years of abeyance before the principle of “fairness”.

Fair is a big Liberal Democrat word, of course. And rightly so, but it probably wouldn’t hurt us to remember that it’s a relatively modern concept. The justice system is based on fairness to protect us from our own baser instincts, our instinct for revenge, for vigilanteeism and for disproportionate reaction. But it wasn’t always based on that. Our particular variety of fairness is a post-Enlightenment understanding – before that, what was known as “natural justice” held far more sway in the making of law. Many individuals secede from that post-Enlightenment understanding, historically speaking they’re not in an indefensible position and, occasionally, they turn up on LDV to remind us. I am moderately glad, I guess, that they do this, and moderately alarmed at what it means for liberalism and democracy. Can both exist? Would a democracy, fully constituted, vote against fairness?

After an extended sojourn in our outlying embassy at Lib Dem Voice, we make our triumphal return to the People’s Republic with three of the finest artworks ever bought on the internet for $8.99+shipping. We would like to thank our agent, etc, and are truly feeling rather over-honoured and a bit stunned, although that could be the result of the several well-aimed sticky buns. A shame, given this upbeat homecoming, and in a week when the party has had some of its best media coverage in months (and from some quarters, ever) that we have to begin on a negative note.

But for crying out loud, why didn’t you silly PR pop tarts in Comms think to run this 250,000 phone call survey plan thing past the Information Commissioner? How hard would that have been?

And why make a media splash of it anyway? I’m not necessarily against the idea of an automated phone survey in principle. Every method of information gathering irritates someone, and I probably wouldn’t hang up on something like this provided I was at least peripherally interested in it. But surely the whole point of our talking to directly people and garnering their views is that we don’t have to involve the sodding media.

That’s the main reason why they’re so down on the call survey idea, of course. They know that ultimately this kind of notion, whatever its clumsy shortcomings in early prototypes, renders them irrelevant. Yes, I grow bitter and dark as a bucket of bile, but that’s because I’ve spent all week reading newspapers. God, it’s a sick world those people inhabit. So whose shiny happy idea was it to try to enthuse these blood-encrusted vultures with a plan to – if you’ll excuse me – cold-call the population? You might not think of it like that. I, with a bit of persuasion, might not think of it like that. But what kind of Janet-and-John outlook do you have to have to not see that the media would treat it like that? You numpties.

And this is where Nasty People’s Republican Guard takes a break and Nice People’s Republican Guard comes in with a cigarette and some pictures of their family, because I have some thoughts for the Head of Communications which don’t involve a spike.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a bag of Focus leaflets covered in bar charts must be in want of a campaigning techniques refresher course. But an equally universally acknowledged truth is that we’re running out of track on our successful early 1990s campaign techniques, and ever-subtler refinements to the way we write Focuses, or where we deliver them and in what concentration, are achieving at best tiny increments of improvement. Most people’s solution to this problem is to seek great leaps forward in the national media instead. If we need to shift from “ground war” to “air war”, in Rennard parlance, “air war” translates irresistably for most people into “air waves”.

And that means a perpetual exhausting fight for a decent amount of fair and balanced coverage. People throw whole chunks of their time away on this goal, energy is pissed freely up the wall in the form of impotent rage that we have to scrabble and scream for even a mention of a vast new vista of policy, when the Tory leader, as one LDV wag has it, get full page spreads for saying that nice things are nice and nasty things are nasty. I swear the majority of the press actually thinks we passed the 16p basic rate cut package this week.

I submit that continuing to attempt a balanced relationship with the national media is likely to be  profoundly unrewarding, perhaps destructive, for at least a decade, and render a disproportionately small return to the amount of time and money we spend on it. I submit that we should dump the national media – actually dump them, as in not give them stories – and spend the money on workshops, public information meetings, local information points, websites, local advertising that goes beyond the Focus leaflet (created within the party; party message is too important to be left to professionals) and local campaigning on specific national issues instead. In other words, shoring up what Nick Clegg does himself when he beetles round the country getting shouted at in draughty school gyms. He does it too often and too privately to not find it productive and enjoyable on some level, and he does it deliberately out-of-sight of the national media.

Journalistic writing is necessarily a pigeon-holing exercise. They have to relate one thing to another, make links between different events and concepts, to build up the newspaper’s outlook – a macrocosm of how an individual arrives at their worldview, really. Which is fine, so long as the key political concept you’re trying to advance is something journalists already recognise and have a label for. But they just don’t – en masse anyway – have one for liberalism. Their instinctive, natural grasp of what liberalism means is lacking. I was tickled to learn (though not as tickled as Will Howells) that the Liberal Democrats have finally made it onto the Dewey Decimal system – so journalists may not have an excuse for too much longer. But right now, the outlook for comprehension of what liberalism is all about in the mainstream media is bleak.

Liberalism as a wider political movement has been splintered into environmentalism, pacificism, alternative living and the like more or less since the 1960s, and in abeyance as a high political creed for a century partly as a result. As individuals, journalists have lived through an era in which high politics is dominated by the twin blocs of socialism versus conservatism. No wonder they try to wodge our radical liberalism into mid-20th century Labour and Tory loaf tins. They’ve never known anything else. Most of them have never bothered learning anything else (this is what comes of studying Eng Lit at university instead of history).

That’s why they keep asking Nick Clegg, with repeated, almost desperate insistence, “Aren’t you just like David Cameron?” and then making a headline out of the result. They need the answer to be yes, or they can’t compute what he’s saying. The wellsprings of ideas in two-party politics dried up a decade ago, and that ideological barrenness has infected the fourth estate and invariably saps their powers of reason. That’s why they’re able to make statements, as Cathy Newman did on Channel 4 News last night, like this:

They’re [the Liberal Democrats at conference] a million miles away from reality.

A half-a-second, throwaway one-liner on the end of a report, and to utter it Cathy had to suspend every single rational synapse in her head. Six million people voted Liberal Democrat at the last election. Six million people inclined to a liberal outlook? A tenth of the entire population, a quarter of the voting population? A million miles away from reality? When proportions like that are in the balance, it’s your perception of reality which needs fixing.

When they give us good or fair coverage, it’s sheer chance, a momentary collision of our views with their spin-obsessed binary outlook. Vince has made a joke, Nick has delivered a speech well – therefore the Liberal Democrats must be Doing All Right. The party has created a tax package, or passed a series of measures, which a lemming-minded hack can translate into their weirdly flat and one-dimensional Left/Right worldview – therefore the Liberal Democrats must be Finally Showing People What They Stand For. It’s an accident when it goes well for us in the newspapers, not a sign that they’re developing an embryonic sense of fairness, or suddenly understanding what we’re all about. They never will, until the world has moved on and rediscovered liberalism again (as it may well over the next twenty-odd years) and the media, as is their wont, start following and reporting on that trend.

We know from our experience in local government that people don’t need ideological reference points for liberalism to see that it works. Because devolution and anti-statism are such essential components of the liberal creed, you don’t need a degree in political studies – much less English Literature with Journalism – to make it work for you. It already works for you. It lets you do what the hell you like so long as you don’t harm anybody else.

Simple. But not easily reportable. Liberalism’s strength lies in its acceptance of disparate points of view. That is just far too far a cry from the top-heavy high politics reportage favoured by most political editors, floundering around either in the 1970s or 1980s as the case may be, babbling about new angles and fresh ideas at brainstorming sessions, and all the while totally failing to comprehend the seismic shift in the political landscape. The Westminster Village, if its current course of irrelevance continues alongside a global recession, will eventually topple into a newly-created ravine and mass-participation liberal society will flow into the space left (it’ll have to; they say society is three meals away from revolution – even truer that society is three missed bin collections away from self-government).

Individual journalists might be natural liberals, and they’ll pick up on liberal trends anyway, without needing us to point them out – assuming their editor allows it. But taken as a whole, the media is a shuddering monolithic automaton with two default settings, and our words are wasted in trying to communicate with it. We need to wait for the dinosaurs to die and a more thoughtful younger generation to take over (assuming they’ll do so via the national media at all; there may not even be a newspaper industry in twenty years’ time). And next time the media calls, we need to hang up the phone.

*We hope otherwise.

The Lib Dem blogosphere has got award-happy lately, what with Mr Dale’s Compleat Almanack of Most Excellente Torie Bloggers (And Some Scurvie Leftie Scumme, Regrettablie), our own Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards, now in their fourth year, Alex Wilcock’s Tons More Fun™ self-gratification meme and, of course, SB’s Very Prestigious (And Entirely Serious) Blog Awards delivered in a rich imperial shade of purple, the sidebar button that made my nicey-nice, restrained, olive-and-russet-and-antique-cream coloured blog look as if it had drunk one too many tequila slammers and got itself a tattoo.

Mr Dale’s, &c

I ended up, like many others, doing this in a bit of rush because the deadline moved, and my reasoning  was but a confused mish-mash of what I had always loved and what was floating in the top of my mind that week.

So I can’t be confident that my choices are necessarily in the right order. I am pretty sure that Lib Dem Voice and Liberal Conspiracy should respectively top-and-tail the list. But everyone in between is really just a flavour in a mixed ciabatta filling. I mean, how on earth would you determine whether the prawn or the mayonnaise forms the vital ingredient in a prawn cocktail? Which came first, the olive or the cube of feta? I can only apologise for my glibness in chucking y’all into the salad spinner to fend for yourselves and hope that my particular configuration doesn’t cause some vital slippage or other in the table as a whole.

1. Lib Dem Voice – you are our bitches. And you know you are. That is all.

2. Stumbling and Mumbling – Chris Dillow is, for my money, the best political blogger writing today. It wouldn’t be true to say I never miss a post – generally it takes me 72 hours to digest all the implications of each one, which is my problem rather than his. Tends to be underlinked to in the blogosphere, I think because so often there’s nothing to add. He’s just right.

3. Millennium Elephant – Feet of fluff, mind of steel, buns of stickiness. And oh he is so CUTE! Always high quality, bedazzling at his frequent best (this is perhaps his finest hour). And his services to party blogging this past year in arranging interviews have been tremendous. I can’t be the only one thinking that surely this is his year… (see below)

4. Jock’s Place (Jock Coats) – a true radical free thinker in a sea of patter and chatter. Reading his stuff – usually with Wikipedia open in another tab – reminds me what blogging is capable of. This is exactly the sort of easy-come, easy-go popularity contest he probably won’t do that well in – a world where Dizzy Thinks is branded a critical intellectual is a cruel one. But we’re far more likely to see the adjective “Coatsian” enter the political lexicon than “Daleian”, quite frankly.

5. The Real Blog (David Boyle) – some rather similar sentiments apply as to Jock and Chris Dillow. David Boyle would be a shoe-in for Lib Dem Blogger of the Year if he took enough time out from his busy schedule of Being Brilliant to write more a couple of posts a month if we’re lucky. But of course, why would he? He hasn’t even had time to add any fiddly bits or buttons to his off-the-shelf blog design. Pure class.

6. BorisWatch (.co.uk NOT .com) Clarification became necessary when I discovered that boriswatch.com is some demented fanboy site which, among other nefarious acitivites, sells Boriswear. The .co.uk flavour, on the other hand, is “an attempt to enhance the accountability of the new London mayoralty” and does so with perspicacity, aplomb and top class research in the face of oh-my-god-you’re-like-soooo-funny Tory trolling.

7. The Yorksher Gob (Jennie Rigg) – funny and northern and passionate and northern and clever and northern. And did I mention northern? Also, much more innovative as a writer than most of us, with our tendency to write essays which just happen to be on a screen rather than on paper – newspaper columnists in thirty years time, I submit, will write like Jennie. Above all, my favourite kind of feminist -  one that bloody gets on with it.

8. Quaequam blog! (James Graham)He can kill you with a thought! Especially if you omit the exclamation mark! Still the party’s best blogging artillery, scarily incisive and regularly reduces the blogosphere to sensible discourse by the simple means of threatening to be slightly sarcastic. One of the few blogs where I genuinely read every post. Even the ones about comics sometimes.

9. Blunt and Disorderly – a well-established blog which nonetheless came to my notice only quite recently owing, for some reason, to a post about incest, and despite the unpromising beginning went straight onto my favourites. A dilettantish mind which tends to rocket off in all directions – never a bad thing.

10. Liberal Conspiracy - whose government is it anyway? Sunny Hundal has hiked this collective blog (co-starring yours truly when I feel I have something to say that a bunch of Labourites won’t pointlessly shoot me down for) from zero to a major player in a matter of months. And whether you read it for its innate qualities or with the eerie fascination of a NuLab ambulance-chaser, it’s strangely compulsive.

Lib Dem Blog Awards

Best new Liberal Democrat blog (started since 1st August 2007)

This is in many ways the hardest nomination. It’s been a burgeoning year for Lib Dem blogs, so far as I can see. Special mentions (for what they’re worth) go to James Schneider for being effortlessly widely-read, thoughtful and interesting from the off, and Alasdair Wood for blogging passionately and prolifically about every weighty matter that cross his voracious mind at an age where I personally was still obsessed with owning a pony. But after much umming and ahhing, I have settled on Steph Ashley. Mainly because she’s a fabulously entertaining writer, but also, I think, because of this post, in which she discovers, at an unfairly premature juncture, some of the hazards of blogging, and comes through it looking very much like a nice, normal human being, and a credit to the Lib Dem candidature.

Best blog from a Liberal Democrat holding public office

Rick Baum is, IMHO, an overlooked star. Local blogs are one of things Lib Dems, as you might expect, do brilliantly. Rick is a fantastic example of the genre – affects to be in the business of creating cogent, well-written expositions of community politics in a northern town, but occasionally forgets this and is accidentally pant-wettingly funny instead. His humour, intelligence and – for want of a better word – humanity make him a great standard-bearer for elected Lib Demmery.

Best use of blogging or social networking by a Liberal Democrat

Hm. I’m going to have to pass this one. As an old-fashioned word-spouter I’m not entirely clear I have a view on what a successful “use” of blogging or social networking would look like. But I’m sure that, like any other boring ol’ rearguard early adopter, I’ll know it when I see it, so keep trying!

Best posting on a Liberal Democrat blog (since 1st September 2007)

Only one of my posts ever in the whole world anywhere made it onto Lib Dem Voice’s Golden Ton, and it was this one, where I basically wrote three lines saying what a fantastic post this was, and how everyone should go and read it. Seems fitting somehow. It’s funny now, looking back at how utterly nasty the leadership contest got in the blogosphere. But it wasn’t funny at the time, to a comparatively fresh-off-the-blocks blogger who  liked both candidates well enough and couldn’t understand why all these people were getting so damned upset. Alex Wilcock’s post administered a much-needed bucket of cold water in the face to both sides, and in so doing reassured me I hadn’t done entirely the wrong thing in the joining the party.

Best non-Liberal Democrat politics blog

Stumbling and Mumbling again. No question.

Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year

I’ve already described his virtues above, so there’s absolutely NO FLUFFY NEED to go through it all again. He might love the attention, but his daddy will be VERY embarrassed. There is only one Millennium Dome. (No, not THAT one!)

Tons More Fun Blog Awards

Well, this one I like. No categories, no restraints, no compulsory number of posts to nominate, and best of all, I don’t even have to leave the People’s Republic. Posts I would pick on that give me a certain tickle of quiet pride, even where they gave everyone else a certain tickle of click-back, are as follows:

How can we win back twat-in-a-blue-shirt-in-the-street? And do we care?

Terribly Boring III: bumper edition

In which I cling to Nick Clegg’s ankles and weep for justice

Should the Liberal Democrats be doing more to support the Vikings?

Stop the gentrification, I want to get off!

St Nadine the Martyr and the Hounds of Hell

Localism: where will it end (with fluffy bunny picture)

SB’s Very Prestigious (And Entirely Serious) [And Very Purple] Blog Awards

And now I are off over there to submit my nominations to the comment thread. Only thirteen minutes before I turn into a pumpkin…


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 35 other followers