*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…

Silent noctural dogs are what I thought of when I read James Graham’s CiF piece on Clegg’s leadership and Paul Walter’s response. The exchange is one of the most useful I’ve read about Clegg since the leadership contest. Essentially, Paul defends Clegg from a number of charges laid by James, who falls into camp critical at the moment:

Yet the party, after a bumpy two years, is a bit frazzled. I’ve been struck by how many people I have spoken to over the past few weeks – candidates, councillors and activists alike – who appear to be either demoralised or disenchanted with Clegg’s leadership.

(It’s worth pointing out, incidentally, that much of the negative cast of the piece comes from the title and byline, and these are usually created by the Grauny subs, so Paul might be aiming a kick at the wrong dog there.) James adduces three possible reasons for the disillusionment he observes:

  1. Lack of internal communication
  2. The confused position on Lisbon
  3. The Dark Shadow of party centralisation in the form of the Bones report outcomes

To go about this illogically, I think Paul knocks number three very effectively on the head:

We get someone from the Henley Management College to look at our organisation. They’re used to looking at businesses, among other organisations. Well, knock me down with a feather. They come back and tell us that we need to centralise our decision-making a bit. Staggering.

…and is more trusting than James that Clegg won’t – can’t – try and implement the recommendations wholesale without party consent. A battle still to be fought, there. The Europe canard is also dealt with neatly:

Chris Huhne would certainly have handled the Lisbon treaty exactly the same way as Clegg (perhaps with the odd tactical tweak) – he said as much in the campaign. And I note that James Graham brilliantly exposed the lie that the Lisbon Treaty was in any way a constitution. From that I conclude that there was no reneging of our manifesto commitment.

…though I’d be wary of over-relying on the fact that Clegg was, er, right. Whether we like it or not the entire country – or, ok, the 0.0000003% of it that comments on the Spectator Coffee House blog – is now convinced that it was a “debacle”, a word people never actually use in real life, so it’s a very useful indicator when it does pop up that they’ve been mainlining the Daily Mail and no longer have a brain cell to call their own. James’ whole point is that our position was just too nuanced to ever do us, or the cause of Europe, any good in the papers – not that it was wrong.

Paul is a little less convincing on internal communications:

I am not sure what briefing notes came out before “Make it happen”. But if any PPC cannot extemporise a selling pitch for such a brilliant document, then they don’t deserve to be a PPC.

Absolutely agree with that as far as it goes, but it doesn’t address James’ broader point:

Outside of conferences and training weekends, there appears to be no mechanism for feeding the views of key activists and candidates at the frontline back to command central, informally or otherwise. With no two-way communication, the possibility of grave mistakes being made is that much greater.

We could, of course, remind ourselves that this is still a damn sight more than the other parties get. But it’s still a good point for any party to consider, particularly in the field of communications and campaigning.

Where I think Paul really hits on something is here:

Many have expressed relief that our leadership is no longer an issue in the media. The days of the zimmer frame cartoons have gone. We have a young, vibrant and positive leader. I have certainly noticed how we managed to keep ourselves in the media day after day. It is a very welcome turn of events.

This is a dog that isn’t barking in the night-time. Look at the one big thing that is not going wrong. No-one has made any serious attempt in the media to assassinate Clegg, though you can bet your arse they would have if they hadn’t known that they’d look bloody stupid. Reports of our imminent demise have been noticeably lacking, especially since Make It Happen, even though it’s silly season and there’s only so much mileage you can get out of kicking Labour’s twitching corpse. Don’t get me wrong, a dog not barking is clearly nothing like where we need to be. But it’s further than where we were.

I also think Paul is on to something in suggesting that Cleggmania is in part responsible for any disillusionment that may be floating around. I know someone, a perfectly intelligent, politically aware, er, authoritarian socialist admittedly but of no party affiliation, who thinks that Clegg is – and I quote – just as much of a wanker as the other two. Now, I think much the same of Clegg as Paul does, as “an exciting and intelligent thinker and an earnest leader who deserves our full support.”

But it would be daft to suggest, as plenty of people were during the leadership election, that the whole population would love him and he would be the panacea that turned people on to the Lib Dems. People are just too wary of politician cults now. Anyone who voted for Clegg (and like Paul, I didn’t) and did so because they thought his being a “people person” would automatically translate into public affection and votes was misguided. That was clear all along. The media would never have stood for it.

So, while I think James’ three reasons are great starting points for discussion, the problem with being this high-falutin’ erudite liberal thinker like wot he is is that he has trouble appreciating that people might just have really, really crap reasons for taking the lines that they do.

To go back to my perfectly intelligent  and informed authoritarian socialist friend, she doesn’t like Clegg because of the Lisbon treaty, the Clegg 30 and because he’s “Cameron-lite”. That’s two thirds shitty, facile, undisproveable, media-led-by-the-nose reasons that we have no control over whatsoever, and one third good point but-not-in-the-way-she-thinks. So we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the great majority of any disillusionment with Clegg inside the party, or dislike outside, is anything like as thoughtful, nuanced or sophisticated as the JG/PW exchange suggests.

Don’t miss Pt 2, in which an Outsider makes a Constructive Criticism…

A 1am quickie to forestall a horrible, horrible dilemma. I have not had a cigarette now since 6 March, and only today I was congratulating myself on the general excellence of this, hoo yes, not had one of those filthy things for two and a half months, yes indeedy, no need for those elegant little wands of bliss, no need for the feeling of being at peace with the world and ready to do a little thinking, nonono, not at all, gaaaaaaah, cake, wine, anything, quickly…

And I overcome this energetic bout of vindication, one roast dinner and half a bottle of sparkling rose later, to find this Q&A from Nick Clegg in the Grauniad (h/t Paul Walter), and it includes this little nugget

What is your most unappealing habit?

I still smoke, a bit.

Nyaaaaaaaaaaargh! Even the high chief of many principles I hold dear “still smokes a bit”! And he does healthy stuff, like tennis and hiking! He has springy hair and energy! People like him simply DO NOT “still smoke a bit”!

I have to believe this, you see, because it’s only people with springy hair and energy who lead political parties that make me feel sufficiently guilty about being such a sedentary self-abusive slob that I can summon the motivation to, for example, stop smoking. If he still does it, then what’s stopping me from getting the baccy off the kitchen windowsill and rolling a restful nightcap right now (deeply unfair business, quitting in a household full of smokers)?

I think I detect the phrase “role model” galloping desperately and misguidedly in this direction. Oh god, as soon as I start thinking in Daily Hate Mail language all must be lost…

Yesterday I fell off my chair. Or, not so much “off” as “through”. The chair broke, you collect. With hindsight this was not terribly surprising, not so much because I was sitting on it (don’t be so damn rude) as because the chair is about seventy years old and has seated several generations of skimbly pre-and post-war Mortimer forebears before playing host to my much better-nourished posterior.

In the People’s Republic we have always been peasantishly bad at throwing things away (as you might gather from the provenance of the chair) if there is any chance that sufficient duct tape and a funny little wiggling motion every time you pick it up/switch it on/put weight on it in future will rectify the problem. Accordingly, since the basic joinery of the chair is perfectly sound, I have temporarily knocked its warring components back together with a hammer, and am now sitting on it again, taking great care to ensure I don’t work too hard nor get too exercised on Comment is Free. But it is still going to need some sort of metal bracket nailing across the bottom of the frame, to brace the seat against the assault it will suffer tomorrow night when seven other drunken women come over for dinner.

Simple, I think, I’ll nip up the road to, er… Following the closure of Bond & White, the local DIY store, to make way for Planet-fricking-Organic, where the hell do you go in Muswell Hill to buy a hap’orth of nails, or whatever it is, and funny shaped bits of metal? Woolworths? Not for long, it seems. I miss Bond & White. Going in there was like stepping into a seventies sitcom and playing the part of Woman Customer. It was the only shop anywhere on the broadway or for quite some distance around that sold anything remotely hardware-related, and it seemed, to my inexpert eye, to stock everything. The nearest comparable range must have been in one of the giant chain stores on the north circular, which is useless if you haven’t got a car.

This isn’t a precious selfish rant about the death of the small shop – those are alive and well in most of London – nope, it’s a precious selfish rant about the death of the shop that sells, well, useful stuff that ordinary people need to make way for yet more luxury wankfestery. It’s a perfect illustration of the fact that markets are blind. They’ll correct, but they’ll correct to the advantage of those with most input into the market. So in a rich area, you get rich people’s shops, in a poor area you get poor people’s shops, and in mixed areas… you get rich people’s shops.

In other words, there’s no problem with being a small shop on Muswell Hill Broadway, but there is a problem with being a small shop that sells a packet of nails every six months to a girl with a broken chair on Muswell Hill Broadway. All the people who form your main customer base, because they own their own homes and are allowed to do shit to them, are the kind of people who will also have cars and are able to make the trip out to the cheaper chain stores on the north circ. No one, except people like me, comes to the Broadway to buy nails any more.

No, most people come to the Broadway to pick up a few bits at M&S, grab the Guardian from WHSmiths, buy a chicken brick from The Scullery for Lottie to take back to university, take a fancy to an adorable little £150 dress from Leila (and that’s just the men), moon over the cheese counter in Feast and pretend they are some sort of Chaucerian goodwife throwback and now, presumably, feel up the pre-packed mixed seeds and nuts (so knobbly!) at Planet Organic. When they want a nail knocked in, they call up an Eastern European migrant in Tottenham and ask him to come over and bring a nail with him.

London, darling, it’s been wonderful, but I’m leaving you.

Being the second instalment of Terribly Boring, an occasional series for hungover weekends, in which I consider two utterly disparate ideas side-by-side for no discernible reason.

This became so long and had so few jokes that I eventually had to split it down into two – in my defence, I will add that after reading it you can cross John Gray’s Heresies off your Oh god, when am I going to get around to reading that? list. Just to keep you primed with excitement I’ll reveal the counterpoint – just what does she intend to consider alongside the doctrine of progress, eh? – at the end. I bet you can scarcely wait.

Progress – is it real or are we just speeding?

Some years after the rest of the intellectual world, I recently got around to reading John Gray’s Heresies: Against Progress and Other Illusions. Before I outline his anti-progress argument, I will get some whining out of the way. Gray has cruel things to say throughout about liberal values and the people who espouse them. Now, this would probably be bothersome if it wasn’t quite clear that he is using “liberal values” as shorthand for, amongst other things, intrusive statism and aggressive western hegemonising. In other words, he is taking uncritically the definition of liberal values as espoused by a Blair or a Bush (and not a few self-styled “leftish liberals” among the left activist base). And he is to some extent quite legitimate to do so, because liberal values are what these people are claiming to be the justification for their actions. Gray isn’t in the business of realigning liberalism correctly with its actual meaning, that’s our job, so with that observation in place I’ll stop kicking him for it.

His progress argument, as nearly as I can remember it (the book has gone back to the library along with the one pound sodding forty fine)  is divided into three parts. First, he argues that technological progress, conceived as a sort of panacea which will lead us into an age of plenty in which no-one will starve and medicine will be available to all, is a delusion. The twentieth century has been a history of the misuse of technology for political ends – why should we imagine that future developments will meet with any better political response? The crux of this rather depressing point reveals, to me, Gray’s own Thatcherite past: human beings are fundamentally and immutably bad, and will continue to be bad no matter what wonders proceed from their brains. Everything human beings create is tainted by its origins.

Actually, to call this an argument against progress per se is slightly misleading. It’s specifically an argument against that teleological concept of progress that will one day lead us to Utopia (and Gray draws the comparison between this fervent belief in technology and the old, displaced belief in religion and in heart-and-head political ideals like Marxism – all supposedly leading to one form or another of heaven). On the specific point about teleology I’m entirely with Gray, by instinct and by training. It’s impossible to study history for any length of time (in both senses) and not know that teleology is rubbish. But he doesn’t put enough emphasis for me, and nor would he, on how technological progress nonetheless makes things better. I mean, penicillin and all that? Freely available to everyone in the UK (not, of course, in the US)?

This cavil aside, the idea that technological progress is not the supra-human light that will lead us permanently out of all-too-human political darkness is something that makes an instinctive sense to me, even if I do not quite share Gray’s somewhat one-dimensional view of human nature. People often glibly talk about how history proves that human beings have always essentially been the same and I can’t understand why, I really can’t. Yes, if you only study the post-1800 period, it probably does prove just that. But if you immerse yourself in twelfth-century France, or in Mayan culture, or in Classical Greece even for five minutes, the shape of the minds, mores and priorities you detect around you are so eye-poppingly different that you’re never quite the same again when you come out.

The other two parts of Gray’s anti-progress thesis are even more clearly rooted in historiography. Secondly, in discussing Iraq and US hegemony, he clarifies that the new “democratic values” wars of the 1990s and 2000s are still, nonetheless, basically the same land-and-resource wars that have always been fought, dressed up in a hearts and minds language that will appeal to what he thinks of as “liberal values”. Thirdly, and in the most scattered section that ranges over a number of topics, he essentially argues for what you might call the swings and roundabouts theory of history contra the forward march of those “liberal values” – thus, the re-emergence of the Far Right in Europe is actually evidence that, for all our leaders would like to have us think otherwise, we are not steadily proceeding into more liberal times.

These two points in particular could have come straight out of Herbert Butterfield’s Whig Interpretation of History , published in 1973 and probably the single most influential historiographical work of the twentieth century. Mind you, that famously slim volume, as far as I recall, has few actual examples or illustrations in it (admittedly it is some time since I read it). It’s one of those crystalline pieces of thinking that is so abstract and self-contained that there is no need for the author to have any truck with actual sordid reality. Accordingly, with your critical faculties and normal standards of evidence flapping in the wind, you read it and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is right. About everything. The main thrust of his argument matches Gray’s; the onward progress of history is an illusion. Most historians, by their nature tending to be liberal, Protestant, progressive people, write selectively to emphasise the progress of western history towards an enlightened ideal that fits rather happily with their own concerns. There is a:

tendency of many historians to write on the side of Protestants and Whigs, to praise revolutions provided they have been successful, to emphasize certain principles of progress in the past and to produce a story which is the ratification if not the glorification of the present. 

So much for poor old progress. None of these are terribly lovely things to read for a liberal, small-l or big, because the inescapable implication is that, just as Marxism didn’t work, statism didn’t work and paternalism didn’t work, liberalism won’t work either. Or at least, not forever. It’s undoubtedly what we currently need but that is a different thing, a matter of balancing and rebalancing society.

Saying this feels a little heretical on day when the Cleggster has been delivering this corker, so I should qualify it to reassure you that, as far as you and I (and, to his chagrin, John Gray) are concerned, it really doesn’t matter that liberalism is not the perfect answer. It doesn’t have to be. It just has to be the best answer. Neither you nor I will live forever, so for current purposes we can put the fact that liberalism is not perfect for all times and all seasons at the back of the same drawer where we keep all our awkward questions, unfinished business, opportunities lost, the knowledge of our own mortality and that of our loved ones, and our Weightwatchers points card.

Join us again tomorrow or, depending on whether we can sneak past the library counter to the computers without paying out another fine, later today, for the next thrilling instalment of Terribly Boring in which the whole progress business is unloaded like a ton of bricks all over that famous Twenty-First Century Panacea: Managerialism.

Lush, the natural cosmetics company, scourge of unnecessary packaging, unrepentant drawers of little smiley stick figures and manufacturers extraordinaire of Jasminey Things with Glitter in them need no advertisement, but I’m going to give them one anyway for once again bringing joy to my liberal and girlish heart.

Not only have they started using popcorn* in their mail order packaging instead of polystyrene. They are now offering a free face mask to customers who bring back five of their trademark little black plastic pots to a Lush shop for recycling. Lest this sound like a tall order to the uninitiated, I should explain that I have four nearly empty such pots in my bathroom right this minute, and so does every other genuine Lush aficionado. Aww, they really do care! I call upon the party to embrace this fine initiative and really differentiate itself from the dull, sluggish, oily-with-dry-bits Con-Lab consensus.

* I have made the mistake for you and it tastes of soap.

Bloody Christmas. This year in the People’s Republican grotty grotto we have unemployment, overdrafts, deceased relatives and fathers detained several hundred miles away*. On the plus side, we also have cheese. A lot of cheese. Still, overburdened as you are with all those wry and amusing “looks” taken by newspaper columnists at the ribtickling social implications of Yuletide, you will be pleased to hear that I intend to talk a bit about Nick Clegg’s family panels, rather than my actual family. No hilarious escapades involving a snowball fight, a pool of catsick, an unsteady great aunt and a brussel sprout shortage will be related here (oh, use your imagination). Absolutely no tales of woe about being unable to procure a violet calf-skin Smithsons diary for my god-daughter will ensue, because I don’t have a god-daughter (or, for that matter, a god) nor any inclination to piss away my werewithal on hysterically over-priced luxury goods. Thank you.

No, this is very much a post for families. Last week, James Graham asked Nick Clegg to elaborate on this:

That’s why I will set up a network of real families, who have nothing to do with party politics, in every region of this country to advise me on what they think should be my priorities.

It’s the prospect of continuity that is key to this idea. Nick emphasised that he wanted the people on the panels to feel that they could email him and keep in touch with him. He’s getting at an important truth of political discourse here. Discussions which take place within the ambit of an evolving relationship are always more meaningful than one-off contacts. This is, emphatically, not about focus groups – it’s as diametrically opposed to a focus group as you can get. It’s not necessarily about telling people they’re right about everything either, although this is going to be a tricky one for Nick to pull off without opening himself up to charges of elitism. One man’s robust approach to argument is another man’s arrogance, as this comment on Alex Wilcock’s blog made clear. However, he is better qualified than any other politician I can think of to make a good job of it. This is where the “Would I go for a pint with him?” test may have served us well in electing him.

Still, he’s got his work cut out to persuade the wider media of all this. They’ve heard this reaching-out tack before, and politicians say the word “families” like most people say “the”.** I think Nick can do two things to show them he’s in earnest. First, and most obviously, he can publicise these relationships. That doesn’t necessarily mean a ghastly glitzing-up of every single contact he makes – and that would compromise the development of the relationship anyway. What about a quarterly round robin letter reflecting on what he has learnt and what he has taught, which names names and issues? “As a result of x, I was able to refine my opinion of y. However, I was able to explain a satisfactorily to b, and they now agree with me on that.”

The other thing he can do is flesh out what he means by “family”. If nothing else, doing this will be an important move in the Campaign to Shake David Cameron Off Nick Clegg’s Ankle (banner designs welcome). Step one is clearly to refute the 2.4 children model, and he has already done that, as James Graham describes. It’s a no-brainer for a liberal. There is, howver, a more abstract step two and since it’s Christmas, I’m going to allow myself a little petulant tantrum. When I hear a politician say the word family, I am one of those who switches off rather than on. I stay switched on intellectually, of course, but my heart remains totally unmoved. That’s because my birth family has separated into the individual components of retired couple and grown-up, moved-out children; I’m not in any sort of family unit of my own making; I have no personal reason to give a damn about pupil premiums, tax credits or care homes. I’m in between all of that. And I know that when most politicians talk family, that’s the stuff they’re really talking about.

In the online hustings, Nick said that his family were the most important thing in his life, far more important than politics. That my family is the most important thing in my life is equally true, but only in the sense that it encompasses my college friends family, my school friends family, various work friends families, and my neighbourhood family (flatmates, bar staff at my local, friends of friends living nearby etc) as well as my parents and brother. Now, it’s probably true that I would instinctively dive in front of a bus to save my brother, and wouldn’t perform the same office for Darren the landlord at the Maid (sorry, Darren). But no single component of this family of mine overrides the rest in any practical day-to-day sense. They all help me get through the day. I break bread with them, chat to them, form my opinions with them, say good morning to them. They’d notice if I dropped from view.

Politicians are generally, in the nature of things, part of fairly conventional and visible family units, and it’s easier for them to assume that most people experience family in this way. But really your family is simply the social and cultural forum where you evolve your private and political opinions and sketch out the shape of the impact you make on the wider world. That’s the unit of individuals that Nick could usefully talk to. Because families are self-perpetuating political engines. And it is the sum total of these little social and cultural engines that make up society. Information he feeds into a proper, effective family unit will be processed and talked about as part of its internal life. This is, to my mind, what makes his family panels idea really quite exciting. By promoting continuity of relationships, and by adopting as wide a conception as possible of what a “family” is, Nick can tap into a web of social and political networks bursting with the potential for liberal thought.

UPDATE: I’ve only just noticed that Jonathan Fryer has blogged a measure of justifiable disquiet on this.

* I mean detained on other business. Not at Her Maj’s pleasure.

** That is, often. Not in place of the definite article. That would be silly, and very confusing for Hansard transcribers.

Little did the Quaequam Empire know that when it loftily issued this meme this morning that it would quickly be challenged with a number of other memes from various rogue states and be forced, in all grinchy conscience, to abide by them.

I’m quite smug about this desktop one. My desktop has the impersonal clutter-free air of a hotel room. Absolutely no underwear lying around on the floor of the People’s Republic, oh no. And withal carrying a faint air of sadness. As if I could hit the road at any time.


The reason for this is that I am too poor and wretched to own a computer, and so normally use the guest account on my flatmate’s. If I’d been blogging this over the road at the library you’d have had Better Haringey pinging all over the screen.

And with that pithy socio-economic observation, I tag:

Rob Knight

Jennie Rigg

Peter Black

Julian H

Rob Nolan

Show us yer desktop! (clearing it up first is cheating)

Welcome to the first in my new Terribly Boring series, an extended tour of the pointless back alleys of the brain in which I expound two entirely separate thought systems, collide them forcibly and sweepingly with one another and see what happens. None of this, you understand, is to any real purpose beyond keeping me off the streets, but I venture to hope that it may occasionally induce exasperation, pity or puzzlement in you, the reader . . .

This week, Jungian psychological type-casting and democratic theory. You’re all quite grown-up enough to Wiki for yourselves, but here are the points which are relevant here:


Our particular form of democracy is founded on the principle that representatives can and will act in the best interests of the people, using powers that go beyond the literal proxy sense of representative. Whether this always necessarily means according to the people’s actual wishes on any one subject is a moot point. The consensus, given that our representatives are in place for a long cycle of time, is that actual wishes are not always taken into account. Actual participatory democracy by the people in governance and formulation of policy is very limited, and is becoming more so under the current government.

Our representative democracy is, peculiarly, fuelled by FPTP. The elected representative need only make a successful claim to articulate the thoughts and wishes of enough of their constituents, not necessarily a majority of them.

Carl Jung and his successors

Jung’s theory of psychology was based on typologies, that there were eight psychological “functions” split into four pairs. Every human being majors one way or t’other in each pair. Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers later carried the typology system to its logical conslusion, creating a psychological zodiac in which the entire population could be split into sixteen types by means of the four key pairs of variants.

Keirsey* then used this Myers Briggs Type Indicator as the basis for his theory of temperaments, and this is the system I am going to collide with democracy. It is an important concept in his system that human relationships will never be harmonious unless the essential differences in goals and outlook between these types is recognised (as far as possible) by all.

The four pairs of variants are:

Introverted or Extroverted – obvious

INtuitive or Sensory – are you more into ideas or things?

Thinking or Feeling – are you inclined to think rationally or emotionally?

Judgement or Perception – are you inclined to be structured and detail-focused or flexible and spontaneous?

There are plenty of variants of the test around – though many don’t carry the letter system as this is copyrighted. Here’s a good version from the Beeb. I generally come out as ENTP or INTP, because I am more extroverted than not, my world-view is conceptual (this is what the unlovely American “intuitive” means here) rather than based on, you know, stuff and things, I tend to base my decisions and reactions on thought rather than feeling, and I am more inclined to be flexible and disorganised, and tease out ever finer shades of meaning from a problem than I ever am to actually arrive at a conclusion or judgement, or just get my arse in gear generally. You can probably tell.

The collision 

We now exit the realm of the proveable and Wiki-able and enter MY HEAD.

The important bits, the operative bits, of a Kiersey typology are the two middle letters, and particularly that N or S. Whether you approach the world through abstract concepts or concrete things is absolutely fundamental. Now, an N-type person is not necessarily any more intelligent than an S-type person, we’re talking about different kinds of intelligence. But academia rewards the conceptual thinking of the N-type, and that is historically because all the people who set up and run educational systems, write IQ tests and so on, are themselves Ns. The capacity for abstract conceptual thought is what allowed humans to outstrip other mammals developmentally in the first place; it follows that an extra-refined capacity for conceptual thought within the human group allows those who possess it to design societal systems that advantage them over those who do not.

I’d be willing to bet (although totally unable to pay up), that you, dear reader, come out as N. Most of the blogosphere is by definition N, because you’re using a symbolic representational system composed of little wiggly black things on a screen, which is representative of the written alphabet, which itself is representative of all the various concepts in the world, physical and abstract, in order to define and advance your thought. Writing and reading are N activities.

I’d also bet, though less confidently, that you’re both I and T. The nature of the beast – communicating by computer - would suggest I. The nature of the subject broadly under discussion – polly-ticks – would suggest T, although there are a fair few sprinklings of you more passionate Fs out there as well.

On P and J, I don’t think there’s much of a bias, but I imagine that if you’re an elected representative or any other competent sort of person, you’ve come out as J. If you’re more of a rambling, dilettantish type whose train of thought can be derailed by. . . ooh look, a squirrel outside the window . . . sorry, where was I? Oh yes, if you’re like that then you’ve probably come out as P.

If you tot up the stats from my Keirsey book, which are based on everyone who has ever taken the test, you find that about 30% of everyone is an N, and 70% of everyone is an S. Ns are a sizeable minority. They are also a highly visible minority. We’ve already said that educational systems advantage Ns. Anything involving writing and conceptual comprehension advantages Ns. It follows that the – let us say – governing, managerial classes are almost entirely composed of Ns.

These Ns talk to each other, formulate law, have abstract discussion, are friends with each other, and have invented and perpetuate the concept of democracy. But since 70% of the people for whose benefit and in whose name all this is done are S-types, it’s a slightly pointless, though good-hearted, exercise. An N is never going to articulate or explain governance in a way that naturally makes sense to the S.

Put simply, representative democracy is psychologically impossible. What is possible, is genuine, grassroots democracy, such as is desired by the Liberal Democrat mindset (an N party if ever there was one) because that will enable concrete participation by the S. Proportional representation also allows the S type to come back into balance with the N, as FTPT biases in favour of the votes of your generally more politically involved Ns.

Thus it follows that the Liberal Democrat model of democracy is the only psychologically defensible option. However, we would do well to bear in mind that grassroots democracy will be an S democracy and, well, to us Ns it’s going to look pretty odd.

Join me again next time on Terribly Boring when I will be bringing Herbert Butterfield’s critique of the Whiggish interpretation of history to bear on modern business consultancy models. Guess who comes off better.

* The precise terms of the interaction between Kiersey and Jung’s theories are disputed. For the current whimsical purposes, this doesn’t matter.

Needless to say, my blog-toilet hybrid has utterly failed to do its job so far because only nice, reasonable, non-shrill people have commented.

Howsobeit, I have been tagged for the Crazy Eight meme by Peter Black (although I don’t understand what is so crazy about it) and here in the People’s Republic no-one ever need ask us to navel-gaze twice…

8 things I’m passionate about:
History and archaeology

Living a Good Life

The environment


London, Italy and Devon – my favourite places


The future of property ownership and society’s perception of the tenant

An end to excessive punctuation

8 things I want to do before I die
Travel across the stans on the back of a donkey, probably with a parasol, a valise and a butterfly net

Have a family of some sort

See Patagonia

Have a book published

Be on Start the Week

Learn to surf

Live in Italy

Release my inner chorus girl

8 things I say often
Oh for fuck’s sake

Another triumph/failure* in the annals of Mortimer

Maybe I should just get both

Pint of Star, please

Fair play to him/her…



This will last out a night in Russia, when nights are longest there**
8 books I’ve read recently or am still reading
Britain BC – Francis Pryor

Heresies – John Gray

Arturo’s Island – Else Morante

HP & Deathly Hallows – J K Rowling

Secret History - Donna Tartt (comfort re-read)

The Unauthorised Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible – Robin Lane Fox

This Thing of Darkness – Harry Thompson

The Mauritius Command – Patrick O’Brian (comfort re-read)

8 songs I could listen to over and over and do:
Arcade Fire – Neighbourhood 1 (Tunnels)

Kings of Leon – Fans

Spiritualized – Take your time

Libertines – Can’t stand me now

Fleetwood Mac – Never going back again

The Undertones – Get over you

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Let the cool goddess rust away

Velvet Underground – Heroin

8 things that attract me to my best friends
Irreverance and sarcasm

Straight talk

Readiness to laugh

Passion and compassion



Good egginess


8 people I think should do Crazy 8s


Mat Bowles

Charlotte Gore

James Graham

Millennium Elephant (four of each for him and Daddy Richard)


Anthony Fairclough 

Cassy Sachar 

Leadership contenders (hey, they need procrastination tools too):

Nick Clegg

Chris Huhne 

* As appropriate. Triumph can of course be used ironically. Failure never is.

** Well, not often. There isn’t often a call to say it. But when there is, that is what I say.


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