We in the People’s Republic now realise that we have spent a totally deficient amount of time over the last year’s blogging activity on fostering a culture of cynical corrosive nihilism. We are obviously hopelessly out of step with the zeitgeist, what with our all-too-frequent postings on such subjects as the teaching of history, Herbert Spencer, Anglo-Norman linguistics, urban planning, psychological profiling and our interminable difficulties with British Gas. We are a damn sight too constructive, optimistic, reflective and cautious, among the many other inconvenient qualities associated with liberalism.
We are ready to make amends.
So what’s the single most depressing, cynicism-inducing, hair-tearingly awful, weepingly ruinous assault on the nation’s political psyche we can recall?
Is it the lie that resulted in an illegal war and the suicide of a government scientist? Is it the fact that hundreds of thousands of opinions counted for nothing in the face of one megalomaniac’s semi-religious conviction? Was it the moment when Walter Wolfgang was removed from a Labour party conference by security forces? Was it the cash for peerages scandal? Was it the culture of organised fear that led to the shooting of an innocent man on the London underground?
Was it the more personal moment, when I was involved on a professional basis in carrying out a consultation which the local government organisation that ordered it then totally ignored? Was it the moment when Jacqui Smith, when asked how she would overcome eight hundred years of basic English liberties to seize property from criminal suspects before they were charged, said, “Oh, we’d just change the law”?
Was it the 10p tax band? Oh, it might be! It might just be. For a year – a YEAR – Labour lied and lied and lied and said that the changes in the 2007 Budget would not make anyone poorer. There were tax credits and winter fuel payments, they mumbled (they’re still mumbling about winter fuel payments. To hear Gordon Brown at PMQs you’d think winter fuel payments were a tonic for the ills of the whole world). Anyway, they went on, brightening up, you’ll be getting more money out of it, like lots of other people, so you don’t mind, do you!
Please, I beg all Citizens, of all affiliations, be in no error about the fact that this was a LIE. They knew people would lose out but they reckoned that as it would only be poor people no-one would care. This was a calculation that could have been done with an Excel spreadsheet on the day of the budget. I know. I did it.
But no, awful though that is, it’s actually not the worst thing. The worst thing really is Blears’ speech itself.
It has, for some reason, made something click for me. It contains – as Mat GB at Liberal Conspiracy and Costigan Quist point out with exactly the kind of superhuman reasonableness that Blears believes is lacking in blogging – some very reasonable ambitions about reducing careerism at Westminster.
But oh my god. Have you read it? The section about blogging and the media is the section Blears’ minions have snipped out for CIF, so I think we can afford to ditch our reasonableness and our broad view; whatever the merits of other parts of the speech, this is the bit she wants put across. This is the bit she thinks is important. And every assumption underpinning it terrifies the living shit out of me:
…and in recent years commentary has taken over from investigation or news reporting, to the point where commentators are viewed by some as every bit as important as elected politicians, with views as valid as cabinet ministers.
Views as valid as cabinet ministers. Views as valid as cabinet ministers? You see? I’m gibbering with fear already. This woman thinks that no-one else’s views are entitled to be seen as being as valid as those of cabinet ministers. She is suggesting that it is wrong for people to have views which are taken as seriously by the electorate as those of cabinet ministers. She thinks that cabinet ministers have a special claim to have their views prevail. She has genuinely, totally forgotten that cabinet ministers are supposed to serve the people, represent their views. She has genuinely, totally forgotten that this is a democracy.
And if you can wield influence and even power, without ever standing for office or being held to account by an electorate, it further undermines our democracy.
I’m speechless. No, I’m not. No, wait! This, this, this describes a democracy.
The commentariat operates without scrutiny or redress. They cannot be held to account for their views, even when they perform the most athletic and acrobatic of flip-flops in the space of a few weeks. I can understand when commentators disagree with each other; it’s when they disagree with themselves we should worry.
But they’re not running the fucking country, Hazel, are they. You are. Accountability is the thing that happens to YOU. And half the reason bloggers exist in the first place is to give the media the kicking in the nuts it so frequently deserves. Here I am defending them. I’m even defending, by implication, Guido. What have you done to me?
There will always be a role for political commentary, providing perspective, illumination and explanation. But editors need to do more to disentangle it from news reporting, and to allow elected politicians the same kind of prominent space for comment as people who have never stood for office.
This isn’t so much terrifying as puzzling. I literally do not understand what she’s talking about here. Politicians write in newspapers all the time. Nick Clegg used to have a regular Guardian column. You can’t get away from politicians writing chummy columns in newspapers.
This brings me to the role of political bloggers. Perhaps because of the nature of the technology, there is a tendency for political blogs to have a Samizdat style.
What, you mean with the chief characteristic of being self-published tracts stating opposition to a murderous, dictatorial, left-wing government? Bad analogy, Hazel, bad analogy.
The most popular blogs are rightwing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes. Perhaps this is simply anti-establishment. Blogs have only existed under a Labour government. Perhaps if there was a Tory government, all the leading blogs would be left-of-centre?
Mat at LibCon has already put paid to this one. We’re talking about a “range” of literally, going by Wikio, two. Incidentally, it’s fashionable to bang on about the superior power of American blogging at this point, and how much closer the right are to achieving it, but actually I don’t think any success right wing blogs do enjoy has much to do with the kind of organisation that makes American blogs an effective political tool. The three real success stories of right wing blogging are ConHome – which has a paid staff, Iain Dale – who is a PR genius and Guido – who is a twisted PR genius. None of that reflects any actual mass organisation or campaigning.
So they get stuff in the papers, so what? No-one reads the bloody things except to reinforce their existing beliefs. I really do despair of how stupid we all are sometimes (and I include myself in this), worrying about how this or that will be perceived in the media, as if that really does constitute some sort of “wider world”. It’s all a totally circular feeding frenzy involving a few thousand people at most. I should bloody know. So should Blears, but she’s far too deep into the matrix now to remember that it isn’t real. And I probably wouldn’t be so terrified if she wasn’t also controlling the feeding tubes.
There are some informative and entertaining political blogs, including those written by elected councillors. But mostly, political blogs are written by people with a disdain for the political system and politicians…
Most? Disdain? Not only is it perfectly clear to anyone with the slightest acquaintance with political blogs that ninety per cent are thoughtful and constructive, but more than that, how can anyone be so utterly cretinous as to believe that bloggers make all this effort and put in all this time to political discussion out of disdain? Take Lib Dem Voice. Its viewing figures are rocketing, its conference events are packed out without advertising, politicians and independent commentators write for it and the quality of the debate on there is quite often stunning. Take what the chief editor, Stephen Tall, does to contribute to all that. He puts in more time and effort than any of us, and he puts in hours. A couple of hours almost every day. Of his own free, unpaid time. So that Lib Dems have somewhere entertaining to meet and talk online. And she thinks we do this out of disdain for politics?
…who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.
I BEG your fucking pardon? It is a BAD thing to unearth scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy is it?
This line alone, you see, makes me earnestly wish I’d spent less of the last year being elegant and witty about history and linguistics and more of it putting the fucking boot in to this awful, appalling government and the repellant automatonic freaks it harbours with no care for elegance whatsoever. Seriously, I used to think, rather as Hazel seems to, that trenchant blogging was just a bit silly, a bit too mutually-assured-destruction. Sometimes it takes hearing someone else’s back story to your shared opinion to make you realise you are holding very much the wrong opinion.
Unless and until political blogging adds value to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate voices, ideas and legitimate protest and challenge, and until the mainstream media reports politics in a calmer, more responsible manner, it will continue to fuel a culture of cynicism and despair.
Add value? Just. Fuck. Off. That is all.
And this, Citizens, is where the revolution comes. I’ve spent the last twelve months “adding value”, being optimistic, careful and constructive, if that’s what adding value means. I don’t necessarily mean I’ve added a bean of value to the Liberal Democrat effort per se just through blogging. Who can measure such intangibles, but I’m sure blogging has very little impact on the wider world. However, after my fashion, I have offered what value I have to offer to online political culture. I haven’t dug at opposition parties much except on matters of policy detail, because I’m more interested – to be honest – in discussing liberalism and hopefully promoting it to the odd unaffiliated reader. Nah, all that angry stuff just isn’t me, I thought.
But this speech. Well, it got me clicking. Basically, I’ve just spent hours in an empty house surfing the internet for evidence that the government really does mean to screw us, and nobody should ever do that. This is what I’ve found.
In late September, PRWeek reported that Labour were putting together a “rapid rebuttal unit” blogger team to kill damaging stories on the internet. According to El Dale, the meeting at which this was discussed has just taken place. Nothing terribly wrong with that, I hear you cry. We’d probably have one ourselves if we weren’t such unique liberal snowflakes. Seriously, can you imagine a similar meeting among the Lib Dem bloggers? We’d have to reduce it to a fevered argument about the origins and purpose of the internet, at the very least. Probably of the Enlightenment.
But combine it now with this from late October, the news that Mandelson is spearheading a move to reconsider the relationship between the government and Nominet, the independent membership organisation which controls the .co.uk domain registry. And when I say “reconsider the relationship” I mean consider introducing one. A letter to Nominet from the department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform contains this passage:
The domain system is, of course, a crucial element in the internet economy. In this context I noted that many countries regarded their country code as a national asset, the management of which required the direct involvement of government.
And then combine this with Andy Burnham’s ambitions for a regulated internet – oh, strictly in the interests of reducing violent pornographic and paedophiliac content, of course. Of course.
Internet “black boxes” will be used to collect every email and web visit in the UK under the Government’s plans for a giant “big brother” database, The Independent has learnt.
Home Office officials have told senior figures from the internet and telecommunications industries that the “black box” technology could automatically retain and store raw data from the web before transferring it to a giant central database controlled by the Government.
I mean… I don’t know much about this sort of thing. Information technology in the full sense. I’m an educated layperson guessing here. Help me out. We’ve got a rapid rebuttal unit of Labour apparatchiks, the communications database, internet regulation and government control of the .co.uk registry. And bear in mind we’ve already got ID cards, anti-terrorism legislation, incitement of hatred legislation and 28 days without trial.
At what point is it ok to get paranoid, do you suppose? Not abstractly paranoid. Not paranoid-with-sad-shake-of-head. Properly terrified-paranoid. Paranoid in the style of what has up to now been the nuttier end of the blogosphere.
If it helps you make up your mind, this came from the press association a couple of hours ago – a familiar theme perhaps, in an enhanced light:
Some ID cards will be handed out to the public by the end of next year, the Home Secretary has said.
Jacqui Smith said “small volumes” of cards will be available months ahead of schedule.
Ministers are considering launching a website in the New Year enabling anyone who wants a card to register their interest.
The cards, which will store copies of two fingerprints and a facial scan – will enable holders to travel around Europe without a passport.
They will cost £30 each and will be available for everyone else from 2011. The overall cost of the ID card and biometric passport scheme is nearly £5 billion.
Launching the government’s response to a consultation on ID card delivery, Ms Smith said the cards would replace bank statements, driving licences and birth certificates for anyone looking to confirm their identity.
The biometric data stored on the cards and the ID card database could be collected on the high street at post office counters or in shops, she said.
She also announced stronger powers for the ID cards watchdog to enforce co-operation by government departments and companies involved in collecting the data.
Addressing the Social Market Foundation think tank in central London, she said there was already a need for a “universal means of proving identity”.
She said: “The time is fast approaching when the use of bills and bank statements to prove our identity will no longer cut it, and when our personal dictionary of different passwords for different purposes will become too unwieldy to work effectively.”
I can hardly put it better than a commenter named Triffid100 on CiF did earlier today, and the chances are astronomically against my being right, but this comment almost has a touch of the Charlottes about it to me:
I am afraid of my Government. I have done nothing wrong and obeyed all your laws. However, I’m afraid.
I will never forgive you.