Tag Archives: bloggers

Does the right really value freedom? The acid test.

I’m trying to sum up how I feel having watched the video on the Guardian website of Ian Tomlinson being bit by a policeman with a baton while he had his hands in his pockets and was walking away from them. I’d say anger, but I think the honest answer is: panic.

I watched it about 20 minutes ago and my heart is still racing. More than anything, it frightens me. That could have been me, minding my own business. If I had been tripped over in that way by a mob of coppers, however angry I might have been I would have been shitting myself. I think my heart could have taken it, but I don’t know. I have absolutely no interest of putting it to the test – and absolutely no way of preventing it from happening if I ever get unlucky. This is what it feels like to be afraid of the state.

I never did believe the initial police account, but it just seems to get worse and worse. What is clear from the video is the level of contempt at least some of the police regarded the demonstrators (and in this case, even innocent bystanders). And when it blows up in their faces? They invoke the law of the playground: however much you might be in the wrong, never snitch. Even worse, they use their considerable PR machine to spread lies about the conduct of the protestors. This has happened again and again in the past; we know what they’re like. And yet, with the honourable exception of the Guardian, the silence from most of the media has been deafening.

But parts of the blogosphere has been notably silent as well. I’ve just scanned the rightwing/libertarian blogs I could think of off the top of my head: Iain Dale, Guido, Coffee House, Comment Central, Dizzy Thinks, Conservative Home, Libertarian Party UK, Is there more to life than shoes, Telegraph Blogs, the Adam Smith Institue blog, Douglas Carswell, Nadine Dorries…* The top story on the Freedom Association blog at the moment is about the police handling of the G20 protests, complaining at the ignomious treatment of… the Adam Smith Institute Director who was questioned by police (numerous other of the aforementioned blogs have singled this incident out too – this is the martyr of 1/4 as far as they are concerned).

I’m not for a second suggesting that if you don’t blog about this you don’t care, but taken as a whole this is quite striking. These blogs obsessively complain about every possible infringement of the liberties of the affluent and articulate middle classes, yet when a blameless man in a dirty t-shirt dies not a single one of them has asked a question. Four hours since the Guardian released that video, not a single one has mentioned it. Daniel Finklestein, who chose to single out the Lib Dem MPs who were acting as monitors atthe protests, has been keeping mum.

When they’ve shouted about Damien Green or David Davis, I have tended to their side, and not been afraid to argue with lefties who can be eye-wateringly tribalist. Damien Green’s treatment was unacceptable. David Davis’ stance was honourable. But it is clearer than ever now that I could never expect an ounce of solidarity in return. Over the last few days, I’ve been given a salient demonstration of quite what the right really thinks about freedom in this country.

* In the interests of fairness, it should be pointed out that LabourList has been resolutely silent on this topic as well, but it is very much not representative of the left in that respect (indeed in any respects – can it even legitimately be defined as leftwing?).

Blog Awards – I am the law!

Judge Graham badgeI enjoyed being a judge so much for the ERS blog awards earlier this year I decided I might try my hand again.

This time I’m to be the token male for the inaugural Campaign for Gender Balance Blog Awards.

I’m not going to express my own views about who I think should be nominated here as it obviously would be appallingly inappropriate. What I can do however is start a meme, in time honoured blog tradition.

This meme is very simple and largely based on the nominations process. Tagged bloggers are asked to do the following:

  1. Provide a link to the Gender Balance website (http://genderbalance.org.uk/pages/awards.html) and encourage as many people as possible to submit their nominations that way.
  2. Suggest THREE Blogs that should be nominated for in the Best Blog by a Woman Lib Dem category, and state why.
  3. Suggest THREE blog posts that should be nominated for the Best Blog Post By a Woman Lib Dem category, and state why.
  4. Suggest THREE Blogs that should be nominated for in the Best Blog by a Woman Non-Lib Dem category, and state why.
  5. Name THREE living women you would like to see blog, and state why. These can be women from any walk of life, not just Lib Dems (although that doesn’t mean they can’t be).
  6. Tag five other bloggers you would like to do the meme.

I can do the last bit at least, and nominate:

Tag! Of course, anyone else reading this is more than welcome – in fact encouraged – to do the meme themselves.

E X C L U S I V E (ish): Mingmeet – where’s the meat?

Sort of an exclusive here as I think I may be the first to write up my account of the interview with Ming that the finalists for the Blog of the Year held on Sunday morning. Jonathan Calder actually beat me to it by about 12 hours but at the time of writing hadn’t given his full account. Either way it’s another opportunity to shamelessly use “EXCLUSIVE” in another blog title and we all know how much you crazy kids love your exclusives.

Okay. By dint of where I had seated myself, I found myself asking Ming the first question, which was about what the party’s narrative is. He both avoided answering my question and accidentally answering my question at the same time. Let me explain.

He failed to answer my question in that his pat answer was that it is being developed by the manifesto team and that Steve Webb is developing it. He went on to list a number of policy areas – particularly the environment – that we would be developing thematically. I have to say that my heard sank at this point. If we are to have a narrative – and I hear no-one suggesting that we shouldn’t – then we should have had it nailed down 12 months ago. As it stands, Ming seemed to be suggesting it would be unveiled along with the manifesto a few short weeks before the election (whenever that is).

But then, almost in spite of himself, he began to answer the question – at least partially. Throughout the interview he kept talking about how it is now “one-against-two” to contrast with the last few general elections which were “two-against-one”. What he went on to explain was that in the past, the Lib Dems and Labour teamed up against the Conservatives; now the Lib Dems are fighting against the “conservative consensus” of Labour and the Conservatives. This is partly because that Labour has become more conservative, but it is also because of the expected tightness of the next election which means that the Lib Dems are now being attacked in both directions.

The fact is, this is a narrative. It isn’t one that I think particularly resonates with the general public, but it does hit the right notes as far as activists are concerned. It makes it quite clear that we are sticking with equidistance. I expect to hear more of this in the speech.

It’s also – I think – possible to tweak to make it more appealing from a voter perspective. The fact is, in many cases we are the only serious alternative to a conservative consensus. We are the only party which is serious about decentralisation and giving away power and meaty policy which spells out how. For the Tories and Labour localism and renewing democracy remain little more than stock phrases. For such a message to resonate however, we need to have a much less managerialist approach to policy during the next election. If we end up with just another long list of policy bites which promise a change in spending here, the scrapping of a policy there, we’ll be stuck with the same sort of dispiriting campaign that we had in 2005.

(As an aside, sadly the feedback I’ve had from the “secret” candidate training sessions on Saturday was that this is not only precisely what the party mandarins have planned but that they’ve been conducting expensive polling that “proves” this is the case. A lot of internal polling I’ve seen in the past has been concerned with proving a point rather than genuine research – polls that prove that no-one is interested in electoral reform compared with crime, health and education for example as opposed to exploratory polls to see how we might better make the case for electoral reform. I have no doubt that a policy bite approach is useful for shoring up support in marginal seats, but it does nothing to reach out to our larger potential supporter base. It leaves us vulnerable to attack if the opposition parties run an effective air war against us if we aren’t taking to the skies at the same time. And you can’t run an effective air war if your “ammo” is ten disparate policy commitments).

Interestingly, Ming pointed out that the then-elections chief Lord Razzall was in constant talks with Labour regarding our targeting strategy and how we might both target the Conservatives. Although I’m not surprised, I have to say it is the first I’ve heard of this. It feels a little uncomfortable to learn that we were in strategic discussions with the war-mongers, but then the Tories were wannabe war-mongers and were running under the most rightwing manifesto in recent memory (written by David Cameron, lest we forget). Either way, if our strategy was to work with Labour to maximise the marginal Lib-Con seats that we won, it was a pretty poor one. Most of our significant gains were against Labour. I’m sure Labour supporters in places such as, say, Manchester Withington, will be delighted to learn that their defeat was pre-arranged with their own party).

Richard Flowers, demonstrating sub-Victorian parental values, kept the Millennium Elephant in a bag throughout the interview (I can EXCLUSIVELY reveal!). While the nominee himself was left to sulk, Daddy Richard asked Ming what we can do to engage with the 40% of the electorate that now doesn’t vote. This was an issue that Ming warmed to, pointing out that there are now more people on the internet in the UK than UK voters, and that the next election could be decided by as few as 800,000 – 1,000,000 voters (I have news for Ming – if the Tories got exactly the right votes in exactly the right places they’d need much less to swing it). I did sense a degree of hypocrisy though in a Lib Dem leader attacking the other parties for focussing on swing voters in marginal seats at the expense of everyone else: what have we been doing for the past decade-and-a-half if not that?

Accepted, our standard response to this is that we would change the electoral system that forces us into this position, but we should at least acknowledge that we are contributing to this disconnect ourselves. If we don’t, then it’s just words.

The two mediums Ming highlighted as tools for reengaging with the disenfranchised I don’t think are that effective. Political blogs like this for example tend to be read by other political bloggers, journalists and political obsessives. My extreme tracking site meter suggests that just 941 unique visitors read this blog on an average month and I could probably list at least 10% of them by name. I’m under no illusions about this blog’s power to engage with the disconnected. I’m rather more impressed by the potential of Facebook and MySpace in this respect.

His other example is literary festivals, which are growing in popularity and at which political meetings tend to be filled to the rafters. This is positive, but it doesn’t get us even close to the NEETs.

One thing the party might want to look at is to start going to places on the internet where there is a lot of activity. We probably won’t get very far by getting Ming on Britney Spears’ discussion forums, but there are issue-based campaigns out there which seem to genuinely reach out beyond the relatively well connected. As I’ve written before, one of those areas is first time buyers, who appear to be virtually fetching the torches and pitchforks as I type. But what have we as a party to say to them? At the moment, the only thing we seem to be saying is that under a Liberal Democrat government we guarantee to raise house prices by another £15,000.

Paul Walter would not, I’m sure, have trouble with my description of him as the loyalest of the shortlisted Lib Dem bloggers, so it is to his credit that he asked what Ming believes he has done wrong in his 18 months as leader. His answer is that he failed to recognise the extent to which the party leader gets engaged with the administration of the party, something which he is now planning to take a step backward from. Sensibly, I feel, he is appointing the manifesto chief Steve Webb to chair the Federal Policy Committee in his stead. I would demur somewhat with his insistence that the party’s press operation is the best its ever been (it might be, but that didn’t stop us from disappearing over the summer from the headlines during which time we launched 5 policy papers).

Alex Wilcock asked why Ming thought it was that despite the fact that internally the party is broadly with the direction he’s taking it doesn’t seem to be coming across to the public, and what he plans to do about it. Ming’s response was to make the very fair point that if you look at Ashdown and Kennedy at the same point in their respective leaderships, both of them we performing as poorly as he is currently in the opinion polls. The problem for Ming is that, since it is now one-against-two, he doesn’t have the luxury that they had to simply give it time. He went on to say that he wanted to avoided the situation under Kennedy and Ashdown whereby the party came across as a one-man-band and so he is keen to share the spotlight with our young “bright and sassy” intake. Much as I agree with him that we have a talented group of MPs these days, I’m not sure this is wise – or even practical. Stephen Tall’s chart of “media tarts” shows that according to Nexis Lexis, Nick Clegg is our next highest profile frontbencher after Ming with around a quarter of the leader’s press. After Nick, our next highest profile “bright young thing” is Sarah Teather with around a tenth of his coverage. So if there is a deliberate strategy to get them to share the spotlight, it isn’t working. And what have we to show for it?

This also rather conflicts with his later claim that if there were more people of his age sitting around the cabinet table, we would have been less likely to go into war. Not if they were all called John Prescott they wouldn’t. I’m not convinced that supineness is linked to age, but if it is, surely he ought to be kicking these young whippersnappers out of his front bench (in one case of course, he has, while the ability of Lembit Opik to demonstrate his maturity earned him a promotion).

Sensing a kill, Alex used this talk about sharing the limelight to ask Ming why he chose to announce policy on an EU referendum a week before conference instead of waiting for conference itself to take a considered view. Jonathan Calder followed this up by asking what point there is on having a referendum on membership of the EU when it was so ineffective in 1975.

I feel the need here to defend Ming, to some extent, on both counts. I’ve always been on the view that the party’s internal democracy (which I strongly defend) should not mean that the party leader should make Trappist vows of silence on topical issues of importance. Politics simply does not work like that; you have to trust – to some extent – the “guys in the room”. Furthermore, while I also disagree with Ming that a referendum on the treaty would be wholly sui generis to a referendum on EU membership, I disagree with Jonathan’s views here also.

My follow up to this – if he had not at this point ran out of time – would have been to observe that Ming appears to get it broadly right in terms of handling the feral beast of the media on the second attempt. I’d have liked to ask him why it is he feels that we have had these blunders – specifically the wobble over Ming’s speech at Harrogate, the delay in informing Gordon Brown that the party would not allow Lib Dem MPs to enter government and this latest EU debacle – and what will he be doing in future to avoid these. Instead, that question will have to hang (unless Ming – who admitted in the interview that his office pays close attention to these blogs – cares to answer it in the space below).

Overall this was a positive event, albeit one that was over before it got started. Ming expressed an interest in doing it more often and I feel we should take him at his word. A few months ago I suggested a similar meeting with his most outspoken critics such as Laurence Boyce and Nich Starling and I would repeat that suggestion here. Overall, Ming came across well as listening, engaged with the issues and generous in spirit. The more people we can convince of this over the next few months the better.

Not whispering but shouting

As readers will be aware, in my view the “Ming must go” debate in the blogosphere is a distraction being lead by armchair generals who are either unwilling or unable to conceive of what they are really calling for (i.e. self-immolation for the party for the second time in 18 months, with the option for another one if the next leader doesn’t meet Iain Dale’s their exacting demands). However, if Ming thinks there is a whispering campaign against him, he is quite wrong.

In fact, the perception I get is that the Parliamentary Party has remained loyal to their leader (another problem the MMG brigade fail to recognise). The calls for him to go are being shouted on the blogosphere. Calling for people to come out and say what they think is redundant – that is exactly what they are doing. The potential these people have to cause problems for the party has been underestimated; this must be the third time that blog posts have been leading to newspaper headlines.

My advice to Ming is that he should invite the main ringleaders to his office for a full and frank discussion. They should be free to report back on their blogs on whatever they feel like. If they are unwilling to attend the meeting, the honourable course would be to keep schtum (and whingeing about bad backs isn’t a good enough excuse). These Lib Dem bloggers demand to be taken seriously, so let’s treat them seriously, but with that comes an expectation that it is time to behave responsibly.

By all means slag off the leader – I do – but loudly wishing he hadn’t been elected without a meaningful idea of what the alternative should be is just silly. Come on Ming, call their bluff.

Iain Dale’s Lord Levy moment

I do worry that certain bloggers are getting too big for their boots. I’d draw an analogy here with one of my past obsessions: Robot Wars.

I used to love the show for the simple reason that it involved lumps of metal sawing the crap out of each other. Another entertaining feature was seeing the geeks who built the things being interviewed by the rather lovely Philippa Forrester (before she lost all credibility over the Brass Eye paedo debacle). Socially awkward at the best of times, they were all so clearly terrified of her it made truly entertaining telly.

The problem was though that after a few series, the programme started to hit the mainstream. Robots would be invited to open Village Fetes, become the talk of water cooler conversations, have affairs with Z-list celebrities and have embarrassing photos of them climbing out of cars with their undercarriages exposed published in Heat magazine, that sort of thing.

Meanwhile their designers started to believe that they themselves were minor celebrities. They started wearing team uniforms, developing team songs. Worst of all, they all started to think that Phillippa actually liked them. The sight of a sweaty, fat bearded man with no social skills attempt to flirt with an attractive woman 15 years his junior was truly awful to watch.

My question is, is the same thing happening with bloggers? Guido has been bouncing around the blogosphere recently expounding the Power of the Blog. And the lest we forget the supreme pretentiousness of the Euston Manifesto.

As for Iain Dale, he’s been roasted a bit on his blog today for writing a very silly post claiming that former Labour David Hinchcliffe’s decision to take up a non-executive directorship of South West Yorkshire Mental Health Trust is an example of New Labour sleaze. His defence seems to be that the press release announcing his appointment claims it wasn’t a political appointment but rather Hinchcliffe was appointed on merit (which on my reading it would appear that he was) and that, um, anyone criticising him is “employed to post on the blog by the Labour Party”. Including me.

Yes indeed. Iain is such a threat to New Labour that they employ people to discredit him, and his proof is that people post on his blog to tell him when he’s being a bit of a berk. He might as well just write a post entitled “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?!?” and be done with it.

Hubris. It’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it?