Staines’ and Taylor’s self-righteous face-off

Paul “Guido” Staines and Matthew Taylor are having an indirect war of words today, with both sides blaming the other for the current ‘crisis’ in democracy.

Frankly, this is self-aggrandisement on a massive scale. Websites such as Order-Order hardly help restore people’s trust in politics, but anyone who believes, as Matthew Taylor appears to, that they are the problem rather than a mere symptom, is reading the situation incredibly wrongly.

There have been both cynics and gossips around since the dawn of politics. In the 19th century, Punch Magazine was brutal about politicians (I was given a wonderful set of pages from Punch by a colleague a year ago featuring some rather rude caricatures and poems about the then Home Secretary James Graham). Staines is doing nothing more than producing an online version of the type of diary column that have always been published in newspapers. The only difference is the speed with which he can get stories out there (and, perhaps, a slightly more appealing knowing sense of humour).

Ultimately however, while “Guido” might get the occasional scoop, he’s as much a part of the system as Taylor. He thrives off it. He isn’t actually for any reform, other than some vague libertarian dismantling of the state. If he was genuinely interested in pursuing this goal, he wouldn’t dedicate all his time to gossip. Similarly, it is hard to see how anyone reading the site is going to have their views about politics changed.

Unremitting cynicism seldom does anything to change hearts and minds. Matthew Taylor should know this: New Labour has only ever been about pandering to people’s prejudices (see this for example), never challenging it. The fact is, cynicism breeds cynicism. Worse, authoritarianism infantilises the population. If you treat the population like they are irresponsible children, you can’t be surprised if they fail to respond with gratitude. New Labour is as responsible for Guido as it is for Cameron’s own particular shade of “anything-you-want-gov” politics.

So bemoaning about all this is to spectacularly miss the point. The crisis in democracy is rooted in authoritarianism, elective dictatorship and a lack of moral backbone. Until these quintessentially New Labour tendencies abate, the blogosphere will inevitably be an uncomfortable mirror through which apparatchiks such as Matthew Taylor will always flinch when looking at.


  1. Why do you think Paul Staines spends “all his time” on gossip? If you knew him, you’d know better. You could have at least taken a leaf from his book and done a little more research before writing this post.

  2. That’s a remarkably defensive comment from someone not known for being shy about making exaggerations and generalisations. I don’t think he needs you to defend him.

  3. Yeah, I’m just known for being a complete bitch. Still, it’s not so much defending Paul (God knows he won’t give a toss what you have to say) as pointing out that you have no clue what you’re blathering about on this one.

  4. James I think that any source of information which shines light on political secrets and coverups is a valid political organ. To dismiss the Guido site as a site dedicated to gossip means that it is fine for politicians to have a right to keep things in the dark from the public. I remember a few years ago a group of us fighting in a Northern city against pompous arrogance of politicians including those in out own party. Although I think naming yourself after someone who wanted to blow up Parliament might be taking it a bit too far!!!

  5. Madrid,

    I think you misread what I wrote. I don’t dispute the value of Guido, or any gossip columnist. All I question is that the emergence of websites such as his is a particularly significant innovation. I’m sorry if you think that describing it as gossip is “dismissive,” but that is literally what it is!

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