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.