Tag Archives: memes

Eight for 2008

It’s still 2007 (just) so just enough time to do Iain Dale’s Eight for 2008 meme. Over the next 12 months I would (realistically) like to see:

  1. Clegg to learn to trust his instincts, distrust his yes men and subsequently the Lib Dems to get back up to the low twenties in the opinion polls and to make steady progress over the year.
  2. After another period of stagnation, and Brown’s Black October a distant memory, the Tories to resume the civil war which was giving them so much fun up until September.
  3. A House of Lords Reform Bill to receive its third reading in the Commons (could easily happen and with the next general election now likely to be 2010, there is time to stand down the Lords obstructionists).
  4. Following much faffing about with this upcoming citizen’s summit, the government to formally begin a constitutional convention in which electoral reform is very much on the agenda.
  5. ID cards to be scrapped.
  6. Clegg to hold a third tax commission, rowing back from the disappointing second one which (despite Vince Cable’s assertions) saw us embrace the conservative consensus to cut IHT and a withdrawal in Lib Dem support for wealth taxes.
  7. The government to finally wake up and introduce a German-style feed-in tariff to promote micro-generation.
  8. The public to embrace the Sustainable Communities Act.

I’m supposed to tag five people so I tag (with apologies to those who have already taken part – I’ve not been paying attention much recently): Alix Mortimer, Anthony Barnett @ OurKingdom, Antony Hook, Jennie Rigg, Jo Angelzarke.

Brown Meme

Praguetory has tagged me with Matt Wardman’s Brown Meme. Unlike a lot of memes, this one seems to have the potential for an interesting debate, so here goes:

* 2 things Gordon Brown should be proud of.

– Helping to make Labour electable
– (Most of) Labour’s constitutional reform agenda in their first term of office – although none of it was as systematic or as well thought out as it needed to be.

* 2 things he should apologise for.

– Helping to make Labour electable (too cheap I know – this one doesn’t count)
– The tax credits fiasco
– The PFI fiasco
– The monstrous centralising target culture

* 2 things that he should do immediately when he becomes PM.

– Declare an intention to establish a fully elected second chamber – and follow through quickly.
– Restart the SFO’s Al-Yamamah arms deal investigation

* 2 things he should do while he is PM.

– Establish a Citizens’ Constitutional Convention
– Reform municipal taxation, decentralising local government revenue, scrapping council tax and introducing a system of site value rating as part of a package of measures of fiscal measures which local authorities could use to raise their own money.

I have to tag eight people, which will be Anthony Barnett, Stephen Tall, Tristan Mills, Duncan Hames, Jock Coats, the Millennium Elephant, Tom Papworth and Ming Campbell.


Jonathan Calder has nominated me as a thogger – i.e. a blogger who makes him think.

This is all very flattering, but leaves me in a bit of a quandary – I now have to come up with five more names, ideally missing out the ones that have already been mentioned. And Jonathan has already taken most of the ones I would nominate!

Well, I’ll do my best:

A long ramble about Cherie Blair and mythology

A few months ago I wrote about how the media, once they’ve decided on a narrative, use every single minor incident they can to reaffirm this while downplaying every major event that contradicts it. In that case I was talking about Ming Campbell and the fact that the media had settled on narrative focussed on his age, his desire to enter a coalition with the Tories and the fact that he usurped Kennedy. Last week, I think, went a long way to dispelling that story (Kennedy’s speech was flat, rambling and lacked contrition, the mood of the conference was as anti-Tory as ever and Ming didn’t require a zimmer frame during the leader’s speech).

Another week, another conference, and Manchester is gripped with what has almost certainly been dubbed by one newspaper or another as Cheriegate (I think it’s technically Cheriegate 3 but who’s counting?). When I heard this story last night, I was under the clear impression that she had stormed out of the auditorium and said her now-famous 4 words in a microphone. Now it would appear that neither were true.

It is interesting to note how the gloves have now come off on this story. If a similar incident had happened five years ago, it wouldn’t have been reported immediately. Instead it would probably have found itself as an anecdote in an Andrew Rawnsley-penned book published long after the event. I suspect the speed in which it became news was partly exacerbated by the internet: if Bloomberg hadn’t gone with the story, Guido would almost certainly have done it for them. But it is of course also rooted in the fact that after the incidents of a fortnight ago, the Blair-Brown feud has become public property in a way that it wasn’t even as recently as August.

But it does trouble me. Two questions converge: does the fact that she said it actually change anything? and does it actually matter if it is true? The answer to both questions is, I fear, no. We have reached a point where anyone can allege that a political figure said anything that fits a deeply held stereotype, without offering any proof, and if the story is good enough, it can dominate the front pages for a day. As the famous quote from Scott Eyman goes ”When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” The sad thing is that no media outlet can afford to not cover the story for fear of looking out of touch.

It seems that we have reached a point where we rely on the media for myth, not the facts. By myth, I mean in the strictly accurate term of a story that contains a truth but may not actually be true. The danger of course with such stories is that we only tell them to comfort outselves – at that point, the media ceases to be a means of liberation and instead becomes a gilded cage.

In essence, this is what has already happened with regard to the public perception of politics in general. A narrative has been decided upon (“politicians are all alike and on the make”), a cocktail of weighty evidence and trivia is thrown at the public by the media, and the public end up wrapping themselves in the story and cease to question it. It is often contradictory: on the one hand politicians are condemned for following the party line, with the other they are condemned if their party is divided on an issue. And of course politicians end up seeking to ingratiate themselves by swallowing the story and indulging in it, which in turn only makes matters worse.

A new myth has recently arisen: “there is no such thing as apathy, its just that politicians no longer speak a language that the public understands.” Simon Carr in the Independent recently wrote about this, the unwritten assumption being that as a journalist he knew exactly how to communicate with the public (conveniently ignoring the fact that the Indepdendent’s circulation is only slightly above the total number of people who voted Green in 2005). Most evidence I’ve seen, both academic and anecdotal, suggests that actually politicians are very good communicators on a personal level, its just that very few people have personal contact with them. And you only have to look outside to see that apathy is very real and all-pervading (that isn’t to say that antipathy doesn’t exist, just that it isn’t representative of the majority of the disengaged).

The question for me is, are we simply stuck in a cycle that will sort itself out eventually, or could things get so bad that we cease to have a democratic culture in any meaningful sense? Will new forms of media do anything to change this? The rise of the aforementioned Guido suggests that it won’t, but there are other more positive signs.

Ultimately, I think a real test of global civilisation is the extent to which it manages to counteract our tribal need for mythology. From Cherie’s big mouth to suicide bombers (with creationism and Heat magazine in between), our failure as a species to avoid wrapping itself in comfort blankets, is starting to reach a crisis point.

Earliest Political Memory Meme

Iain Dale has started a meme which has the virtue of being a lot less annoying than most of the others that periodically do the rounds on the blogosphere.

My earliest political memory (born: 1974) was Thatcher going to 10 Downing Street after the 1979 General Election. However, my brain has cross-referenced it with the Silver Jubilee meaning that I will forever have a memory of Thatch coming down Whitehall in a horse-drawn carriage, waving regally.

I find this very disturbing.