Posts Tagged 'Politics'

Hazel, have you seen what’s happening over the pond?

Just as stopped clocks tell the correct time twice a day, so a politician occasionally makes a valid point without perhaps realising it, often because it’s difficult to distinguish from the rest of the words that tumble from the mouth and make little sense.

Hazel Blears’ speech on blogging and the internet is a prime example of a politician just simply not getting how social media works, but there’s also a couple of interesting points in there. We’ll come to those later, but chief amongst the proclamations is this gem:

“But mostly, political blogs are written by people with disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.

“Until political blogging ‘adds value’ to our political culture, by allowing new 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.”

Christ alone knows exactly what she’s on about here when she talks about ‘adding value’. Blogs that are on message? That agree with the government line? That don’t insult politicians?

Maybe I’ve missed the point, but I always thought blogging allowed new voices (anybody can start a blog and get involved), new ideas, legitimate protest and challenge. I thought that was blogging in a nutshell, and one of the joys about it – that it encouraged new ideas, and developed those ideas through comment and discussion.

If you’re interested in politics, you can still start a blog even if you’ve got no connection to any political party or come from a particularly political background. Which, given that she’s also trying to get more people from outside the political class involved in politics (one thing I do agree with her on), you’d have thought would be an ideal place to start to look to re-engage a cynical public.

As for the cynicism and despair, then perhaps Blears best look closer to home. It’s difficult not to be cynical and despair of large swathes of what this government does. Not that either of the other two parties seem a great deal better, but the cynicism, despair and malaise set in long ago. Blogs mainly reflect that. If blogging had been around on a large scale back in 1997, it would have been no surprise if an outgoing Tory minister had uttered similar words.

She does, however, raise an interesting point when she says:

“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?”

It’s not a completely daft hypothesis, even if the main blogs she mentions – Gudio, Iain Dale, etc – are hardly representative of all political blogs. They just happen to be the ones that, rightly or wrongly, get the most mentions in the mainstream media.

There’s also plenty of left-leaning blogs who are also fed up with this government, as Unity points out:

“It’s all very well flagging up that its only around half a dozen right-wing blogs, at most, who’ve been putting up the big traffic numbers and suggesting that this is ’simply anti-establishment’ and due to blogging having emerged only during the period in which Labour has been in office, but if that’s what she’s thinking then how does she account for the fact that most of the leading liberal and left-wing blogs are equally anti-establishment across a range of key issues from Iraq through to the government’s near-constant assaults on civil liberties and the systematic construction of the database state.

The problem that the current government has isn’t that there’s a general lack of popular or influential left-of-centre blogs, its that its policies on Iraq, etc. cost it the support of the vast majority of major players in the left-of-centre blogosphere, most of whom are at least semi-detached from the Labour Party if not operating fully within a broad ‘independent left’ category.”

It’s telling that when you compare the attitude of British politicians to the internet with their American counterparts, we come across as a lot less enlightened. Hell, a large part of Barack Obama’ success was built on the fact he managed to mobilise support online across the country:

“You know the executives that balk at implementing social media campaigns, well Barack Obama and John McCain showed that social media is no passing fad. Both candidates embraced blogs, social networks and Web video

***

The Obama campaign created a social network, MyBarackObama, on its official Web site. Members of that network at times criticized the candidate over his various positions.”

So while Obama, and the 72-year-old John McCain were busy getting their message out online, listening to their core support and, if necessary, modifying policies, this government is busy looking for more ways to regulate the internet and follow every part of our lives online.

Is it any wonder that this country is a bit disillusioned with politics, especially online, when it can look across at America and see how politicians are actually trying to engage with voters? As I’ve said, had this been 1997, there’s a good chance we could have been seeing a similar reaction to Tony Blair as we have to Barack Obama.

Tom Watson’s mentioned in the article. Although I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of his politics, I do wish his own party would look at what he’s doing online and even consult him occasionally on any policies towards the internet, as he’s one of the (sadly) very few MPs who seem to remotely get social media.

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42: The meaning of [insert own comment here]

I try, largely, to avoid politics on here these days. I also try to avoid hyperbole. In the light of yesterday’s narrow victory (if, indeed, you can use such a word) for the 42 days issue, avoidance is difficult, nay impossible.

Politics has, for me, long stopped being about any idea of governing, having descended into a mixture of bearpit shouting and self-serving interests of those in charge. Yesterday was another day further down whatever slope we’re slowly sliding down into.

There’s never been a decent argument put through for 42 days other than it might be useful at some point in the future and the police would quite like it. It feels more like Gordon Brown’s desire to look tough and reinforce his Premiership than any particular matter of national urgency or necessity, and he failed on both account. It’s just made him look both overly authoritarian and hugely incompetent.

Essentially, we can now been thrown in prison for six weeks if the police feel like it and the government says its necessary. As a matter of interest, even China’s number of days you can be held without charge is lower. Do our elected representatives feel proud of the fact that we now have a more repressive law on the books than that bastion of liberalism, China?

To quote Justin:

“It really doesn’t seem to have occurred to Gordon Brown in his scramble to look hard that if he had a rock solid, utterly convincing, based in evidence case for 42 days he’d have little opposition and none of this tawdry haggling and dragging politics through the shit once again would have been necessary.”

And what really sticks in the craw – and what I suspect will put even more people off politics – is the way the vote was won. I have no problem with votes being won that I disagree with if people are voting because they genuinely believe change is for the better. Take Boris – I didn’t vote for him, but he won the election fair and square, even if you may disagree with the result and despair and the reasons why people voted for him.

But to offer a series of costly concessions isn’t democracy – it is, quite simply, buying votes. And to all those who brought it, I hope you feel proud that you’ve sold out your principles just because somebody dangled a large wodge of cash in front of you in exchange for your support. I hope, whatever you got the money for, it was worth it.

I’m now going to crawl back to my media world and hope to God that the majority of the electorate and politicians see this for what it is, and that this proves to be the last throw of the dice for one of the most illberal governments we’ve ever experienced, who came to power promising so much and will leave doing more damage to their party and ideology (whatever the hell that may be, I’ve no idea anymore) than any piece of investigative journalism or opposition attack ever could have done.

See what they’ve made me do? I’ve lapsed into hyperbole again.

UPDATE: When, as Vee points out on Twitter (which is where I first got the news from), when David Davis finds a Labour policy too right-wing, you know something’s wrong.

Politics is about as attractive as the idea of Jade Goody cavorting naked with Michael Winner: a lament

Scandal, spat, point scoring, initiative, reform, scandal, spat, initiative, point-scoring, reform, scandal, point-scoring. Repeat, using any combination of the following, ad infinitum, and it paints a broad-brush picture of British politics today. What should be a vibrant, essential area of public life is reduced to an almost vaudevillian side-show to the point where even the feral youth will probably shrug cynically and say politicians are all the same and will make no difference.

Politicians themselves, and Alistair Campbell, no doubt blame the media for this predicament, picking up of the most base, salacious and scandalous aspects of Parliament when the interesting and worthy work is relegated to the inside pages, behind Beckham and Britney.

There is a degree of truth to any such argument but then, in this day and age, the politicians rarely seem to help themselves. It’s hardly a surprise that, following another round of scandal, reform, initiative, point-scoring, spats, culminating in Derek Conway’s misappropriation of public money towards his not-often-seen-near-Parliament-expect-for-parties son that public trust for our politicians is at an all time low. Again.

In just over ten years we’ve seen the optimism of Tony Blair’s promised new era in politics disintegrate into a mire of cynicism impressive even by the usual British pessimism. At least back in 1997, whether you brought into Blair’s revolution or not, there was a feeling, in the words of Sam Cooke, a change was gonna come. That the change should have reached a point where the alternative is, at best, equally nonplussing as the status quo, and at worst, even more inept and unpleasant than the current bunch says much about British politics.

Currently there are three interlinked strands of politics at Westminster, and beyond, that are not just unedifying, but plain off-putting. Firstly, the apparent desire to hang onto power at any cost, perfectly encapsulated by the donations scandal surrounding Peter Hain. Armando Iannucci summed up things succinctly in the Observer today:

“When did you start thinking politicians really stink? For me, it was when Peter Hain apologised. Hain came up to the cameras to say he was sorry for the clear errors in his funding arrangements and asked to stay in his job as a minister because these errors were not deliberate but a result of maladministration.

That spelt for me the end of everything because it was the final, radical split of politics from reality.

Peter Hain was a minister. A minister’s job is to administer. He was asking us to let him administer because all he was guilty of was maladministering. That’s like a baker saying: ‘I’m really sorry I poisoned your daughter with that cream horn; no manslaughter was intended, but was merely a result of bad baking.’ The co-pilot who last week had to be wrested from the controls of the passenger airliner because he started jabbering and shouting prayers to God wasn’t shackled by his fellow crew because they disagreed with his new take on theology; he was pulled from his seat because he was no longer doing his only job, which was piloting.

An MP’s only job is to make laws, which is why breaking them is, apart from anything else, deeply unprofessional.”

Of course, scandal of the ruling party is nothing new, but having Hain and Conway in the same few weeks was particularly depressing, implying as it did that neither of the two main parties were remotely close to being able to govern a country let alone their own affairs.

Then there’s the point scoring: an old political mechanism that still has its place but seems even more depressingly frequent. I’ve lost count of the number of articles I’ve read where one MP raises a criticism, question, or initiative and, regardless of whether this criticism, question, or initiative is valid or just simply hare-brained, the opposite number doesn’t even bother trying to engage and throws out some half-arsed point either accusing the MP of U-turning or pointing to instances where that party has messed up in the past (a long list on all sides). The only surprising aspect of these responses is the MP doesn’t end their expertly crafted attack with: “And I’ve heard the honourable member smells of wee and gets their mum to cut their hair. Did so times one thousand and no come back.”

This is by no means confined to Parliament. One of the most depressing aspects of working in local media was the petty spats between councils and councillors. The behaviour of one set of councillors and party members on local election night last year put me off ever wanting to cast my vote for them as long as I lived in the region.

Finally, a glance of the current crop of politicians sees a depressingly large number who’ve spent their entire careers working in politics with, it seems, the express intention of becoming an MP. Granted, you will get those who are naturally interested in politics, or those who have a genuine desire to help constituency members, but judging the words uttered by many of these career politicians, you wonder exactly what form of reality they live in.

So far, there are two things notable in the writings above: firstly, I’ve probably made some sweeping generalisations about our elected representatives (and I’ve met some genuinely pleasant politicians, as well as politicians who, while I’ve not always agreed with their stance, have struck me as hard-working for their constituency). Secondly, I’ve used the word depressing a lot. Because that’s what the current state of British politics feels like: depressing, with no discernible hope of improving.

But what, to me, is most depressing of all is that I should be so down about the state of politics. It’s an area I’m interested in. I have, in the past, enjoyed debating various policies, as well as the direction of politics in this country in general. I also strongly believe in voting, even if I’m placing a cross next to a candidate with no hope of winning. I may not be active in politics, but there’s more than a passing interest and, somewhere beneath a cynical facade, a belief that politics can be used for good.

Now that cynical facade is becoming less of a facade and more of a belief. The votes for the no-hoper are becoming more frequent. In their current guise, there’s nothing remotely appealing about Labour or the Conservatives, while the Lib Dems have occasionally picked up my vote, not so much as a belief in their ideology, but rather that they’re the least unappealing option, which just doesn’t feel like a good enough reason to vote.

I’m so fed up with politics in this country, I can’t even be bothered to get angry at the latest government blunder, attack on civil liberties, idiotic pronouncement from David Cameron’s mouth, or plain misunderstandings of the definition of Liberalism from the Liberal Democrats. It’s a waste of breath and time. Even if I do nothing more than watch re-runs of the Crystal Maze on Challenge TV, that would still feel like a more productive use of my time than ranting about the latest act or stupidity to emanate from the corridors of power.

It’s also depressing to look across to the United States and see genuine excitement and debate about the candidates and where the two respective parties should be heading – it’s a debate you just can’t imagine happening over here.

It’s at this stage of blogging laments that offering a solution, or at least an ill-thought through snap judgment first developed on the back of a fag packet is offered. But, short of overhauling the voting system, I have no idea how politics could become interesting or appealing at this current point in time. I desperately want to engage with policy discussions, I really want to vote for somebody other than the caped novelty candidate, I just have no reason to do so, and can’t see that changing at any point in the near future.

The falling turnouts, and lack of people who even voted for the current government, feels indicative of the mood among the country, yet the priority is staying around in power than genuinely engaging with any member of the public. I don’t want to, and indeed can’t bring myself to fall into the general political apathetic malaise, but our esteemed representatives of democracy (from the Greek, demos kratos: rule by the people, in case our politicians had forgotten) are leaving me with precious little choice.

Facebook (again): not impailing children or engaging in wanton pilage

A quick follow on to the last Facebook post, some possible good that can come out of the social networking site.

On the site, there’s a reasonably large (3, 801 members and counting) group set up to campaign against the Arts Council withdrawing its annual grant of £547,000 for the Northcott Theatre in Exeter. Scroll down the wall posts and there’s a quick post from Exeter’s MP, Ben Bradshaw, urging all those who’ve not yet done so to write a letter of protest to the regional director of the Arts Council, Nick Capaldi.

Putting to one side any views on the issues surrounding the Northcott, I find Ben Bradshaw’s post absolutely fascinating. Not the content, but the act of posting itself.

As I’ve not been in Devon for a while, I’ll assume he’s already done plenty of interviews with the local and national media – the traditional outlets. And, from many points of view, it makes sense for him to join the Facebook group if he’s a member. But posting on the wall was, if you like, an added extra, and would, I’d imagine, reassure the group members that he was listening and campaigning. From the MPs point of view, the group is a great way to stay in touch, first hand, with the concerns of his constituents.

I’m not a member of any majorly political groups, so I’ve no idea if this is common practice for MPs, but it feels like a positive step in the right direction.

Two common complaints about Britian’s political process are that the MPs can be a bit removed from reality (and, by default, the people they need to represent), and young adults just simply aren’t engaging or being engaged in the process.

Yes, it may be one post on one wall in one specialised group, but it shows there’s a potential way for politicians to engage with a large demographic of their voters who may not necessarily vote. It’s also a direct way for people who may not necessarily know how to get in touch with their MP, to voice their concerns. Ok, so the politicians may come in for some stick, but they should be thick-skinned enough to deal with that.

There’s a lot of potential for politics in Britain with Facebook, but only if the politicians themselves are willing to embrace it and realise these possibilities without just turning it into another exercise in self-promotion. I’ll keep a skeptical mind that this will happen but even by posting one comment on one wall one one pressure group, Ben Bradshaw is probably streets ahead of a great deal of his parliamentary colleagues.

There was a three year old general at Waterloo and Idi Amin had a slobbering aunt

The Devil has a pop at 17-year-old Emily Benn, a prospective Parliamentary candidate in the next election, whenever that may be.

Quite aside from the question of whether we need another Benn in Parliament, or whether she’s got a little too enthusiastic with her political past, the Devil raise a good point about age but is, I feel, a tad disingenuous to her on that front.

“What the fuck? Look, at the age of 30, I am pretty sure that I know what I believe in, but I have undergone a substantial change in the last few years. I was hardly ignorant, but I have learned an awful lot about politics, economics and history which has expanded my understanding; I have picked up figures and the best places to find others. I have raged and I have been corrected; I have entered debate and been educated.

What makes this little shit think that, at 17, she knows fucking anything at all? I didn’t. What bunch of lunatics selected her? She hasn’t even been to university, or held down a proper job. She has no idea what tax is, or what living on your own is like. In short, she doesn’t have a fucking clue what life is like.”

On the politics front, there’s a decent point. My politics have changed a fair bit since I was in my late teens and there’s a lot you can pick up that’ll inform your world view. I’ve no doubt my politics will change in the next ten years, and the ten years after that as I’m sure most of the rest of us will find.

Actually, I’m always a bit concerned when I meet people whose politics haven’t changed one iota in ten years. Holding onto your core beliefs is admirable but not taking in the world around you probably means you’re not the best-adjusted individual.

It’s true Emily Benn lacks a bit of life experience. I’m sure there’d be a slight change, in addition to a look of horror, when her first Council Tax bill arrives.

However, I still don’t begrudge her the chance to run for Parliament. Football fans are fond of saying, if you’re old enough, you’re good enough. When Ashley Cole was a mere whip-snapper, and before turning into an irritating, whining little diving prat, he managed to keep Silviniho, then a Brazil international, out of the side. And why nobody could deny Gareth Bale lacks experience, he’s also a darn site better than a large proportion of left-backs in the UK.

By the same token, Emily Benn could probably do a better job than a fair few politicians already in the House. Charles Clarke and Geoff Hoon spring to mind, for fairly obvious reasons. Whether she actually merits a place in Parliament is another matter altogether but she’s just as much right as myself, an 80-year-old or another teenager to run.

There’s also the possibility that she might actually be able to engage younger voters into getting interested in politics. I’ll qualify that with a *might*, as I’m pretty skeptical on that front. But what I have noticed is all the politicians I’ve met who’re closer to my age, I find it easier to relate to. Ok, so that’s using a very flawed inductive reasoning method, and I’m sure I’ll meet one who barely even comes from this planet. But if it gets a few more teenagers at least interested in politics, that’s got to be a good thing. Well, possibly.


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com