Sep 192013
 
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Just received a mass email from Angela Eagle, via the Labour Party.  Far more effective than they usually are.  Poses a real reason to communicate.  This is how part of the email goes:

Hi Miljenko,

I joined the Labour Party more than three decades ago because I was angry at the injustice around me.

My parents weren’t given the chance of a good education because they were from the wrong class. I was told I couldn’t play chess against boys because girls’ brains were smaller! I wanted to fight against an unfair, unequal society where people didn’t reach their potential simply because they didn’t have the money.

That’s why I share the values of this party — and I want to know why you do too. Tell us now:

Then a link takes you here and invites you to frame your reply in a tweet.  But, as has generally been the case in the last seven years, I’ve always needed more space than that.

So whilst I still give myself time to top and tail my writing, here’s why I’m – even now – still Labour:

  1. My English grandparents were Labour when poverty was a common bond, and the end of the month signalled fear and hunger.  Sometimes not just the end of the month.
  2. My parents were never primarily anything as far as I know.  But my father’s father was always a dedicated internationalist, an Esperantist and an incorrigible writer of Labour Party newsletters.  I figure if I’ve blogged anything useful over the past few years, it has always – both consciously and otherwise – been out of that tradition.  Labour, then, as a progressive force has – paradoxically for me – been a grand tradition too.
  3. Labour for me – at its best and most politically lovable – has been a necessarily powerful bulwark against the abuses of violent capitalism.  When it has disappointed me, which is often, I remember its most lovable moments instead.  When you really appreciate some individual or some institution, you should always measure your appreciation in terms of the best sides they have shown to the world, well outside their rather bitterer conflicts.  We all have unpleasant and internecine sides – let us not use them to define the worth or value of anything.
  4. Whilst Labour has not always been the natural place for free-thinkers, as a self-defined free-thinker I far prefer to “contaminate” its broad church with my thinking than look to less kindly souls.  Yes.  At its best (always remembering it at its best), Labour is packed to the gills with kindly souls.  Kindness is in short supply today – to strive to be good to such an extent almost assigns a religious air to the beast.
  5. Finally, that is why I am Labour.  Even after Iraq, even after the rank social-engineering of debt-engendering tuition fees, even after PFI, even after the groundwork legislation that has allowed the Tories to dismantle the NHS, there are still enough people of good minds, of bright intellects, of humane behaviours in the Party … people from the right side of politics, where – here – the right side means the honourable side.  And in that, in a world I can only now be secular, I find myself the closest I will ever find myself to that sense of religion I suspect I continue to need; that sense of religion I suspect I will always need.

That is why I am Labour: a tradition of progressives, a sometimes pesky community of the always thoughtful, a massive weight – but sometimes a revelation – of contradictory behaviours … and – at its best (always at its best) – an undogmatic religion which allows both the manifestly secular and those believers of so many other faiths to find some productive and constructive point of encounter in a wider desire to disentangle society.

To disentangle society – and, in the end, ourselves – from that web of underprivilege currently afflicting us.

Why am I Labour?  Not because of the Tories.  Not because of the Lib Dems.  Not because of the Coalition’s evil man-made austerity policies – for man-made, essentially, they always will be (it is, after all, the men of the world who frequently manage to damage us the most).

No.  Rather, I am Labour yesterday, today and tomorrow because I choose – out of all the options available to me – the one I still feel like fighting for.

In my own ineffectual way.

But in my own way, all the same.

So.

You will have your own reasons, of course – of that I am absolutely sure.

But these, in much more than an impossibly small tweet, are where I stand today.  And I hope you can stand next to me.


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Sep 052013
 
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If there is something I still admire about our North American friends – I mean, the USA bit and its colonial-like ability to teach us all about what they aspire to – it is their boundless optimism that everything has a fix.  In fact, the original philosophy of this blog you’re reading right now was precisely that: if only we think hard enough – where thinking hard enough we assume is possible – a solution to any problem will always be found.

I stumbled across a wonderful blogpost by Ben Cobley yesterday, on the subject of philosophising and how Western culture is creating the very conditions for relentlessly excessive thought – the kind that people suffering from depression manifest – to become far more common.  It’s called “A few thoughts on depression, and philosophy”, and, amongst other things, it touches on the link between our latterday consumer society and the trust that used to bind us:

[...] [Alastair] Campbell wrote a little book called ‘The Happy Depressive’, exploring his own experiences and depression as a public policy issue.

I won’t go into that book in detail here because I want to take a brief look at depression from a different angle, but one quotation wouldn’t go amiss:

“In the US, trust in other people being ‘nice’ has fallen from 60 per cent to 30 per cent in fifty years. It is the same story in the UK. In 1959, 60 per cent of people felt other people could generally be trusted. It has now halved. [Professor Richard] Layard [a Labour peer] believes that decline has matched the rise of consumerism which has been accompanied by a rise in the obsession with status, and envy of those who do better than us.”

This, if true, is a dreadful state of affairs.  Whilst I have no way of corroborating the stats, at my own anecdotal level there seems little wrong with the assertions.  The rise in mental ill health in Western societies has matched the introduction of neoliberal economic and sociocultural attitudes.  That there should exist people and institutions determined to make societies work to their own particular benefit at the expense of the poor and already highly disadvantaged should clearly not surprise us.  And that these individuals and entities should cover their backs by arguing it’s a natural state of affairs mustn’t lessen our resolve to fight back.

For here is where perhaps I diverge a little from Cobley’s space.  As he explains on his About page in relation to standard perceptions of the remorseless, monolithic and unremitting Left:

What especially interests me is the censoriousness and opinion control that is so pervasive on my side of the political fence. It seems that, far from being a free-minded and free-thinking Left, we are stuck in a denuded, conformist and also rather boring rut.

I believe the Left should be generous and welcoming, open and tolerant, but also committed and ethical in the way it behaves. I am against ideologies like neoliberalism and ‘Vulgar’ Marxism, and also some of the forms that have emerged around the politics of identity, including strictly deterministic versions of feminism. Ideologies like these offer simplistic, all-encompassing explanations about the way the world is while setting different groups in society against each other.

They give people an excuse to stop seeing, hearing and thinking for themselves.

And with this, I find myself disagreeing very little.  But interestingly – or perhaps (I’m beginning to wonder) I should say even coherently, in the light of the above data on Western mental-wellbeing – he also chooses to quote from Karl Popper in the following way:

“If you know that things are bound to happen whatever you do, then you may feel free to give up the fight against them.” ~ Karl Popper

Actually.

Right.

Yes.  Now, as I write, I can see why Cobley chooses this quote.  The choice and option to do something others might not understand often takes away the need to act in such a way.  To feel free to give up the fight against something quite overwhelming serves to empower us, just as freely, to continue such a fight.  On the other hand, to exhort one to fight – remorselessly, monolithically, unremittingly – often traps the person who should feel liberty is their goal in an emotional and political ambush of terrifying incoherence.

Only yesterday, Paul Cotterill tweeted thus:

Sick of Labour HQ emails telling me I must “fight” for stuff. Using a word devoid of actual meaning hinders organisation & solidarity.

And this:

Re Lab’s use of “fight”: The misuse of language in idle talk, in slogans and phrases, destroys our authentic relation to things (Heidegger)

That, I suppose, is what both Paul and Ben are getting at in their different ways – and where, perhaps, we might argue libertarians do have a point after all.  In whatever we do, we must feel free to choose.  That sense of choice – for the good and the bad – is what makes us these mysterious human beings living this mysterious life.  And the Left, if it wishes to track such behaviours, to maintain its primary connect with all the human beings it is looking to serve, must surely not forget the importance of that concept of choice.

Not just the more obvious choices such as which schools, GPs, medical treatments and social services.  No.  Far more importantly, for the persistence of vision all political groupings must maintain, is the recognition that humanity itself will inevitably tend towards one way or another of behaving.

The political question is not only identifying that way, though.

It’s also working out how to promote the way that least bends us out of natural shape.

What the neoliberals have managed is to promote ways that benefit their narrow interests – whilst claiming at the same time that these ways are inherently human.

What we need to do, as free progressives if you like, is accept that social engineering is the name of their/this game – and in this inevitable knowledge begin to understand that the pendulum of battle must swing back sooner or later.

And sooner, if we choose never to give up.

That is to say, by ignoring most of the current remorseless, monolithic and unremitting Left – and, in turn, by following Popper’s advice.  For only then shall we be truly human.

And only then shall our politics be truly accurate.


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Mar 042013
 
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Yesterday, I argued:

The Welfare State is the way to make our society less inhumane.  It’s in our grasp – but it is a choice.  We can spend considerable resource on allowing the fortunate to further concentrate their good fortune – or we can deliberately decide to give the less fortunate the consideration, charity and kindness most belief systems have tended to argue should be made forthcoming.

But what we have to accept is that, either way, it’s a choice.  If we choose to fashion a world where we must walk on the other side of the road from that homeless man who dies at the doorstep of a bungalow, we can.  We will do so, I am sure, in order that ambitious alpha men and women can – amongst the disasters they also commit – achieve what they undoubtedly do.  And this is clearly an act of socioeconomic decision-making at the highest level, committed by coherent men and women.  It is a freely-taken decision. It is an unforced decision to let some people live better at the expense of others.  It is a statistical calculation of risks that approves of achievement at the very top, even as it judges society will not rise up in arms and disintegrate as a result of the anonymous homeless dying distastefully in the streets.

If, on the other hand, we opt to help such homeless people – if our goal is to create a socioeconomic environment where this kind of action is prioritised over other, more aggressively innovative, behaviours – we may create, again entirely consciously and deliberately, a society where survival is ameliorated for a far greater number of our souls here on earth, even as achievement measured objectively loses its bleeding edges.

I repeat these words today, because – on further consideration – I believe we on the Left must accept there are upsides on both sides of the argument.

Of course, the game all politicians end up playing is TINA.  It makes the absurd seem acceptable.  It makes the ridiculous seem reasonable.  Occasionally, it voices a truth of sorts.  But only very occasionally.

The truth in our days – so where does it lie?  “Lie” as in “located” – or “lie” as in “untruth”?  Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell which process takes precedence.  If something is partially hidden from view, it may appear to be quite something else – without anyone actually saying it is.  Politicians aren’t really professional communicators.  More exactly, they are professional obfuscators.  And what’s rankly unfair is when they say we have the politicians we deserve.  We don’t.  We – the ordinary people – have busy lives to live.  We have relied on the supposed integrity of those who made it their (uncertificated and untitled) profession to run our stately affairs correctly.  We were mistaken.  We now pay the consequences for our mistakes.  But we are not deserving – in any way – of such individuals.  We are simply the very sorry victims.

There is no alternative?  Don’t believe anyone who ever says this.  There’s always an alternative – even as obfuscation and clever smoke-and-mirror tactics confuse the partially attendant voters.  The alternative today is as it stands in my quoted paragraphs above.  We can proceed with ever-greater concentrations of wealth, so that there are magnificent pockets of technological prowess in some lucky parts of the planet.  Or we can take a different fork in the path, where technological prowess has its place but where – also – people’s finite natures, which is to say their existences as perishable goods, count for something significant when we prioritise our politics and our economies.  It’s not even a fork in the path.  It’s maybe just a deliberate slowing-down of pace.  The path will be the same – it’s just the number of people you take with you that changes.  And if we leave behind us the sick, disabled and elderly as flesh-and-blood flotsam to die in solitary pain?  We will be no better than the ants.

Which is not to say being like the ants doesn’t have its upside.

This, this very point, is what the Left, what Labour in the UK, must begin to get its head round and accept.  The Right are charging on with the corporate capitalist way – and we are reacting as if there is no need to choose at all.  We can have full-throated corporates at the same time as a Welfare State.  We can launch a rocket to Mars next year and save the young children living in mould-infested social housing.  We can continue to devise evermore clever mobile phones and make the homeless a hot lunch for Christmas.

If truth be told, however, we cannot do it all.  And we have to be honest with our voting public about this: we have to be honest if we want the circles to square.  Under the Left, you won’t get everything which comes with massive concentrations of wealth.  Consultative models of organisation cost more, take longer and need more training to put into practice.  A top-down CEO-dominated hierarchy can (though not always) take key decisions remarkably quickly.  And we on the Left have to be honest about the implications.

If you vote for the Right, those of you who are fortunate to benefit will get better phones, more brand-new gadgets, cooler cars and technological wonders which will serve to turn your heads.  If you vote for the Right, you’ll get all this and more.  Holidays will be wilder; sex will be safer; lives will be longer; music will be cheaper.

The downsides?  The homeless will continue to die on the steps of bungalows.  The mould will continue to contaminate the lungs of hundreds of thousands of children.  Some people will suffer the consequences of entire lifetimes of poorly-paid work.  Some people will never know a holiday.

But that’s the choice.

And if you vote for the Left?  What will you get?  I’m not entirely sure how to answer that one.  I’m not entirely sure it’s been entirely tried.  But where it was tried most notably – at least in England – was under Tony Blair’s New Labour.  Yes.  Top-down impatience ruined its trajectory.  The Iraq War intervened and saved the Tories from imminent extinction.  And we all know and remember how we felt about certain policies – especially as the implications and consequences of public-private partnerships, and, in general, New Labour’s pick-and-mix way of engineering ideology, have now led us logically to the summary privatisation of so many good and sensible British socialist institutions.

If you vote for the Left – a certain kind of Left (perhaps a Left which could learn from the errors Blair refused to cast aside) – you might not get an iPhone as snazzy as under the Right; you might not get a car as gloriously unsustainable as full-blown and unabashed corporate capitalism might aim to provide you with; you might not even get a lifestyle as chic and as generous as your supposedly libertarian ideals of hedonistic freedoms would lead you to expect.

But what you would get, at the very least, is a Left that tried to save the homeless; that aimed to free the enslaved; that fought to give finite lives the recompense almost all belief systems believe is their right; that, in essence, chose to take not that fork in the path they’re trying to frighten us away with but – rather – that kindness which gives the seat on the train of grace-saving thoughts to as many human beings as possible.

Before they die.

That’s the Left I’m looking at, from down here in the dirty dirty.  That’s the Left I’m looking at, from a position of relative disadvantage.  That’s the Left I’m looking at – when I’m looking at the Left I want to see.

The Left which honestly recognises the upsides and downsides on both sides of the argument – and, in doing so, is able to deliberately, openly, sincerely and directly put the choice to that public whose final say will always be sovereign.

No fork on the path of progress – not this time.

Just a humane gathering-together of those whom the Right has – equally artfully – chosen in its wisdom to discard.


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Feb 222013
 
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After meekly exiting Labour’s intranet, Members Net, having blogged for quite a while in its partisan embrace, I stumbled across an outside world of blogging at the hand of Andrew Regan’s now defunct political aggregator, Bloggers4Labour.  I thought this a wonderful device, maintaining as it healthily did the visual and locational idiosyncrasies of individual blogsites, even as it brought together in one sensible place the feeds of each and every one.  It allowed for a wonderful overview of what was bubbling under in the Labour-blogging community; it helped new bloggers get exposure and support from existing practioners; and it served to sustain a worthy sense of common cause in what has often historically been a fractured political grouping.

Andrew really did know how to integrate the needs of readerships by using technology.  He would even supply his own often gently proffered and constructive comments on other people’s posts.  This helped create a point of focus on the wider input which – in a very simple and neat way – helped generate an air of shared purpose.

My memory of Bloggers4Labour was almost entirely positive.  Both Andrew and I, sometimes together, sometimes separately, tried to build on this original achievement with other projects which I was either rather tangentially involved in (for example, Andrew’s Poblish – a super-aggregator designed to outdo Google’s own search in the global field of political blogging) or more directly engaged with (for example, my idea for a Last.fm of political thought).  In all cases, I think what drove him – and certainly myself – was a desire to return, in some way or other, to that golden age of political blogging which Bloggers4Labour – at its most didactic and pedagogical best – seemed at the time to represent.

Instead of cramming everyone together in a single platform – a kind of awful melting-pot as per a United States of Blogging – Bloggers4Labour and the ideas that came afterwards looked to allow individuality to shine through even as the aim was to bring voices together.

A European Union of Sovereign Blogging, if you like.

So if it was such a good idea, why didn’t it quite work out?  Who knows?  Maybe because we didn’t have the resource; maybe because we didn’t quite hone the ideas; maybe, in reality, because it wasn’t such a golden age.  Or maybe because blogging, in a different way, has kind of had its time and has transmuted into other ways of exchanging the information we value.

Blogging always was a bit of a traditional hierarchy of communication: author-led top-down authorities who were often challenged, but never entirely toppled, by those who would hang from their coattails.  Which is not to underestimate the importance of commenters to the good functioning of a blogsite.  Sometimes, the broader reputations acquired belonged more to those who commented than to the original posters themselves.

Symbiotic relationships of thought were ever thus.

Of course, we all know what happened to blogging: Facebook and Twitter.  It was probably going to happen, whatever the company name, whatever the online constitution, whatever the business model.  But Facebook and Twitter both hastened traditional blogging’s demise.

People much better resourced than us English blogging fans were able to re-engineer the instincts behind standard blogging for an instant-fix generation.  And so the beautiful exchanges between considered author-led hierarchies began to lose their dominance on the web.

*

So now we come to February, 2013.  And whilst the domain’s been running for a while, with a fairly traditional blogging platform behind it, SpeakersChair.com – a cross-party political blogging website on which I have had some of my recent posts published – has suddenly had the audacity to suggest, through a massive makeover of functionality, that political blogging might not be as defunct as we thought.

Before this change, SpeakersChair.com was essentially a traditional melting-pot-type blogging platform.  Writers of different political colours submitted their posts for site editors to repost on the site.  We see this model operating successfully in many places: from Liberal Conspiracy to – I guess – even the Guardian‘s Comment is Free.  I think, however, that the new SpeakersChair.com moves away from this model in several significant ways:

  1. From a melting-pot blogging platform like Liberal Conspiracy, where visuals and technologies become common to all authors even as posting rights remain with site editors, it transmutes itself more into a souped-up kind of TweetDeck, where its prime function is to sit as a front-end to both Facebook and Twitter – as well as SpeakersChair.com itself.
  2. The ability – and challenge – of each contributor is to act as an authorial hub around which comment is designed to flow.  I guess this could be the case for contributors who write original posts just as much as it might be for contributors who add their opinions as comments to original posts.  In fact, at very first glance it seems that the deliberate intention is to blur as much as possible the hierarchy between original posters and commenters.
  3. I cannot but help considering this latter innovation healthy: it clearly shows that the designers of this online constitution understand that their version of political blogging needs to “get” social, if it’s to have any decent chance of catching on.  And social is much more than tacking on commenting tools at the tail-end of the professionalising commentariat: social, above all, is a matter of sharing hierarchy and power.

Seen, then, as a communication front-end more than a traditional website, seen in fact primarily as a posting tool to various channels, there is no reason why SpeakersChair.com shouldn’t compete effectively with Facebook, web Twitter and even third-party communication tools out there.

I just wonder if there’s also an app in the pipeline.  That imperious world of mobile Internet doesn’t half make or break communication these days.  It surely would serve to complete a beautifully political blogging circle which, for me, started out with Labour’s Members Net, stumbled for a few years after Bloggers4Labour’s major steps forwards – and which could now quite easily find its natural home in a cross-party communication project that, at least in my humble opinion, has everything it needs to deservedly succeed.


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Mar 282012
 
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I’ve just had a disagreement about the lentils I prepared today.  I used black pudding to flavour them instead of chorizo.  One member of my family was decidedly unimpressed – quite before even trying the dish.  I’d already removed the offending substance from the final presentation in anticipation of such a complaint.  It was the little pieces of black pudding that had split off from the main body – and that I’d therefore been unable to remove – which drew their immediate attention and disapprobation.

Which led me to wonder, as it does if thinking is what you do, whether the world isn’t divided up into two kinds of people: those who are hard-wired to resist any sign of difference and those who are hard-wired to embrace it.

Yes.  Just in that sentence you can see I uncover my own preferences.

I love new food; strange shapes; peculiar people; wacky opinions; unusual combinations of colour; curious furniture; patterned rugs; wallpapered walls; decorated ceilings.  People I live with, however, do not.

It’s not always easy for either side.

Translate this issue to the politics which separates us.  If our instincts are so very opposed – some of us just loving the challenge of permanent flux, others just loving the consistency of permanent perpetuation – how can we possibly even begin to construct the kind of ground we could share in order that we might successfully and productively debate?  And never mind the people who claim to be on the same part of that infamously two-dimensional political spectrum.  Surely more important and more confusing is the state of the people who manifestly occupy a space within the same political grouping and yet, all the same, appreciate difference in the different ways I have described above.

This, of course, may explain why Blairites are seen with grand suspicion by the rest of us.  Or, indeed, why so many different colours are beginning to make their solid appearance in what is rapidly becoming a coalition of rainbow-like proportions at the heart of the British Labour Party.

The question is really whether we want to reach out to people who use the same processes to think or who simply reach the same conclusions.

In my case, I have recently requested that I be allowed to join the Labour Left grouping – after assuring myself it does not aim to become a party within a party.  I am already a member of the Fabians and – outside Labour politics – a recent paid-up supporter of Open Rights Group.  I am also an associate member of the trades union Accord.  In all these cases, I suspect I have joined because they are organisations which have reached the same conclusions as myself on subjects I think are of societal importance.  But in the vast majority of these cases I honestly and sincerely suspect that very few of their representatives use the same processes to think I am most familiar and comfortable with.

Long-term, Blairism has added very little to Labour – except a thirst to win at all costs.  It also, however, thought as I would – even as the conclusions it reached were probably, in most cases, unhappy for me.  Some people who see how I write and act without clear commitment might assume that I’d be better off seeing my destination in Progress – and that anything else was just a journey.  I don’t think that’s fair, though. And I’ll explain why.

A perfect grouping for someone like myself?  Where magpie minds can freely consider all and every issue entirely on its merits and from scratch.  Where tribalism guarantees association with a grouping but does not limit the right to non-conformity.  Where brainstorming and ideas generation are part and parcel of every single day.  Where communication is not tacked on at the end but informs the whole process from the very beginning.  Where organisations do not consult or listen in one direction from the top to the bottom but aim, instead, most importantly, to engage and dialogue in multifarious and multicoloured direction.  Where a proper appreciation of the needs of volunteer supporters and their lives is clearly couched in the language of such sensitivities.

And finally, where the concept of leadership – devolved to all levels of action – constitutes enabling and facilitating over expressions and instincts of impositional frustration.

Perfection doesn’t exist, of course – but at least some of the above would be pretty welcome!

We will, of course, as time goes by, see how all this develops.

As well as, most significantly, what real and lasting impact left-leaning voters and supporters of Labour might now be able to properly engineer.


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Mar 182012
 
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Over at Labour List today, Sue argues we lefties should get a grip:

I don’t like the current Labour position on welfare, I’m almost constantly head-desking whenever they issue a press statement, I do realise they set a lot of these “reforms” up and I worry about the possibility of an election any time soon – they clearly couldn’t run drinkies-in-the-proverbial right now, but on the whole – on the whole – get a grip lefties. 

Start defending our record. Accept the bits we got wrong and move on, but for goodness sake, anyone claiming “They’re all the same/Triangulation/They’re worse than the Tories/I’ll never vote Labour again” might want to ask themselves just how long they’d like to keep this cabinet of millionaires. And just how much we’re going to allow them to get wrong before we unite and fight.

It’s funny – or perverse; whenever someone argues we should jack in political parties I find myself beginning to disagree, but whenever someone comes to me saying the primary responsibility of us lefties is to unite … well, I really can’t help reacting rather negatively.  Yes.  I agree with Sue that we should get a grip – the question is who gets to get the grip and precisely on what.

Unable, in a first instance, to answer this question, I thought I’d carry out a thought experiment to see if that would help.  A list of personal positives which I would be prepared to attribute to Labour:

  1. when I came back to Britain in 2003, I was in a serious state of mental ill health – the NHS managed in the end to help put me back together again;
  2. my children received a better education from the time they rejoined me in England than they almost certainly would have done in Spain had they stayed – they are now bilingual, the eldest is studying Mandarin Chinese and Russian at university, the middle one wants to go abroad to study film and the youngest is already considering proactively how she might get jobs once she is sixteen;
  3. my wife regained confidence in herself and her own ability as a teacher due to the then relatively buoyant labour market – little by little, she has achieved a certain degree of stability and self-respect;
  4. I have finally managed to get to a position where I can see I may be able to earn my living from writing via the Internet – something I dreamed of since 2002 and which would make my life entirely fulfilled if I achieve my goal;

These are all good, big and life-changing moments which allow me to see Labour – even New Labour – through a positive prism of perceptions.  However, I have to say that at least one of them – my mental ill health – was in part due to the lies and obfuscations which surrounded the process leading up to the Iraq War.

I lost my faith, during that time, in much of what could be reasonably expected of party politicking – I still resist, for example, at a local grassroots CLP level, to get involved with active politics.  In part I do feel it has something to do with this back story.  A story of political innocence being taken advantage of by those who know how to manipulate sincere emotions for their own personal benefit.

So many big positives for me in a little under a decade of living under New Labour – even as the primary one which brought me back to Britain was the massive negative of a questionable and bloody political process.

If I, as a relatively unpractised leftie, do need to get a grip as Sue suggests, then I might be inclined – in the light of all the above – to suggest the grip I really need to get is over a political party which doesn’t know how to communicate; doesn’t understand that consultation is nowhere near a proper dialogue of equals; and is riven with the triangulatory instincts she blithely tells us to ignore.

Here, then, is where Los Indignados can teach us more than one lesson: in order to unite around positions and policy, you first have to agree on process and procedures.  Without due agreement on the latter, no progress shall ever be sustainably made.

Do not, then, as a leftie who needs to get a grip, simply exhort me to hate the Tories and fight the good fight.  I don’t want them to define how my politics will function any more than you want them to define how the country will function.  And if we give up on truly empowering process and procedures before we’ve even really started, if we refuse to learn the lessons other groups and organisations springing up across the world can teach us, we shall remain anchored in a past that will become – by itself and not because of the Tories – evermore irrelevant, ineffective and ineffectual to a proactive and generally empowering producer-consumer society such as ours could become.

If the Tories manage to force us to limit our ambitions to creating a New Labour (II), they will have won a long-term political battle without us even having cared to engage.  Just as the terrorists of 9/11 created a generation of fearful legislation and terrified citizens, so the Tories may yet achieve their goal of turning us lefties, those of us who supposedly need to get that grip of Sue’s, into a wearisome terracotta army of conservative instincts ready to continue implementing the philosophies which Tony Blair so carefully set up and entrapped us all with.

As a Lib Dem acquaintance of mine (yes, it’s possible for a leftie like me to have one) quite rightly said to me recently, the NHS bill we’re so desperate to get dropped had its foundations laid by New Labour in 2006’s National Health Service Act.

If we really want to get the current bill dropped, and I am sure we can all agree we do, we should surely also campaign to unravel the straitjacket of philosophies which Tony Blair was directly responsible for – and which have led to Lansley’s moment of awful glory.

Meanwhile, dear Sue, we should surely remember that “getting a grip” can just as easily mean subjugation as empowerment.

And remembering thus, act accordingly.


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Jan 032012
 
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This piece by Rob Marchant over at Labour Uncut – on why we must continue with our critically, and sometimes apparently internecine, political blogging – has many things going for it.  But I am inclined to take issue with the following argument:

LabourList and Labour Uncut, started more recently, have been doing a sterling job in taking back the internet agenda for Labour, but we still see much apparent discomfort in the comments sections. We fall into easy habits, talking of “loyalty” and “unity”, in order to try and keep party thinking aligned. It is easy to confuse “unhelpful comment” and “comment that I disagree with”. But all comment, in the end, is helpful. Robust debate is, on the contrary, an overwhelming positive, and it is precisely this Darwinism of ideas that can lead us all to arrive at a decent, defensible common view of where the party is at and where it needs to be. The wisdom, in the words of James Surowiecki, of crowds.

This was my response:

The Darwinism of Ideas is all well and good in theory. But I have two reservations: firstly, in terms of the intellectual debate that should be conducted, it closely mirrors in its dynamics precisely the kind of capitalism which is currently being imposed on us. And secondly, precisely because this capitalism – and its analogous debate – does not take place on a level killing-field, the ideas which will win out will proceed from those with the biggest clout (the biggest virtual networks, the largest number of real-world followers etc.) and not necessarily because the ideas themselves have intrinsic virtue – or are of intrinsic value to the Labour Party as a whole, and by extension those who might wish to vote for it in general elections. 

Less macho Darwinism, more humane communication I think might be the order of *my* day.

Crowdsourcing ideas is – of course – an undeniable positive of many modern virtual environments.  But we shouldn’t conflate “robust” with “trolling” – nor argue in a rank relativism that “all comment is helpful”: much of what Marchant describes that takes place on the Internet is clearly so unhelpful as to impede an effective crowdsourcing of absolutely any procedure or process.

The million eyes of interested participants that good crowdsourcing environments coordinate are of course grand pluses we should observe and learn from in the way that Marchant suggests.  But as in the politics he so clearly understands, the constitutional structure of the environment you are dealing with is key to ensuring those million eyes act with either intelligence or a wasteful energy.

And it does so happen that on the few occasions I have commented on the Labour Uncut website, comment moderation has always been in place.

Hardly an inspiring example of where the crowd is shown to be in the driving-seat.

So before we go down the lazy route of justifying the tool of Darwinism in the very hub of all our debate, let us be accurate about the systems we use to give precedent and priority to some choice thinkers over that crowd.

And if we are truly interested in giving the crowd its head of steam, let us be consequential and act in good faith when we create the environments in which such a crowd should be allowed to perform.


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Jan 032012
 
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I caught this modern manger yesterday in the centre of Salamanca’s main square.

A beautiful example of how the old and the modern can inform and support each other in appropriate consonance.

And it makes me wonder if I am in the right business.  Talking about a politics which makes me feel bitter and sad – anything but consonance, in fact; a politics I cannot change; a politics my words have no impact on.  What is the point?  Far better to walk around my wife’s hometown in the pleasurable company of the two women in my life; watch the groups of people congregating and discussing their personal problems and occurrences; look forward to a warming cup of coffee and churros; take in the sharpening evening air as the Christmas lights embrace the golden streets …

All the latter is so much more personally gratifying than getting unhappy with and underlining the cruelty of people who have so much more real power than myself.

The Spanish have a saying: “Hay que aportar tu granito de arena” – in English “You have to add your grain of sand”; but I am inclined more and more to believe that in the grand scheme of universal matters, neoliberal technocratic instances of rank and outright foolishnesses mean less to us than our very social need to continue walking the streets of our hometowns in the company of our nearest and dearest.

And this blog, while wishing to sustain the mission of exemplifying a position on the critical left of political thought, can’t really do very much in the face of the massed forces of the self-interested rich and wealthy.

This may be a kind of mental hangover from a holiday where I have had more time to think than is perhaps useful.  But I don’t think so.

In any case, and however I try and deal with my quandaries, I am a writer by nature and cannot avoid the process of putting word to electronic paper.  So I will continue to blog here as much as I am able to; but if you do notice a change of topic, and feel you need to desert me, please try and understand the personal thoughts I have laid out before you today.

For there comes a time when the personal ends up overriding the political, even as the political is always going to be personal.

And I’d much rather post a picture of a Christmas scene which shows how we might conflate the old and the new than complain for a millionth time how our politicians don’t even comprehend the option exists.

Wouldn’t you?


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Sep 022011
 
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I read this and even managed to comment on it via my mobile phone on the journey back from Spain.

It’s a good and measured piece on the needs of both politicians and bloggers – and fairly describes the recent history of interactions between the two.  I like these two paragraphs in particular (the bold is mine):

You can even see people trying to stifle debate on the political blogosphere, in the name of managing our message. People are condemned as being disloyal for writing things that the leadership allegedly might not like, or that our opponents might. Certainly expressing concern about directions of travel can invite abuse. I can understand this; after all I used to be a part of a party machine that prided itself on imposing discipline after the dark and anarchic days of the 1980s. Shutting down debate and ensuring message consistency was a key skill for the party, and it helped make us electorally successful. Fear of returning there is understandable.

But times have changed. You can no more stop discussion and debate taking place on the internet, than you can stop any inevitable analogy you can think of. If people are expressing concern in conversations in the pub, at work or even in party meetings, then it will end up being reflected in a discussion somewhere online. To pretend otherwise is folly. And so, in response, political parties need to change as well. Simply using sound bites and obviously sticking to a script looks wooden. People can see through the charade. Debate and nuance is expected in other spheres of life and honesty can be refreshing. But not yet it seems in politics.

But politics is like mathematics – it has a language all of its own.  So let us not be surprised when we misunderstand and mistake communication and charade.

Sometimes, we will never see what someone is trying to say without that sad intervention of the automated kaleidoscope of jaundiced cynicism.

That there is probably an ideal age for politicians – but not, as in maths, chronological – I would imagine is pretty undeniable.  A desire to serve others, an ability to think around the ingrained stereotypes and prejudices of a society, a manifest wish to question the status quo in the interests and to the benefit of a wider society: all this, for me, would constitute a perfect storm which would serve to bring together a beneficial range of qualities.

The age of sincerity, in fact.

Perhaps, between us, politicians and bloggers, we can bring about a new age where sincerity is indeed the touchstone.

What do you think?


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Jun 032011
 
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I met up with one of my fave bloggers this evening – and he didn’t disappoint.  The occasion was Chester’s Refounding Labour event.  But more of that shortly.

Meeting people you have first got to know through their writings can sometimes be a disconcerting process.  Just because someone can show integrity and brilliance in the written word doesn’t mean they may necessarily exhibit such qualities in the spoken.  Paul Cotterill does, however, exude integrity and brilliance from every pore.

Honestly.

This isn’t hagiography.  It’s just the plain and simple truth.

Anyhow.

Hero-worship moment over and done with, let’s get back to the job of refounding Labour.

The format of these events works as follows.  We’re sat in teams around several tables, get an intro from a visiting MP, read through and discuss four or five pages grouped thematically and then finish off the exercise by supplying a number of short sharp pieces of advice aimed at changing the way Labour works.

It’s not a bad format – overly prescriptive for my liking, but then almost any format probably would be.  You know what I’m like, after all.

So what did we achieve on this wonderful warm Chester Friday when most of us were almost certainly looking to be elsewhere?*  Quite a lot actually.  Or, at the very least, it clarified for me the need to continue developing the theme of simultaneous democracy and efficiency which I touched on yesterday.  Though I’m not absolutely sure that the time allowed for us to provide feedback (five minutes per team) and discuss the results in an open forum (no time whatsoever) was the best way of harvesting the ideas.

Some of the feedback sounded more soapboxish than was necessarily useful – though, of course, understandable in circumstances where a political party’s members have, for so long, had absolutely no real input on the subject of process, and very little on the subject of policy.  But even so, if we are happy to accept that no real democracy can aspire to be so without also aspiring to be efficient in its functioning, a wider and more intelligent use of modern technologies such as video cameras and computers would have improved the ability of all those present to get their views across.

This, for what it’s worth, is what I took away with me:

  1. firstly, if the Labour Party wants to engage both members and supporters more effectively, it needs to empower CLPs so that they can track the behaviours and actions of their MPs, councillors, prospective parliamentary candidates and other representatives in the community.  A process whereby such representatives were required to present regular action plans for ratification and review would require no changes to structures, rule books or procedures – and yet would add a tremendous sensation of control and inclusion to all members
  2. secondly, Party Conference needs to be what it has become: a stage-managed opportunity and showcase to generate positive headlines for Labour.  If it should, also, in some way continue to be the place where true debate is allowed to happen, then this should happen behind closed doors – and should be as true as it needs to be
  3. thirdly, CLP decision-making meetings and management processes in general should be split off from what we might broadly describe as political education events: by all means, let delegate and/or all-member meetings briefly ratify or dismiss decisions already structured and proposed a priori by the CLP’s Executive, but please please please do not any longer start off monthly all-member meetings with interminable apologies, accounts and complaints about a membership which doesn’t like to see itself simply as envelope-stuffing fodder.  Instead, let’s open the Party up to all the components of our society and invite along single-issue organisations and other guest speakers from anywhere along the political spectrum
  4. finally, whatever we do, wherever we do it and whenever we manage to get there, let’s keep in the forefront of our minds the importance of nurturing a democracy which offers both equality of voice and efficiency at the same time – as, in fact, I said yesterday, a democracy we could call and, indeed, market as the “Good Democracy”

All in all, a surprisingly hopeful experience.

Oh, and did I mention I got to meet one of my heroes?

:-)
____________________

*Back gardens, barbecues, setting the world to rights over pints of beer and packets of crisps … you get my general drift.


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May 272011
 
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At the beginning of this week, Paul raised the question of whether the writers at Though Cowards Flinch should move to the group blog The Third Estate.  Many people replied – much to Paul and Carl’s surprise.  Their comments are well worth reading.

I then felt obliged – by writing my thoughts out – to discover more clearly for myself why I wasn’t entirely happy with what was proposed.  Let me hasten to add that this has absolutely nothing to do with the proposed destination but, rather, far more to do with the leaving behind of a primal soup of frame, original inspiration and particular voice which has meant that TCF writers, whatever their origin, provoke especially constructive commenters and dialogues to their always usefully erudite posts.

Reuben for The Third Estate then added a comment to the whole caboodle which, with his and TCF’s permission, I reproduce in full below:

I wasn’t sure whether in would be appropriate for me to comment, so feel free to delete this, but a fewthings caught my eye.

I wasn’t actually aware that we came across as *that* youthy – but the accumulating evidence suggests that we do. That’s not something I aspire to. The tendency amongst to associate left politics and social media with youthiness really grates on me – and if a joining up with TCF could partially rectify our apparent youthiness, that would be great from my perspective.

Mil’s post is incredibly interesting. I recommend everyone reads it. What he suggests is that a process of corporatisation is going on online, with the likes of facebook and google building their own empires, and that this proposal is in some way analogious to that ( I hope my summary hasn’t done too much violence to his argument). “There are” he says, “other ways to bring free voices together which don’t require a submission to common corporate image, tools and philosophies”.

What occurred to me as I read it is that some kinds of agglomeration are completely different from others. Take, for example, the coming together of many different organisations to form the original labour representation committee – this was analogious to the formation of a business conglomerate. That might seem like a glib comparison, but I think it is relevant particularly here. That’s because for most of the C20th Labour was very self consciously a composite organisation, comfortable with its identity as a coalition of potentially divergent interests and opinions. This I hope is very much how the third estate comes across, and how a TTE-TCF project would be. We are, as commenters have noted an underpredictable , pluralistic left blog – wherein, I think it would difficult to unproblematically distill a single “corporate image”. (oh shit I’ve just compared myself to Keir Hardie). I don’t think it is a place where the TCF voice would be “subsumed”, but where it would coexist.

What is awful about the emergence of corporate on line empires, is that content is pulled together and concentrated, but not on the basis of any actual commonalities. There is no coincidence values or ideas that bring me and my next door neighbour to pool our content on the same websites, like facebook or twitter. Much like the conglomeration of industry in the C20th was driven by the logic of the machine and not the agency of man/woman. This however is something different. This is about people with shared ideas, and similar aims, potentially making the concious decision to pool our efforts.

Along with this clarification:

correction! – meant to say the formation of the LRC WASN’t analogious to a business merger!

I then responded tonight with the following idea:

I think the idea of what we might call a federal structure along the lines I think you might be suggesting is better. A common homepage along the lines of:

http://labour2.net/

could be set up.

This would allow individual personalities and thoughts as expressed in the physicality of the web to continue to exist in their own places behind such a page – each then could thus choose, as now, the software code, tools, permissions, infrastructures and image which most suited, and yet still collaborate in a common project with a common image as a starting point (perhaps gathering point would be better).

The best of both worlds perhaps? Question is, what to call it …

Now I guess I’m rather at an advantage here because, along with Andrew Regan as the brains, guiding light and software architect, and Paul Evans as editor-behind-the-scenes (which is where all of the very best editors choose to remain), we’ve spent the past few years trying – probably a little too half-heartedly – to push the virtues of blog aggregation over what was the traditional individual and now evermore popular group blogging.  I suspect aggregation hasn’t really taken off as much as it could have done because, essentially, blogging almost always starts out as an ego trip – whilst the aggregation of the sort I suppose we have been proposing aims to deflect attention towards the quality of a wide range of content

Not big names then – big ideas.

Anyhow.  Whilst Andrew’s ambition is to create the best aggregation tools the world has ever seen (and it is my honest belief that most of what’s needed under the bonnet is now firmly in place), I in my ignorance of things technical was looking to focus on a much smaller idea: basically, do for political thought what the music site Last.fm has done for music. 

Which is where Paul Evans comes in: at the end of last year, after a short conversation at an Edinburgh event which Mick Fealty and Paul had both hosted, and where, thankfully, the penny finally dropped, we managed between the two of us to pull together an essay on the subject of how best to bring together and share content – with the aim, that is, of widening people’s intellectual horizons and, essentially, encouraging readers to see the virtues of regularly reading outside their comfort zones.

Yes.  I know.  You may feel that the penny which finally dropped is actually that bad penny which never fails to return.  But I still find myself enthused by its possibilities – ever since I went on two weekend political seminars in the heyday of New Labour Salford.  And that, in some way, is exactly how I see it: an online academy of thought for everyone who cares enough about politics.  An Everyman’s Library for the 21st century.  But instead of publishing the classics, we would publish, connect and share the best of current thought as generated by existing blogs across the globe.

No need for people to up sticks and learn how to use new content management systems in order to achieve some kind of visibility.

No need to squeeze individual voices into common boxes in order to achieve some kind of communication.

No need to carve out Internet real estate and impose software constitutions on users in order to achieve some kind of user-friendly navigational coherence. 

Rather, all that would be needed would be some conceptual nous (easily acquired, I can assure you) – and, far more importantly than money or material resources, an intellectual and emotional support, as well as an understanding of the implications long-term of what is being proposed.

Andrew wants to include the world’s entire political DNA in his box of tricks – and, in my dreams, I also imagine my Last.fm of thought leading us from the most progressive to the most regressive ideas at the click of a mouse and user tag.  However, I am also quite a pragmatic person (though a superficial reading of this blog might not lead you very easily to such a conclusion) – as, I think, deep down, is Andrew. 

His previous incarnation, Bloggers4Labour, worked so well precisely because it was partisan.  So perhaps it is now time we moved back into the real world.  Perhaps it is now time, in the light of everything everyone has said over at TCF this week, and in the light of some of the things I have published here on 21stCenturyFix.org, for us to bite the political bullet and say: “The battle before us is far too severe for us to want to choose to wallow in the luxury of non-partisan projects.”

Is it time then – on the back of Andrew’s marvellous tools, Paul Evans’ perspicacious editorship and that small but not insignificant inflection of my own which has dared to convert a wonderful music site into an aggregation community for and of thinkers – to nail our scarlet standard to the mast?

The United Federation of Lefty Group Blogging anyone?


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Jan 292011
 
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There’s been a considerable rise in the popularity and acceptance of “evidence-based political blogging” – perhaps its most recent and best exponent being Left Foot Forward.  But the trends existed before they were thus conceptualised.  Next Left is another example of a blog which sources quite carefully its opinions – and uses the discursive structures of “compare and contrast” to provide a considered and fairly objective overview of the political landscape and its issues.  Whilst Chris’s Stumbling and Mumbling is a marvellous example of how to make surveys, reports, studies, data and economic philosophy in general the kind of fascinating reading which everyone can enjoy and learn most productively from. 

But there are other things on the virtual landscape which support – and possibly encourage – the move away from the rhetorical blogging we grew up with.  Projects such as Andrew Regan’s Poblish.org – and the multitude of tools it potentially offers up for us (more here, from yours truly) – help cement the idea that the virtuous side of political blogging is to be found in the hard stuff of statistics and testable data.

Yet, I wonder if this is altogether fair, useful or – indeed – wise.  The other day I suggested:

At this point, I am reminded that statistics and evidence-based blogging are excellent measures when one wishes to rebut the arguments of the liars in government.  But, as I mentioned recently on these pages, these two tools do not fully encompass the workings of economies and their corresponding peoples.  They do not encompass the visceral side of life.  They do not communicate the emotional undertows.

So I ask the question again to underline: what’ll happen to our society when the poor begin to feel they are getting poorer?  That is the thought I have awoken to this morning.  That is what I have realised will almost certainly be my near future.  That is what I now fear for the future of my offspring.  That is what will damage and destroy the initiative and forward-looking hopes of a generation, if we are not very careful – or, alternatively, if we are not very clever.

These emotions, these perceptions, are just as important as the macro-economic stuff.  Yet who is out there to define, determine and delineate this?

And I went on to conclude as follows:

We need another website, I think.  A tactile website of emotions, where people can use a virtual community to express how they feel about this incompetent bundle of millionaire politicians – who  really have no appreciation of what feeling poor can do to one.

What you might term, in fact, a virtual  “Play for Today” for today.  Only instead of professional writers serving to filter the pain, this time we could aim to crowdsource –  through social media aficionados (more background  here to one potential approach) – the job of telling and sharing the hard and bitter truths.

So what is my challenge to the clever IT-oriented bods out there who have the skills I do not possess and could make this idea come true?  Well.  I’ve sent emails to three of them to date, but only one has replied – and with an understandable lack of comprehension.  Understandable, because the idea is still tremendously nascent and without useful form.

Where, then, do I want to go with this concept?  Firstly, I’d like to affirm what I’m not proposing.  No.  I’m not proposing a return to the rhetorical flourishes of a previous age.  The time when the Iain Dales of this world could generate those splendidly massive page impressions via clever turns of phrase and the debating strategies of stratified university societies and clubs is surely something we should not wish to re-engineer and recover.

What I am suggesting we do here is learn from the recent success of the evidence-based blogging I describe in this post and apply it to both the tracking of emotional undertow and its bespoke generation.  If we could create a community which not only used the tools Andrew Regan and others have been developing to follow existing content but also allowed and promoted the invention and distribution of new and headline-hitting Web 2.0 experience, perhaps we could recover some of the virtues of rhetorical blogging without committing the crime of returning us to the dark ages of sterile and pointless online debating chambers.

In fact, I do wonder if this community isn’t already beginning to exist.  Let’s try False Economy for starters.  A growing dataset of damning figures and statistics, videos which tell human stories, articles from the clever and good – all we need is to properly conceptualise that “Play for Today” which I mentioned the other day and the site would be about as complete as any site could ever be. 

The full gamut of human experience, that is.

From stats and reports through to videos and creative texts – content which serves to remind us all of the humanity behind the numbers.

That should be our challenge.

So that is my challenge to the IT wizards out there.

Never forget that behind the tales the clever websites tell, there are human beings who need a channel for their voices – and more now than ever before. 

Run with the trend towards evidence-based blogging, by all means – but never underestimate the importance of, also, evidencing our emotions.


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Dec 232010
 
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This story came to me via Ian Bissell’s Twitter feed this morning:

BBC’s Mark Thompson: Impartiality is dead in the age of the internet | Media Digest http://ow.ly/3ts6K

The story referenced can be found here whilst the original source was the Guardian newspaper, which, amongst other things, reported Thompson as saying:

The BBC had been, historically, “weak and nervous” about airing debates about immigration and Europe, he said – but added that he believed the public broadcaster had forced the main parties to discuss immigration during the 2010 election campaign. He promised that there would be more space for “extreme and radical perspectives” on the BBC, which one day could become common views.

It also pointed out that:

Ironically, Thompson’s proposal makes him an ally of the Murdoch family. The BBC director general told the audience that Rupert Murdoch had told him he would like Sky News to go down a polemical “Fox-style” route – but that the editors of the channel had brushed off his wishes.

The nub of the argument lies in these paragraphs however:

The director general said: “There was a logic in allowing impartial broadcasters to have a monopoly of the broadcasting space. But in the future, maybe there should be a broad range of choices? Why shouldn’t the public be able to see and hear, as well as read, a range of opinionated journalism and then make up their own mind what they think about it?

“The BBC and Channel 4 have a history of clearly labelled polemical programmes. But why not entire polemical channels which have got stronger opinions? I find the argument persuasive.”

It would be interesting to examine more deeply this circumstance.  I remember writing a piece for the El País journalism course entrance exam where I argued that the future lay in a more overtly opinionated journalism – particularly of an Anglo-Saxon type – instead of the finer sort El País has continued to practise, where opinions are hidden well in the background and where its practitioners seem to sincerely believe it’s possible to write without exhibiting such opinion or allowing it to even influence your work.

This article would have been written almost a decade ago now – and needless to say I didn’t manage to get on the course.  But the argument I made stands the test of time.  And here Mark Thompson is bringing us up to date.

The impartiality argument was made in the first place because public service broadcasting needed to sell to a potentially dubious audience the politically useful porkie that a single nation existed.  And perhaps for a while it did.  If you could show both extremes, you could fashion a shared centre.  A kind of Werther’s approach to sociocultural fabrication perhaps.

And even where series such as “Play for Today” demonstrated division and disintegration in our society, paradoxically they also served to bring us together again as, once back in our workplaces, we discussed their import and weight all those mornings after and chatted about the themes raised with a real interest and engagement.

Thompson believes that in an Internet world it makes no sense any longer to sustain this porkie.  I would argue that it has very little to do with the fact that far more media are available for us to access – or even that it is far easier for even more channels to be provided in the future than currently exist.

Rather, I think it has much more to do with the fact that our access to different media – to Twitter, to bloggers, to hybrid software and communities such as Facebook – has meant we ourselves have come to understand the true extent of the porkie: the true obfuscation of this single nation irreality, this idea of an impartiality, a Werther’s softness we should all hanker after, which can no longer be sustained.

An opinion is expressed and made concrete by how we string the facts together, whether we believe we can be impartial or not.  This is so obvious that no one could surely argue with it.  And yet, on top of all of this, we have allowed the British media establishment to build an infrastructure of impartiality which has served to hide the beautiful clarity of this observation and make it dark.

For the last ten years, and certainly in the environment I detected was operating within El País itself, I have to admit I have found myself more at Rupert Murdoch’s side in this matter than the BBC‘s – at least as per prior to Thompson’s arrival.  But that is perhaps because I have been trained more as an editor of literature and fiction, an editor in search of universal truths, than one of daily realities, of numbers and statistics, of weather forecasts and bullfights.

So then.  I do not see Murdoch’s encroaching takeover of BSkyB as the disaster my political inclinations may have led me to perceive it as perhaps only a few months ago.

There are other things at work.  YouView may come on stream shortly and offer an entirely different sense of what TV and broadcasting could mean in Britain.  If objectivity and representation can be achieved through a discrete recognition of opinion expressed over time rather than a tiresome trying to ensure that each and every debate ever aired is a four-cornered Buggins’ turn of points of view – quite intellectually unproductive in itself – then perhaps we can follow the historical and technological trends of real users out there on the Internet, instead of tying the bigger organisations down to a Geiger-like decaying of their earlier efficacy and solvency.

A miserable half-life no one would surely wish on any fellow publisher.

Blogging, Twitter and Facebook have all shown us that the future is in building a society on the inventiveness of many individuals.  For a while, it seemed that traditional blogging in its two aspects – i) logging the best of the web and ii) fixing in diary format the occurrences and thoughts that each blogger had – would be the way forward.  Now it appears that Twitter has built a community around the former and Facebook is doing – in fits and starts, even where not always with happy results – the same for the latter.  Whatever the technologies and companies we finally end up using – and I suggest we maybe should get used to the idea that our favourite brands of today will begin to shift rather more rapidly and disintegratedly than the consumer society of the last century had led us formerly to believe might be the case – the path both Thompson and Murdoch are showing us as their view of the future is, in fact, the only one that can allow these big organisations to maintain anything approaching their existing structures intact.

If they do not become more opinionated themselves, they will lose out to an ever-expanding world of Web 2.0 opinionated interactions.

My question therefore is as follows: this may allow people like Fox and the BBC to continue more or less as they are.  But how will such an overtly opinionated media – perhaps I should say an honestly opinionated media – affect the nascent and increasingly self-structuring political blogosphere?  Will it be good or bad for the “real” bloggers?

Might, in fact, it explain the recent peeling-off and shutting-up-shop of some of the biggest name bloggers?

Are they preparing their stalls for when Internet talk radio – or even Internet video broadcasting – hits our British shores?

Impartiality can be tracked falsely in the Buggins’ turn way I have already described.  So many minutes.  So many participants.  And this then is objective television.

Or it can be tracked by allowing equal access to all over a period of time.

And here is where I would, of course, possibly find myself begging to differ with Mr Murdoch – as well as find it difficult to support his publishing instincts if I were right.  If he chose to ensure that the barriers to entry became so high and complex to administer that the only opinionated publishing we would ever get to hear from would be his version of it and his ideology of the world, then I would no longer be able to agree with his desire to Fox News the British media landscape.

So it is that I wonder if this is what is really being planned here.

In which case, Mr Thompson is less a prescient editor, rather more a fool. 

*

 
Meanwhile, that is the other challenge we on the left will always find in such circumstances – that of visibility and sustaining it.  It’s inevitably been the case that right-wing talk stations have been better at making their politics sexier.

Could we turn the trend upside down?

Given the opportunity, would we have the nous to?

Would, in fact, we be willing to?

It’s a publishing challenge, no more or less than that.  The question is if, in a free market, we want to be up for the fight.

With Vince Cable out of the reckoning and Jeremy Hunt ready to give the go-ahead, and Mark Thompson from the BBC simply relishing the idea to become controversial, I’m pretty sure it’s going to become a publisher’s Turkish Delight.

And we all know what happened to Edmund in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” when he decided to have just one piece of Turkish Delight.

Addiction city.

Even so, we will have to try just one piece.

Just one little piece.

Wouldn’t you like to try just one little piece of that Turkish Delight this Christmas?

Wouldn’t you like to be given the opportunity to launch your unvarnished opinion on the Great British Public each and every night?


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Jul 132010
 
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Here’s a lovely story from Tech Dirt on a move from the Guardian which – at least in my eyes – serves to redeem this curate’s egg of a newspaper for its mad and unyielding decision at the general election to go down the Lib Dem road.  More thus:

We’ve pointed out a few times that The Guardian newspaper in the UK is not just a believer in the value of keeping its content free online, but is also doing a lot of very interesting experiments. As we hear daily about newspapers and organizations like the Associated Press threatening to sue blogs that repost some of their content (even for commentary purposes), The Guardian is going in the completely opposite direction. As part of its Open Platform program, it has created a tool that lets any WordPress-based blog repost any Guardian article for free. Yes, this is the complete opposite of what most publications are doing. Rather than whining about “freeloaders” and “copycats” and “aggregators,” The Guardian has decided to embrace them and take advantage of the situation.

The full story here.

Contrast this with Murdoch’s paywall and the current British government’s moves to get rid of an unending list of regulations designed to protect us from the excesses of big corporations – and you most certainly have at least one reason to be moderately cheerful.

Knowledge is power.  Sharing knowledge means sharing power.

There is a future which shines brightly ahead of us, if we manage to work out how to fashion it.

No time now, but – perhaps – this evening I will link permanently to the Guardian and advertise this brilliant initiative.  Two requests.  A similar widget for the Blogger platform.  Plus a request to my favourite science magazine, New Scientist, to do the same.  Haven’t read it for months.  All stopped when it started telling me I could only read something like five articles a month.

What do you all say, moguls of the print world?  Is there room for more than one Guardian-style online network in this brave new world of interaction?


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Jan 172010
 
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I think the focus is misplaced.  It’s not blogging we should be talking about but communication.  Web 2.0 communication in particular.

Anyhow, an interesting debate developing – especially on the comments side of things where I guess it’s my destiny to be politely ripped to shreds – on the subject of whether we should create content and then work out how to distribute or, alternatively, create distribution and then harvest and support existing content.  My publishing education would lead me to believe that you need to sort out distribution before you decide what to write – even more so in Web 2.0 world.  But I may be wrong.

More here, if you’re interested.


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