Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bloggers changing politics?

The Liberal Conspiracy is asking how left-leaning bloggers can affect national politics.

It's a good question, and I suspect that I'd disagree with a lot of the positions put forward by bloggers on that site. Firstly, I don't think that building communities of like-minded bloggers will have the slightest impact. Mutual affirmation isn't that valuable, I wouldn't have thought, and I think that the concept of solidarity is entirely misplaced when it's applied to the blogosphere.

Me-too campaigns are, I think, hugely over-rated. I do think that left-wing bloggers can make a difference though. Right wing bloggers have succeeded in some ways because they are capable of choosing to believe a position that suits their ends, not one that makes them look good down at the health-food shop.

So, every time you meet a Tory these days, you hear that they are now 'libertarians'. Apparently, they've always been libertarians - didn't they mention it before? Oh yes! Always uncomfortable with Michael Howard's dog-whistle politics, dontcha know?

Of course, they were very unhappy at the time of the old Criminal Justice Bill - you know, the one that made it illegal for two hippies to go into the same field within ten days of each other? (OK, there were bad things in it as well..). For a Tory, pretending to be 'libertarian' is a way of never having to say 'fuck the poor' again. It's a way of never having to give anything back as your side of the social contract. All you have to say is how everything would be alright if the beastly state were just to get out of the way. You can even pretend that you give a shit!

The Tories have always managed to do this in a way that the left hasn't. On the left, I think, we are more concerned with up-our-own-arses consistency in all things. Being correct, and having an audit trail to show that we were on the side of the angels all along.

Ask these latterday libertarians about how inheritance and meritocracy are on a collision course, or ask if this new-found liberalism has any impact on their views on border control, and you just get a quick change of subject.

Here is a more detailed take on how the Tories are able to behave politically, while we are mired in our own elegance.

Right-wing bloggers understand that there are untapped anti-democratic forces that can be dog-whistled any time they like. Guido gets it. But there isn't a commensurate understanding on the left about how the way politics is discussed needs to be changed.

We need to value elected politicians ourselves. The right have worked out that 'direct democracy' is a very handy banner of convenience. Where is the left's defence of representative democracy? Democracy is unequivocally a project of the left, yet we can't even be bothered to pull up the drawbridge on our own castle.

Now, I recognise that no-one will listen to us singing the praises of politicians, of course. We can, however, get an audience that will listen to us attack the lobbying industry, that will slag of saintly pressure-group spokespeople - expose them for their inconsistency, name their donors, and so on. We can identify the senior civil servants that couldn't run a piss-up in a brewery, and we could highlight the demagogy of many journalists.

It is not enough to identify the BBC as a bulwark against the Thatcherite right, the BBC's rivals need to be attacked. BSkyB are the BBC's enemies. Where is the equivalent of 'Biased BBC' - demanding that the programme-making rules that apply to every other station should be applied to BSkyB? Nowhere. That's where.

When we can come up with an equivalent of the odious Tax Payers Alliance - something that can campaign in a concerted way against...
  1. Supermarket chains - they strangle small businesses, drive out local craftsmanship, drive out small specialist shops that care about what they sell and know what they're talking about, increase local traffic, drive prices down artificially at the expense of people who work in the supply chain. Anti-supermarket campaigns have to be formed on local alliances, and not on greenie principles. It's not that the greenie principles are wrong - it's just you get tuned out as soon as you start spouting them. A concerted anti-supermarket focus from left-bloggers - one that reaches out to non-lefties and develops the arguments and the memes that will change things - would be a useful exercise for left-bloggers. A hatred of monopolies used to be a key feature the left. It's time this were true again.
  2. The causes of centralisation - an acknowledgement of those causes and a willingness to attack them. Rather than forever focussing on the Westminster Village sideshow, that would be an example of left-bloggers behaving politically and doing something useful. We need to articulate a new understanding of a public-sector ethos and lead a call to break the link between the 'producer interest' and a legitimate shared understanding of what public-sector professionalism is. The Unions won't do it.
  3. The City: What about the disgraceful pro-capitalist (as opposed to pro-market) arguments about how shareholders run companies, when .... they don't. Go and ask Tom what we should be saying.
  4. The BBC's enemies - as I outlined earlier.

There are more, of course. But that's enough to be going on with?

All politics is local. But what does the left blogosphere major on? Pissing and moaning about politics and what so-and-so said to thingumyjig at some poxy wine bar in St James' Park. It's time to ignore the Kremlinologists and start being political again.

Like the Tories are.


Sunny said...

Well, the campaign for asylum to Iraqi interpreters was somewhat successful, no?
I do agree with the rest of your points though.

Paulie said...

Well ... no. I mean, blogs may have been an asset to a particular single issue campaign, and that's good for the beneficiaries of that campaign. But single-issue campaigns are not, in aggregate, a good thing. Quite the reverse.

I acknowledge, by the way, that this is a very tough point to argue, but it's one that stands up in the long run.

I've had this point put to me a few times, and I think it illustrates one of two things: I'm either not explaining my argument very well, or it's not being engaged with. I put an argument that says:

- be political
- eschew elegant causes for ones that have a wider resonance AND are strategically useful
- recognise the value of representative democracy as an ideology - and an asset to the liberal left and don't campaign in ways that compromise this position

mikeovswinton said...

Would it be very passe and backward looking to suggest that some aspects of your supermarket point ( and to some, though less, extent your shareholder one, and also the one about decentralisation) could perhaps be met by joining, using and strengthening the Co-operative Movement?

Suny said...

A few more points. LC was never a place to amalgamate and bring people who thought the same. I think there are disagreements on the left, and my aim was to try and bring them to one place to tease them out. Its imperfect but that was my view. Not to say, let's all back-slap each other.

Secondly, the point was always to bring disparate groups together to campaign when necessary. We campaigned against 42 days and for the HFE Bill, in different ways and building different coalitions. In each case we learnt something.

That learning process is about how to build alliances and coalitions in an online world to affect political change in specific circumstances.

Thirdly, I agree about taking on the right and standing up fro the issues you mentioned. But you either need resources, or lots of time and planning... or you can get people together and campaign on specific issues and use that in the longer term to building something more enduring around what you say.

So for example, the campaign against 42 days may turn into something longer term dedicated to arguing for why civil liberties matter from a leftist perspective.

The aim of the event is to show what campaigns have already been run online... why they worked in some ways, and to give other people some ideas / inspiration when they feel like they should do something about an issue.

I'm not asking for intellectual solidarity.
But I do want to build some sort of an online space where people who feel passionate about specific issues can organise themselves into doing something about it.

Ian_QT said...

Surely the real anti-democratic voices are...

Oh, why bother. You know what I'm going to say. I'm predictable like that.


Phil A said...

“Ask these latterday libertarians about how inheritance and meritocracy are on a collision course, or ask if this new-found liberalism has any impact on their views on border control, and you just get a quick change of subject.”

Meritocracy simply does not conflict with inheritance.

If you acquire money, or property then why should you not pass it on, rather than have it confiscated by the state. They say a fool and their money are easily parted. That goes double for a rich fool. They would not keep inherited wealth long without ability and why should the capable be held back form helping their children.

What next make it illegal for caring parents to teach their kids to read, or do maths, because it disadvantages those with bad parents? Oh yes state education is going that way already isn’t it.

As for boarder controls and the like these are artefacts of a socialist welfare state.

No welfare? Then they largely don’t matter. Then why worry who comes to live here. If they work hard they do well and help increase our prosperity and stay, if not they probably don’t stay. In any event unless they commit crimes against citizens, or their property, what harm do they do?

Larry Teabag said...

I mean, blogs may have been an asset to a particular single issue campaign, and that's good for the beneficiaries of that campaign.

Which, for a single issue campaign, is precisely the point.

But single-issue campaigns are not, in aggregate, a good thing. Quite the reverse.

So there's a trade-off then, between long and short term interests, or if you prefer between "wider resonances" and "elegant causes". But sometimes, Paulie, that trade-off is worth it. Another example: the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill.

Some issues are important enough on their own terms to be worth setting aside broader concerns for: that is the missing ingredient you need to factor in. Individual policies matter. This doesn't negate your general philosophy, but it does complicate it.

Paulie said...


I think that you have some sort of need for an interlocutor who will defend an polarised position.

I said 'in aggregate'. I don't really have a problem with single issue campaigns as such - it would be inhuman to not - sometimes - to want to DO SOMETHING!!?!!

But when it becomes a default position - the first point of call - that's the problem. If I were to say to you "go join a political party, stand for election on a compromise of a manifesto" I suspect that I'd be told off for being bossy and for forcing you to nail your colours to a mast somewhere. You'd find yourself sometimes having to defend a position that you don't care for in return for influencing a decision elsewhere that you DO care about.

The left will never acheive anything if single issue campaigns are are main modus operandi.

We will always get drubbed that way. And single-issue campaigns are our main modus operandi at the moment.

Our most humane governments are ones where Parliament deliberates and pressure groups are weak.

will said...


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