Monday, November 10, 2008

The four issues main raised by Hazel Blears?

Sorry to go on about it, but I was wondering about Hazel Blears speech (yet again). Given the amount of heat that it’s generated, I thought I’d look at it again to see what all of the fuss was about.

So, via Matt Wardman’s site – where he’s posted the whole thing – I think – think – I’ve selected the bit that everyone objected to. And here it is:

I accept that our politics is in serious trouble, not only from falling levels of active participation in parties, in elections, and in voting, but also from the spreading corrosive cynicism which characterises political discourse: in the broadcast media, in the press, and in the rise of the political blog. ….

...let me say that we witnessing a dangerous corrosion in our political culture, on a scale much more profound than previous ages, and the role of the media must be examined in this context.

Famously, Tony Blair called the media a ‘feral beast’ in one of his last speeches as Prime Minister. But behind the eye-catching phrase was a serious and helpful analysis of a 24-hour broadcast media and shrinking and increasingly competitive newspaper market which demands more ‘impact’ from its reporting – not the reporting of facts to enable citizens to make sense of the world, but the translation of every political discussion into a row, every difficulty a crisis, every rocky patch for the Prime Minister the ‘worst week ever.’

The changing structure of the media is what drives this desire for ‘impact’ and the retreat from dispassionate reporting.And I would single out the rise of the commentariat as especially note-worthy. It is within living memory that journalists’ names started to appear in newspapers; before then, no name was attached to articles.

And in recent years commentary has taken over from investigation or news reporting, to the point where commentators are viewed by some as every bit as important as elected politicians, with views as valid as Cabinet Ministers.

And if you can wield influence and even power, without ever standing for office or being held to account by an electorate, it further undermines our democracy.The commentariat operates without scrutiny or redress. They cannot be held to account for their views, even when they perform the most athletic and acrobatic of flip-flops in the space of a few weeks. I can understand when commentators disagree with each other; it’s when they disagree with themselves we should worry.

There will always be a role for political commentary, providing perspective, illumination and explanation. But editors need to do more to disentangle it from news reporting, and to allow elected politicians the same kind of space and prominent for comment as people who have never stood for office.This brings me to the role of political bloggers. Perhaps because of the nature of the technology, there is a tendency for political blogs to have a ‘Samizdat’ style.

The most popular blogs are right-wing, ranging from the considered Tory views of Iain Dale, to the vicious nihilism of Guido Fawkes. There are some informative and entertaining political blogs, including those written by elected councillors. But mostly, political blogs are written by people with a disdain for the political system and politicians, who see their function as unearthing scandals, conspiracies and perceived hypocrisy.

Unless and until political blogging ‘adds value’ to our political culture, by allowing new and disparate 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.

Now, the objections that I’ve come across, so far are…
  1. Sowing cynicism: where are politicians in the list of culprits here?
  2. Is it correct to say that ‘mostly’ political blogs are written with disdain for the political system and politicians?
  3. Should political blogging ‘add value’ to our political culture?
  4. Is it unkind to refer to Guido as vicious nihilist, and is it too kind to refer to Iain Dale* as ‘considered’?

Can I just check – are there any more issues that I’ve missed? Because if there aren't, then, for fuxake, what's the fuss about? I know that the speech also went on about career politicians, but somehow – apart from the fact that this may be seen as an entertaining pop at some of of New Labour’s sonnenkind, there wasn’t anything else anyone took objection to, was there?

If those four points are the controversial ones, I’d be happy to defend her on each of them. I’d only say that she could have....
  1. ...said a bit more on point one to forestall some of the criticism (though there are about five much longer speeches in that one...
  2. The perception (2) that all political bloggers (present company excepted) are a bunch of shrill shitheads may not be entirely correct, but it's a common one. As Chris said, ages ago, "....complaints that the blogosphere comprises shrill right-wingers rest upon seeing only an extreme of the bell-curve of bloggers."
  3. challenged anyone who doesn't think that political blogging should add value to our political culture (3) to say why - phrase it as an open question - that would flummox the bastards...
  4. ...and... well, we have the answer to that one, don't we?

So, come on! Is that what all of the fuss was about?

*My anti-virus software has taken a real objection to Iain's site by the way, throwing out all sorts of warnings. I could make a little joke about how perceptive it is but then I'd have to explain why Liberal Consipracy makes my browser crash as well. On second thoughts....


mikov........ said...

Hazel Blears is originally from Swinton, and I once lived about 500yards from her house, so I might be biased, but leaving comments about blogging aside, isn't it fair to say that her points about newspapers and the "commentariat" are pretty much on the nose?

Stephen said...

Hazel's real objection is not to cynicism, but to perceived right-wing cynicism. Perhaps she should spend a little more time surfing through the many leftish blogs out there before claiming that the right has some sort of monopoly on such an attitude.

Anonymous said...

understand Guido is shortly to come under attack for allowing a post to appear that alleged that various Labor activists,one now an MP,were involved in a rather nasty smeear campaign in the seems that at least one of the named persons is talking about injunctions..

Will said...


We should all have vouchers.

That would solve all our problems (including the terrorist supporting, apartheid loving, racist cunt guido.

Also a tory of course. And a 'liberatarian'.