Saturday, October 17, 2009

This is what the left-blogosphere is for

Yesterday, the despicable Jan Moir was slapped from one side of the media bubble to the other and back again. Anton has as good an account of this as any, and watching his blog, I suspect that he was somewhat instrumental in brewing up this storm. All of this in a week when the blogosphere - and even the right-wing blogsophere to some extent - leaped to the defence of Parliament for the first time in a while - creating the kind of weather that Parliamentarians everywhere would like to see more of in making the Trafigura injunction unsustainable.

All of it, however, points to the left-side of social media beginning to find a real purpose.

All political movements have a strain of thought that cuts across the actual issues that they care about. The most obvious example of this is within the Green Party - the 'Realos' and the 'Fundis'.

In summary, the Fundis believe that you should walk around looking like a sack of shit, farting like a regular vegan, refusing to compromise with the electorate in any way and using election literature to lecture everyone about how bad they've been and why the ought to vote Green. The Realos think you should say anything you need to do to get elected and not do anything to annoy powerful vested interests once you win so that you will win next time.

OK - there may be a couple of bits of caricature in there, but you see the point? Personally, I'm often accused of being too far on the Realo side of the political left. I'm told that I'm quite far out to the left in terms of a lot of the positions I take but the Realo perspective often gets me into arguments where I get accused of political machismo and 'why don't you just cut to the chase and vote Tory.'

Again, broad strokes. And I don't want to rehash the argument now, but my fairly consistent position has been that - if you want to diminish this - you have to make an impact upon the climate that politics works in. There's no point in moaning about Tory Bliar when public debate is tuned and moulded by right-wing media monopolies and over-powerful pressure groups. This week has seen social media being used to crowdsource hostility towards these forces. It's been a good week.

But where next? Well, our line of attack on the right is one that can be as concerted as their attack on us has been. They have focussed upon civil liberties and this imaginary political corruption as a way of recruiting large active numbers to a highly individualistic campaign. It has has done real damage to Labour's ability to govern, it's electoral prospects next year and its activist base. There are people that won't knock on doors for Labour next year because they imagine that their government has turned this country into some kind of police state.

Now, there is no reason why the stakes can't be raised on lazy journalists. Those who simply reprint the press-releases of the Taxavoiders Alliance. We can look at ways of toxifying the brands of newspapers and attacking their advertisers. We can start demanding the levels of transparency from corporations that the right had demanded from their enemies - a too-powerful Parliament and BBC. This week, we've stopped big vile corporations from burying their bad news. We've damaged the Daily Mail's brand and hit it where it hurts.

We can pick up Tom's lead and start demanding more transparency in corporate governance, and more responsibility to be placed upon shareholders of companies. The one thing that we don't yet have - even in a social media-type decentralised way - is any co-ordination on this.

There is, I believe, a need for a concerted attempt to create frameworks that will consistently damage the brands of media interests and provide channels for those that will expose the anti-democratic practices of monopolistic corporations.

It's been a good week and there's a bit of impetus that can be picked up here. I reckon so anyway...


CS Clark said...

Crowdsourced hostility? Isn't that what used to be called a mob? I admire your optimism and do think there's opportunities there, but these bursts of spontaneuous outrage (bloody well justified this time, naturally) seem very random, somewhat of a substitute for action, only effective in the short term and confined to fairly obvious issues - NHS good, homophobia bad - so I'm not sure how much traction you'll get in trying to organise it. Plus, it makes gatekeepers out of people with high numbers of followers who aren't necessarily better at fighting bullshit than the current gatekeepers.

Paulie said...

I agree with you here - up to a point. It's just that crowdsourcing of hostility is here to stay. More to the point, it's been going on for a long time - usually done by those with the convening power that large media operators have in a monopolistic situation.

This week, though, a wider group of people demonstrated that convening power. So whereas you had The Mail and The Sun, now you have The Mail, The Sun, Stephen Fry and even Chris Moyles (!).

I'm not suggesting that they are a substitute for action either. It's just that - in the way that the advertising industry are having to spend a lot more and work a lot harder to make a small impact on our purchasing, that we may be moving towards a point at which commercial pressure groups can no longer enjoy an advantage over their rivals.

Steve said...

Interesting thoughts Paulie.

One of the problems with campaigns by the left is that, in general, they are too nice. They tend to focus on abstract principles and 'ishoos'.

Many of the right's campaigns, by contrast, are vicious and personal. This is especially true in the US but we are starting to see signs of it over here.

For example, if you want to attack public sector waste, you find an excessive example and launch a campaign against a particular councillor or NHS chief executive. The campaigns against Sharon Shoesmith and Rose Gibb are extreme cases but there have been others.

The Public Sector Rich List, published by the Taxpayers' Alliance, and the MP's expenses scandal are other examples of the personalising of an issue.

It's much easier to get people to be angry with other people than it is to get them worked up about principles. Giving the object of their rage a human face helps to focus and intesify their anger.

For some reeason, which I have never fully understood, the only time the left seems able to do this is when it attacks the BNP. OK, the BNP might be very nasty but, in the grand scheme of things, they are not going to make much difference.

If the left could get even a quarter of the number of anti-BNP protesters to, say, follow Michael Ashcoft around and keep on asking him whether he pays UK tax, they would quickly raise the story's profile and craete a focus for the prevailing anger against rich financiers. Back it up with the usual blog co-ordination and Facebook campaigns and you might start to do some serious damage.

Vicious and personal campaigns against individuals who represent everything they despise are becoming regular tools for the tabloid rabble-rousers. If the left really wants to hurt its enemies, it could do worse than adopt the same tactics.

Paulie said...

I see no problem with personalised campaigns against people who fund the Taxpayers Alliance. Demand to know if they actually pay any tax for starters. And also against those who write for a nasty tabloids like the Mail or the Express. Or better, someone in senior management or ownership of those titles.

Or, as you say, the financiers that we will have to keep paying a couple of decades from now.