Friday, January 25, 2008

Core values ...

Thursday evening, Malcolm trots to the Maynard Arms in fashionable Crouch End, there to join the Labour Party's Audience with Dennis Skinner, MP.

Now, Dennis is not so much "Old Labour" (and rightly proud of it) as totally primeval. Malcolm, however, largely approves of the old shell-back: Skinner says what he means, with a sly and devious humour, and means what he says. He comes from the same stock and locality as Malcolm's paternal line. He is transparently straight and honest.

What interested Malcolm was how the audience reacted to Skinner's traditional stump-speech. The applause and chortles came when Skinner went for royalty and the Press, and mildly suggested that the railways might work better nationalized. This, let it be recorded, before a mixed (age, gender, background), largely professional, and wholly sophisticated group. Scratch a Labour Party and find a Labourite.

The Press we deserve

So Malcolm addresses, today, just one of those items.

What he also finds surprising is that so many others whom he encounters share a similar view of the British Meejah.

As a generalisation, politics, and the business of governance are treated as a sub-genre of soap-opera. Each new day needs a new episode, a new and predictable crisis, a new face or two. At the moment, the universal will of our newspapers and television seems to be a yearning for a wholesale replacement of characters, the introduction of new giants whose feet will, in short order, be revealed to be made of clay.

Dennis Skinner, and many others like him, see in this an inherent anti-Labour bias: they may have reason. Whatever: we saw it in, first, the demand for an autumn election, and, then, in the subsequent rubbishing of Gordon Brown for not thereby filling columns for the next six weeks. Skinner sees the remedy in Labour reclaiming the agenda: again, he may well be correct. Malcolm, however, suspects that the knee-jerking of the print and electronic journos would misrepresent any such attempt, just out of habit.

Rocking the boat

Malcolm reaches for a way of giving an example.

He takes one on which Skinner repeatedly touched: Northern Rock.

This continuing saga is being depicted as one of governmental failure, because Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling consistently fail to take the ever-changing advice and prescriptions (swallowed wholesale by the pundits) of the Opposition.

Despite this, the bank still survives; the British banking system has not been brought tumbling down; the burden of debt has not (yet) been taken on by the tax-payer; the British economy continues to expand. Yes, in the face of the trans-atlantic crisis, the British economy will grow
and grow faster than any other G8 country over the coming year:
In its Winter forecast released on Monday the ITEM Club, sponsored by Ernst & Young, showed that the UK economic growth will ease in 2008. The economic growth is expected to slow to 1.8% in 2008 from 3.1% in 2007. The think tank believes that the abrupt reversal in the credit markets in 2007 could result in a sharp decline in economic growth.

Chief Economic Advisor to the Ernst & Young ITEM Club Peter Spencer said: ... "As the Bank of England's interest rate cuts begin to take effect, the economy should pick up. With the money markets begin to thaw out we can be a bit more optimistic. So, touching wood, 2008 should not be such a bad year after all. Then I expect GDP growth to move back up to 2.5% in 2009."
Not so dusty, then. But, hark! what is this other rusting in the undergrowth?
Questions have been raised over the effects on the markets of the rogue trader who lost 4.9bn euros ($7.1bn; £3.7bn) at Société Générale.
Analysts are trying to assess whether the trader's actions contributed to the stock market turmoil and the Fed decision to cut interest rates.
Malcolm's reading of that goes like this: a £3.7bn default at a French bank had serious international implications, because it was so badly handled. The British Government and the Bank of England are successfully managing an apparent soft-landing for a potentially far bigger (by perhaps a multiple of twenty) debacle. No kudos from the Meejah lizards, only brickbats and abuse.

Don't stand too close to me

And there is one further dimension that irritates Malcolm.

Unlike the US, British bloggers are cajoled into following the mainstream media line. Not, of course, the small-timers (like Malcolm), but those half-dozen big-hitters who hog the local cybersphere's limelight.

These "stars" of the broadband have, effectively, been bought and bought out by the mainstream outlets.

Iain Dale (claimed to have the biggest single presence on the UK blog-scene) is on the pay-roll of the Daily Telegraph, and has a working relationship with both the Independent and the Guardian (to the extent of having his own by-line, right). There is, therein, a direct link from the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party, via an important blog-site, to the bowels of the Daily Beast.

Guido Fawkes
, a.k.a. Paul Staines, had maintained a hands-off honesty until, last year, he, too, sold out to the BBC Newsnight. Staines took the perfectly-proper view which Malcolm is trying to expound here, that the Press was too close to the politicos. His derivative interview with Michael White was a failure, as Staines himself recognised. That went a long way, in Malcolm's mind, to redeeming himself, except that Staines (along with Dale) market their offerings in a crudely commercial way:
The country's top political blogs Guido Fawkes, and Iain Dale have partnered with four other political websites to launch online advertising sales service MessageSpace.

The company aims to get advertisers wanting to appeal directly to the political classes and opinion formers in Whitehall and Westminster.

Alex Hilton, the editor of and Recess Monkey, who runs ad sales company EOS Online Media, is behind the venture...

Opinion sites from across the political divide have become partners in the service with Labourhome, Political Betting, Recess Monkey and LibDem Blogs joining the big three to offer exposure to more than a million readers every month.
Malcolm reads that again, very carefully, and very cynically. It seems that this aggregation of "top" political bloggers, what tamounts to the critical mass in the local political blogosphere, are blatant in selling themselves to "the political classes and opinion formers in Whitehall and Westminster".

At which point Malcolm is heard muttering after Jonathan Swift:
The Vermin only teaze and pinch
Their Foes superior by an Inch.
So Nat'ralists observe, a Flea
Hath smaller Fleas that on him prey,
And these have smaller Fleas to bite 'em
And so proceed ad infinitum.
Even Malcolm's place of regular resort, Slugger O'Toole, is less than totally "independent". Any resort thereto has been loud with an intrusive advertisement for the webcast "18 Doughty Street" (which was another vehicle for Iain Dale and his right-wing cronies, but sheds personnel like autumn leaves in Paradise Lost I.302). And Slugger's main ornament and progenitor, Mick Fealty, formerly an associate of The Guardian, now props up the Telegraph's Brassneck -- indeed the ad and the hotlink for that leads the Slugger web-page.

What price independence?

The blogosphere gives all of us a degree of independence. Here we can exercise First Amendment rights in a way never before experienced. The nearest equivalent is the explosion of pamphleteering at the start of the seventeenth century. George Orwell, a connoisseur of the pamphlet as a medium, described it thus:
The pamphlet is a one-man show. One has complete freedom of expression, including, if one chooses, the freedom to be scurrilous, abusive, and seditious; or, on the other hand, to be more detailed, serious and ‘high-brow’ than is ever possible in a newspaper or in most kinds of periodicals. At the same time, since the pamphlet is always short and unbound, it can be produced much more quickly than a book, and in principle, at any rate, can reach a bigger public. Above all, the pamphlet does not have to follow any prescribed pattern. It can be in prose or in verse, it can consist largely of maps or statistics or quotations, it can take the form of a story, a fable, a letter, an essay, a dialogue, or a piece of ‘reportage.’ All that is required of it is that it shall be topical, polemical, and short.
Malcolm accepts that in toto, if demurring seriously over the word "short". But he hesitates, too, over the ambiguity of "unbound".
  • Can the likes of Dale, Staines and Fealty then be, in all truth, "unbound"?
  • Why, apart from enjoying the revenue, should a "free" medium like this be "bound" by advertising?
  • What, by the acceptance of an ad, becomes verboten?
  • What inhibitions flow therefrom?
  • Why is the relationship between these bloggers and the traditional media so cosy?
That is why Malcolm resolves, in future, to eschew all those polls and mutual-backscratchings that the cybersphere seems to revel in.

Prometheus Unbound?

So, back to Dennis Skinner.

Skinner is a Labour man through-and-through. He knows viscerally whom to care for, and whom to hate. What he may lack in "ideology", he more than compensates in gut-feeling. And in that he is correct.

His loyalty to the Labour Movement is total, yet he has an honourable record of failing to obey the Party Whip. And that, too, is proper and correct. Like the legend of Prometheus, he brings fire to humankind, and for that is punished by the gods of the Media. Better that than to be a supine creature of the Politinform system that bedevils our democracy.

Nobody, except his own keen appreciation of his constituency, dictates to him. He cannot be bought. He comes, as his Parliamentary declaration shows, without sponsorship or advertisement:
SKINNER, Dennis (Bolsover)
Which, in Malcolm's book, qualifies him to speak and be heard. Compare that, as Skinner himself did, to the parallel entry by William Hague, over a page in length, and listing swathes of after-dinner speeches, all made at £10-20,000 a time. When one is proffering that amount of moolah, does one expect to be chastised or confronted with unpleasantness? What "freedom of speech" is being exercised there?

Dennis Skinner talks in a different accent, but a similar mode to Tony Benn :
Democracy is the most revolutionary idea in the world, nobody in power likes it.
The democratic, free blogger aspires to just that uncomfortable and discomforting posture:
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory!
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1 comment:

David Silver said...

I wanted to get copies of Dennis Skinner's conference speeches during the 1980's. I e-mailed him about it and a short while later he telephoned me at home. I think that was a pretty decent thing to do as I am a complete stranger. Unfortunately he is not vain enough to keep speeches and so I am still looking. I want to read or hear those speeches again because I remember them pushing all the right buttons for Labour party members who actually believe in what the party originally wanted to do. We hear nothing like that now.

David Silver

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