Where does the hand become the wrist?
Where does the neck become the shoulder? The watershed
and then the weight, whatever turns up and tips us over that
between something and nothing, between
one and the other.
Simon Armitage, Gooseberry Season
If I was forced to describe the past nine months, I’d call it a time of weights & watersheds. On each day of a PGCE course, students spend their time swallowing new and challenging experiences; tests & expectations. Some of these will be positive, others demoralising, but they all swill around the basins of our brains until “something turns up and tips us over that razor’s edge”. The weight becomes a watershed.
Some of these tipping points are fixed & formal; when you’ve gained enough experience to tick every box and meet each standard, the watershed brings the relief of crossing a threshold from Student to Teacher.
But most of the other tipping points you experience are harder to define, like where the hand becomes the wrist, or when the neck becomes shoulder. I’d tried for several months to keep this blog running despite the increasing demands on my time. I saw it as my way of maintaining a sense of perspective; of remembering that a world exists beyond the classroom.
But as the expectations multiplied, and with them the restrictions on my time, it became difficult just to keep up to date with my own reading, let alone committing the time to write. I realised that to write a blog and also train to teach would eventually lead to not being particularly effective at either. Something had to give, and so I shut myself away, neither blogging nor reading, commenting or tweeting. It apparently wasn’t enough to leave the blog on hiatus; its author had to vanish. Completely.
Thankfully, that period of my life is now over; the course has finished and I can now look forward to a new job and a new life in London. The sense of achievement is great and the possibilities for the future are exciting.
All that’s left before I try to turn this place into an active blog once more is to add a cringing apology to the kind folks who’ve passed by & left comments, who’ve had me on their RSS feeds, followed me on Twitter and enquired into my whereabouts & well-being. I was always been genuinely grateful to the folks who read this thing in the past, and hope it will become an interesting visit once again.
Oh, and the next time the weight becomes too much, I will at least try to leave a note.
Utopia’s a band – they sang that ‘Love is the Answer’,
And I think they’re probably right.
Whilst it first seems like singer Craig Finn is dismissing the idea of Utopia by referring only to a defunct & obscure band, what he really means is that we can briefly reach that longed-for state of happiness through the music in our lives. As he concludes in the chorus:
“Heaven is whenever we can get together,
Sit down on your floor and listen to your records”.
Its a line which should also have relevance for political bloggers. We are in the midst of an election campaign which would try the patience of a saint. Though blogging is necessarily combative, we would do well to remember that one of its joys is the space it creates to interact with opposing points of view. In the ongoing campaign for our own utopias – our own visions how Britain can be made better – we should not lose sight of this, nor forget that behind the psedonyms & avatars are real people.
So how do we preserve, and even build upon, the fledgling community that this election campaign threatens to coarsen? I have one idea.
(Both the name and the website can change if anyone has a better idea.)
We create a space where everyone – regardless of party or ideology – can write about the music they enjoy; our favourite albums, overlooked artists, most memorable gigs or cherished social experiences. We write not as esteemed political bloggers with our gripes and demands and agendas, but as music fans.
For this to work, there should be but three rules:
- You should be a political blogger.
- You should write about any aspect or genre of music.
- Your writing should not be party-political.
Here’s the catch: I can’t do this on my own. As you might’ve noticed, work constraints mean that I’m not currently able to keep my own blog ticking over as much as I’d like, so running two is an impossibility. I’ve already had some kind offers of contribution and admin, and I would be happy to receive more. I would also be delighted if those of you who believe in the concept could promote it within your own blogging communities – the experience will only be richer for having a multitude of voices. Naturally, all contributors would have a link back to their own political blogs, and a spot on the blogroll.
If you would like to contribute, or have any ideas/suggestions, do feel free to leave a comment either here or with LeftOutside, or leave an email at bleedingheartblog at gmail dot com.
In closing, I’d say that one of the joys of music for me is the social experiences it can provide. If we could replicate some of those opportunities for interaction in the British blogosphere – even if only for a short period of time – I think we’d all benefit.
On most days, Liberal Conspiracy is a tight clique; full of merry, consensual and self-referential bloggers who spend their free time tweeting ‘shout outs’, drinking chai tea and penning polite posts about electoral reform. Even on those days when bloggers have beef about a particular issue, it’s still rare for someone to upset the cosy comity of the clique.
Don Paskini, on the other hand, is in no mood for such pleasantries. Here he is playing Beanie Sigel to my Jay-Z and ‘debunking’ my ‘myth’ of Labour carpetbagging. Dissed in my own ‘hood – that’s cold!
Just as a point of face-saving nit-pickery, carpetbagging is only ‘mythical’ if it never occurs or has only ever happened on odd, extremely rare occasions. Paskini’s not in a position to claim this unless he’s willing to presuppose levels of virtue in their decision-making that I certainly wouldn’t be comfortable making. In fact, you’ll notice that his response doesn’t actually seek to defend Berger from the carpetbagging charge – he merely proves she’s a carpetbagger defending a majority of only 5,000.
So what Paskini wants to argue is not that carpetbagging is a myth – for it isn’t – just that its frequency is overstated by critics. He makes that case very well, and demonstrates that it’s problematic for a writer to bemoan the loss of local activism whilst he himself avoids close scrutiny of individual constituencies.
However, will many of these local boys and girls done good will go on to be leading players in the Parliamentary Labour Party? Or will the Cabinets and Shadow cabinets of the future be mostly constituted of ‘high fliers’ who slobbed around in someone’s think tank or ‘inner circle’ until an appropriate constituency became available?
I think recent history suggests the latter is most likely, and that raises the prospect of a self-perpetuating political class which is big on mingling and Westminster lingo, but a little short on socialism, invention and real world life experience. Paskini is welcome to try to persuade me otherwise.
I much preferred Paul Cotterill’s response to my post, not just because it includes that most self-evident of truths (“Neil is right”) but because his proposal for radically altering the way MPs are funded is a serious and compelling solution to quite a few of the problems afflicting our political system.
I do see what you’re saying, but just to stretch the football/politics way past breaking point: in the good old/bad old days, to be a prospective Labour MP was to be thrown head first into a near-suicide battle against one of the Tory grandees. (Remember how surprised Stephen Twigg was to win?)
After a couple of such soul-crushing defeats, if they were still interested in standing, they might be considered battle-scarred enough for a tilt at a safe seat. It’s akin to throwing Ngog on at 3-0 down with 10 minutes on the clock. Sure, he’ll try hard, but to not much effect and frustration and dented confidence will be the main result.
It’s much better to give your promising stars of tomorrow a run out when you’re 2-0 up at home and the pressure’s off. They can taste the Anfield atmosphere, the experienced players can keep an eye on them and, crucially, they can’t do any damage! Some of our Academy got such a run out on Boxing Day against Wolves and I’m hopeful that something similar is happening in Wavertree, although I know it could be the usual Labour Party ‘on message’ bleeper instincts at work.
But still, I’m hopeful. It’s something all Scousers are very good at ;-)
As they say in the rap game , I just got murdered on my own shit. Maybe it’s time to retire.
Since it worked out rather well for me last time, I’ve decided to test that old cliche about lightning not striking in the same place. Yes, I’ve put myself forward for the Orwell Prize. Yes, I realise that I’m full of it…
Anyway, the list below comprises what may or may not be my greatest hits. I’ve not really ranked ’em in order of preference, but the first post is the one I’m most pleased with.
Whilst pulling this all together, I realised just how much this blog exists in a permanent state of identity crisis. Some of my posts will be wry or irreverant, some wistful, others furious. Some posts will have a quite chatty tone; others will be formal, as if I occasionally forget that blogs have commenters. Some (the majority of this list) will be quite personal and relate to background or past experience; others (the majority of the blog as a whole) will be more dry, wonkish discussions about social or foreign policy.
One of the big pieces of advice that would-be bloggers are often given is to ‘let your personality shine through’. Alas, The Bleeding Heart Show doesn’t have a personality; it has six.
I think I do that because I wouldn’t be able to sustain blogging for this long if I wrote in one particular style or about a single subject. I always thought the reason I quit writing about music because I’d run out of things to say; in hindsight, I realise that I stopped because I’d exhausted the way I said things. I’d become bored of my writing style, so I stopped writing.
So I guess it’s the fluctuations in style and subject matter which have kept this blog going for far longer than I thought I could. I realise, of course, that this is probably quite disorientating for readers who’re used to some… oh, I don’t know… consistency from their bloggers, so for those of you who keep sticking around; cheers! You’ve shown far more tenacity than me.
Sensitive thugs, y’all need hugs
Since we’ve already discussed what a bunch of callow indie rockers can teach the rest of us about blogging tribalism, I wondered whether there were any other pop cultures which could explain our strange little ways.
A non-blogging friend of mine once asked “why do you bloggers seem to spend half your time attacking each other? I thought you started blogging because you had something constructive to offer.”
It was a good question for which I had no simple answer, so I decided to explain things by comparing the blog game to the rap game.
Because it’s an aggressive, proud and often quite vain genre, ‘beef‘ and rivalry between rappers is as old as hip hop itself.
There are two categories of beef. The first is basically a personal vendetta which snowballed out of a few slights (either real or imagined). For example, Tupac’s beef with Notorious BIG started because Shakur thought Biggie had tried to kill him.
But it’s also created by market forces. Feuding is the rap game’s equivalent of quantitative easing: if your sales are sloppy & your commercial stock is low, the best way of getting back into the game is by calling out another rapper. This is why the lowly (but fittingly titled) Game has spent half the year trying to get the better-selling Jay-Z to respond to his disses. If Jay responds, Game’s commercial stock soars. Always has, always will.
To show how this applies to the blogosphere, here’s a useful recent example. You can decide for yourself which category this particular beef falls into:
What you have here is a diss; an example of one
rapper blogger trash-talking somebody from another clique. To people from the same clique, this diss may be flippant or a little risque. However, to people from Rush Limbaugh’s clique, it’s a grave insult and enough to start a beef.
Soon the game was ablaze with recrimination. As with any rap beef, the frayed tempers produced a raft of daft accusations, from the mildly amusing (Lib Con has become ‘plain nasty’) to outright lies (“most days you can read bile rejoicing about the day Margaret Thatcher dies”). Unpleasant stuff, but it’s all necessary for the
rapper blogger to succeed in persuading his own clique that beef is necessary. Demonise your opponent, and all that.
Thankfully for Mr Dale, his plan had worked; his clique was down to ride:
So you see, for all our fancy words & hyperlinks, our blogwars really aren’t much more sophisticated than your average rap feud; we just use CAPS LOCK AND RIDICULOUSLY OVER THE TOP STATEMENTS instead of hip hop beats. It’s not enough to merely better our opponents in debate; we have to actively show them up and stoke antipathy. This is true of folks on both the left and right.
So how to resolve this particular conflict? Unlike a rap beef, we can’t send for Jessie Jackson & Louis Farrakhan to help cool the tempers, and just think how bad things will get when election year rolls around!
I have an idea. I suspect that much of Dale’s mischaracterisation of Liberal Conspiracy comes from the fact that – as he recently admitted – he doesn’t actually read it. Sure, he’ll read Sunny (despite saying he doesn’t), but that’s because Sunny is the goateed blogging boogeyman who stalks his dreams. And so all the analysis, news articles & wonkish thinkpieces on the site get ignored.
So the solution to this problem is really quite simple; just follow this advice that Jay-Z dished out to his own haters:
You ain’t feelin’ me? Fine. It costs you nothing; pay me no mind.
Given he’s mentioned Hundal in no less than 7 posts this month, that might be a hard habit to break. Still, it is a time for resolutions!
His name is Frosty Bojangles, and yes, it reveals much about the maturity of my brother and I that we’re still making snowmen in our mid-twenties…
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ve already demonstrated such a heightened intellect and refined tastes that you probably don’t need a post from me to fluff your egos. But, since it’s the season for giving & all that…
Many thanks to anyone who’s stopped by here either regularly or by accident, left comments, made links or cross-posted my stuff to one of the more better-known outlets for lefty-liberal comment.
Hope you all have a fantastic Christmas (or whatever), and that 2010 brings nothing but Good Stuff.
I should still be posting bits & bobs here over the holiday, so feel free to come back even if you’ve overdone it on the sherry.
All the best,
So where have I been for the past week or so? Submerged under a mountain of lesson plans, marking & university assignments? Restrained from blogging by the amount of tutoring I do?
Well yes, kinda like that. Except for this…
The more perceptive among you will remember me mentioning that before I wrote interminably long, over-caffeinated posts about politics, I used to write interminably long, over-caffeinated posts about popular music. Wasn’t too bad at it, either.
Anyway, I’ve recently had a craving to indulge that part of my writing, and since this is my only blog, I’m going to dump it here. What’s about to follow over the next couple of weeks is an assessment of what I think were the best 100 records I heard during the noughties. Each post will have a few paragraphs on five records, until we get to the top 10 or so, which I’ll try to write about in greater depth. No, I probably won’t finish this list before the end of the decade, but then I’ve never been particularly well organised.
If you’re reading this and thinking “but this is a politics blog! I wouldn’t go to a cobbler to buy a piece of beef, would I?” my response would be.. erm… sorry. I’ll try to split up the musical pontifications with a link dump every once in a while, but I could probably do with getting this out of my system.
Anyway, on with the list…
That Alex Turner recognised as a teenager what many political bloggers still can’t see in adulthood either speaks volumes about his eye for observation or says a lot about political bloggers’ lack of it. In ‘A Certain Romance’, Turner takes us on a tour through the bawdy, boozed-up bruisers of Sheffield’s pub scene: the ‘kids who like to scrap with pool cues in their hands’, and the fellas who, after a couple of cans, “think it’s alright to act like a dickhead.”
But it turns from an almighty whinge to a funny & true observation when he starts making excuses for his own overly-raucus mates. By doing so, Turner outs himself as a hypocrite, acknowledging that there’s probably someone else making the same snide jibes about his friends that he’d been making throughout the song.
For all our elegant words & pristine paragraphs, the political blogosphere is really just as rife with these affectations as some low-rent West Street Wetherspoons. Because politics arouses strong emotions, fierce loyalties & intense antipathies, many of us are guilty of deploring in our adversaries that which we might ignore in our allies.
I’ll wince at the overwrought rhetoric of Glenn Beck, but won’t mock Keith Olbermann when he has his own little melodramas. I’ll happily march a conservative’s factual errors around the blogosphere, but won’t be anywhere near as circumspect at fact-checking every standard-bearing leftie. These little omissions & hypocrisies are probably inseparable from our personal investment in certain parties, policies or ideologies; the most we can do is accept that they do exist, and try to curb our worst excesses.
Alternatively, you could try this brilliantly mischievous bit of writing:
I used to like Sunny. I always regarded him as someone you could do business with. Not any longer. His site, and his Twitter feed have become full of the bile and sheer nastiness that he pretends to deprecate.
Sunny’s crime was to call certain writers ‘fuckwits’ who push ‘global warming denialism’. Now, Iain can’t really complain about the ‘bile and sheer nastiness’ which is meant to be on display here: after all, he’s on good terms with a right wing pretend teddy bear, a right wing pretend devil and a right wing pretend terrorist. For all those bloggers’ virtues, Dale would at least have to admit that they’re occasionally, well, intemperate, and so complaining about strident language would look a little hypocritical.
So Dale opts for a more cunning line of attack: it’s not that Hundal is intemperate, it’s that he’s a hypocrite because he claims to be the font of fair-minded, Socratic debate.
But that’s actually a rather odd misrepresentation. For as long as I’ve read him, Hundal has always been a confrontational blogger. His archives are full of pieces arguing that fire should be fought with fire – or preferably napalm. At a time when Obama was trying to end (or at least diminish) ‘the culture wars’, Hundal was arguing for them to be stoked until they were won.
And yet Dale still characterises Sunny as a man who likes to prance barefoot through the internet like some self-styled blogging Ghandi. Seriously, you can tell that he doesn’t read Liberal Conspiracy often, ‘cos I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about.
Nor does the rather clichéd haw-hawing about LC being illiberal ring true to anyone who’s read it: the site frequently features liberal advocacy on any number of issues: education, immigration, criminal justice, voting reform, prisons, libel, foreign policy and drugs. It’s campaigned hard against ID cards, restrictions to womens’ reproductive rights and the government’s anti-terror detention policies. Are these not liberal? Or are they just convenient omissions that come from ignoring all those posts on actual policy?
Still, we should welcome his call for a proper, calm debate on climate change, and stand with him as he protests the cheap name-calling of people on the other side of the issue. As a show of good faith, Iain will hopefully be equally outspoken in condemning those who slime environmentalists as fanatics, ‘preaching climate change religion bollocks’, enviro-fascists, smug, sanctimonious and hysterical zealots. I hope he’ll also point out that those who describe climate change as ‘today’s religion of choice for the left’ are not really doing much to encourage that ‘proper, calm debate’ he longs for.
I would dearly love for that to happen. Alas, I suspect he’ll find that – in the words of Alex Turner – he “just cannot get angry in the same way”.
Tha won’t believe the bloody palaver I’ve been havin’. It all started a few days ago when some dozy bint were sayin’ summat daft about me & me mates’ workin’ men’s club. I thought “ang on, I’m noravin that!” and I said that folks like her are too young & posh to lecture me on owt, let alone tellin’ me how to run me own bloody bar!
Anyhow, me mates stood up for me & that. Said she were spoilt, vain, weak, vulnerable and basically a bit of a ‘silly cow’. As it ‘appens, I actually had a quiet word wi one or two of ‘em about the language. After all, this is a respectable establishment, and I know how to treat the ladies!
But then she started actin’ like a mardy bum just because some fellas were a bit rough with her. That got me dander right up! I’m like “listen flower, that’s just how us average, salt of the Earth types talk. We dunt go in for any of this ‘politically correct’ fannyin’ about., so take yer fancy words and naggin’ and bugger off to yer knittin circle!”
I told her, I said “its folks like you what turn people off politics”. I said “If tha can’t tell’t difference between an everyday insult which ordinary folk like me use all the time, and a vicious attack on ye tender soul, then yer just not cut out for the big conversations, like what I am!”
I don’t know, women eh?! More trouble than they’re bloody worth!
The above may not be how Marcus acts in real life, but given the hilarious attempt to justify a sexist insult as a statement of working class authenticity, I really wouldn’t be surprised.
It should be admitted, of course, that this is a gross caricature; most working class folk I know wouldn’t condone sexism.
*with apologies to John Lennon. And Bill Owen.
I think they call this a self-fulfilling prophesy. In The Samosa, Laurie Penny accuses Harry’s Place of practicing bullying and sectarianism. In response, HP regular Marcus tries his best to prove her right:
People like Ms Penny – home counties raised and not long out of university – simply haven’t had that much time to reflect on matters beyond their own limited life experience and can’t therefore recognise political reaction if it comes with more melanin than she herself inherited, even if it spells out its ultimate aims in the blood of women shopping at market places.
Sadly, it gets worse:
since when did Socialism mean the rest of us had to be rearranged to suit the whims of a self-obsessed privately-educated, Oxbridge-cocooned twenty-three year old? Wasn’t socialism, at least in theory, about something else once upon a time?
You can say what you like about the English upper middle-classes, but you’ve got to admire their sense of entitlement, haven’t you?
In other words: “sit down you silly little girl, this is grown folks business”. Whilst I wouldn’t care to speculate about the age of this particular author, the argument Marcus makes here is often used by people who’ve gotten too old to remember how seethingly furious they were when someone directed it at them. Well, they say we all turn into our parents one day.
As for the crass jibes about her background, these are the kinds of resentments & class jealousies which only nullify any argument you’re trying to make: when you can’t tell whether the writer’s statements are born out of logic & rationality or some disdain for people from a different background, there’s really no incentive to accept them as valid or relevant. Really, it’s little more than an exercise in self-defeat.
As it happens, I think it’s quite possible (providing you don’t venture into the comment threads) to read Harry’s Place and not find much which is quarrelsome or controversial. It’s not often that a day passes without HP posting something I generally agree with, and they are strong on some important areas, like the illiberal wreck of our libel laws or the BNP being an ‘orrible bunch of thugs.
But it’s posts like this which give HP the reputation for bullying and sectarianism which Laurie was decrying. The habit of singling individuals out and ‘exposing’ them as morally or intellectually deficient doesn’t speak well of the site, particularly when the writers claim to be interested in some of the big international debates of our time.
This leads on to my main frustration with the site: for all the intention to stand up for democracy and human rights around the world, and all the time spent standing against ideologues, racists & militants wherever they may be found, the actual foreign policy content on Harry’s Place is incredibly superficial.
Where is the analysis of the options open to President Obama in Afghanistan? Should our troops still be there? And if so, for how long? Is counter-insurgency the right strategy, or should we focus more on counter-terrorism? Which military/national security bloggers can bring us valuable insights? How well is reconstruction going and are we upholding our commitments to human rights?
The site likes to defend Israel from its critics, so why not have an appraisal of how well (or badly) Netanyahu is doing as Prime Minister, or whether the U.S. has the right policy regarding settlements? Can Obama achieve anything in the Middle East when his approval ratings in Israel are in single digits? What are the causes of this antipathy, and what can be done about it? When your most substantive FP content is coming from occasional guest posters, chances are you’ve got your priorities a little mixed-up.
If you’re really concerned with waging a valiant fight for the left, how about trying something a bit different? For example, instead of wasting a Sunday dismissing a journalist on the basis that she’s young and went to university, why not demonstrate your vastly superior maturity by trying to engage with some of the big issues the site has always claimed to address?
Or, y’know, you could just keep on singling people out and calling them ‘logically-challenged’. Maybe that’s what grown-ups do.
Meet Lady Godiva. Liked nakedness. Hated taxes. Loved by Coventry.
Not sure if you’ll remember me, but once upon a time I ran a semi-regular blog about various Matters Of Great Importance (Which Only I Am Right About). Then the updating stopped as I moved to the West Midlands to learn about how to get people much younger than me to do some learning.
Anyway, I’m still in the West Midlands, but will try to stop Being Rubbish and get back into the swing of regular updates. As I’ve said earlier, the posts will probably get much briefer, and there’ll be a fair bit more link dumping, but at least you’ll be able to see different things if you’ve got so much time on your hands that you visit every day.
And contrary to everything I’ve just said, the next post is pretty long. I know, typical...
To be honest, just the fact that I’m writing this is something of an achievement. Before this clearing house for over-caffeinated ramblings came into being, the longest I’d kept any sort of record was a 1997 “Top of the Pops” diary, which was kept for just two months & documented the details of my juvenalia: the popstars I fancied, the episodes of Star Trek I’d watched, the computer games I was playing & the trips my brother & I had made to Meadowhall. Looking back, it wasn’t the most compelling read.
When I opened this place in Feburary 08, I gave it a few months at best. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, what my ‘voice’ was or what sort of stuff I ought to be writing about. I’m probably at my happiest when I’m arranging words into sentences, but have always had trouble believing I was any good at it. I must’ve spent about 6 months with my finger hovering over the ‘delete button’ before giving up and accepting my fate as a Blogger.
So now when I write words, some people read them, link to them & maybe even comment on them. Because that all seemed highly improbable when I started out, I thought it necessary to write a little bit about certain life changes which will inevitably alter the way this blog looks & operates.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be starting a PGCE at Warwick. For those averse to abbreviations, this means that in 12 months time I will (all being well) be qualified to teach in our Great British secondary schools. Judging it in the near distance, the prospect of teaching seems all different kinds of thrilling, daunting & challenging, but above all it’ll fulfill a longstanding ambition to use my education for some kind of social purpose.
I was the first person in my family to attend university, and one of a small number of folks in this bedraggled ex-mining town lucky enough to win a place at Cambridge. I had three exceptional years there: met some of the finest minds, was taught by scholars of international renown, and sauntered, swaggered & staggered in front some of the most beautiful architecture England’s ever produced.
With all the opportunities I’d been given to make something of myself, I knew that I wanted to end up in an occupation where I could help extend those opportunties to others. Of course, being young and muddled, I had absolutely no idea how to do it, and so ended up in a series of jobs which, whilst unfulfilling, at least kept me solvent. It was only when I spent some time working in a school that I realised not only was teaching something I could do, but something I wanted to do. That might come across as mawkish, maybe even narcissistic, but it is sincerely felt, no matter how badly sincerity translates over the internet.
Regarding what happens to this blog, much will depend on how well I manage my time, but I suspect a number of things will happen. First, the posting regularity should stay pretty much unchanged (and may even increase), but the posts will be shorter and won’t be as thoroughly researched or thought-out. There will be more ‘Selected Readings’ and more posts which amount to little more than hit ‘n run link dumps. The reason I want to keep the regularity of posting up is that I know there’s a danger that if I leave it dormant for a week, fortnight or month citing workplace pressures, the obligation to keep writing will gradually diminish. I really don’t want that to happen, so it seems the best way forward is to keep on posting, and hopefully you’ll keep reading in the hope that I’ll sit down & write something good every once in a while. Just bear with me, I’ll figure something out.
I first became aware of “NightJack” around four months ago. I’d taken the unusually bold step of putting myself forward for the Orwell Prize and somehow found myself nestled alongside him and 10 other fine writers on the longlist. We had a few online interactions since and he always struck me as forthright, gracious & fair. When he was awarded the prize for best blog, it was telling that people who’ll otherwise agree on very little could still nod in affirmation that he was a worthy winner.
But what should have been a crowning moment in his amateur writing career has swiftly turned sour. For reasons never articulated beyond a weak cry of ‘public interest!’, The Times has sought to reveal the true identity of the pseudonymous police officer, resulting in a reprimand from his superiors and – most disappointly – the deletion of all those brilliant words. The outcry over his outing has been as widespread as the accolades he received in victory.
As I’m not a lawyer, I really can’t comment on the rights & wrongs of the decision to allow the publication of his name: it might have been a fair decision to reach, it might have been the only possible decision to reach. Instead, I just want to offer a few words about what this decision puts at risk.
Everyone who visited NightJack regularly could’ve gained valuable insight from it. You could’ve read about police officers’ attitudes towards their political paymasters, the process of investigating crime, thoughts on the criminal mind, the criminal justice system, or just general observations about human behaviour. Even if you rarely agreed with his conclusions, there was always something which made you challenge your own perceptions. Crucially, this was the kind of writing which could never have been hosted by the mainstream media, and could never have been produced without his pseudonymity.
Now there will be no more of that, and by splaying his name and his face across the mainstream press, it sends an ominous message to anyone else who wants to share stories, whistleblow or offer thoughts on their profession: don’t get too good, don’t become too popular, because your life as you knew it could change completely. All of this makes Frances Gibb’s self-congratulatory defence that the ruling “struck a blow in favour of openness” seem rather shallow. Sure, if your main concern is regulating what bloggers call themselves, then I suppose this is a victory for openness. If, on the other hand, you’re more interested by what that blogger has to say, then you can’t help but feel cheated.
On top of that, far from producing a ‘cloak of anonymity’ which protects only the sneaky, irresponsible & unaccountable elements of the blogosphere, pseudonymity can also protect some of its best voices. As Jonathan Adler wrote in relation to an ‘outing’ controversy in the U.S.:
While it enables some to hurl reckless charges and gross epithets, it also facilitates the engagement of more individuals in on-line discussion and debate. There are many understandable reasons why intelligent and knowledgeable people in various fields are reluctant to blog under their own name. Adopting a pseudonym is not necessarily a cowardly or sinister act.
In this country, the pool of blogging talent is far smaller than somewhere like the United States, and for that reason we need all the smart, perceptive & critical voices we can muster. There are never too many words, never too many pairs of eyes, and never too many fair & insightful writers contributing to democratic debate. Because the protection offered by pseudonymity can encourage more of those voices to come out & blog, it’s actually incredibly beneficial to our politics.
I suspect that people who value what blogging – whether pseudonymous or not – can contribute to the public sphere will feel aggrieved by The Times’ decision and its countless unknown consequences. Today, we’ve just lost one great blog, but we’ll never know how many people will now be discouraged from committing their thoughts to cyberspace.
(I have no idea why this post became as long as it did. Sorry)
Well, the weather may be glorious, but if there’s ever a chance to spurn the sun’s come-hither allure and hunch over a keyboard, clattering caffeinated musings about The Future Of The Left!, it seems I’ll always bite. The latest addition to a debate that has all the cool kids talking comes courtesy of Charlotte Gore, who has a few things to say about Liberal Conspiracy, Britain’s left-liberal blogging behemoth and an occasional host for my overwrought rambling. Now, as a libertarian, Ms Gore has more than one criticism to make of LC, but in this case she suggests that the site can’t grow any more influence whilst it remains a place for lots of policy discussion:
All that fretting and worrying about policy is such a complete waste of time. I’ve heard it over and over on Labour Home, I’ve heard it over and over on Labour List and it’s been done to death on Liberal Conspiracy. All of them looking for the new idea, the new brilliant policy that’s going to somehow going to reinvent the left, bringing together the benefits of redistribution and a monolithic public sector without economic stagnation, unemployment, crushing of innovation, a welfare subculture, Government enabled Monopoly corporations and all this without the authoritarianism and ‘unfortunate’ need to take as much wealth as possible from as many sources as possible to pay for all these adventures and ideas.
Charlotte concludes that instead of wringing our worried hands over policy, LC should take a leaf out of DailyKos’ book and start scouring the country for some charismatic charmer who’ll make our daft ideas sound sensible and lead us to that far-off promised land of equality, fairness and cheap beer.
The whole thing’s a quite provocative read and I must admit to sometimes doubting the utility of all these ‘where do we go from here’ thinkpieces which have sprouted up under Labour’s rotten corpse. That said, I think she’s taking the wrong lessons from the Daily Kos example.
It’s certainly true that the Netroots movement wasn’t particularly interested in policy. Sure, there were things the Democratic left was against (war, torture, the collected wrongdoings of George W. Bush) and things they were for (peace, healthcare, impeachment), but the Netroots never had a laundry list of specific policy demands and never had the ideological unity to even attempt a manifesto.
This isn’t to say that you couldn’t find any good policy analysis & debate; the past few years have also seen the rise in profile of such exceptional young commentators as Ezra Klein & Matthew Yglesias, and the lack of a comparable British version of what those two do is a problem. But by and large, the Netroots was for organising, proselytising and flaming the Republicans out of existence. Online organising was the means and electoral success was the end.
This was all incredibly successful for a while, particularly in the ’06 midterms: activists managed to kick Senator Lieberman out of the party, get James Webb elected in Virginia and score countless smaller victories in Congressional districts, state houses & city councils. Then there was the election of a certain shiny, smooth-talking speech-maker who, thanks to the donations, hard work & votes of millions, went to the White House & bought a comedy dog.
But it’s in the election of President Obama where the flaws & limits of the netroots are starting to show. As he undertakes the complicated task of governing, Obama has inevitably disappointed some of his supporters, and there have been plenty of quarrels over his cabinet picks, his fiercely-rebuffed attempts at bipartisanship, his economic policy, his approach to the Bush administration’s torture regime & his continuation of the war on drugs. In each of these areas there’s been disappointment for Obama’s liberal activists, but because the Netroots wasn’t established on the foundations of policy, the response to these disappointments has been as disparate & varied as they were unified & disciplined in opposition. Had there been a more widespread & lengthy discussion about what policies Democrats expected when in power, they might’ve been able to use their formidable organisation as leverage to pull the Obama administration closer to their idea of progressivism.
Right, let’s try to shift this back to the malaise of the British left. As a libertarian, Charlotte’s bound to interpret much of the policy discussion on Liberal Conspiracy as the equivalent of saying ‘oooh, what else can the state buy with other people’s money? What other excuses can we come up with for making folk more poor & less free?’ That’s a logical reaction from someone of her political leanings, and she certainly has a point that it’s all futile without (a) the ability to organise effectively, and (b) some skilled communicator who’ll have the nation taking out subscriptions to ‘Marxist Bollocks Monthly’.
But let’s say that in a decade’s time we have that organisation in place and we have an Obamaesque orator who could sell even the Poll Tax, and let’s say (s)he wins a 100+ majority in the House of Commons. Then what? Are we simply doomed to repeating the same policies of the past twelve years? Will we ever have the opportunity to try something new? Or will we have just helped to elect some Blair-lite blank canvas without ever subjecting their positions to the scrutiny & criticism they deserve? For those of us who don’t want to repeat the mistakes made during the Blair era, that’s pretty critical.
Beyond that, the downside of being silent about policy is that it would keep people with very different ideologies at arms-length from each other and turn the blogosphere into a partisan battleground rather than a talking shop. I doubt that a left-wing/liberal-left/progressive (delete as appropriate) commentator would have much agreement with Tories or libertarians on something like tax or welfare, but there are plenty of areas which don’t fall anywhere on the left-right spectrum. The questions of how you reform a broken criminal justice system, how you move the country away from drug prohibition or how you can move power away from Whitehall all fall on the liberal-authoritarian scale, and talking about them at somewhere like Liberal Conspiracy provides the opportunity to build consensus across political divides which might otherwise have proved insurmountable. Surely we can all benefit from that?
Ultimately, the numbers don’t lie, and if you can have the 3rd highest-ranked blog in the country by having a substantial number of posts on policy, then there must be some appetite for it. Policy is the substance of politics, but it’s also an area where people are more inclined and better-equipped to debate ideas in good faith. If the site can remain a facilitator for that in years to come, then online politics should be in pretty decent shape.
*Yeah, I nicked the post title from a Mates of State song. It’s a good job I don’t get paid for this blog; God knows how much I’d have to pay indie bands for stealing their words.
So… you know one of the slightly negative side effects of this Orwell Prize thing? It’s made me really quite careful that everything I write is, y’know, readable. Granted, this probably has more to do with me being neurotic than it does the prize itself, but there you go.
Long story short: there’ll be some more writing on this site by either tomorrow or Wednesday; just as soon as I rediscover the ability to actually write.