Thursday, 19 February 2009

Liberty, E-polity, Maternity

A friend just emailed me another of John Prescott's frankly insipid youtube clips, this time directed at Peter Mandelson.

What with his recent online riposte to Iain Dale, that even garnered compliments from natural enemy Guido Fawkes, Prezza is getting a lot of kudos for these "vlogs", but i'm lost as to why. His messages are always facile; his delivery stilted and disappointingly gaffe-free. He's not even important anymore, if he ever really was.

All this leads me to believe that there remains quite a nerdy, wonky edge to political blogging in the UK which the US has been much better at shaking off.

It still feels all so parochial; an online extension of the Westminster village but without any policy decisions or statutory powers. Just bloggers reading bloggers and the odd journo looking for a diary story.

Obviously Guido Fawkes, Iain Dale (and to a lesser extent Labourhome and now Labourlist) penetrate the wider consciousness for those on the look-out but they're hardly brands in their own right in the way that, say, the Huffington Post has become in America.

Certainly there is an element of the mainstream "dead-tree" and broadcast news media shunning blogs. Ostensibly for their lack of accuracy but also, i'm reasonably sure, because they are frightened of opening the door to their future collective demise.

Look at the Huff Post, whose prominent role during the recent US presidential election has given it a springboard to continue beyond the intial thrill people felt at its inception. It forced its way onto the scene, became the news and then became (almost) an equal to the established news outlets. Nothing of that magnitude has happened over here.
Although one cannot deny the money Arianna Huffington threw at it as being a reason for its post-election lifespan, she was not a political "brand" in-and-of herself before the site went live, whereas Draper (Labourlist) and Prezza (Labourlost) are.

Baghdad blogger held our interest because he was the lone (english speaking) voice in a green-zoned conflict and had a monopoly on daily experience. Who on these shores read him on his recent return?

To what extent is it our, the reader's and the electorate's fault? Are we simply unengageable (that's not a word, i know) on any front? Is the internet really only good for porn?

Perhaps we should combine politics with porn - although several prominent Liberal Democrats have already tried it and it doesn't seem to have enhanced their reputations or polling figures... still, i bet they've had a few good nights out...

True, Iain Dale and friends are doing their best to give the online political community a snowball with which to roll by setting up the Total Politics blog database that is linked to their magazine.
But it all feels a little forced and most of the people are unknown and unlikely to be - I should know, i'm on their list.

When i say "unknown", i do not mean that we should be looking for every blogger to become famous or invited onto newsnight with a pixelated face, but blogging can only be considered democratising if: a) people read everyone else's material and: b) the best rises to the top as a result.

But the fickle, chaotic, tit-for-tat nature of British blogging renders these objectives almost impossible to achieve.

If you don't believe or agree with me, take the "Mother Test". If yours is anything like mine, she's only just worked out how to text using her mobile and send emails from a generic account. Ask her to find, without any help, five serious and well-known political blogs or websites that are not extensions of well-known media organisations with established offline content. No Times, Guardian or BBC, for example.

She'll struggle, i'll bet you, and what she comes back with will be arbitrary, random and will offer no insight into either modern British politics or blogging per se. She will have found it an entirely fruitless and unfulfilling hour spent on the computer and will be reluctant to do it again.

Perhaps when our mothers look for their favourite blogs each day, as well as for their daily papers or evening news broadcasts, the blogosphere will finally be doing something right.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Are Conservatives Really Anarchists?

Recent blog postings regarding the BNP being a left-wing party - most notably by conservative blogger Iain Dale (and his readers) - got me thinking.

Loathed as i am to getting involved in blogosphere tit-for-tattery, it's an interesting subject and not one to which rational lefties should offer only a knee-jerk reaction.

It cannot be denied that after various largely unsuccessful attempts, most people now naturally associate socialism with austere, dictatorial rule. With that comes an instinctive mistrust of "social solidarity" or collectivism; the not unreasonable fear that any such system would be coerced and therefore, by definition, empty and oppressive.

But ask many people on the street what they see as being one of the major social problems of our time and they will tell you that drugs, violence and high crime rates are all connected to the break down of common sensibilities; that family values no longer exist.

Problems that socialists believe would be solved in their "ideal" world.

However, history shows us that these are often the same arguments used by the far-Right to justify their xenophobic policies. Political "parties" such as the BNP thrive in areas where the essence of traditional "community spirit" has been decimated and replaced with economic and social migration and insecurity.

Where the Marxist would argue for revolution, so the fascist argues for expulsion. The same root, but different interpretations. So it is true that there exists a blur between extreme Right and Left in these cases.

In such delicate circumstances the Left must tread very carefully and, in my opinion, it usually does. It was, after all, the far-left who set up the Anti-Nazi League - a group that has done much good work opposing the National Front and British National Party movements in this country over the last 30 years.

Equally, in the same way that socialism and fascism overlap in some key places, can't the same be said of right wing, neo-conservative politics and anarchism? For example:

"To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated at, regulated, docketed, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, weighed, censored, ordered about by men who have neither the right nor the knowledge nor the virtue."

Who spoke in such damning terms of the ruinous effects of the leviathan state? Margaret Thatcher? Ronald Reagan? Nope, Pierre-Jospeh Proudhon, one of the founding fathers of anarchism.

Yet it is a statement with which many on the right would readily agree - though none on the right would subscribe to Proudhon's most famous notion that "property is theft", just as no socialist would seek to implement "lebensraum".

The point is that in such a politically fragmented world as the one we live in, it is hardly surprising that there are overlapping principles between even the most disparate ideologies. Surely then, the question must be: what is the ultimate goal of each ideology? What end product would we get if any of these rival systems was uniquely established as the global hegemony?

Clearly we would see stark differences in their respective "utopias".

A large part of this political befuddlement regarding the left/right overlap is down to what i would consider a fundamental misunderstanding of socialist thought. It is often beleived that individualism and socialism are incompatible. This is clearly not true - never has been. Even Karl Marx acknowledged that people "would not be individuals if they were not unequal." He never expected this natural imbalance to change, nor did he seek some artificial means of affecting one.

However, there is big difference between respecting- even celebrating - the individual and countenancing ruthless self-interest by a minority "elite" that repeatedly and increasingly exploits the poorer majority.

That is where socialists differ not just from those who rest fully on the Right but even those fascists whose opinions sometimes, on some points, drift to the Left.