Saturday 18 April 2009

Blog Power

The political headlines of the last few days have been dominated by the news that the Prime Minister employs unpleasant people to do unpleasant things. Forgive me for not being surprised. However, it is good that the worst excesses of spin have been at least temporarily toned down. I take three important lessons from this:

a) The “new labour” Government project has mostly been about presentation, not implementation. True in the beginning (see Sultans of Spin, written 10 years ago) and true now – when almost none of the announced initiatives to help the economic problems have been implemented.

b) Blogs have become important. Not many of them – they are mostly (including this one) self indulgent – but a few are influential. My successful neighbour first introduced me to political blogs. There are lots, mostly just repeating predictable stuff about their interpretation of political events and not worth bothering with. I have settled on three I read regularly (although this blog has a feed from Total Politics magazine’s summary of latest posts from their top 25 political blogs):
Guido Fawkes. Guido is the blogger who broke the recent story, and incidentally a number of other scandals. I enjoy his blog: he is a libertarian who recognises the flaws in politicians (they are after all human), but despises the hypocrisy in so many of them. Most of his posts are not about serious issues – but some are, and they usually present new information (at least to those of us not in the Westminster bubble). He is not (despite some press comment) particularly right wing; he’s (to repeat the point) a libertarian.
Iain Dale. Iain really cares about politics. He networks furiously and therefore keeps up to date with most political issues. He is a conservative (in most ways, my sort of conservative i.e. a bit soft and cuddly). These two are the most widely read political blogs by a long way, and are anti Government. I think there are two reasons why the most popular blogs are not of the left: first, because the left is in power, and comments from an opposition are usually more interesting, and second because blogs are about freedom of expression, the left tends to be about centralised control. I have looked at various labour and liberal bloggers but they all seem full of the usual stuff you would expect. One exception:
John Prescott. I’ve always respected him as a genuine person. He has been mocked for his presentation – but you always know what he means. And his blog is equally straightforward in presenting an alternative point of view

c) Old media (MSM, or mainstream media in blog terms) like newspapers TV and radio have been shown to be at best ineffective and at worst unreliable in telling us what’s going on. Guido wrote about this in the Times (and on his blog): newspapers primarily nowadays write what they have been told to write by their informants. They do not generally apply a veneer of editorial control. The most blatant example recently was the Telegraph spinning the Labour line about the email scandal, apparently primarily because their journalists were drinking buddies of Labour’s attack squad. MSM is usually necessary to bring a story to fruition, as happened in this case, but too rarely does it initiate anything. Other examples: listen to the Today programme. Very rarely do its lead stories talk about what has happened and analyse that; they usually talk about what is going to be announced or happen and talk about what the initiator wants. This is called leading the news, but its really about unthinkingly spinning a line.

What to do? First, recognise MSM for what it is: the presentation of what people want to be presented, and assume its misleading, be it celebrity relationships or Government policies. Second, read/listen/watch more than one media channel, including the blogosphere. I haven't seen In the Loop yet - but I'm sure it will describe the inevitable outcome of the new labour project very well.

Or of course just get on with your life and ignore it all.

In a week when the Government now makes ISPs keep records of what we all read on the web, and a month when it has started to keep records of where we all go on holiday its very satisfying that it’s been caught out because it can’t keep control of its data. But that’s a subject for another day.

1 comment:

Troy said...

I've known you all these years and never realised you were "a bit soft and cuddly"