Friday, October 13, 2006

On Politics 4

The old politics survives in the form of purely tribal badges. That is what all the name-calling and abuse is about and it is why blogs have become so politically active. They naturally lend themselves to this kind of tribal warfare, though not necessarily. There are blogs of political ideas, though they seem to be more common in the US.
Cameron's key insight is that there will be people voting in the next election whose lives have been lived entirely in the post-Cold War world. They will naturally tend to think that this tribalism is the whole of politics. Real issues - the environment, terrorism - will be evoked in any campaign to lure these voters but only as the frame that gives apparent meaning to the picture. The picture itself will be profoundly abstract, shifting planes of colour representing various content-free tribalisms.
Actual political issues - global warming, China, terrorism, irrational possessors of nuclear weapons - will, we can hope, be unaffected by this froth. A very hard pragmatism indeed is going to be required of the next generation of leaders. It is impossible to tell if they are up to the task but, so far, this looks improbable. They too appear to have been lost in the petty world of local tribalisms. It is as if, having stared at Ulster so long, we have ourselves become a new kind of Ulster.
All of which is to say that I do get Guido: indeed, I admire him. But he scares the hell out of me.


  1. 1997 was the first election I voted in, and like everyone I knew I was determined to see the back of the Tories. The morning after I had a series of bewildering encounters. Everyone was pleased that the Tories were gone, but when I innocently asked "did you vote ?" hardly anyone of my age (21 at the time) said yes.
    My generation, and slightly older, have I realise a fundamentally childish view of the world. Bad people lie and do bad things, and Good people tell the truth so if you vote for the good people then everything will be fine. I have since regretted voting Labour but I have always felt sorry for Blair. As Guido Fawkes demonstrates there is literally nothing he could do that would penetrate that kind of blind hate. Funnily, I was also born the same year as punk.

  2. You are right to take the scary Guido Fawkes phenomenon seriously. The thing about Guido is that he works on two levels (at least). Ros Taylor was on to something in her deconstruction of him in the Guardian: "Reading Guido's blog is as absorbing and depressing as watching a show trial of the condemned. It's a pitiless spectacle, and the crowd can't take their eyes off it, but it is the very opposite of politics.

    Guido Fawkes is a blog of its disillusioned, exhausted time; it's a blog for the tail-end of the Blair era and the alarming lack of engaging alternatives."

    She conceded "He doesn't much care about the intricacies of policy; he cares about exposing lying politicians. This is inevitably enjoyable." Like the court jesters of yore he jumps around making you laugh and at the same time he slips in a poison-tipped dagger of political malice.

    It is widely reported that Guido Fawkes is the product of Paul Staines - a former speech writer for Rupert Murdoch, James Goldsmith and Margaret Thatcher. Like Kelvin MacKenzie's Sun newspaper of the 80s his blog subliminally advances an agenda - even to intelligent readers. You wouldn't read it if it wasn't for the gossip and the jokes, while you are there you suck in the message - "politicians can't be trusted, they are all the same, they lie, they are untrustworthy."

    To say that Guido is all about name-calling and tribal warfare is shallow. Guido is cleverer than that and a propaganda genius, you never see him on TV, he never does interviews and, as far as I can discover, he doesn't write anywhere else but on the blog. Like Camilla Wright of Popbitch he has media influence without being part of the traditional media.

    That, and the depressing fact that his site is the highest traffic politics website in the country, is why he scares so many. For those of us on the Left the irony is that the most influential "citizen journalist" in Britain is a multi-millionaire and self-described "anarcho-capitalist". What does that say for the prospects of the alternative new media envisaged by Al Gore?

  3. Not to add anything of relevance except to point to a blog that seems to concentrate on Russia and related political issues by a writer David McDuff. You might recognise his name as a translator of Russian fiction. Not that I pretend to follow current affairs in much depth( put this down to an aversion to comitting suicide), Putin seems to have benefited by a generally very cosy portrayal from the media.

  4. I very much enjoyed reading your political thoughts here Bryan. One downside of many of the bloggers is that they do not explicitly say what they believe in. They take the 'modern' appraoch of demonstrating what they hate, often with satire, but leave an ideological hole.

    However, I think the problem that politicians have in this counntry is of a different order to ideological confusion. The 24 hour news media culture has placed new pressures on governments since Major's term which makes independent views within parties very hard to sustain; see Boris Johnson recently or Jack Straw. Therefore debate becomes equated weakness. Good government is thus defined as unified and purposeful, but the price of unity is policy blandess and appeals only to the centre ground.

    This in turn is allied to the first past the post system which effectively means we only have 2 choices; neither of which dare be original in thought and can only move slowly keep everyone on board.

    To really free poliitcs there is a need for a re-organisation of how we vote, probably along Proportional Representation lines. I say this as a Tory myself, not a Lib-Dem. We would then hear more voices in parliament and should have a real political debate again in public.

    A side-effect to this will be that Guido et al do not have one monolithic target to bash at all times as there will be several parties and groupings. Smaller tribes you may say or sinlge issue nonsense; but it would change where we are now of 2 or 3 terms then give the other lot a go. No wonder 40% of people don't vote (and 80% of them have never voted).