Friday, February 02, 2007

Dirty Dealings in the Blogs

Two big stories of a very specific genre are now running side by side. One is Gordon Brown and the Smith Institute, the other is Tony Blair and cash for peerages. The genre is Dirty Dealings at the Heart of Government (DDHG) and it is a familiar - indeed, a perennial - filler of news schedules. The political fallout from these two particular examples of the genre is, as yet, unknowable. But the media fallout is clear. The bloggers have climbed to the top of the news tree. I am not speaking about myself. I don't break news here because my first obligation is to The Sunday Times and I don't do politics very much because, most of the time, my eyes glaze over with boredom at the day to day doings of ugly, mad people in Westminster. It is the political bloggers - notably Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes - who have come out on top. The reason is that DDHG stories move very quickly and individual developments are extremely hard to assess. Naturally cautious mainstream media, as a result, always tend to be slightly behind. Wildly incautious bloggers - Guido in particular - have no such problems. Ah, you may say, but are they accurate? That isn't the point. The momentum, the climate, the flavour, of both these stories is the issue - what they mean, not what they are - and that, I am increasingly convinced, has been generated by the rhythm and tone of the blogs. Furthermore, it is evident that certain bloggers are becoming hubs or clearing houses for a good deal of Westminster score-settling, rumour-propagating and idea-floating. This makes them, for the mainstream media, essential. All of which isn't the triumph of citizen journalism which the most frenzied boosters of bloggery have been promising. But it is something, a fundamental change in the pace and nature of our public spaces perhaps.


  1. Are some bloggers being manipulated, hoodwinked, even? Have they been sucked into the vortex of mendacity and political voodoo?

  2. Probably, Neil, but that's my point. They have become part of the process and changed that process.

  3. A good example of why I've decided to disengage (almost!) from the world of blogging.

    I'm not sure it's welcome development that our news agenda is driven by the 'flavour' or the 'rhythm and tone' of a few well connected individuals, whatever their politics. The 'caution' and restraint associated with mainstream media isn't rooted in deference for or fear of politicians (which would be a worry), simply in the desire to get to the facts and report fairly. I'm not sure the big bloggers have the same end goal.

    Regardless, I take your point that bloggers are becoming more central to the political process. Although I note you've discreet enough not to mention whether you think that's a good thing or not...?

  4. Oh dear. It's getting increasingly difficult to get a handle on things. I think I'm losing my bearings (or should that be marbles). It's a morass. Where will it all end? De omnibus dubitandum!

  5. Cassilis, is it not one of the reasons why someone like you should not disengage?

  6. I'm being discreet, Cassilis, merely uncertain. It is a thing, whether good or bad I don't know.

  7. Well, for my 2 pennies I think it is a good thing. Not that rumour is reported as fact; but that cosy journalistic reporting of Westminster is being shaken up.

    The lobby system and traditions of reporting meant that some racy stories could be hushed up by clever media management.

    I think this it the 'Alistair Campbell /Peter Mandelson' revolution coming home to roost.

  8. Spot on, Unslicker. They have spun an unnecessary cover-up which has now been exposed.

  9. Every day I wonder about giving up my blog. I identify with what Cassilis describes and my political outlook has changed quite radically since I started blogging last year. The closer I get to political animals, the more I want to run away from them.

    I also disappoint myself all the time; that I can’t write a real blog, that I find so many to be full of the vacuous wafflings of would-be politicos. And I find myself disliking my own responses to other blogs. I cannot be mature because I perceive so many of these sensible blogs to be nauseatingly dull, nepotistic to those in the cabal, obsessed with detail instead of the sort of ideas that can always get my heart racing…

    The whole thing is symbolised by 18 Doughty Street. It confuses me every time I watch it. Sometimes I find it fascinating viewing, but so often I get irritated by its narrow worldview, the identikit parade of guests, its assumptions about the UK based on the view from London. They seem to have more Americans on there than people from any city but London. The wider UK blogging community sometimes feels like an extension of this: many ignored, a few lionised. It may be the case that the ‘cosy journalistic reporting of Westminster is being shaken up’ by bloggers, but those bloggers are still cosy with the journalists reporting Westminster.

    There’s a poem of Leonard Cohen’s where he talks about his writing letters to a famous rabbi. When his teacher discovered this, Cohen was forced to write one final letter to say (I paraphrase) ‘I’m not worthy, I won’t write again’. That’s how I often feel as a small UK blogger.

    This blog really is an oasis, Bryan. And sorry for the long comment.

  10. I'm firmly with our host: I don't do politics very much because, most of the time, my eyes glaze over with boredom at the day to day doings of ugly, mad people in Westminster.

    Nothing except Forumula One racing is less interesting to me than extremely unimportant and unscandalous 'scandals' 'exposed' by 'political' 'commentators' and 'pundits'.

    Even re-runs of Yes Minister are too much. I don't think you should judge a politican for at least 100 years or so. And even then it's a dodgy business.

    I like ideas though. And zeitgeists.

    My idea of cutting edge political commentary is Plato's Republic.

  11. David b:

    I will hastily add that The Spine is very funny though. Especially the bits like the Bill Bryson thing. I've been reading it for a while without commenting.

  12. Thanks Brit. That means a lot to me. The Bryson bit on whimsy is my personal favourite but I only ever seem to hear people saying they like the pictures.

    In itself, people’s attraction to an image instead of a word perhaps explains why sites like Guido’s are so popular. They act out plots that are so familiar to us. This scandal will be Blair’s symbolic death. He is suddenly transformed into a villain (read Nixon) and that is easier for people to understand than the reality that he is (like Nixon and Plato probably were) like us all: at times vain, humble, egotistical, proud, weak, strong, fallible, etc...

  13. perhaps bloggers are our equivalent of mad, highly flammable 17th C pamphleteers, writing, printing & distributing their opinions with great speed, then being disembowelled and burnt at the stake.

  14. What substantive issue has Guido got wrong?

    When Michael White, Nick Robinson, Anthony Sampson and a dozen other pundits said the Yates investigation would go nowhere, who said this is the real deal?

    A blog is a software platform. What the best bloggers do is journalism.

  15. An honest MSM hack would no more welcome blogs than blacksmiths would welcome Mr Benz's infernal contraption, ye olde print unions encourage Mr Ward or turkeys would celebrate Christmas.