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Monday, December 11, 2006 

Manufacturing hysteria.

There's little worse than newspapers examining their navel, so bloggers would normally be well advised to avoid it at all costs. That said, the manufactured hysteria created by a couple of Tory bloggers (which Obsolete is not going to give the dignity of linking to), over a blacked-up image of David Cameron created by Unity over on the Ministry of Truth, and reposted by Bob Piper, deserves to be examined.

Unity himself has pretty much summed up all the arguments that could be used against his creation in a number of posts, but it's also worth remembering another recent "blacking-up", namely that of Kate Moss on the front of the Independent. Hannah Pool, who has been taken to task a number of times on Comment is Free for her more empty-headed ramblings, wasn't amused, but she didn't suggest that it was racist. Nor did Pickled Politics, which pointed out the pathetic failure to find a black model to play a similar role. It was an attempt to create potential controversy without making any wider point whatsoever; how does a blacked-up Kate Moss have anything to do with the day's side mission, that of raising money for Aids charities? Moss is a drug hoovering clothes-horse that ought to have been sent to the glue factory long ago. She was doubtless laughing all the way to the bank, as it's hard to imagine her waiving her fee.

By sharp contrast, Unity's portrait of David Cameron blacked-up was both meant to and has succeeded in causing controversy and raised legitimate wider points on a number of levels. On one level it's a clear parody of Cameron's sort-it.co.uk wheeze - a patronising and condescending attempt to get down with the kids by err, calling their love of excessive spending the "inner tosser" tendency. On another it's an attack on Cameron's whole agenda of the last twelve months: be everything to every man. He's green, he's promoting the family, he's not fond of "isms", the whole caboodle of contradicting and hypocritical devices to avoid actually settling on any true policies. If Cameron thought that blacking up would help him appeal to someone or something, he'd do it. Then there's also Cameron's moves to try to make the hideously white party reflect society, while we all know full well that there's plenty of grassroots opposition to doing just that, although Unity denies that this was his thinking in making the image.

The outrage has however not descended on Unity, but on Bob Piper. This isn't anything to do with his mirroring of the image; this is purely about the fact that he mirrored the image while being a Labour councillor. Bob at first rightly refused to bow to the manufactured hysteria which a couple of Tory supporting bloggers exploited, but with the story being picked up the BBC, and jumped on by some Tory MPs, he has since removed it.

The issue is compared by the Evening Standard to the email sent on by Ellenor Bland, a Tory councillor. The important difference is that while Bland's email was also an attempt at humour, it was also clearly meant to be insulting to those whom it's targeted against. The only person Unity's image is insulting is David Cameron himself.

The real joke here isn't anything to do with Unity's potentially offensive image, though. It's that this is what politics has become - squabbling, simplistic little point scoring attempts by politically motivated self-styled internet warriors. Is there anything less threatening and laughable than the prospect of being reported to the Commission for Racial Equality? Rather than dealing with the issues that Unity's image brought up, it was instead used to attack a Labour party member who sits on the same council as a real life, Holocaust denying, Hitler-loving racist - Simon Smith of the British National Party, ironically exposed as such by Unity himself.

Blogging was meant to escape all that. If politicians themselves cannot engage in what those of us without party membership or any affiliation enjoy doing and reading, thanks to the politically motivated actions of others, then we will deserve the leaders and representatives that we get.

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