Monday, November 23, 2009 

The daft correspondence post.

Excuse the lack of an actual post today. Instead I was delighted to receive the following email from Total Politics magazine:

Dear Obsolute,

I am writing from Total Politics magazine. We are a political lifestyle magazine with a circulation of 20,400, including MPs, MEPs, political journalists and all councillors down to district level. Each month we feature a ‘Blogger Profile’ in the magazine. This is a short piece of roughly 400 words, written by the blogger, answering a few broad questions that we set out. I was wondering whether you would consider featuring in the next edition of the magazine in this way? Thanks for your help,

Best Wishes

Catherine Shannon


Catherine Shannon
Editorial Intern

Heal House
375 Kennington Lane
SE11 5QY

T: 020 7091 1260

Twitter: @tp_interns

This message is intended to be received and read by the person(s) to whom the underlying communication is addressed. The contents of and information contained in the message may be private and or confidential. If this message has been sent by mistake or malfunction to you and you are not the intended recipient, you should not make any use of it or otherwise reproduce it for any purpose or disclose or forward it to any person , other than to tell us that you have been sent it in error, or to delete the message without further use. Please would you as a matter of courtesy tell us you have received this message in error by calling us on +44 (0) 207 0911 260

Total Politics is an imprint of Biteback Media Limited
Registered in England Co. No 06455159;
Regd Office: Manfield House 1 Southampton St London WC2R 0LR UK
Trading address: 375 Kennington Lane, London, SE11 5QY

All enquiries to
© Biteback Media Limited 2009

To which the inevitable reply had to be:

Dear Katherine Channon (sic),
I would rather be buggered by a badger than appear in Lord Ashcroft and Iain Dale's self-aggrandising propaganda sheet.

Best Wishes


P.S. A rather interesting biog of old friend Dominic Whiteman has been posted up on SpinProfiles, while the first in the series on immigration are up on Lib Con.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009 


Just noticed, thanks to Socialist Unity, that as well as my entry on inventor of blogging Iain Dale's list of left-wing blogs, I've also rather strangely made 30th on the Labour list, what with my being a card-carrying member and all. It also doesn't make a whole lot of sense: I make 30th on the Labour list and 60th on the left-wing list, yet Though Cowards Flinch, which came above me on the left-wing list (38th), only scrapes into the Labour list at 100.

I'm sure there's some reasonable explanation, and as before, you can't really complain when you don't vote. Dale's mechanisms for voting though are not exactly transparent, and you do have to wonder whether there's any point whatsoever to carrying the entire charade on.

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Monday, January 05, 2009 

Godwin's law and Tory economic policy.

One of the old rules of debate, long before the invention of Godwin's law, was that the first person to bring up the Nazis lost. Unless you want to look like Rick in the Young Ones, even in these times when calling Labour ZaNuLiarBore or similar is considered the height of wit and sophistication, or calling Gordon Brown a one-eyed communist passes for enlightened discourse, it's mostly still looked down upon.

Iain Dale, the nation's premier serious blogger is obviously beyond such subtleties. Opening his article on Comment is Free, he invokes everyone's favourite propaganda minister (no, not Alastair Campbell, or Andy Coulson):

Gordon Brown and his ministers seem to have adopted the Goebbels principle of propaganda, hoping that the more often they repeat an allegation, the more likely a gullible public is to believe it. Over the past month they have repeatedly accused the Conservatives and David Cameron of adopting a "do nothing" approach to the recession, in the hope that Cameron can be made out to be heartless and uncaring. James Purnell's interviews on the Today Programme and 5 Live this morning were classic examples of the genre. Goebbels would have nodded approvingly.

Yeah, shame about him giving his children cyanide pills before he and his wife blew their own brains out, otherwise we could have asked him personally what he thought of Labour's media strategy. By the same token, Dale must surely be concerned about how the Conservatives have repeatedly suggested that the country is either "going bankrupt", "near bankruptcy" or "bankrupt", all of which have been the Tories' refrain for quite some time now, with even less basis in facts than the accusation that the Conservatives are a "do nothing" party. Dale lists some of the other policies proposed by his party, but few of them have been praised by those outside of it, and others such as the proposed tax break for employers have been derided. Few of them would provide anything resembling a stimulus, or one more likely to be spent than saved, which is what is needed, and while the jury is still out on the VAT cut, even fewer of their promises seem to actually add up.

The same can of course be said of the government's policies, which do indeed also deserve criticise, but today's new announcement by the Tories for tax cuts for savers are especially wide of the mark. Welcome as further incentives to save would be once we're out of a recession, it's the opposite of what's needed right now, as Tom Freeman points out. The Conservatives can though of course say whatever the hell they like when they're in opposition, as they're not suddenly going to become the party of government and have to introduce their announced plans immediately, and unsurprisingly the Tory press has lapped up Cameron's latest pronouncement, as they were meant to.

All the rhetoric however masks the fact that if the Conservatives had been in power rather than Labour, they would have in all likelihood have let the market rip even further. Yes, taxes might well have been lower, the public services might well have not had as much money pumped in, the deficit might not be quite so high, but we would almost certainly be in much the same hole. It has taken the recession for the Conservatives to rediscover the "morality" of saving rather than going into debt, and that's something that should always be remembered now that parties of all political shapes and colours decide that capitalism might well need taming after all.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008 

Nadine Dorries just cannot stop lying.

What is it exactly that causes individuals to lie and mislead when they know full well that their untruths are likely to be quickly exposed? Is it because they genuinely can't help themselves or that they've got so used to repeatedly bending reality that they come to believe it themselves? I ask only because a repeated serial offender has been caught once again lying through her teeth:

Today I have received a letter from John Lyon CB - the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards - in response to a complaint made about my blog by a Liberal Democrat (sic).


For the record, John Lyon's letter to the complainant states the following:

"The position is that no Parliamentary resources have been used to fund Mrs Dorries' weblog. Questions about whether its content is consistent with the rules in relation to Parliamentary funding do not therefore arise."

He goes on to state, "No further action on any point is required, and therefore consider your complaint now closed."

Yes, we're referring to the glamorous and flagrant Ms Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP for mid-Bedfordshire, and the complaint made against her by Sunny Hundal regarding her blog being funded out of the incidental expenses allowance (since changed to the communications allowance), which expressly forbids such funds to be used for party political activities or campaigning. Sunny was good enough at the time to put up for all to see the complaint and the evidence which quite clearly showed that Dorries was apparently abusing the allowance, especially regarding her vindictive attacks on female Labour MPs in marginal seats who had a record of voting not to lower the time-limit on those seeking an abortion.

It was therefore a surprise to learn that John Lyon had dismissed the complaint so apparently out of hand when the evidence was so transparently damning of Dorries' conduct. Despite not claiming to know who Sunny was, and also erroneously describing him as a Liberal Democrat, Unity noted that Dorries or her web-hosts had subtly altered the site after the complaint had been submitted, removing the text which suggested that the site was funded out of the inicidental provisions allowance, and ostensibly moving the blog away from Dorries' constituency website, although it was quite obvious that both still used the same address. At the time Unity wondered whether she was going to plead ignorance and apologise, but by the account give by Dorries herself this apparently wasn't necessary, as John Lyon had cleared her entirely.

Except that wasn't the case at all. Sunny, having been busy with both preparing for a well-earned holiday and also attending the Labour party conference, hadn't had time to post himself on the response of Lyon to him regarding the complaint. He now has:

A few months ago I submitted a complaint, with the help of some Liberal Conspirators to the Parliamentary Standards Commission against Nadine Dorries MP. In short, it was regarding her blog. Last weekend I had a response.

The most relevant parts of the letter stated:

The rules of the house, however, do require Members to make a clear distinction between websites which are financed from public funds and any other domain. At the time of your complaint, Mrs Dorries’ website did not meet that requirement. Nor was it appropriate that she use the Portcullis emblem on the weblog given its contents. And the funding attribution on Mrs Dorries’ Home Page should have been updated to reflect that the funding came from the Communications Allowance and not from the Incidental Expenses Provision.

To these three technical aspects, our complaint was upheld. But, the Commissioner adds:

I am, however, satisfied that Mrs Dorries has take effective action to rectify the situation, for which she has apologised…. She has expressed her regret for the confusion caused.

In other words then, the complaint to all intents and purposes was upheld, and not only that, Dorries had apologised for the confusion caused. Presumably because Dorries provided evidence that showed that the blog had not been funded out of the incidental expenses provision after all, as the site claimed, Lyon decided to accept her apology and take the matter no further.

All of this though is rather different to the complete bill of health which Dorries gave her own readers the impression she had been given. She failed to inform them she had apologised or that she been upbraided on 3 separate counts, even if the complaint was not subsequently upheld. Iain Dale, the inventor of blogging, therefore took this up on his own site:

I have waited a few days to see if he might do us the honour of posting about it on Liberal Conspiracy, and maybe apologising to Nadine for the smear. But not a bit of it. He's remained silent on the matter.

There is no apologising to be done because the complaint itself was, as Lyon in his letter to Sunny makes clear, fully justified on almost all counts. Iain though seems to have been mislead by Dorries herself by yet again not revealing the full facts of the matter, and trying to make out that she has been the innocent party through blatant omission of them. Dorries ends her post with the following:

I think this has been a most revealing episode as to his type of politics - it's certainly not mine.

Dorries is of course quite right. Sunny and Liberal Conspiracy made a completely legitimate complaint about a member of parliament apparently abusing their allowance, one which the parliamentary standards commissioner agreed was wholly justified in bringing, and which was upheld on 3 counts, with Dorries herself apologising. Ms Dorries on the other hand has yet again lied to the very people that she is meant to be serving -- her constituents -- through omitting those facts and only revealing the parts of the letter which apparently exonerated her. It shows her up to be fundamentally dishonest, which has been the most overwhelming feature of her politics up till now. I think it's well worth repeating again the final paragraph of a previous post of mine:

Out of all the MPs that this blog has covered over the last few years, it's safe to say that none (with the exception of dear Tony) has been as underhand, as genuinely unpleasant, manipulative, vindictive and dishonest as both Dorries has been and apparently is. She is both a disgrace to politics as a whole and a liability to the Conservative party.

How many more examples of exactly the above does the Conservative party need before it takes action against Dorries for her behaviour? Perhaps that's one that Iain Dale could answer for us.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008 

More shameless self-aggrandisement.

18th on the left-wing list; 60th on the full list, up from 195th last year. Major congrats also to Anton Vowl and 5cc, both of whom broke into the top 155, and Question That, who just broke into the top 200.

Again, huge thanks to everyone who voted for me. It really does almost make it all worthwhile.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008 

Shameless self-aggrandisement.

It would be remiss not to mention that creator of blogging Iain Dale's yearly rankings of left-wing blogs have just been released, and your humble narrator is doubly humbled and really rather staggered to have jumped from 72nd last year to 18th this. A huge thank you to everyone who voted for me, especially considering this is the first I've so much as mentioned the voting here.

For the most part I don't think anyone will have any problem with the results, but doubtless the boycotts which some bloggers, including Justin and Bob Piper advocated hurt them in the rankings when both should have most certainly ranked higher than I did. I really didn't see the point of such boycotts; just look at it as a bit of fun which really doesn't mean a great deal, or at least put aside the differences some have with Iain Dale over it, as it's quite apparent that he's not cooking the figures. It doesn't do any harm, and it most certainly does promote UK political blogging, if not perhaps over the long term.

Anyway, thanks again, and hopefully next year I'll drop to a more anonymous position once more.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008 

Pranked over Cameron's likeness to Obama, while Cameron himself sings from the same old hymn sheet.

It seems then that both I and the rest of the readers of Iain Dale's CiF post yesterday were pranked. Posting on his blog, he writes that the article was first intended for the Torygraph, but that he was then asked to write about Andrew Lansley instead, so he sent his original over to the Grauniad as to not waste it, with the intention of winding up "the Obama supporting fanatics".

Strange then that even after having posted the above on his site, he felt the need to defend his piece in the comments of my own dissection of it. Presumably if it was meant as a wind-up, he wouldn't really have needed to respond to criticisms of it at all. I seem to have got off rather lightly though compared to those on CiF who were rather more stinging in their dismissals:

Good evening and thank you for all your kind words. I especially liked the reference to me being in the Bullingdon Club. Strangely that didn't exist during my time at the University of East Anglia or even Saffron Walden County High School.

Can we really not get over this class ridden language.

And as for Tim Ireland. It will be a cold day in hell. I'm surprised they even let you comment on this site. Mind you, you're in good company among your own kind. Even fewer braincells than the LibDem front bench. And that's saying something.

[prepares self for more torrents of abuse from the self appointed guardian of the blogosphere who must be obeyed or you suffer the consequences]

Which seems like an excellent way of engaging with those not inclined to instantly agree with everything you say.

Speaking as we are of daft posts on Comment is Free, the site is today blessed with a post from the man compared to Obama himself, a certain Mr David Cameron. His main thesis is that politics is broken, and that there are deeper forces at work that underlie how it has come to be smashed to pieces. Both of these forces involve in the internet, the first being blogs and self-publishing, the second being that despite common conception, the youth of today are becoming involved in politics, just not in the "old" ways, but rather through campaigns using social networking.

If this already seems rather dated and close to passe, it might be because Cameron himself made these exact same arguments on the exact same site back in late 2006. Then Cameron was also launching another venture, like he was today. That was the site, which complete with a fake-tanned bloke in a garish suit was aimed at dealing with "yoof" issues and making them think about their "own social responsbilities". The joke was that the suited guy was "the inner tosser", someone who rather than thinking about saving instead urged you to splash the cash. This campaign was such a roaring success that the is still going str.... oh, wait. now instead links to

The exact same response to Cameron's arguments then is still mostly valid now. Of the hundreds of millions of blogs Cameron talks about, only a minuscule number are about politics, or updated daily, which ought to be the yardstick by which they should be measured. Of the 20,000 videos uploaded to YouTube every day, the vast majority are either television clips, music videos or the most inane shit that you've ever watched and will afterwards pray that you could get those wasted minutes of your life back. If someone really wanted to do a study, they could sort those videos into respective categories and go from there. My bet would be less than 5%, if that, would be related to politics.

I am however willing to give Cameron the slight benefit of the doubt on the social networking point now. Facebook was then still only open to college students, or if it had opened up to all and sundry it had only just done so. Facebook undoubtedly is a site where protests movements are increasingly being organised and coordinated from, although whether any of those that started off there have made any major impact as yet is certainly open to question. Again though, Facebook is mostly just a slightly more grown-up version of MySpace and Bebo, with those over 18 mostly using it, and the vast majority are the same self-absorbed individuals interested only in what their friends are doing every second of the waking day. The backlash against the site has also accelerated recently.

The Conservatives then, desperate to look hip and trendy under their somewhat youthful leader, are trying their very best as they were over a year ago to get down with the kids, this time by advertising on Facebook. That most of the web-savvy individuals on there will most likely be running Firefox with Adblock+ or some other combination of browser and blocker and therefore never see the ads seems to have passed them by entirely, but never mind. Of course, that most of those they're trying to target were growing up during the age when the Tories were at their lowest ebb, a collective laughing stock and viewed as the worst possible waste of a vote, not to mention achingly uncool, with nothing having happened since then to change that also seems to have flashed by them without it being acknowledged. The other Conservative wheeze, launching a ludicrous campaign for "friends" to donate to them in an attempt to become presidential candidates in the US, like Obama this time round and Howard Dean before him, who were funded through many small pledges via the web, is also laughable. That the Conservatives are hardly strapped for cash, being donated £2.9m alone by Lord Laidlaw, who just happens to be a tax exile who lives in Monaco, with the grand total donated last year clocking up at £26.4m shows that this is nothing more a PR stunt, with them having no intentions of weaning themselves off of their current sponsors, all while demanding that Labour's donations from the trade unions be capped. Their biggest howls would be reserved for constituency donations being capped, as that's how Lord Ashcroft pumps his cash into the party.

If Cameron really wanted to mend politics, he'd support the one thing that would re-engage the public and ensure that their vote was worth something: proportional representation. Instead, the Tories, unlike Labour back in 1997 who toyed with the idea of PR until they got a whopping majority that meant they didn't need the support of the Lib Dems, think that they can win big enough as to not need it. That is the true face of not just the Conservatives but of Labour too; only when they are not certain of power will they pretend that the public need a proper voice. At the current rate of developing cynicism and disengagement, a whole generation will have lost faith in Westminster before anyone actually acts.

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Monday, March 03, 2008 

David Cameron? He's a lot like Barack Obama, honest...

Let it never be said that Iain Dale doesn't do humour. This paragraph on his piece reflecting on the many similarities between David Cameron and Barack Obama is surely laying it on a bit thick, even by the sycophantic standards of the new believers within the Conservatives:

Cameron and Obama have several things in common, not least what is commonly referred to as "it" - that undefineable characteristic which mixes charisma with charm. They're young men in a hurry, both lacking a political past, facing opponents who were the future once. They find it easy to empathise and shrug off attacks. They share a resilience and an ability to wow an audience.

Err, yes. Except that Cameron has a past that encompasses being in No.11 during Black Wednesday, and adopted numerous positions while just a lowly MP which he now rails against as leader. You can't really deny that Cameron does have something approaching charisma, but compared to Obama, who simply radiates enough to make even this cynical operator start to believe in mass-appeal politics, although he can also at times remind one of a certain A.C.L Blair, he's the equivalent of those disappointed, depressed and deeply alone individuals left behind at the end of a singles night. Dale also overdoes the "the future once" jibe; that drew blood when directed against Blair, but not against Brown. Cameron doesn't empathise, he's instead that much more widely available commodity, someone who pretends to listen but is in fact only waiting for their opportunity to talk. You also get the impression, that like Blair, he'll do anything that might get him some momentary gain, and he also relies on the stunt in order to get coverage, whether it being going to the Arctic with huskies, cycling to parliament while his car follows behind with his documents, or attempting to put a mini-wind turbine on his roof. Obama hasn't resorted to either yet, nor does he need to. I keep referring to Blair for a reason, because he is clearly, despite the jibes against him and supposed distaste for what his leadership has meant for the country, Cameron's political model on whom he bases his own persona on. Blair couldn't be more finished or despised in the country at large, which makes that a highly risky strategy. Obama however is clearly channelling the spirit of Martin Luther King, someone whose stock has never fallen and most likely never will.

This is without mentioning the wider background and cultural differences between Obama and Cameron. Obama was born into a middle-class family, and worked on community projects before representing community organizers, discrimination claims and voting rights cases. Cameron instead was born into a family of stockbrokers, before going through the familiar high society ritual of Eton and Oxbridge. Cameron never came into contact with anyone even approaching a normal member of the public until he became an MP, having previously worked for the... Conservatives and then as the director of corporate affairs for the TV company, Carlton. They can't even claim to both share one distinction over their past: Obama has admitted to using drugs, while Cameron has never owned up to any use of controlled substances, instead appealing for such matters to remain private. Obama is not the establishment, although he might form what could be the new establishment, while Cameron embodies everything about it.

The rest of Dale's piece is better, suggesting how Cameron could adopt some of Obama's stylings to his own advantage, but the whole thing is based on a fundamentally flawed premise that doesn't stand up to even the slightest scrutiny. CiF asked last week where all the right-wing comedians had gone; some wags have already suggested that Iain Dale might be able to step into the breach.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007 

Officially the 195th worst UK political blog.

Iain Dale's list of the top 500 political blogs in the UK has been published, and the results are broadly in line with what I expected. I came 195th, which certainly isn't bad, and again, thanks to those who voted for me. You're the reason I keep going.

I'm not going to bitch too much (Oh yeah? Ed.) about some of the selections and placings, but Lenin's Tomb at 206, on traffic alone should no way be below myself, whatever your thoughts about the political views expressed there. Prague Tory, which actually went into hibernation a while ago, seems far too high at 19, and I'm sure the same could be said for Caroline Hunt at 24. Pickled Politics ought to be higher than 34; Rachel seems relatively low at 49; Bloggerheads has fell massively, probably due to the rift with Iain and Guido, to 57; WebCameron? Fucking WebCameron at 66?; Stumbling and Mumbling deserves better than 70; Luke Akehurst, the Hazel Blears of the online world, is a laughable 72; Mad Melanie Philips, the conspiracy theorist acceptable to the middle classes and the lunatic right-wingers makes 81; the insufferably pompous Noam Chomsky obsessed hedge funder who hasn't managed to get a thing right in years, Oliver Kamm, is 97th; and, which isn't even a blog but rather an archive of his Grauniad articles, makes 129; Not Saussure, if not for his disappearance from the online world, would surely be higher than 160, as would be A Big Stick, Small Carrot, one suspects; Europhobia is low at 168; and finally, Flying Rodent ought to be far, far higher than a shockingly low 252.

Slight update: I got so involved in my whine that I forgot to actually link to the post. Durr.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007 

Liberals, conservatives, Trots, fascists: embrace the BBC.

As Unity notes, Sunny most certainly opened a hornet's nest when he called on CiF for liberals to abandon the BBC, sparking a response by Iain Dale and a heated discussion in the comments, in which I have to admit I didn't quite have my finest hour, suggesting that "geezer" needed to see a psychiatrist.

Sunny has since outlined his exact thinking in more detail, but it's still worth examining the initial CiF article:

Let me be clear on one point: I believed in the BBC not because of its supposed liberal bias but because I view it as as serving the public good. A vibrant democracy needs independent and non-commercial media outlets driven by a commitment to editorial balance. It may be imperfect and its licence fee may be a tax, but using the latter argument to favour privatisation is feeble, since we pay a whole variety of taxes to incompetent institutions that are supposed to enshrine the public good.

There's not much to disagree with here, but as one person pointed out on the Dale thread, it is a little much that we get single mothers and students amongst others getting threatened for not coughing up their £130 quid every year. As much as it pains me to agree with those likening the licence fee to the poll tax, especially as they were probably amongst some of those who originally supported it and might also have an interest in other flat taxes, there most certainly need to be concessions made for those on benefits. This might require cuts, it's true, but more on that later.

The BBC has always come under attack from the political right and left for its supposed bias towards the other side. But the rise of rightwing blogs in the US and UK has encouraged a more shrill atmosphere, where a vast leftwing conspiracy is assumed to exist at every corner.

If you seriously doubt that this is the view of some, you need to read geezer's comments on Iain Dale's thread. There are dangers in seeing conspiracies where there clearly are none; as partisan as some of the attacks on the BBC are, Iain Dale is also right when he suggests that sometimes they have more than a point. The recent BBC reporting on John Redwood's policy group wasn't its finest hour, even if Helen Boaden did sort of apologise, if a little disingenuously, as Private Eye pointed out. It was more indicative though of the way that political reporting in general has gone: whenever a policy annoucement is made, or a new policy thought up by any of the main parties, all the others understandably line up to denounce it, cutting down on the time of actually explaining the proposal, and already setting minds against it, regardless of its merits. A great recent example was the Lib Dem proposal for a selective amnesty for illegal immigrants, which Liam Byrne responded to by saying that those here illegally should go home. Added nothing, was breathtaking in its inanity, but was duly reported.

Sunny goes on to mention the canceling of "Planet Relief" as one of those alleged victories for the right. If it was, then thank goodness for it. It wasn't that it was potentially a breach of the BBC's impartiality that so produced a general reaction of the rolling of eyes, but that it was such an abysmal, pointless idea, another chance for those long missed characters Ricky Gervais and Graham Norton to fill our screens with their wearying presence. Comic Relief and Children in Need, good causes aside, long ago became less about what they were raising money for and much more about showcasing the talent or lack of it of numerous BBC presenters, doing either wacky or silly things in a pathetic attempt at entertainment. Planet Relief would have been worse, except with the added idiocy of watching a show dedicated to raising awareness about climate change (as if anymore was needed) while your plasma flatscreen pumps out however many kilos of carbon while doing so. There was meant to be a proposed mass-turning off to make a point: if it had gone ahead, we could have protested by switching off from the very beginning.

Sunny's second point, about the cries that the BBC is institutionally biased is highly valid, much to Iain Dale's embarrassment.

Thirdly, he mentions the recent furore over Newsround's page explaining 9/11 to the young. The Biased BBC crew (and indeed, a Torygraph blogger and even Roy Greenslade) managed to get the original changed, most significantly changed the What Happened? page from "On 11 September 2001 armed people hijacked four planes that were flying above the US" to "On 11 September 2001 Islamic fanatics hijacked four planes that were flying above the US". That seemed to be a victory for bad English more than anything else, as you can be fanatical about something without committing mass murder in a suicide attack about it. It's since been changed to "Islamic extremists", which is slightly better. As Sunny mentions, the Whiskey Priest rather punctured Biased BBC's argument after he pointed out that the initial Newsround explanation somewhat matched that given by the 9/11 Commission, which hardly blamed the attacks on the America itself, as they were trying to argue the BBC were doing.

Rightwing bloggers and the growing number of newspaper commentators who support them are not interested in editorial balance. As Unity pointed out a few months ago: "... one of the ways in which [the BBC] does serve the public is as a kind of large scale bullshit detector; one that places curbs and limitations on [the right's] ability to push their propaganda through Britain's mainstream media."

There couldn't really be much of a better example of the BBC's occasional attempt at grasping this "bullshit detector" mantle than last night's 10 O'Clock News report on the comments of Cambridgeshire police's chief constable, which set out that this wasn't exactly an explosion in crime as the Daily Mail had it yesterday (see FCC) or the Express today claiming that the police can't cope with rise in "immigrant crime", when all Spence was doing was asking for an increasing in funding. It was decent, balanced and unsensational reporting, examining all sides without passing comment. For once the Sun's reporting on this was decent, even if its leader isn't. The argument of the right is often that the left gets on its high horse over reporting from organisations which don't hide their political affiliation and that to complain about it misses the point, but this itself is to miss it. There's one thing to be a right-wing newspaper and comment on it honestly through their chosen political prism, it's quite another to either then lie in those comments or to let that prism reflect on the reporting, as this site and others have pointed out time and time again. This is how the right-wing media here tries to distort and influence, not through its arguments, but through its news pages.

Secondly, BBC editors themselves seem to have collectively lost their cojones, or at least their editorial guidelines. The first sign of an outraged rightwing blogging campaign leads editors to hurriedly make changes while simultaneously releasing statements that any accusations of bias had nothing to do with it. Who is that going to fool? I would be the first to criticise a Planet Relief full of hapless celebrities pretending they are right-on about climate change as they jet around in private planes. But did BBC editors not bother consulting the guidelines when they first conceived the idea?

To be fair to the BBC, this is also a result of their attempts, post-Hutton to try and be far more accountable than they used to be. Editors' Blog posts, the Newswatch site etc, all are developments that are to be welcomed. If only certain right-wing newspapers followed the example, the exact same ones that attack the BBC time and again whilst dumping the PCC's adjucations on their reporting on a deep inside page, we might be getting somewhere. In recent years the BBC has bent over backwards to be all things to all men, and to an extent this is part of the problem. Posts about the BBC's admitted mistakes are soon followed up by dozens of comments on how left-wing and evil the corporation is, whereas if you tried to do the same on other news sites such comments simply wouldn't be accepted, or they'd be deleted. Compare this to the Daily Mail's comment sections for example on its reporting, which are moderated up to the eyeballs and where there might be a token criticism let through. This gives the impression that these commentators are right when they often couldn't be more wrong. The BBC does need more balls, to occasionally bite back rather than always be craven, but the last thing it should do is cut down on its conversations with its critics.

Now, to my main point. For many of us on the liberal left, the BBC is a useful if somewhat increasingly dumbed-down antidote to the hard-right propaganda of most of the press. It keeps us vaguely sane, so we support it.

Iain Dale thought this "revealing", while as explained two paragraphs up it's actually the real reason the BBC's news outage is worth supporting; not because it's biased, but because it does the job of covering all sides that is often woefully lacking in most other media.

It is only obvious then, that those on the liberal left should stop supporting the BBC. Instead we should continually attack it and expose its rightwing bias. Supporting the corporation or focusing on editorial balance only seems to result in the centre ground shifting further to the right, since they are the only ones complaining.

This is where I completely part with Sunny. The very last thing the BBC needs is to be continually attacked, especially when the campaigns against it are reaching fever pitch and some are licking their lips with anticipation about finally get somewhere. It's one thing to call it on it when it does lean to the right (and for those wondering, MediaLens already does do this somewhat), quite another to withdraw all support and go completely on the offensive when it's often trying its hardest. Sunny responded to my initial framing of this argument by saying "where has it got us?", and while he does have something of a point, to drop our support from an institution that is not just still working here, but is also a beacon worldwide and deeply respected for it is I feel potentially dangerous.

Sunny is entirely right though that we need to be far more critical of the BBC, not just of its news output, but of all of its output. We could start from the basis of Jeremy Paxman's excellent recent lecture not just on the BBC's problems, but with the media's general state at the moment. He identified that rather than trying to be different, the BBC has increasingly followed the herd mentality: rushing off to Portugal on numerous occasions because of the McCanns, which was completely pointless but continued because everyone else was doing it, and commissioning the same old crap reality TV shows regardless of any of their actual merits. Just how many more dancing variants is the corporation going to dream up, for example?

Increasingly, if the corporation is going to survive, it needs to offer something different to everything else that is out there. This doesn't mean abandoning what's popular and just instantly going for the highbrow, but it does necessitate taking a step backwards and examining everything it's currently doing and wondering whether it is just a pale knock-off of something else. There are some things, for instance, that the only the BBC will do and that if it disappeared a significant minority would miss terribly: it gets criticised for the Asian Network and 1Xtra for example, both for being politically correct and for ghettoing their content, but who else would run such nationally available content? They simply wouldn't. The current coverage of the party conferences is also laudable mainly because while the vast majority will view the proceedings as incredibly dull and are probably right, it's about the only time of the year when the parties get to expand their policy proposals in full without being told that they're wrong instantaneously, and it's refreshing for it, something that any other broadcaster wouldn't touch with a barge pole. The opposite could be said of the vast majority of the output of BBC3 for example, aimed at younger demographic but which actually just treats them like morons, something which isn't confined to the BBC, it has to be said. Would anyone really miss it if was shut down, with its most popular shows transferred to BBC2?

Most of all though, its news and current affairs coverage, which could be boosted considerably with no further cutbacks if BBC3 were to be shut down, something the corporation has rejected, needs to regain the indefatigable culture it had prior to Hutton. It's easy to forget that just four years ago it was Andrew Gilligan, hardly a left-winger incidentally, which dared to suggest the government had been less than truthful over the dossiers now instantly remembered as dodgy. Would it do the same if we were to repeat the whole charade of Iran? I somehow doubt it. It's recently cutback on giving voices to Islamist radicals when it would rightly not give the same airtime to the BNP, which was a horrible habit it had fell into, and it could move on from there to really trying its hardest to showcase the full spectrum of views (although not those that are incessantly hateful), something which is often so lacking. It could dedicate itself to getting behind the story presented elsewhere, instead of following the herd. With our support, the BBC could yet vastly improve. Without it, it's only likely to fall further into the abyss.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007 

The blogging counter-revolution.

It's World Press Freedom Day, and the Guardian, being the Guardian, thinks it's a great idea to get an expert to pronounce on how fantastic blogging is and how it's enriching our lives. The expert? Iain Dale.

Being a first class prick, it's not hard to pick some holes in his argument:
Blogs have liberated people who have things to say. There are 70m blogs in the world, and they have become a vital means of communication for people who live in parts of the world where the traditional media cannot remotely be said to be free. It's no coincidence that the highest ratio of bloggers to the population is to be found in Iran.

This is true, but it's also liberated people who have nothing to say, and those who say nothing of any worth. Of those 70m blogs, it's worth wondering just how many of them are devoted to politics, and not your cat, your sex life or your job. Again, millions of those blogs are set-up and then never posted to again, but they still count towards the figures. The amount of blogs that are updated every day with new content and still going after a year is minuscule. Blogging can be liberating, it can be enfranchising, it can be a breath of fresh air, but it's not the greatest thing that's ever happened to the world by a long shot.

Social communities like MySpace and Facebook allow people to interact with likeminded people in a way that the traditional press never can. The challenge for the mainstream media is to catch up with the opportunities to extend press freedom that the internet provides. They ought to be the drivers of opening up democracy on the internet; instead national newspapers and broadcasters seem to have their feet stuck in concrete as they struggle to come to terms with the new media world.

If this seems vaguely familiar, it's because it's much the same point put forward by... David Cameron. He seemed to miss the fact that MurdochSpace and YouTube are not in fact much used for making grand political statements, but by crap unsigned bands, for hosting user-generated videos of idiots being idiots and by the odd ordinary person to showcase their spectacularly exciting life. The politicians attempting to crash the party are the equivalent of the drunk dads and uncles at weddings embarrassing themselves and everyone else by dancing like a spider with no legs to Achy Breaky Heart. Dale has fallen into the same trap.

This is a huge opportunity, but also a threat - a threat to the press. Again, gone are the days when celebrated newspaper columnists would be able to pontificate on the great issues of the days and sit back and think "job well done". These days there are millions of columnists all around the world who can do the same thing - they're called bloggers. Newspaper columnists hate them because they've broken into their monopoly and democratised it. Newspaper journalists only blog because they think they ought to or their editors have told them to. They hate having to podcast, or, even worse, videocast. It's not what they do. They are the modern Luddites. And we all know what happened to them ...

This is rubbish. "Old media" organisations are falling over themselves to catch-up, as evidenced by pretty much every paper except the Independent having numerous blogs and podcasts available. Besides, does anyone really listen to news or politics podcasts? The most popular by far are those produced in order to let people catch up with radio programmes they've missed, and the others are independently produced that have nothing to do with freedom of the press or otherwise.

Some newspaper columnists do hate the interaction that blogging has introduced, but they're mostly the ones that made you want to scream at the newspaper long before they even started having comment sections online.

About the only part of Dale's post that is incontestable is that blogging is and has been a boon to those living under tyranny. The problem is that blogging itself can be used by those who imitate those tyrannies: shutting down debate, re-hashing propaganda and at times, downright lying. You only have to see the very worst offenders to see that this can and will be used at some stage to blacken the name of bloggers as a whole: Little Green Footballs and the like, and EU Referendum's smears and exaggerations of what when on Lebanon during last summer's war instantly come to mind.

Dale himself isn't clean in this area. His response to a mild ribbing from myself was to tell me to "piss off" and that I was a "first-class prick", which by the standards of internet discourse is very mild, but not very impressive from someone who stood for the Conservatives at the last election and who is regularly called upon to inform the wider public of blogging, whether he regards himself as a "blogging expert" or not. The recent blocking of certain blogs that are critical of Dale also doesn't exactly show up Dale to be much of a paragon when it comes to debate, the very thing that blogging thrives on.

In the comments on Dale's piece, Markson probably says it best:
However, it allows for the wildly successful spread of myth parading as fact and objectivity being drowned out by the sheer noise of the blogosphere. People flock to sites that confirm their own beliefs, further entrenching extremism.

There is only so much that other blogs can do to counter this, as there is when it comes to fact-checking the mainstream media as well. Just because blogs are personal and "independent" doesn't mean that they're not open to the exact same abuses and prejudices which the corporate media is. However welcome the rise in citizen journalism and comment is, pretending that all of it is fantastic and empowering is being willfully blind.

Related post:
Ministry of Truth - Freedom? What Freedom?

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007 

This blog loves schadenfreude.

How to look a tit in 3 easy steps:

1. Rip off Andrew Neil's mentioning that Greg Dyke "might" be considering standing as a London mayoral candidate by claiming it as an "exclusive" after you've consulted with your friends in the Tory party.

2. Don't bother to check this story with err, Greg Dyke, and play down the idea without mentioning that you support your mate Nick Boles, while still quoting his "spokesman".

3. Insult Greg Dyke by saying he gave a "cringeworthy performance" and that he is "all over the place and the Conservatives should have nothing to do with him" when he clarifies the story, thereby covering your embarrassment in starting the whole sorry debacle in the first place.

Yep, Iain Dale truly is a blogging expert, at least in making the rest of us look stupid.

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Monday, February 12, 2007 


Iain Dale, in his smug and condescending way, has offered something of a ceasefire in the blogging civil war, even if it doesn't really look anything like one. He also offers something of a explanation over the "nihilist" incident, which while not going far enough, is enough for me to remove the liar button from the sidebar.

When Tim at Bloggerheads launched his opening attack on Guido, I was on the fence. Since then, the behaviour of both Paul Staines and Dale towards Tim, as well as that from comment makers on both of their blogs (especially from Caroline Hunt, who if I was being unkind about would suggest was one letter out from being perfectly described by her own name) has led me to be increasingly sympathetic to Tim's cause. Attempts to paint Tim as either a New Labour hack or a Brownite are laughable, as anyone who took the time to browse his archive would realise.

Equally amusing was Guido's flailing about yesterday, muttering darkly about m'learned friends, after a number of blogs picked up on a couple of decades old report about Guido wanting to link the Federation of Conservative Students group with the BNP. Untrue and ancient as it might be, and I personally feel bringing up such old stories is counter-productive and petty, it showed Guido, who had previously mocked attempts to silence him through the libel laws and stated that he was untouchable, as being just as quick to jump to potential litigation as some of his own victims.

Tim himself has replied to Dale's post, and Unity has as ever made a typically excellent response which addresses and explains many of the issues of what has happened over the last month or so. Guido has agreed to an interview with Sunny, which should be interesting, while Curious Hamster, who found himself involved, has also made clear his views. Let's see how long, if at all, it holds.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007 

Iain Dale is a lying liar.

I've been monitoring the on-going blogging civil war, but haven't felt the need to join in or further comment mainly because I have very little to add. That, and some of it bores me to tears, but finally Tim's digging at both Guido and Iain Dale himself has resulted in Dale coming well and truly unstuck:

Here, much to Iain's annoyance, James Oates names my "comprehensive demolition" of Guido Fawkes as his blog of the week. James then goes on to say:

"(Guido) is a nihilist, effectively... and I really think that's what Tim Ireland is pointing out..."

Then Iain Dale interjects with this:

"Well isn't Tim Ireland one as well?"

Now technically, it could be argued that Iain was merely asking if I was a nihilist; not stating a fact, merely asking a question... but let's pop back to Iain's denial, less than 24 hours later:

"I never said anything of the sort. Seeing as until I just looked it up I hadn't got a fucking clue what a nihilist is, I'm hardly likely to call you one, am I?"

But Iain did say something of that exact sort, and any reference to the dictionary would have been completely surplus to requirements because he threw the same word back in a guest's face just the night before!

An apology would surely not go amiss, Mr Dale.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006 

Revealed: press buying and selling private information on a grand scale.

From Iain Dale comes news of the newspapers caught out using the services of just one private detective, who, unfortunately for them, had been keeping meticulous records of who was paying him for his work, all seized when his house was raided:

1. Daily Mail - 952 incidents by 58 different journalists
2. Sunday People - 802 incidents by 50 different journalists
3. Daily Mirror - 681 incidents by 45 different journalists
4. Mail on Sunday - 266 incidents by 33 different journalists
5. News of the World - 182 different incidents by 19 different journalists

This information is from a report that the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, is to submit to parliament tomorrow. The leaked contents Iain Dale has published don't match the more vague details obtained by Lord Ashcroft via the Freedom of Information Act (PDF), which remember, Blair and Lord Falconer want to drastically curtail, so hopefully Thomas's report will provide the full details of all the newspapers involved tomorrow. Whether Thomas's report will also actually name the journalists who made use of the services provided by the private dick is unclear.

As Dale also points out, this is the information from only one private detective agency, which looks to be the one which was a favourite of the Rothermere press. One can only surmise that most of the business for News International was done elsewhere.

Unless this exposure and the hoo-hah over Clive Goodman brings about a step-change in journalistic conduct (snigger) then it's additionally worth recalling that our blessed government is creating the biggest database in the Western world for the ID card scheme, and another huge one, the NHS "Spine", both of which are likely to become a goldmine for tabloid hacks looking to perform hatchet jobs on celebs and those accused of crime. When it seems apparent that information is already being bought and sold from the Police National Computer, one can only imagine how the hacks are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of getting medical and personal information even easier than ever before.

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