R. North -vs- The British Blogosphere
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Link: EU Referendum.
Any new medium, for a while, unites those who use it. Years ago, I had a pre-internet email account on a client’s global private network. We happy few “users” played with the new informal conventions of electronic communication. They were, in those days, shaped largely by the fact that most people “important” enough to have email had never learned to type. I could type and my emails were, in consequence,
famously notoriously long and grammatical.
Even after the internet made email commonplace, for a while it by-passed the employees who usually screen the “important” from the world. No longer. Now it is just as likely as the Royal Mail to bring garbage into your home or office.
Does anyone remember the CB radio craze? People with literally nothing to say could be heard on the airwaves saying precisely that. The medium was the message for a while, but eventually died for lack of content.
Blogs have plenty of content - of varying quality - but in these early days, political bloggers in Britain are in a similar position. They are few and study each other's work too closely. There is an incestuous cliquey feel to their blogs. Mostly they are not yet addressing the general public. They are talking to each other, or even to themselves. The ones with the most readers, like Iain Dale's Diary and Guido Fawke's Blog are the least "bloggy"; i.e. they least resemble the old BBS systems of the early days of cyberspace.
At this stage, perhaps it is inevitable that political bloggers feel a kind of "connection" with their fellows of whatever views because of their common medium. Mocked by, and united in contempt for, both the Mainstream Media (MSM) and dinosaur politicians, they cling together in defence of a pastime seen as weird and nerdish, but about which many are truly passionate. The intense and aggressive rivalries of the US political blogosphere have not yet developed, perhaps because of this "clubbiness" - which is a very British vice.
My children see computers as prosaic tools, no more exciting than a pencil. I can't help still seeing them as magic. Perhaps the novelty of blogging needs to wear off before its true utility becomes clear.
A few months ago I tried, as an experiment, to spark political debate by commenting not on like-minded sites but only on those of political “enemies”. It struck me that bloggers were like solitary goldfish in isolated bowls, blowing bubbles at passers-by but not really engaging with each other. The results of my experiment were tediously friendly and welcoming. Nice young Lefties and neatly bearded Muslim radicals welcomed my “misguided” comments and engaged me in polite debate, without yielding a square millimetre of ideological ground.
It seems that age of peace and mutual understanding is now over.
I became aware of Richard North’s EU Referendum site relatively early in my blogging career. I subscribed to and monitored it, but it did not stand out greatly from others of its type. Richard writes well, but so do other bloggers, or at least the ones I can be bothered to keep reading.
Richard hit blogging pay-dirt during the recent war in Lebanon. Completely off-topic for his site, he tracked MSM deceit and/or Hezbollah media manipulation. It was great stuff, carefully researched. Rightly so, given the life and death issues concerned. You wouldn’t accuse your worst enemy of waving a dead baby around for political effect, without being sure of your facts.
I haven't checked his research, but I am sure it was meticulous. How? Because the MSM would have loved to catch him out - but couldn’t. He was sniping at them relentlessly. His series of posts was picked up and publicised by the big beasts of the American blogosphere (which I realise is a bad metaphor in relation to the petite and distinctly non-beastly Ms. Malkin).
Richard’s peers applauded. It was powerful stuff. It was a good example of what blogging could be about - making sure truth is not lost, even as the bulk of the MSM herd is stampeding (or being driven) away from it. But it went beyond blogging. It was real journalism; not comment, not “op-ed”, but factual reporting on an important subject.
For better or worse, that is not what most political bloggers do. Most of us are simply opinionated people, frustrated by the fact that our opinions are not heard. Why do conservatives dominate the British blogosphere? Simple. Leftists, statists, islamo-fascists, reactionary Greens longing for the Middle Ages, interfering busybodies who can’t get enough new laws, are all catered for royally by the MSM. Even the Daily Telegraph calls for laws on subjects that are no bloody business of the state. If you want to read a “small government” viewpoint, you had better write it yourself.
The best libertarian site, Samizdata, says it all in the name. In Soviet Russia "самиздат", or “samizdat” (self-publishing) was the only, dangerous, way to publish anti-state views.
To express or vent deeply-held beliefs and pent-up views, doesn’t need much research. I am a lawyer and blog about new laws occasionally. The draft laws are on the net for all to read (I wonder how many hits they get), so I can access them from my Moscow home and comment to my heart’s content.
I don’t need to doorstep the mighty for their views or otherwise slog it out in the journalistic trenches. Even were I so inclined, I have no time. Blogging is my therapy and my recreation, serious though my subject-matter is.
Others contribute to the debate in their various ways. My favourite British blog is The Devil’s Kitchen. DK is primus inter pares of the “swearbloggers,” as he has dubbed them. He started blogging, like me, to relieve his considerable frustrations about contemporary politics. He does so in his own special way and with a distinctive “voice” that I - and hundreds of others - could now pick out double blind. He says he never expected to be read. Less plausibly, he claims he never expected to be found amusing. He is, in fact, bloody hilarious and better therapy for the Dark Ages of British liberty than anything but wine, sex or a good fast car.
My second favourite is Guido Fawkes. His blog is neither politically-serious (he'll delete any serious political comment), nor particularly therapeutic. It’s a gossip column, pure and simple. It’s fun, but it’s not typical of the new medium. If a national newspaper would give him a daily column, only its libel lawyers would cramp his style. The technology has nothing to do with what he does. It was done in his name-sake’s day and will always be done, one way or another.
Iain Dale is perhaps more a citizen of the blogosphere than Guido. But then perhaps not. He’s the most political blogger, not because he writes much about political issues, but because - as he’s on a candidate list and subject to party discipline - he says things that are more politic. His gossip is more girlish than Guido’s and his politics too diluted to be very engaging. But he has an eye for the political main chance. It will be interesting to see how his blog, now an institution, fares when he finally gets his snout in the Westminster gravy.
Richard North has now turned magisterially on the British political blogosphere. He rebukes those he would once have considered his peers for their schoolboy humour and lack of seriousness - in short for not being like him. He’s gone a bit Polly Toynbee on us. Does that matter? Why are so many upset by it? Do they lack faith in what they are doing, to be so rattled by one man’s opinion?
I am not going to join the chorus of pain. My blogging has given me far more than I expected from it - perhaps because I began - like DK - with few expectations. Here in Russia I can’t join the Conservative Party or run for my local council. My friends and colleagues are from almost everywhere but England. None of them care about the terrible things New Labour is doing to the country that, despite my best efforts, I still love.
My blog has allowed me to “talk” about my concerns. It is therapeutic for me and for my poor wife who was the only person with whom, pre-blog, I could discuss these issues! I am less of a political bore with her, I think, because I get it all off my chest here.
All I ever wanted was to light a candle, rather than curse the darkness. I have been pleasantly surprised to find, principally on the sites of bloggers who have commented here, that there are an encouraging number of other candles lit.
I have no illusions about the influence of political blogs, serious or frivolous. In any event, as George Washington said, "Influence is not government." I still fear that, given mass apathy, Britain will soon become a police state. Many of the necessary mechanisms are in place, however well-intentioned the measures that introduced them may have been. All that is now needed is for good men to do nothing, which is what most good men seem inclined to do.
Eighteen months of blogging, making like-minded political friends in cyber-space have given me a better metaphor than the goldfish bowl. Like the Irish monks of the Dark Ages, we are keeping the spirit of liberty alive in our electronic towers. With due respect both to Richard and those he has critiqued, there is room in the darkness for all of us.