16 May 2008

Stop Whining!

Politics means hard choices and not just for...
politicians, but for voters too. I believe that the overwhelming bias of this country's media towards the right-wing negative (especially under Labour governments) has conditioned voters into becoming unremitting moaners. To take one example, would the 3,000 deaths on the road be such a minor issue, if it was treated with the sort of coverage the few hundred shootings and stabbings get. Imagine every day, the front page showed a picture of yet another child, teenager or pensioner killed by motorists and then focussed on each case and their families heartbreak over several pages for weeks on end. Think about it.

Looking at the blogosphere there are some fine examples of people analysing political problems we face and offering possible solutions, but there are still an awful lot of whingers out there (as entertaining and funny as some of them are, it is still quite depressing).

For every criticism we write we should also offer alternatives - put our 'balls on the line' and suggest policies we actually LIKE, not just the ones we don't. I would estimate that the blogosphere is at least 90% negative whinging (which mimics the press that feeds it).

Boris Johnson, the Daily Mail owned Evening Standard, Lynton Crosby and the rest of the Tory team have demonstrated just how electorally successful negative campaigning can be. With barely a policy to his name (well few that were actually plausible or that people knew about) Boris finds himself ousting one of the most competent, honest and decent politicians we have had in a generation, who presented a full range of popular policies.

When it came to the issues, Ken would have won on a landslide, sadly people rarely got to hear about the policies and their focus was steered in the direction of a relentless daily barrage of trivial smears on Ken's character and jumped up charges of crookedness that made us believe that unproven alleged corruption by others in Ken's team that amounted to less than 0.00001% of the Mayor budget, was the most important choice facing Londoners. It wasn't, but if you hear about nothing else, mud sticks. The power of the press in this country calls into question whether we live in a democracy or not when a few media barons can have this much power.


  1. Neil,

    who's whining now? Surely it's you, sulking about Ken getting the boot and as usual blaming the media for misleading the dumb public.

    Why don't you follow your own advice, and give Boris some helpful suggestions as to what he should do in his new position?

  2. Well the thing about the three thousand deaths on the roads is that people accept it as a trade off against the great utility and convenience that private car ownership gives to the majority of people in the country. We could massively reduce the number of deaths by instituting a national speed limit of 30mph and covering the country with speed cameras to enforce it. But it is quite clear that the public wouldn't put up with that and would rather tolerate more road deaths.

    I happen to agree with you that we are probably far too panicky about law and order issues. We have had stabbings for hundreds of years but every stabbing now is greeted by the press as if it were the end of civilisation, that we are over-run with 'feral' teenagers - how I hate that term - and that we need another 'clamp down' on knife and gun crime. It's this hysterical reaction to law and order issues that pushes governments into authoritarian over-reactions.

  3. You make excellent points about both bloggers and the media, although you're perhaps a little too hard on the dedicated bloggers, but your article left me with the question "so what on earth are we going to do about it?"

    This is not the same as the usual question when press bias is raised in progressive circles - "what can we do about it?" - because we now have the tools at our fingertips to affect change. The newspapers already know that their future is online, perhaps at some point exclusively so, but that helps level the playing field in favour of those who aren't media barons.

    The revolution might not be televised, but it most certainly will be on YouTube. The US Democrats know this and have developed unique sites and content to counter the likes of Fox News - www.bravenewfilms.org for instance - and the printed media too with the Daily Kos and Huffington Post.

    The candidates also recognise that it's important that the corporate media are not allowed to exclusively set the agenda and the narrative. They have done this by ensuring that what they have to say from HQ is available for everyone (including bloggers) to read via RSS feeds or their website.

    Today I read that Bloggers4Labour are to resurrect their own blogging activity and have called for guest writers to step into the breach. That's good news, but in the main Labour's official response to the Internet age has been slow and lamentable. The vacuum has been partially filled by bloggers such as yourself, so don't be too hard on others for "whining".

    HQ however has permitted blogging behind the MemberNet firewall, which is mostly wasted effort. It reminds me of endless local committee meetings where the agenda item 'campaigning' was relegated to a quick report (usually on how little is being done) before AOB and decanting down the pub. Of course we need to talk to ourselves from time to time, but we need to talk with the public much more urgently.

    Then there is the public Labour HQ website, Labour:Vision, etc. Clearly it's recognised that Labour should be broadcasting directly to the voters using both video and the written word, but it's also obvious that they don't know quite how to do it.

    The website is poor, lacking in both design and content, but more importantly lacking in anything much to involve the public's imagination. Not only will you not find anything close to MoveOn's 'Obama in 30 Seconds', but you'll be hard pressed to find any decent video at all.

    Some might say that the innovation in the HQ website has been in aids to help local campaigning, and the ability to create public blogs and (although hidden from view) design leaflets online is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. Unfortunately the blog-type websites local Parties and elected representatives can create using these tools are themselves often poor offerings. How can it be for instance, that a by-election can be held where Labour's local website fails to publish a phone number for the campaign office?

    When you realise this, the natural inclination is to ask "who the hell in in charge here?" but, just like the information age itself, the power is in our own hands. It would help if Millbank had a real online campaigning arm, but it's not essential to taking on the press.

    The local elections, and particularly the loss of London because of the Evening Standard's bias, has forced me to examine my own conscience. I live abroad so the possible answers to the question "what am I going to do about it" are limited, but I have still be spurred into action.

    I have since 6 May 2008 been working on a new project for Labour. It's in it's Alpha testing stage already and, all being well, will be rolled out in Beta in the next couple of weeks. Until then I can not reveal more and should remain anonymous, but like all 'start ups' it will require the support of others to be a success. It may even take time for people to realise the benefit of it, although I hope it will be obvious to even the most entrenched Luddite.

    The central premise though is that if 'information is power' then Labour must create the tools and the content to bypass the media and speak directly to the voters. Much of the hard work has already been done for us with search engines and news aggregators like Google News just waiting for our information to be found (and equally as importantly) published in the first place.

    If you want a demonstration of the need to address this, try this experiment now: go to Google and search for the name of your locality (your ward for instance). Is anything Labour wrote in the first 10 results? Now repeat the process with Google News. If you were lucky the first time (and most won't be), you're almost certain to be unlucky the second time. That is what we need to change before the next election (and I'm putting my own very limited money and equally limited time where my mouth is on this matter).

    Only time will tell whether I've wasted both, but I'm inspired by Barack Obama's can-do message and think it's time for Labour shout "Yes we can" too!

  4. TT: It is a whiny post - but in most posts on here, I do put forward positives - opening up media ownership, citizen's income, 20mph limits, widen council tax bands, more devolution, less prisons, legalise drugs, choice on abortion, proportional representation etc etc and more controversially, ID cards(in principle) and DNA databases.

    As for Boris, I just hope he doesn't do too much damage - thankfully some of his policies like routemasters and scrapping overseas embassies will be quietly dropped, (if not dropped already). If Boris wants some good ideas he should get in touch with this guy.

  5. Stephen: Most people do accept the trade off, - they might never accept car bans, but perhaps if they heard more about this issue from the press, they wouldn't mind 20mph limits in residential areas and speed cameras in accident black spots.

    What is frustrating is people who blindly say 'its all about revenue' or 'crime is rising' and then when confronted with real evidence say 'I don't believe stats'. These 'stat creationists' are basing their ideas purely on prejudice and hearsay and seem pround of it. All they spout is opposition to every suggestion without any good ideas of their own. What can we do when faced with such glorified ignorance?

  6. Anon: I totally agree and look forward to seeing your ideas.