What blogging can and can’t achieve

5:59 am - December 4th 2007

by Gracchi    

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Never Trust a Hippy has a good piece on what blogging can and can’t achieve over at his place. He suggests that blogging in the UK has only managed to do two things. There are rumour and scandal mongering blogs like Guido Fawkes- who are attempting to become a British Drudge report. Then there are blogs which lead intellectual discussion- Matt Sinclair, Chris Dillow and others come to mind. Its an interesting point and to be honest I agree in part with Paulie about this- the best blogging I have come across has not been partisan but has been the thoughtful bloggers who work on a more interesting brief than those digging up new email systems in Downing Street, dodgy donaters to any party or racist activists. All that stuff is to me of limited interest- it has its place- because of Watergate and subsequent events the political landscape is obsessed with scandal. Actually scandal is pretty boring compared say to the discussions about how we can and should govern ourselves.

So I agree with Paulie largely- but I differ from him in one perspective and its something I don’t think anyone in the UK blogosphere has really thought about. The Americans are obviously years ahead of us in readership and in the influence of blogging- and there are big differences in the market for political blogging- there is no Guardian website equivalent in the states- furthermore the British newspaper market has always provided partisan commentary in a way say that the New York Times or Washington Post in the States have never sought to provide. But the American example is fascinating- because its interesting to reflect for a moment on where and on what the blogosphere has had a real effect on politics.

To stick to one site on the left for a moment, consider Daily Kos. Kos performs a number of functions on the American left- but to caricature his biggest successes in terms of influencing politics have come in sponsoring or promoting candidates who are second tier in the states and have been neglected by others. You could think of Howard Dean’s Presidential campaign, you could think of Ned Lamont’s challenge to Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut senatorial primary, of Jon Tester’s run for the Montana senate and of a number of other races. Kos and others like him have been effective at promoting people who were second tier, not known much and creating a momentum behind them. The Democrats have raised vast amounts of money and got large numbers of volunteers to work through the web. You could say the same thing has grown on the right behind the ‘no hope’ candidacy of Ron Paul: Paul would be nowhere without the millions raised on the net, the volunteers that he has produced through the net and is now running in high single figures in New Hampshire and Iowa.

It is hard to see how that might work in the UK. Central party organisation means that there is much less space for a grassroots campaigning support for people on the web. We can overestimate the degree of centralisation in British politics- local campaigns can work (say in Wyre Forest) and on both sides millions have been donated directly to the campaigns in marginal constituencies particularly between elections. I’m not sure though how directly this model will work in UK politics- constituencies aren’t like states- politics in the UK is far more centrally directed than in the US. The donation of a thousand individuals might effect a local campaign, but they are nothing when compared to the money that a Mittal or Ashcroft can pour in to the central party coffers. Local MPs often lack identity beyond their position as lobby fodder- though again one can imagine mavericks or charismatic individuals getting support from the blogosphere which would help them in marginal seats. In general though the structure of politics is much less hospitable for bloggers in the UK- much more centralised, much more national than politics is in the US.

Obviously things can and might change- and will have to change if the British political blogosphere is to have more of an impact- but at the moment the British blogosphere is a pale shadow and imitation of its American cousin.

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About the author
'Gracchi' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He started a blog last year which deals with culture and politics and history, where his interest lies. He is fascinated by all sorts of things including good films and books and undogmatic discussion of ideas. This seems like a good place to do the latter... Also at: Westminister Wisdom
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Reader comments

Have you seen larvatus prodeo in Australia? It’s a fantastic group blog from the left of centre and also operates in an environment of strong central party control. They’re having a few technical troubles at the moment…

This is their usual home:


And LP in exile:


Should’nt we refer specifically to political blogging? There are millions of blogs out there and the vast majority have absolutely nothing to do with politics. I know for some people (no names etc) the only ‘proper’ blogs that exist are political ones but they, and their blogs, are very much in the minority.

Gracchi isn’t interested in scandal and rumour and maybe, like many others, looks down on Guido and similar bloggers because they lack ‘intellectual’ rigour. A rather strange objection to a blog about a subject (UK politics) which is hardly distinguished for intellectual rigour itself!

Actually scandal is pretty boring compared say to the discussions about how we can and should govern ourselves.

Really? It seems that all the papers, periodicals and TV programmes have got it completely wrong then this week and what we should be seeing is long-winded essays on the future of liberalism or social cohesion or some such topic. (which are all covered regularly in serious political publications anyway – and usually far better than on any blog).

Politics is a dirty business and it’s all about power. Intellectual chin-wags won’t lead to the demise of Harman, Alexander or Brown. If this administration becomes fatally wounded it won’t be because a few dozen bloggers exchanged comments somewhere on the internet. It will be because of scandal, rumour, whistleblowing, ego and hubris. The intellect won’t get a look in.

A few quick points:

1. The US is a much larger country than ours, with a shared language. The dynamics and economics of their media mean that things that are possible there are not here. I’m not convinced that the US offers us an idea of what the future holds for us here.

2. The obsession with Westminster politics is partly a product of a homogeneous media – and this, in turn, is a significant contributory factor to the accelerating levels of political centralisation that were observed in the second half of the 20th century. Your fellow Conspirator, Chris Dillow, had a very good post about ‘Adler Superstars’ a few days ago here:


Perhaps Westminster figures are also Adler Superstars? And perhaps a social media that gradually promotes more multi-lateral conversations will change this for the better (I’m optimistic on this, though it would be tough to produce any concrete evidence for or against).

3. This lack of evidence is, in itself instructive. We don’t know what’s really happening and we can’t predict very much. ‘Blogging’ is still really in it’s infancy, and is likely to be blindsided by other emergent phenomenon in due course. I’ve not even seen much of a definition of blogging apart from ‘the use of the same sort of content-management software for diverse purposes’. We can only guess what social media will achieve – and how far it will provide a ‘revealed preference’ – perhaps as entry-barriers disappear, we will actually get the media settlement that we really want? And then, maybe, we will regret wanting what we’ve wanted all along?

Personally, I want anything that will help to improve representative democracy and decentralise government, and at the moment, I’ve not seen anything that has worried me on those fronts.

I agree with Mike on both counts. The intellectual stuff might be what interests ME, but I’m not fool enough to think I’m not in a tiny minority. And the political blogosphere is a tiny and insular part of Britblogging. The successful brit blogs are ones like Girl With a One Track Mind, Bad Science, TubeWhore… Some of them have political leanings, but none of them are overtly political, possibly precisely BECAUSE the newspapers already fill the (quite limited) market for political blogging in their opinion columns.

I think if political bloggers want to make more of an impact they want to start talking to other, “normal” bloggers, and not just reading and talking to each other. Think about the Craig Murray thing. The political blogs were howling about it for ages. But when the SPORTS blogs picked it up, people started to take notice.

Millenium Elephant is probably the most prominent Liberal political blog that I read avidly, and you know why I added the fluffy one? Because of the Doctor Who content.

Sorry Mike – I think we both submitted our comments at the same time. I don’t agree with this:

“There are millions of blogs out there and the vast majority have absolutely nothing to do with politics.”

Here’s my back-of-the-fag-packet breakdown.

– A small number of blogs that only post on Westminster / Holyrood / Stormont politics
– A larger number of blogs that largely cover the above – along with wider philosophical issues that touch on politics
– A number of blogs that have the opposite balance (and points along the scale between Kremlinology and wider political issues
– A number of blogs where individuals focus on specific policy areas that they are very interested in, or have on which they have some expertise
– A much larger number again that post on loads of things but occasionally touch on either Westminster gossip OR wider political pheonomena
– Loads of blogs where individuals comment largely on things around them – their work, their neighbourhood, etc, and very occasionally they touch on both Westminster gossip and less personalised issues like liberties, culture, the quality of goverment services etc.

I would argue that – while a handful of ‘superstar’ blogs (this one included) get lots of hits each day, they are the peak of ‘The Long Tail’ – and that the general bubble of public conversation on low-volume blogs – sites that have a multi-lateral conversation going on – is where the real ‘politics’ is happening. It is also where the vast bulk of page impressions are being recorded. For this reason, I think that capital-P Political Blogging is over-rated. It is not as important as we think it is.

I hope I’m right about this, because if I am, from a liberal / social democrat point of view, this is very good news.

In an earlier US election, the biggest influence from the blogosphere rather seemed to be “The Drudge Report.” I think you can see Guido in a similar mode to Drudge, which is to say they are really “political news/gossip” outlets.

This suggests that the time for more “political action” sites is yet to come in the UK blogosphere, rather, we’re still at that earlier point of development. What made Drudge so powerful at the time is that he was prepared to run on rumour that established outlets were not ready to print/broadcast because they didn’t have evidence. Then the mainstream could jump on it “Drudge claims xxx.” Guido would seem to be in the same mould although UK libel law might slow him down at times.

Guido and Drudge aren’t really “bloggers” per se, so much as media outlets who happen to be on the internet. However, whilst the next wave in the US did come through blogging, I have to wonder if the next wave here will. Blogging is already old hat. In the UK a lot of blogs are attached to existing political structures. You’d have to suspect that if a new perspective is going to come from the UK internet on politics it’s going to come from one of the social networking areas.

That aside, the DKos model of direct influence comes mostly through:

a) Money
b) Volunteers

but as Henry notes, it’s a lot easier to gather enough of these to have an influence at more local levels. Then you might grow towards national influence. The difficulty in the UK is that at local levels it’s not clear how much more money and more volunteers can swing a parliamentary seat all that easily, or even make an impact on council elections.

Any regular campaigners got a view on this? Would extra campaign volunteers make a difference in your last campaign, given they came from a geographically disperse website (i.e. they were mostly not local.) What about money? What amounts of money would actually make a difference in a UK election campaign on the local level?

I forgot the other aspect of US politics, developed not by blogs originally, but by the Christian Right. Mass letter campaigns. Part of the evolution of DKos was around creating a left (ish) venue for organising large scale letter campaigns to influence the media by criticising or praising particular actions/statements and influence companies by threatening boycotts and bad publicity.

Paulie, you are absolutely right about emerging technologies. Some prominent political bloggers are well behind the curve. Microblogging, tumblelogging and the widespread use of social apps like Facebook as well as some newer applications due onstream in 2008 are all changing the face of what, up to now, we have referred to as ‘blogging’ which is, essentially, establishing a web presence. Personally. I’d love to see the term ‘blog’ dumped for good!

Jennie, you are right about the wide spread of blog popularity. The most popular search term this year has been…Britney Spears – OMG! Maybe I should start a blog called ‘Britney and Paris do UK politics’, or something 🙂 Which brings me to Paulie’s point about the ‘long tail’. It’s been shown pretty conclusively that the ‘long tail’ in advertising income for bloggers produces almost nothing for the blogger. It pays to be ON the long tail but not IN it. In the same way UK political bloggers outside the top few hundred or so (the long tail) are getting an average daily number of unique visitors in single figures! As someone once said, that’s not blogging it’s merely typing 🙂

There certainly are many blogs which touch on political (small p) subjects in some way or other but I’ll stick by my contention that the majority (here and worldwide) almost never refer to politics in any meaningful sense (and pictures of Hillary Clinton dressed as a witch don’t count).

It is my firm belief that the future of UK political blogging has got to be in local issues. This, surely, is where positive results could reasonably be expected. This is where citizen journalism as opposed to citizen essay writing could make a difference. When we refer to the MSM we hardly ever seem to be talking about the local media which is almost universally abysmal. Dependent, as they are on local businesses and official contacts local papers avoid contentious issues almost entirely. It’s an area ideally suited to web based citizen publishing. Unfortunately there isn’t a decent sized audience out there – yet. Spend a day in your local paper shop and ask every customer who buys a local paper about blogs and blogging and I guarantee you’ll see more blank stares than you’ve seen in your life. And I don’t have any answer to that problem 🙁

On reflection I wonder how many ‘political bloggers’ are going to get excited about holes in the road, refuse collecting and the placement of zebra crossing when they could spend their time trying to change the whole world :-))

Obviously, like the French revolution, it’s too early to say how this will all pan out.

There’s a few points I’d like to make about the above comments.

1) First, much of the high-traffic that Guido and Iain Dale get is a direct result of the media coverage they get and thus become brand names. Obviously, the fact that they run light gossip or poke fun make them easily accessible, but you can’t get that far ahead in visitor numbers without the media spotlight. I think their content is less a factor in visitor numbers than the publicity. That means the opportunity exists for other blogs to also make a name for themselves.

2) The views about American blogging are correct but I feel one of the reasons why there are more readers on American blogs is because the general quality is better and it is very empowering.

In other words, American bloggers are much more gung-ho about getting things done as activists (as Daily Kos shows, but there are many others) which empowers people and they keep coming back to see how they can play a part in ways the normal system does not offer. The libertarians who have backed Ron Paul are also a good example.

3) I actually think the obsession with Westminster puts people off, and its one of the reasons why I want to avoid that here and focus more broadly on issues rather than political parties.

On how we can be different

1) Partisan political commentary – of course Comment is Free fills the same gap, but I think there is a need for a space that takes a broader look at liberal-left politics in a very partisan and aggressive way and wants to figure out a way forward.

2) Campaigning – Something we haven’t yet built up yet but there are plenty of plans by myself and others to do so. Eventually I think campaigning is what will make LC more empowering and different from most political blogs AS WELL AS the mainstream media itself. That is the basis on which the LC bloggers were signed up. I was explicit about my plans on campaigning.

3) Covering stuff that the MSM won’t do. Here I mean stuff on trade unions, obscure political candidates (like Daily Kos did with Ned Lamont) and media analysis. I’ll be saying more on this in the new week or so.

There’s another point to make here. I feel one of the main drivers of the American blogosphere is their use of narratives to make it a big scrap and a big fight. Politics there is so partisan and angry that people line up on either side in a war-like manner.

The progressives see themselves as trying to get back the liberal consensus that the Conservatives stole from them with concerted efforts over the 80s and 90s through direct mail, syndicated radio and investment in think-tanks etc. So the left is angry and the blogosphere is the only place that is articulating that anger and proposing to do something about it.

I think that lefties here are not agggressive enough and too willing to give ground to the right in the name of ‘balance’. Let the newspapers do that. Let the BBC do that. I don’t want to have any pretensions to find a balance on politics and strive towards consensus.

I’m quite open about the fact that I’m on the liberal-left and those are the ideals I want to see out there. Those are the ideals I want to promote and develop.

“In the same way UK political bloggers outside the top few hundred or so (the long tail) are getting an average daily number of unique visitors in single figures!”

This is where it pays to be a female blogger, blogging about EVERYTHING and then having a separate bit for politics that’s still attached to your main blog. Your average, focussed, generally male blogger has yet to cotton on to the conversational aspect of blogging that comes naturally to female bloggers [/rampant sexism]. This is why, when my better half went to the Lib Dem blog awards, and told me about the readership figures of the top ten, I was genuinely confused by the fact that I get five times the readership on a private, friends locked, personal blog…

Which is why I say that political bloggers need to talk to non-political bloggers more. If only because it will massively increase the reach of their words.

I agree with tons of these points. The article was much more closed than my actual view is. Let me deal with a couple.

a. Yes Drudge is still key in the US and I suspect that Drudge like alternatives in the UK will be key as well. I should have said there were alternative ways to blog apart from the Drudge Guido model. I’ve never regarded that personally as an option for what blogging does.

b. Yes non-political blogs are great and have a massive influence. I don’t write only about politics at all on my own personal blog but try and write about film and literature and tons of other things too so I’d fit into a personal blog with politics motif. I would never discount personal blogging and also I think it has an effect on politics- too much stuff is too narrowly political at the moment in the UK sphere, I plan to write an article for LC at some point on that theme- that we neglect the other ways that we can learn about life (and hence politics as a subsector of life) at our peril.

c. Sunny’s point about bias. I’m against balance but I would take a different slant from Sunny in part because of my different preoccupations- I think that we should be tough on those bloggers that don’t engage with arguments- but where people do no matter where they come from you should treat them as you are treated by them. One of the things about a discussion is that it can improve both sides- I notice that in my debates with various rightwing bloggers.

d. I suppose that ties into a theme I didn’t explore which is the way that blogging can enrich everyone intellectually as well as politically- I think it can change our minds and make us learn things- and I’d agree with Paulie there. I think social media has a lot of capacity to do that and definitely that’s the principle reason I am a blogger.

e. Having said all that there is this question of impact- the US blogs have done well by having a campaigning impact particularly for Lamont on the left or Paul on the right- you could name other examples- I wonder if the UK blogs could do more of that. Take a candidate like Richard Taylor- I wonder whether one trend in teh blogosphere that you might see is a candidate like that emerge in say a London constituency around an issue. Dan Hardie’s stuff on the Iraqi interpreters I should have mentioned as well for a way that blogs are being used politically.

f. At the moment my diagnosis would be that the British blogosphere does well flying low- we’ve got our Guidos and Recess Monkeys. There are signs that an analytical sphere might be developing- Chris Dillow, Matt Sinclair, Paulie all those guys are sort of milling about there and we have some great other blogs as well who don’t write all the time about politics but have an impact and something to say about politics- what we don’t have on either the right or the left is the organisation blogs- blogs which get people together and say hey lets do this. I’m just interested in whether that can develop and to what scale.

I agree with what Jennie said – with knobs on (so to speak).

Weblogs are just one very flexible peice of content management software. They’ve been used for lots of different purposes and work for any website that wants to post dated items in decending order with a comments thread and an RSS feed.

I think that ‘social media’ is the more interesting space than ‘blogging’ – and sites like this one highlight this. Returning to my lukewarm reaction to The Liberal Conspiracy, I think that largish sites where lots of people contribute aren’t always capable of any of the interesting dynamics that you can get with either small personal blogs or other social networking tools. The need to respond in a linear way can often be oppressive – in the same way that detailed ‘fisking’ can be unconversational or adversarial. Fisking isn’t *always* a bad thing, but there’s more to life than point-by-point nitpicks.

Personally, I dislike having regular critical commenters lurking on my site, ready to pounce on anything they disagree with. Not because I lack any confidence in dealing with them, but because it disincentivises me from posting. Instead of spending ten minuites writing a throwaway post, I feel obliged to spend 90 minutes defending what I’ve written.

I often ask commenters like this to set up their own blog so that I our views can have a more tangential conversation.

But even with people that you broadly agree with, a multi-lateral conversation is much more productive and interesting. And this is something that I don’t think that sites such as this promote very well.

See Harry’s Place for details – a few very good bloggers, but stuck in a sort of ‘Groundhog Day’ – write a post, wait for Benji / Verchika / Morgoth (Christ, I know their names!!?!!) to pop up and rehearse their usual position and make snide remarks about each other’s views.

It’s perhaps unreasonable to be cynical, but bear with me for a moment:

I think that blogging on the left of centre in the UK will only take off as a political force when Brown loses the next election. It’s no coincidence that overall in the US, blogging has been taken up by both sides, but the most interesting developments are in campaigns from outside the incumbent zone (e.g. Ron Paul or from the official opposition – Democrats.)

Sunny and others have touched on this point, but at the moment the Labour party is discredited and there are a bunch of left of centre people left without a real sense of direction. Ian Dale and Guido have a very clear focus, “get the Labour lot out” and that is part of what powers them.

Gracchi: Your point (f) deserves another blog I think. To me the thing most urgently needed is more “brainstorming” (if you’ll forgive that ugly word) about how UK blogs can organise an influence on UK politics, because it’s pretty clear to me that we can’t just follow the US model, because our politics is structured differently.

For example, what does this framework tell us?

Paulie: not to bang on about technological solutions, but whilst I definitely agree there are interesting things in the social media space, I think that real group blogs (the DKos software isn’t perfect, but it’s worth a look) can have some good aspects to them. Threaded comments let the usual suspects say their piece and be ignored or not and still leave room for other discussions to develop.

The reason I mention this to you is because my own experience is that the “separate blogs tangentially conversing” isn’t much of an advance on the Liberal Conspiracy setup. Trackbacks are still too unreliable, so unless it’s a conversation between already established big blogs, no-one gets around to following up most of the discussion.

However, I’m also curious to know which social media places you’d consider worth experimenting with from a “political discussion” point of view.

Not because I lack any confidence in dealing with them, but because it disincentivises me from posting. Instead of spending ten minuites writing a throwaway post, I feel obliged to spend 90 minutes defending what I’ve written.

Well, I’ve spent two years writing on a blog with lots of comments constantly and have attracted a fair amount of stick for it. I don’t feel like that, partly because I think it forces me to sharpen up my arguments… and clearly I’ve learnt from other people’s attempts to nitpick at me.

Isn’t this why we celebrate blogging though? So that we can nitpick at MSM writers and force them to be more sharp? (well, we’d like that but I don’t think anything’s changed). So why shouldn’t that apply to bloggers? The only thing I don’t like on my blog is ad hominems.

“Isn’t this why we celebrate blogging though? So that we can nitpick at MSM writers and force them to be more sharp?”

Yes and no. I think that sometimes this sort of thing brings out the worst – and most obsessive – characteristics. Sometimes, when writers are in some way intellectually dishonest, fatuous, or vain, they deserve it (and, IMHO, Robert Fisk or John Pilger fit the bill here perfectly). But – and here’s an example – Polly Toynbee only needs to write a sentance and a few dozen bloggertarians pop out of the woodwork (no newspaper would ever publish most of them – and not for conspiratorial reasons) and give her what they imagine to be a ‘fisking’.

Not because she is intellectually inconsistent, or any of those other vices, but because she is a middle class woman who is a ‘statist’ – she looks and sounds like the personification of what the bloggertarians hate most – the nanny stater.

They simply attack her in a highly personal way, over and over again because she doesn’t share their bizzare worldview. They do so from a position that would get them pilloried if they were ever given a bigger platform than their own little hypertext circle-jerks.

It isn’t a failing of the MSM that it doesn’t give bloggertarians a platform. It is simply that no medium that ever had a reputation to defend would hire one of them.

I’m not even against the idea that some writers will get a chorus of criticism every time they write something. There are plenty of paid columnists that deserve this. But when it goes beyond ridicule of their positions, and gets personal in the way that Ms T gets, it’s just disgusting.

I’m pretty-damn far from being an enthusiast for Polly’s worldview myself, by the way. But the treatment that she gets is oppresive – and as a phenomenon, it is the poor relation of book-burning.

Sunny isn’t there a distinction as well in types of criticism- I welcome and enjoy critiques and have had some really good arguments with other bloggers- but I don’t welcome attacks on my position. I think there is a real difference between the two- CIF exhibits for me too much of the latter. Whereas other sites show more of the former- the former are useful they force me to rethink what I’m saying and to wonder whether I am right. In general the more forceful someone is- the more that they shout- the less I’m inclined to listen to them.

Paulie (re. post 17):

Who said of a prominent British politician: “Jester, toff, self-absorbed sociopath and serial liar, the man could still win.”?

Who referred to opponents of the EU reform treaty as “Euro-crazies” and “Euro-hysterics”?

Who described a British icon dead for ten years as “a sad neurotic”, “brainless” and “a celebrity who believed her own hype”?

…and finally
Who described a Guardian columnist in the heading of a blog post as:“A See You Next Tuesday at work”?

This is a very interesting discussion and I’m only sorry I spent most of today traveling. I think between the comments we’ve touched on several key points that I would have made about in response to Graachi’s post.

Chief among these points are the reminder that blogging is an evolving medium, that should be taken as one part of the Internet revolution. It needs to be considered as part of that wider technological development. And for me, at least, being part of that “barnstorming” phase is an end in itself.

I also see you’ve touched on the notion that blogging is more influential in terms of “social capital” and civil society, than in forcing acute political change. I’ve tried to touch on this at my own place, where I wrote that “the operative word in citizen journalist is the former, not the latter.

I think the attraction for all of us, is that we see the potential of this medium to shift and undermine power structures. I think it is that notion which unites us, regardless of where we see the main power imbalance lying in a patriarchy, class structures, racial hegemony, Rupert Murdoch, oil companies, the CIA, or all of the above. Exploring the myriad ways in which this may be done is the project. Recently, for example, I’ve noted a small way in which Chavez was undermined by technology in Venezuela, and how the masses can break the power of the record labels using new digital technology. In the light of the very, lets face it, popular stories about donations this week, I would like to see similar ideas applied to party funding too.

(Sorry, I didn’t mean for this comment to be a big signpost to my own blog, but what can one do!?)

Hennyway, I’m off to meet some politicians and policy wonks tomorrow, at an impromptu Nick Clegg speech to the SMF. I shall mention blogs, and point them here.

Paulie – agreed about Polly Toynbee. So would you put Madeleine Bunting in the same category? Because I’d be interested in what separates an ‘intellectually dishonest’ commentator from one who is merely hated for her/his general worldview.

Plus, I don’t know why you keep fingering just the ‘bloggertarians’. I think some Trots are equally bad. I’m particularly reminded of one, who you know well, that just calls everyone ‘cunt’ without engaging in anything serious. How is that different from… say, Devils Kitchen?

Gracchie – I welcome and enjoy critiques and have had some really good arguments with other bloggers- but I don’t welcome attacks on my position.

Completely agreed.

I’m pretty-damn far from being an enthusiast for Polly’s worldview myself, by the way. But the treatment that she gets is oppresive – and as a phenomenon, it is the poor relation of book-burning. ~ Paulie

This is bang-on. Not the biggest fan of the Toynster myself (and I usually enjoy DK), but the attacks always play the (wo)man, not the ball.

Ian / Sunny,

Aha! Trick questions!

Firstly, I have no real problem with general rudeness. I usually avoid it, but not always (few bloggers *always* avoid rudeness – how could you?).

Personally, I’ve never been a Trot, and I’m sure that they can defend themselves. But I know the one you have in mind, and I happen to know that he is generally rude out of a lack of patience rather than a lack of coherent arguments.

This is not the case with most of the Bloggertarians. Their grasp of social science is so profound that they think that the best way to argue is to…

– personify an historical process – usually as a politician or public figure
– call that person a c***
– call their insult an argument.

Being called a stupid c*** by someone who is plainly not very clever is a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance. No-one should have to endure this.

And the difference between Polly (sometimes rude to others, often unfairly and disproportionately insulted) and Madeline Bunting? Well, only a relativist would argue that *every* debater should be treated with equal respect. Polly is a writer who speaks to a certain part of this governing party’s soul.

Her arguments may be wrong, but they are hardly immoral. Madeline, on the other hand, IS a relativist. In fairness, I’ve only really seen her *position* being attacked. But the fact that she is given space by a newspaper like The Guardian illustrates the rotten cold that the liberal left has caught in recent years.

This puts me in mind of a watered-down version of that Irving / Oxford Union debate. Should Irving be allowed to say what he thinks? Probably. Should he be allowed to say it on a platform provided by an institution that cares about it’s reputation? Probably not.

Should Polly T be spared further punishment from rude bloggers by The Guardian’s editors? (i.e. Should she be axed on humanitarian grounds?) Absolutely not. This would damage the newspaper’s reputation for promoting reputable public debate.

Should Madeline be axed on similar humanitarian grounds? No. But she should be axed on sensible editorial grounds. No respectable rationalist newspaper should be regularly giving one of it’s main editorial slots to a relativist god-botherer.


OK, first of all, the answers to the questions in post 19 are as follows:

1) Polly Toynbee, in her Guardian column of July 17 entitled ‘Boris the jester, toff, serial liar and sociopath for mayor’ (Link).
2) Polly Toynbee, in her Guardian column of October 16, entitled ‘We can’t let the Euro-crazies drag us out of the club’ (Link).
3) Polly Toynbee, in her Comment is Free article of April 27, entitled ‘Live and Let Di’ (Link).
and finally
4) Yours truly, on October 20 2006 (Link).

Polly Toynbee is no stranger to dishing out personal abuse. Neither are you. I suspect that the reason you criticise the ‘bloggertarians’ (I still think that’s one of the daftest supposed insults I’ve ever come across) for their attitude to Polly is because you agree with her and disagree with them, not because they ‘get personal’.

Like it or not political debate is about opinion – Agreement and disagreement, not right and wrong. If that means I’m a “relativist” then so be it. DK and Mr Eugenides and all the other libertarians have as much right to criticise Toynbee’s constant demands for state intervention and compulsion as you have to criticise Simon Jenkins and Madeleine Bunting.

I don’t get people like you who want to shut down debate saying “I’m right and you’re wrong”.

This is not the case with most of the Bloggertarians. Their grasp of social science is so profound that they think that the best way to argue is to…

– personify an historical process – usually as a politician or public figure
– call that person a c***
– call their insult an argument.

“Not the biggest fan of the Toynster myself [… thanks for the compliment… ] but the attacks always play the (wo)man, not the ball.”

Actually, it is entirely possible to do both. Yes, I am extremely rude about (to?) Polly but that is because she is the worst kind of “do as I say not do as I do” nanny-stater.

But one does try to point out at the same time that her information is often flawed, skewed or just plain wrong (the Fact-checking Pollyanna blog is sadly missed on that score) and that her arguments are inconsistent or contradictory — often within the same article (Tim Worstall does this very well).

It is not really enough simply to call people names: you need to have some substance to the attack too. Some people do argue that the argument can become obscured amongst the swearwords but — hey! — such is life…


Metatone: “Threaded comments let the usual suspects say their piece and be ignored or not and still leave room for other discussions to develop.”

Yes, and comment notification. I’m so used to LiveJournal that I having to think to come and look at this post to see if anyone had replied to me was an odd sensation, and threaded comments, like you say, let things develop more conversationally.


I think that you’re mistaking public debate for those seminars with hippy teachers where ‘there are no wrong answers.’ DK will probably explain to you that you’re a victim of state education (all teachers are c**** dontcha know?).

He is under no such illusions about all opinions being equally valid. That’s one of the few things I like about him.

And I suppose that your new found relativism will tell you that the handful of more intemperate comments you’ve found in Polly Toynbee’s columns make her just as abusive in her arguments as DK? You think that using the term ‘Euro-Crazies’ goes beyond the bounds of reasonable debate? Have you ever met *any* Eurosceptics?

I think that she made the case that Boris Johnson is a serial liar and a sociopath rather well in that article – he did, after all, provide details of a journalist’s whereabouts so that one of his school chums could have him beaten up. But perhaps that’s me being too judgemental for your relativist soul?

And I can’t see why you think you’ve hoisted me on my own petard with my slight on Simon Jenkins. I’ve not argued that it is always wrong to be rude about people because of their views.

“I think that you’re mistaking public debate for those seminars with hippy teachers where ‘there are no wrong answers.’
Who decides what the wrong and right answers are? You? The arbiter of all that is good and acceptable? It must feel so good to be god.

“He is under no such illusions about all opinions being equally valid.”
I cannot speak for DK of course, but if that is the case I doubt the opinions he thinks are ‘valid’ are the same ones you do. So who decides that you are right about this and DK is wrong? Hmmmm, looks like we’re back to god again.

“And I suppose that your new found relativism will tell you that the handful of more intemperate comments you’ve found in Polly Toynbee’s columns make her just as abusive in her arguments as DK?”
Nowhere did I say or even suggest that. Who decides what level of personal abuse is acceptable in debate and what isn’t? Hmmmm…

“…Boris Johnson…” I’m no great cheerleader for Boris myself (I just wanted to show that PT is no angel herself when it comes to using personal abuse in her arguments), but you and readers of this discussion might be interested to know that that story about Boris was rebutted by someone who was involved (Link).

Er, that link at the end of post 28 should be the following: Link. (The link in the previous post is the same blogger’s first detailed post on the same incident)

The pertinent part of the post:
“He didn’t know the heavies were planning to rip Guppy off. It must have seemed a serious plot. Guppy made it clear that he could try other means of finding the journalist’s address. Johnson assured him he didn’t have to – and did absolutely nothing at all to find it himself. I actually had that confirmed by Clive Goodman, the now disgraced formed News of the World royal correspondent who listened to the tape. Johnson said he would approach a specific third party. He specifically didn’t. The only conclusion I can draw is that he was trying to make sure Guppy didn’t manage to have the man attacked. Rather, he was stalling, waiting for Guppy’s attention span to expire – a safe bet for those who knew him well.” – Free Born John

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