Labour MP Tom Harris has an article today in the Telegraph titled ‘Object to mass immigration from the EU? Join the Romaphobe club!‘.
You know what the article is going to say before you even read the first line. It will appeal to and be detested by the usual suspects. Although, in this case, Harris is attracting criticism even from the right.
I won’t go over the entire piece. There are the usual stereotypes…
But a consistent pattern of complaints took shape quite early on: filthy and vastly overcrowded living arrangements, organised aggressive begging, the ghetto-isation of local streets where women no longer feel safe to walk due to the presence of large groups of (workless) men, the rifling through domestic wheelie bins by groups of women pushing oddly child-free prams, and a worrying increase in the reporting of aggressive and violent behavior in local schools.
…and the usual straw man:
It’s simply not good enough for our leaders to say that it’s all right to talk about immigration, and then when they do exactly that, to call them bigots when they think no one’s listening.
Memo: the problem isn’t talking about immigration, the problem is the deliberately negative stereotypes.
There’s nothing new about how Tom Harris MP scapegoats and scaremongers about immigrants.
I took part in a debate recently on media portrayals of Asian immigration from Uganda during the 70s.
Guess what – the stereotypes are astonishingly similar.
(images courtesy of the National Archive).
The funny thing is, these days the Tories are always hailing the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ of Ugandan Asians.
There was a similar gaggle of Labour MPs then too arguing for a race to the bottom on the subject.
How quickly people forget history.
If the demise of Liberal Conspiracy marks the end of the ‘amateur blogger’ then I’m the next Pope. I always have one piece of advice for my new students at Kingston University: start blogging.
The media landscape has clearly evolved since 2005, but blogging has only become more powerful and influential. When I launched Liberal Conspiracy in Nov 2007, I was unknown in Westminster; six years later this site was read at the top of the Labour party.
None of this happened because I was well-connected, had worked at a newspaper or had influential friends. It happened only because Liberal Conspiracy ran stories (thanks to tips from many readers) that got noticed. The national media cannot ignore us like they used to. For all its faults the new media landscape is far more meritocratic than old media or the political establishment.
But I had an edge – a good understanding of web programming and technology. Before blogging I used to run messageboards and online magazines that ran on code (HTML, CSS, PHP, MySQL) I had written myself. For Liberal Conspiracy and Pickled Politics I developed new designs and WordPress themes myself (with some help), and was able to make changes, experiment and evolve quicker than others who paid for customised designs. I was also very comfortable with, and more aggressive than most bloggers, in using social media to find and promote stories.
Unsurprisingly, my work at Kingston involves teaching digital journalism: teaching web programming and technologies to leverage journalism. There are far more qualified people at Kingston to teach journalism; my focus is is on how to use the internet to take that further. And I’m grateful to them for taking me on (I’ve given a few lectures on the topic at City University too).
Whether amateur (i.e. independent) multi-author publishing is dead wholly depends on how people approach it. Here’s my advice: don’t expect to start an opinion blog and get 100,000 readers a month. The market is over-saturated with opinions on the Guardian, New Statesman, HuffPo and IndyVoices (just on the left). Only the Guardian pays and yet the others have no problems attracting submissions because so many want to make a name for themselves.
Worse, most opinion blogging only talks to the already-converted and changes minds only at the margins. It may be cathartic for some but that’s not enough to attract a lot of visitors regularly.
‘News’ publishing on the other hand has a bright future and I suspect we will see much more of this. But I’d like people to think outside the box.
Firstly, popular ‘news’ doesn’t always have to mean exposing Traditional Britain, or leaking the Coalition Agreement, it can involve finding interesting stories from social media or putting together publicly available info. Our most popular posts this year have been a collection of Tweets (on British Gas and the EDL’s Tommy Robinson). Another example: How one Twitter troll went from abuse to apology in minutes. All these were stories Buzzfeed or HuffPo would (and did) do but we got there quicker and went viral first.
Secondly, the platform has become irrelevant. We need to move away from talking about blogging, and setting up a simple WordPress blog, to thinking about publishing. The traditional advantages of blogging (simple format, popularity through inter-linking, simple set-up) have become largely irrelevant as HuffPost and Buzzfeed have shown. Both developed their own content system, and meanwhile WordPress has become bloated and slow.
My model for Liberal Conspiracy was simple: use fun and interesting news to amass readers and followers; then get them to read policy material and get involved in campaigns.
There is now more opportunity than ever for someone to start another political news site, make it popular, and figure out a business model to earn a living from it. I stopped Liberal Conspiracy because the traditional blogging model has become defunct, not because online publishing is a waste of time and effort. A budding journalist or publisher has no excuse not to use this medium to make a name for themselves. I hope many more will do.
After 8 years of running blogs as an editor, and blogging almost every day, I think it’s about time to hang up my boots. I no longer have the time to maintain Liberal Conspiracy as a daily-updated news and opinion blog, so as of today I’m going to stop. This site will become an occasionally updated personal blog, with the odd guest-post.
Eight years. That makes me a granddad in internet time. When I started blogging in August 2005, YouTube hadn’t even launched yet, let alone the widespread use of Facebook or Twitter. In total I’ve written around 3000 posts on LC (around 1 million words), and another 3000 posts on my previous group-blog Pickled Politics. Around 2 million words in total; the mind boggles.
I founded Liberal Conspiracy (with the help and support of many, many others) as a hub for left-wing opinion and news at a time there were hardly any group blogs. It was an attempts to raise our collective presence. Editorially, it was an independent and non-aligned left platform with a focus on campaigning. But the enduring success of Guardian CIF, and more recently the New Statesman and Huffington Post, have made other general opinion-blogs redundant. Frankly, there is just too much opinion out there. There is more space for news-focused blogs I think, but they require a level of time and energy I no longer possess.
With the help of its readers, this site has had some good hits. We:
- leaked the Coalition Agreement before the parties published it.
- exposed Nadine Dorries’s fundamentalist friends during her anti-abortion crusade
- exposed Jacob Rees-Mogg MPs links to the xenophobic Traditional Britain
- helped stop Rod Liddle becoming editor of the Independent
- organised the advertiser boycott of the News of the World over its phone-hacking.
- helped hobble the government’s Workfare programme
- exposed how BBC journalists were ordered to use ‘savings’ instead of ‘cuts’
- forced Newsnight to apologise for misrepresenting a single mother
… and much, much more.
This site also gave a platform to lots of people to build their name (including Laurie Penny, Owen Jones, Adam Bienkov, Ellie O’Hagan, Tim Wigmore, Tim Fenton and many others).
As for me… I’m certainly not bored of news, politics or even blogging in fact, but I just can’t dedicate the time. I’m working with the BBC to get a documentary off the ground; I’ve been invited to speak at two TEDx talks abroad (and have to prepare) on violence against women in India; I’ve started lecturing p/t at Kingston University. Plus, I want the time and space to work on new projects.
It’s time for something new. I’ll continue tweeting news and opinion of course, and occasionally blogging here and elsewhere, just not with the same vigour. Better to go on a high than when in decline. It was a good run, and a long run… but everything must eventually come to an end. Thanks for all your tips, guest posts and comments.
The pissy right-wing response to this has been a joy to read. Remember, the more vindictive they sound, the more they were burnt by my blogging.
Also, there are a few thanks I missed out for friends who went beyond just contributing to the site. Special love to: Aaron Heath, Shantel Burns, Sarah McAlpine, Jennifer O’Mahony, Ellie Cumbo and most of all, deputy-editor Dan Paskins.
The comedian Russell Brand was on Newsnight last night, and although I was sceptical about watching the interview at first, it turned out to be much more entertaining and insightful than I expected.
Like the rest of Westminster, my first reaction to hearing that Brand had never voted, and didn’t feel like voting, was to pour scorn all over him: what right does he have to preach about politics then? But after watching the video, I realised that I was missing the point. Brand isn’t apathetic about politics, he is apathetic to our current state of affairs.
One of my maxims in politics is, never blame the voters. Yes, they’re frequently contradictory in their views and generally clueless about policies, but they behave on instinct and emotion, and that is important because the world would be an awful place if cold rationality drove politics.
Politicos usually agree that you shouldn’t blame voters, but they invariably do so anyway. They’re criticised for voting against their own interests or supporting other parties or sitting at home on election day. It’s tempting to criticise people for making different decisions to you, but it’s also silly.
My defence of Russell Brand is that he’s simply articulating this contradictory anger. People just want a better world and they’re not seeing anyone offer them to it. They’re just seeing people in Westminster talk in incomprehensible language while offering solutions that sound roughly the same. It has become a system geared towards the remaining voters, not all citizens.
Our political system is too narrow. If the proportion of people who didn’t vote were all captured by one party, it would be the largest in Parliament. Non-voters are the majority party, and their proportion has been growing steadily since 1945. And yet, even to a close watcher like me, Westminster politics frequently feels like two bald men fighting over a comb. There are no bold solutions on offer because the system has been captured by middle-class wonks and those paralysed by narrow interpretations of polling.
As someone who feels trapped tween (Iraq-war-starting, civil-liberties-destroying) Labour & (fucking) Tories, I loved it RT @ Whatdjathink?
— Graham Linehan (@Glinner) October 24, 2013
Even Tom Watson said this recently:
It’s been missing from the Labour Party since Tony Blair marched us into the arid desert of pragmatism that was so electorally successful. It’s belief. Belief in ourselves. Belief in the great cause of social progress. The marketing men, the spin people and the special advisers: they’ve won. For those brief minutes of Drenge I wanted to sack them all.
Brand will find sympathy for his frustrated outpouring because he is articulating a deep frustration, even among people who do vote. They don’t necessarily want a whole new system, they just want someone who emotionally engages them.
Politicos scoff at the fact that Brand hasn’t offered a comprehensive alternative, but that’s not his job that is the job of people who do this for a living.
This chart by Ipsos-Mori was published yesterday.
More Britons see David Cameron as being on the right than see Miliband as being on the left.
This may not seem extraordinary to the readers of this blog, but given how desperately the press have painted him as ‘Red Ed’ – this is surprising.
Also, being in the political centre doesn’t make you popular or more electable: just ask Nick Clegg.
Earlier today, British Gas tweeted this
Our Customer Services Director Bert Pijls will be taking part in a Q&A about our price rise at 1-2pm. Tweet your questions using #AskBG!
— British Gas (@BritishGas) October 17, 2013
Ruh roh. Can anyone see a train crash coming?
Thankfully, Twitter did not disappoint.
— Stephen Hull (@hullstephen) October 17, 2013
Hi Bert, which items of furniture do you, in your humble opinion, think people should burn first this winter? #AskBG
— Lee Vincent (@LeeJamesVincent) October 17, 2013
— TechnicallyRon (@TechnicallyRon) October 17, 2013
— Lisaaaargh! (@BiscuitAhoy) October 17, 2013
— Felicity Morse (@FelicityMorse) October 17, 2013
#AskBG would it be ok to burn the corpses of your board of directors when I can't afford heating?
— Matt Kelly (@Matt_Dot_Com) October 17, 2013
Can I please borrow your soul as you don't seem to be using it at the moment #AskBG
— Gareth Heskett (@GarethHeskett) October 17, 2013
#askbg Do you prefer one 36 carrot gold diamond encrusted horse sized duck, or 100 36 carrot gold diamond encrusted duck sized horses?
— John Coventry (@JohnnyCov) October 17, 2013
— Cal Loftus (@calloftus) October 17, 2013
— Danny Leigh (@dannytheleigh) October 17, 2013
— edo badonde (@edoSfulton) October 17, 2013
— Steve Rose (@steveplrose) October 17, 2013
#AskBG If I email this lovely man from the Nigerian Lotto Nscam Bank my details,he says he can provide cheaper gas.What have you got to say?
— I,Clarkeyus (@paininthebrum) October 17, 2013
I'm having to burn all the junk mail you send me in order to keep warm #AskBG
— wolftic (@wolftic) October 17, 2013
There was a particularly interesting moment this morning when I was asked to debate Tommy Robinson leaving the EDL on BBC 5Live
Presenter Nicky Campbell had spoken to Robinson extensively the day before, and he told us that the ex-EDL leader said he was a great admirer of Douglas Murray.
Robinson went on to say, according to Campbell, that their views were exactly the same but that Douglas Murray was simply more articulate.
Listen below (the full interview from here 2hrs 7m in)
Hearing Douglas Murray’s nervous laughter half way through is a joy.
A YouGov poll today has terrible news for the Daily Mail – the public overwhelmingly side with Miliband.
On the principle of writing about and criticising Ralph Miliband’s views and his potential influence on Ed Miliband, only 26% of people think that this was acceptable.
Asked specifically about the Mail calling Ralph Miliband the “man who hated Britain” just 17% thought the Mail’s language was acceptable, 72% unacceptable.
69% of people think that the Daily Mail should apologise.
50% to 42% Mail readers think it was unacceptable for the paper to write about and criticise Ralph Miliband’s views, and by 60% to 29% they think it was unacceptable to use language like the “man who hated Britain”. 57% of the Mail’s own readers think they should apologise.
78% of people think that Ed Miliband was right to complain to the Mail, and a quarter of people say the way he has reacted to the Mail’s attack has made them view Ed Miliband more positively.
(via UK Polling Report)
— Joe Twyman (@JoeTwyman) October 6, 2013
Today the Daily Mail dug in its heels by continuing to attack Ralph Miliband and his son.
But the Labour leader isn’t backing down. Here is the email he just sent to Labour members:
On Saturday and last night the Daily Mail printed stories about my Dad. The headlines called him “The man who hated Britain.”
There was a time when politicians stayed silent if this kind of thing happened, in the hope that it wouldn’t happen again. I will not do that. This isn’t about me and my family – this is about doing what’s right.
It is perfectly legitimate for the Daily Mail to talk about my father’s politics but when they say that he hated Britain, I was not willing to put up with that.
My father loved Britain. After he arrived in Britain as a refugee from Nazi Germany, he joined the Royal Navy. He did so because he was determined to be part of the fight against the Nazis and to help his family hidden in Belgium. He was fighting for Britain.
Britain was a source of hope and comfort for my dad, not hatred. He loved Britain for the security it offered his family and the gentle decency of our nation. The simple truth is something has really gone wrong when a newspaper attacks the family of a politician – any politician – in this way. I won’t stay silent when it happens – that’s why I have written a reply in today’s Mail. I hope you take a moment to read it, and then say you won’t stay silent either. We can be better than this.
The New Labour rulebook would tell Miliband to avoid picking a fight with the Daily Mail because of its popularity with Middle England.
But this is not how Miliband does things.
For a start, Miliband’s team know the political power of the press has declined significantly along with their circulations. Plus, people’s attitudes have changed, they don’t take cues on who to vote for from newspaper proprietors like they used to. The inability of most of the press to deliver a majority for Cameron (despite Gordon Brown’s unpopularity) in 2010 finally killed the illusion that newspapers have a major influence on elections.
But there’s a broader point here too.
The Daily Mail is unwittingly helping Ed Miliband define himself. The Mail is a much-loathed newspaper across Britain (not just with lefties), and Miliband wants to define himself as being willing to take on major vested interests.
The Daily Mail is doing his job for him. If people see Miliband as being fearless against the Daily Mail, they won’t see him as ‘weak Ed’. He should keep the controversy going.
Lastly, the Mail’s strident invective makes it harder for the newspaper to influence the election in 2015. Everyone now knows it has already made up its mind about Miliband and they’ll see the coverage through that prism. This is why most newspapers wait until the very last to declare their support – to give the illusion they’re not biased towards one side.
The Mail has already revealed its hand and that makes it much harder for it to pretend to be a neutral observer of British politics until 2015. As a precedent, the Sun ditched Gordon Brown /Labour seven months before the election in 2010, but to its dismay saw polls move in favour of Brown after declaring he shouldn’t be elected.
The Mail is in a lose-lose situation here.
Ignore the hysterical press reaction to Ed Miliband’s plan to freeze energy prices in 2015 for now.
The Labour leader’s speech at the annual party conference also offered intriguing clues about his future direction. Here are some of my observations.
1) On Tuesday afternoon you could hear a huge sigh of relief across Brighton. The leader of the party had delivered a powerful speech that reassured party faithful nerves and gave them tangible policies to sell on the doorstep. Someone on Twitter said aptly that Labour had gone ‘from Pamphlet Labour to Leaflet Labour’.
These aren’t election winning promises yet, and Miliband will unveil a lot more in the next 20 months, but he decisively batted away questions about his leadership, the party’s future direction and supposed lack of meaty policies. He is secure in his position.
2) Remember how everyone slammed ‘predistribution’ as a clunky and academic word? Well, Miliband’s focus on the ‘cost of living crisis’ is his translation of that word. The focus of ‘predistribution‘ is that governments need to create more equal outcomes even before collecting taxes and redistributing them as benefits.
Miliband’s view is that the only way this cost of living crisis will be averted is through a more fundamental remodelling of how our economy works. That clunky word is no more. It will now be referred to as the Cost of Living crisis.
3) Using the slogan ‘Britain can do better‘ is also important because Miliband wants to position Labour as the party of optimism – not simply one of slightly better spending cuts – and challenge the fatalism of TINA (‘there is no alternative’).
I wrote earlier this year that pessimism about the UK economy could be Labour’s biggest problem in 2015, because voters may simply think Labour cannot do any better. Miliband will directly and forcefully challenge that. It’s a slogan I hope every Labour MP repeats endlessly, with conviction and examples.
4) One of the strongest lines in Miliband’s speech was: “Cameron may be strong when it comes to the weak, but he is always weak when standing up against the strong.”
It wasn’t just a good soundbite but part of a broader strategy. Miliband wants to redefine what is seen as being strong and weak, as our prevailing macho political culture always defines ‘strength’ as taking ‘tough decisions’ (usually against the most vulnerable people). But by taking on Murdoch, halting the rush into Syria and taking on energy companies, Miliband wants to show that strength means standing up vested interests, not cutting social security benefits.
5) By far the strongest re-shuffle rumour was that Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham would swap their briefs. Burnham is widely seen as having done extraordinarily well as shadow health secretary and there will be cries of horror if he is moved. Plus, wouldn’t Cooper’s move be seen as a demotion?
Not exactly, a Labour shadow minister told me. Both Cooper and Burnham want a range of portfolios to their name, in case a there’s a leadership bid in the distant future. Burnham needs something a bit more gritty like the shadow Home Secretary brief, while Cooper needs a populist and softer brief like Health. So it may suit and be welcomed by both.
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