Recent Media Articles
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.
When I broke my shoulder skiing in Italy last Christmas, I received excellent care at the local hospital, including a speedy x-ray and an overnight stay for observation (in case of head trauma) in my own room.
It wasn’t until after I was discharged and flying home that I realised my EHIC card, which had authorised my ‘free’ treatment, had expired. I was worried that this would mean I’d be liable for all the costs of my treatment – including the long ambulance ride from the top of a mountain.
I quickly renewed my card and hoped the hospital in Italy wouldn’t notice my treatment had occurred during the period when I wasn’t covered or wouldn’t bother to chase me up. But they did. ?As soon as they realised I didn’t have a valid EHIC card, they came after me, wanting me to pay for my treatment.
Luckily, a call to the EHIC office in Newcastle established that an out of date EHIC card didn’t actually matter, as long as I was a bona fide British national. Crisis – and huge bill – averted.
The point though is that the Italian hospital clearly deemed it worthwhile chasing me for payment when they thought I, rather than the UK government, was liable. Is the same happening in this country? How much money is the UK government claiming back from EU countries for treating EU nationals in our NHS , and how many UK hospitals or GPs go chasing after individuals who aren’t entitled to ‘free’ treatment? We need to see the figures.
There’s nothing wrong with our government trying to claw back money from other governments or individuals, but not if the costs of doing so exceed the amount of money clawed back. And nor if the time taken up by hospitals or doctors is diverted from patient care.
But there is everything wrong with our government trying to claim that ‘health tourists’ are costing the NHS £2 billion when researchers have admitted uncovering only “anecdotal” evidence of health tourism and “no statistically valid samples to generate estimates”.
Even the very term ‘health tourism’ is misleading. It is conveniently used to lump together all legal AND illegal visitors and migrants who happen to need the NHS while in the UK, as well as the actually tiny but hugely publicised proportion who come to this country with the intentional purpose of using our NHS.
Until we have concrete evidence of the scale of each of these different ?categories, as well as our success rate in getting reimbursed for NHS treatment, it’s hard to assess the scale of the problem or take effective action.
But one thing is certain: the government is being highly effective in pinning the blame on migrants and will continue to hype the catch-all ‘health tourism’ issue so it can impress UKIP voters with its tough stance.
?It also suits the government to divert attention away from its own chronic underfunding and creeping privatisation of our NHS. It’s time to give this government’s distasteful blame-game the cold shoulder.
A couple of weeks ago, 200 activists protested outside the Daily Mail’s offices, in response to the paper’s ongoing campaign of hatred against anyone that isn’t white, male, straight and middle-class.
There were guest speakers, placards, banners, chanting and fun. There were press photographers there too, which gave us some good media coverage. I say that – The Guardian covered it. The Daily Mail? Not so much.
Isn’t that strange? We practically gave them the story on a plate. Perhaps there wasn’t enough room in the paper. I expect they suddenly discovered an important 15 year old in a bikini they had to cover instead. And then they’d have to make room for the columns about how the bikini has affected house prices, which as we all know causes cancer…
I had a drink in the pub afterwards with a prominent left-wing blogger. It’s no big deal, I’m just a very popular guy, and I need you to be comfortable with that. As we were talking, he leans in and says ”Chris, are you busy this afternoon? It’s just, I’ve got an idea for a little ruse. You know Paul Dacre? Editor of the Daily Mail? Well, the thing is… I know where he lives.”
How do you know where he lives? “Oh, I just know people” he boasted, hoping the director of his life was going to shoot today in the style of an East End gangster film. Vinnie Jones stars in “Paul Dacre: The Slappening.”
“I’ve got his address, and a video camera. Fancy an adventure?” It took me about 0.1 seconds to decide yes.
He lives a short bus ride from the Daily Mail’s offices, in Knightsbridge which, as British readers know, is where bastards come from. Turns out he also lives near a lot of sweet shops, which made me happy because it meant I could do some activism, and reward myself with some chocolate truffles. I’m not a champagne socialist, I’m a champagne truffle socialist.
We didn’t really have a plan. We were fuelled by excitement, not by consideration. All we had was a circular placard that read “Hated by the Daily Mail.” Could we use it? Could we, using our biggest and most preposterous shoehorn, give Paul Dacre an award for being the man most hated by the Daily Mail?
It’s conceivable. After all, Paul Dacre edits a newspaper that dodges tax (unlike the hard-working middle-classes), and the language Dacre allegedly uses in the newsroom is sickeningly vulgar – utterly at odds with their family values!
We turned the placard into a cone, and put three flowers inside, which we proudly stole from the window-box of a millionaire. We then made a quick video explaining that we were giving him the award on behalf of the League of Justice (look, we were working under pressure). Then we buzz on his intercom, and knocked on his door, for five minutes… before we realised it was Sunday, so he’d be editing Monday’s newspaper, and that we’d utterly wasted our time. When the revolution comes, let’s hope it isn’t me organising it. I’d probably do it on a Bank Holiday by mistake.
We decided to leave him the reward on his doorstep as a present. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but in retrospect, and as you can see from the photo, leaving a wrap of dead flowers on someone’s doorstep with no explanation looks less like an award, and more like a death threat.
It’s a bit mafia, isn’t it? Like we’ll return a week later and leave a horse’s head.
Still, I’m glad we tried. After all, if your neighbour was being noisy, you’d knock and complain. And when someone is polluting the country with toxic lies and hate, and you know where they live, I have no moral issue with knocking on their door to complain.
Now of course, I couldn’t print his address. That would be thoroughly inappropriate. However, you might be interested in my new idea for a business: Mogul Tours™. I’ll take you on a jaunt around London, stopping at the homes of the most powerful media magnates. If you then choose to pay them a visit, well, that’s up to you. It’ll be a bit like those Jack The Ripper tours, but somehow even more creepy.
An apparently trivial incident at the gates of Downing Street over a year ago, which claimed the career of a Cabinet minister, would not still be front page news or discussed at PMQs had it not been for two important factors: the timing and the instant response of Andrew Mitchell.
The day before The Curious Incident of the Gate in the Night-Time, the news agenda was dominated by the brutal murder of two unarmed female police officers in Manchester. This was described at the time by the BBC’s home affairs correspondent as “arguably the blackest day in the history of the police service of England and Wales since three police officers were shot dead in west London in 1966″.
This dreadful and emotionally-charged story also crucially came just a week after another equally huge police story: that South Yorkshire police had lied and operated a cover-up of unimaginably distasteful proportions during and after the Hillsborough disaster.
Had plebgate happened a week earlier, with the Hillsborough disgrace uppermost in people’s minds, I have no doubt that the police version of events, with its “fucking plebs” remark, would not have been so quickly and gleefully jumped on by politicians and the media as the truth.
And without the fuel of the class-war loaded remark, the incident would not have turned into an explosive story. The fact that it is called plebgate says it all.
But it wasn’t just the timing of plebgate that was crucial. Before anyone starts feeling too sorry for Andrew Mitchell, the finger of blame is also pointing at his own immediate response to the accusation.
It is now clear that his words were, at best, misheard, or at worst, twisted. Why then did Mr Mitchell play silly semantic games with the press, repeatedly stating “I did not use the words that have been attributed to me” rather than explicitly stating what he did say? He could so easily have snuffed out the story – or at least speedily discredited the police version – by coming clean with: “What I actually said was: ‘I thought you guys were supposed to fucking help us’ and I sincerely apologise for swearing”.
But it wasn’t until December that Mr Mitchell publicly gave his own account of exactly what was said at the gates of Downing Street.
Without that immediate, and highly plausible, rebuttal, plebgate snowballed into a full scale scandal spawning a resignation, the revelation of a fake eyewitness account, arrests, inquiries, a Channel 4 documentary, a Scotland Yard investigation and demonstrations at the Tory Party conference, and involved the DPP, the CPS, the IPCC, the Diplomatic Protection Group, ACPO and the Police Federation, as well as drawing in all the party leaders, the home secretary and countless MPs. Has anyone worked out the cost of all this? And it’s not over yet.
Had Mr Mitchell not been so enigmatic at the time, it would not still be dominating the news agenda.
But neither would we have uncovered the very disturbing and grave flaws of individual police officers and members of the Police Federation that were triggered by the initial incident, which now raise important questions about the integrity of our police force. And for that, we have to be grateful to Mr Mitchell and to the timing of the tragic slaughter of two police officers in Manchester.
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.
I'll fess up here. I read the Mail most days. But I also read Holy Moly and Popbitch, and for similar reasons. I don't regard any of them as politically serious.
In fact, there's decent evidence that the political importance of the dead trees was over-rated, even before their circulation began to fall. Here's one US study (pdf) by Jesse Shapiro and colleagues:
We find no evidence that partisan newspapers affect party vote shares, with confidence intervals that rule out even moderate-sized effects. We find no clear evidence that newspapers systematically help or hurt incumbents.
This is consistent with John Curtice's assessment (pdf) of the 1997 election:
Relative to the often highly evocative and strident manner in which the British press often conducts itself, its partisan impact is a small one.
Since then, it's highly likely – given their falling sales – that newspapers' influence has declined further. In the last general election, there was no relationship between the papers' political positions and aggregate votes.
Sure, there is some countervailing evidence. Fox News does seem to have influenced American voters; a neat experiment suggests papers can affect voting; and there's evidence that local papers can encourage turnout and hence improve the vigour of local democracy.
Of course, journalists think that newspapers matter enormously, but then sausage-makers think that sausages matter a lot. We should take neither at their word.
I fear that lefties who fret about the Mail's antics are actually playing into its hands. Like a has-been popstar craving attention, the papers are resorting to ever-more desperate efforts to attract eyeballs. Linkbait is now a business model, and your outrage is their profits.
Let's be clear. The newspaper business is a relatively minor one – the average household spends less each week on papers than it does on fish – which doesn't deserve the attention we give it.
So what did Viscount Rothermere really believe in? The answer should disturb everyone who loves this country
by David Hodd
On a cold winter’s day, an old man made his way to meet a lifetime admirer. He had exchanged correspondence several times before, but now at last he would meet this “superhuman” in person.
It had been quite an effort to get to this point – he had needed to secure the services of an Austrian Princess, Stephanie Hohenlohe to gain the influence that would allow them to meet, and now here he was, shoulder to shoulder with Adolf Hitler
The year was 1936. The man was Harold Harmsworth a.k.a. 1st Viscount Rothermere. A barrister’s son, he had success with several newspapers, and was now one of the most influential people in the land. He was very active against what he regarded as the pernicious threats of communism and international Jewry. Harmsworth was very critical of those who used “every means financial, social, political and personal to influence British Government Departments” – but only if they were Jewish.
He penned the most notorious articles in British journalism, in support of the British Union of Fascists: “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” he wrote in the Mail, and “Give the Blackshirts a Helping Hand” in the Mirror (which he also owned). He even ran a competition, awarding a prize for the reader who gave the best response to “Why I love the Blackshirts”.
His own view was clear:
“Because Fascism comes from Italy, short-sighted people in this country think they show sturdy national spirit by deriding it.” He went on to criticise those that “have started a clamorous campaign of denunciation against what they call “Nazi atrocities” which, as anyone who visits Germany quickly discovers for himself, consists merely of a few isolated acts of violence”
After congratulating Hitler for invading Czechoslovakia – and urging him on to Romania, Harmsworth continued to exchange telegrams with him at least to July 1939. Meanwhile his newspapers campaigned to prevent large numbers of Jews (like Ralph Milliband for example) from gaining sanctuary.
His son and grandson carried on Harmsworth’s evil legacy – they used the Daily Mail to exert influence as they saw fit, lived colourful lifestyles, and did whatever they could to avoid paying tax. His father once said “Today, the whole idea is that morality is a matter of opinion.”
To what extent the current owner of the Daily Mail Jonathan Harmsworth, inherited the controversial views of his dad, or his antecedents is not fully clear. But he has been happy to live off the inheritance of his media empire, and through that inheritance he enjoys easy access to ministers. His tale is not one of the self-made man favoured by free market thinkers, but one who’s start in life was a silver spoon worth over a billion pounds. He is now thought to be worth less than that.
Despite his British passport, Eton education and his Wiltshire home, he is a Tax Non-Dom. Investigations into his tax status were dropped by none other than David Hartnett himself. This Non-Dom status reveals his hatred for Britons – he has done all he can to avoid contributing towards the upkeep of the armed forces his paper writes so proudly about. He has avoided supporting the education of British children, and likewise support for the the sick and needy has been minimal.
These little acts against our sturdy national spirit reveal a disregard for the nation, and a belief that personal interest trumps all. He is still living with the financial gains of a fascist supporter, and living its poisonous creed. It is in his power to change this, but he does not.
Whilst Jonathan Harmsworth – who lives in a ‘modest’ £40million Mock-Georgian home – publishes articles that talk of ‘socialism’ being the key word for the next Labour government, perhaps ground is indeed now being prepared, to undermine any public support a next Labour government might have.
To be clear, this article is a parody of the original Daily Mail piece attacking Ralph Miliband
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.
When you take part in a special event you can be forgiven for being so wrapped up in that you think it’s the most important thing happening at that moment and everyone should be aware of it.
When that event involves 50,000 people from across the country protesting about an issue that concerns every person in the country and causes massive disruption to one of the country’s major cities, you would certainly be forgiven for assuming everyone should be aware of it. You would be wrong.
Sunday’s massive anti-austerity rally through the centre of Manchester, which coincided with the start of the Tory Party conference, received shockingly scant coverage. I’m not one for conspiracy theories but you’ve got to wonder why the main BBC news that night gave the event just 20 seconds of airtime, contained no clips of organisers or participants, and had us believe it was just a load of protesters shouting “Tory scum”. This certainly was neither the tone nor the objective of the rally I attended.
Greater Manchester Police went out of their way to praise the “peaceful and lawful” crowd, which also makes you wonder why Sky News focused much of its fleeting report on a single arrest – which represented half of the total number of two arrests. ie. 0.004% of the crowd.
Good TV pictures no doubt but not reflecting the actual story. And, as in the BBC’s news report, the colourful pictures of demonstrators were used merely as wallpaper for a political correspondent to talk over and provide yet further details about the Tory conference. ITV News at Ten’s coverage isn’t even worth mentioning.
Despite the depressingly poor national TV coverage, I expected to wake up the following morning to front page photos like this:
A quick flick through the newspapers brought nothing of the kind. With the exception of the Daily Mirror (which carried photos, an article and a leader comment), I spotted not a single word in the Mail, Express or Sun, just a photo in the Times, describing protesters as “health workers”, and a paltry few, easy-to-miss words in the Telegraph.
Worryingly even the Guardian had merely a minuscule article, ironically preferring to give far greater prominence to a far smaller protest against health care reforms – on the other side of the Atlantic, in Washington. The Independent, FT and others opted for the image of a single fusilier heckling the Tories inside the conference hall rather than the fifty thousand people heckling outside.
I am seriously at a loss to explain the total media disinterest.
A demonstration by 2,500 cyclists over the summer in London received far greater coverage. And imagine the column inches and TV exposure that would be given if fifty thousand bankers marched through the City of London protesting against a cap on their bonuses?
As a former BBC Radio 4 news producer, I can only wonder if news values have changed over the past decade. Are we jaded by old-fashioned, anti-government demonstrations? Were there not enough protesters? Were they the wrong type of protesters? Is there a media conspiracy, as many have been suggesting on twitter? Of course we all know where the political allegiances of the press lie, but this media silence went beyond the normal party lines.
I genuinely don’t have the answers and would really like someone to answer the question – who and why decided that journalists shouldn’t properly report news of national importance on their own doorstep on Sunday?
Giselle Green is Head of Press for the National Health Action Party and a former BBC Radio news producer
by Suhayl Saadi
In ‘Lifting the Veil…’ (The Guardian, 21.9.13), it is admirable that Zoe Williams lets (a selected cohort of) Muslim women have their voice. It is obvious, as Williams may be suggesting, that the obsession of the political and media classes in the UK and USA with every nuance of ‘Muslims’ serves as both distraction from systemic economic criminality and a perennial divide-and-rule tactic.
Sadly and typically, though, the article errs by omission and plays into the hands of three Far Rights – the White Supremacist Far Right exemplified by the EDL et al, the Islamist Supremacist Far Right generated by Saudi Arabia and its allies and the fundamentalist capitalist Far Right represented by most of our ruling political class. The comparison drawn by Williams between women who adopt these various Douglas Fairbanks Junior coutures and the urban youth subculture of ‘Goths’ therefore is utterly inappropriate.
Can we not see what has happened since the early 1980s? The goalposts keep changing, so that Williams allows (for want of a better term) ‘women who sport hijabs’ to pose as some kind of normative middle ground. This is exactly what has happened in the UK state’s dealings with ‘subaltern’ groups domestically and it is a reflection of the specific architectures of control deployed during the days of the British Empire.
It is no accident that this process has mirrored the systemic shift to the Right in terms of the overall economic discourse. It is due, in part, to a political disconnection between feminism, anti-racism and economic critique.
And so, conveniently, by default, the public discourse in this country continues to be modulated between the three Right-wing, oppressive poles – fundamentalist capitalism, white supremacism and religious supremacism – while nice white liberals (some of whom are my best friends) flounder.
Saudi Arabia is the worst thing that has happened to Muslim societies since the Black Death.
For 40 years, billions of petrodollars have furthered the Saudi imperial project, which subsists in a structural coalition between the Al Saud family and the Sunni theocracy of the Arabian peninsula. Originally, this was, of course, in large part a creation of the British Empire.
What we see in Muslim societies globally emphatically is not a reflection of a need to keep “a connection with [our] conservative culture”. Islamism is not a conservative ideology; there is nothing ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ about it; it is a revolutionary, post-modern totalitarian ideology.
Perhaps, for a change, we would do well to ask the Left in Muslim countries what they think of Islamism? The Left in Muslim countries is under no illusions, does not mince its words or actions and regularly gets murdered by (in some places, state-sponsored) Islamist paramilitary death squads whose modus operandum most closely resembles that of the Contras in Central America. Now we see what is happening in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Libya and even Turkey.
This is not about consumer ‘choice’; we are not talking here about brands of tiles or toilet rolls. It is about Saudi imperialism and social control and the strategic alliance, baptised, presumably in oil, geostrategic advantage and kickbacks, between that entity and our ruling elites in the UK and USA.
The sooner guilty white liberals and the visible ‘Left’ in Britain begin focusing on all of that, with no holds barred, the better.
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