Wrapped in Tinfoil

I’ve said repeatedly – usually on those occasions where MoT has been nominated for some sort of ‘blog award’ – that my overall attitude to such things is that they’re a bit of fun but hardly something I consider to be too meaningful.

So far as my personal interest goes on such occasions, I quite like to see who else has been nominated – it’s nice to know what kind of ‘company’ MoT is notionally ‘keeping’ and a little gratifying to find out that, more often than not, the other nominees are bloggers whose writing I enjoy and even admire for the quality of their ‘work’. And I’m often happy to flag up ‘awards’ for which I’ve been nominated not because I care too much about the outcome of the voting but simply because if someone has gone to the time and trouble to organise an award, collect nominations, set up a voting system, etc. then it’s least I can do to pitch a bit of traffic their way so the whole thing doesn’t fall flat on its face.

Blogging isn’t a competition and I don’t publish my views and opinions online, here or elsewhere, because I want to be popular or well-regarded. I write first and foremost because I enjoy it and if that interests others or sparks off conversation and debate then great and if it doesn’t then so what.

Neil Clark, it seems, begs to differ:

It’s official. We now have 4m bloggers in the UK.

Cause for celebration? Well, yes and no.

Okay, here we go…

The fact that any member of the public who has access to a computer, can set up for free, their own place in cyberspace, where they can write about anything they wish – be it their travel experiences, their passion for tea or their undying support for Queens Park Rangers, can only be a good thing. Democracy is surely about giving everybody a voice: blogging is a way that can be achieved.

There’s a little more democracy than simply giving everybody a voice. It’s certainly a start, but merely having a voice is of limited value if that voice is not attached in some way to the means to exercise power in some respect, whether directly or via an elected representative – but let’s see where this is going…

But there is a downside too. The very nature of blogging encourages narcissism.

Tis both a boon and a curse to be able to see ourselves as others see us, hence it tends to be a little unwise to tie blogging in with narcissism in an article published on a blog.

Hello Pot, This is Kettle. Over….

Your blog is a place where you can be as big-headed and boastful as you like – and the medium unsurpisingly [sic] attracts its fair share of egomaniacs. The main problem with blogging however is not that there are too many bloggers, but there are still too few: the blogosphere, particularly in the field of political blogging, is still ridiculously unrepresentative of the population as a whole.

Oh god. The old ‘blogging is unrepresentative’ chestnut.

So what if it is? It’s not as if Britain is governed by bloggers. I don’t know about you but personally I don’t tend to get too many phone calls from Gordon Brown asking me whether I think a law permitted terrorism suspect to be detained for 56 days is a good idea.

In fact I don’t get any such calls.

I’m here to represent one set of opinions and one set of opinions only – my own – and its up to those reading my comments to make of them what they will. Its their choice whether they agree or disagree with anything I have to say and its their’s alone.

British political bloggers are overwhelmingly middle class and male, London-based and university educated. An extraordinary percentage of them seem to work, or have worked, in financial services. Genuinely working class voices do exist (see the blogs of The Exile, Martin Meenagh, Charlie Marks and Mick Hall) but there are all too few of them and as a consequence the issues which most concern ordinary working people – rising utilility and food bills, poor public transport, pitiful state pensions, worsening employment conditions and escalating street crime – are largely ignored.

Middle class? Nope, grew up on a council estate.

Male? Not much I can do about that – didn’t really have much choice in the matter when I was younger and don’t much care to changes around now.

London-based? Not me. I live in the Black Country.

University educated? Well yes – some working class kids are bright enough to have gone to university and got an education. In fact its something I regard as a good thing and, as a parent, have high hopes (and a fair expectation) that my 15 year old son will do precisely that in due course. So where’s the problem?

Financial services/City? No, again, I work in community development and I work in, primarily, working class communities, so your point is?

In fact I can’t think of that many bloggers who do work in financial services or the City anyway and I really don’t care overly if they do. It’s not as if the be all and end of blogging is sharing stock tips, is it?

Possibly because of the financial services/City background of many British political bloggers, free-market/libertarian dogma predominates. Anyone who calls for renationalisation of the railways and the public utilities, as I have, is routinely labelled a “Stalinist”. There is a real dearth of economically left-wing bloggers: far too many bloggers believe being “left wing” simply means having a “liberal” view on social issues and favouring gay marriages.

As opposed to “left-wing” being defined exclusively by reference to Marxist theory – which didn’t exist at the time that the term ‘left-wing’ originated – from the habit of the Jacobins of sitting on the left-hand side of the Estates General – and particularly by reference to one form of state socialism derived from Marx’s work.

There are both other forms of socialism that don’t depend on Marx for their intellectual framework – the Chartists predated Marx and the publication of the Communist Manifesto for starters, and lets not forget the Co-operative movement either – and numerous other interpretations of Marx’s work that do not lead inexorably to state socialism, so just who are you, Neil, to decide what does and does not constitute left-wing economics or left-wing thought.

Oh and yes, some on the right are routinely – and idiotically – disposed to label anything remotely left-wing as ‘Stalinist’, just as some on the left are equally disposed to label anything right-wing as ‘Fascist’, the staggering lesson being that some people trade piss-poor political insults. Wow.

FFS, Orwell noted 50 years ago that any number of political terms had become so debased as to have become almost entirely devoid of meaning – in Politics and the English Language, of course – ‘Stalinist’ and ‘Fascist’ are two such words, both of which, when used pejoratively, mean nothing more than ‘whatever I happen to disagree with’.

The narrow social background of British political bloggers means that the issues which concern them are not those which concern the average member of the public. A classic example of this in occurred in the summer, when a group of allegedly “anti-war” bloggers decided that the most urgent priority of the day was not campaigning for an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Iraq – or trying to prevent potentially catastrophic US/UK strikes on Iran, but linking up with notorious pro-war hawks to try to gain asylum for Iraqi interpreters who had worked for the illegal occupying forces.

Bollocks.

I guess that I’m one of those ‘allegedly anti-war’ bloggers. I opposed the Iraq War and I opposed it because I looked long and hard at the situation as it was developing, considered the strategic and foreign policy issues, the history of the region, the prevailing social and cultural conditions in the region, the apparent motives of the various parties and range of other rational factors and reached the conclusion that the most likely, if not, certain outcome of an invasion would be a complete clusterfuck in which there would be very few ‘winners’ and a whole shitload of ‘losers’, the vast majority of which would be ordinary Iraqis who desired nothing more than the basics of safety, a roof over their heads, food in their bellies and sufficient personal liberty to allow them to get on with their lives in relative peace and quiet.

I made a rational decision based on real world issues and real situations, one that I can back up all the way with rational argument, not one based on abstract notions of ideology, ‘American imperialism’ and a few choice quotes from ‘Trotsky for Dummies’.

And when it came to the issue of those Iraqi employees who had worked for British forces around Basra, in the obvious and natural hope that those forces would help to stabilise the area and set them on the road to re-establishing something approximating a normal life, when it emerged that they were being targeted by local militias and death squads, I looked at the situation and concluded that the circumstances in which these people found themselves under threat gave rise to moral obligations to ensure their safety, even if that meant providing safe passage out of Iraq and a safe haven in the UK.

In both opposing the war, originally, and in supporting Dan Hardie‘s admirable campaign on Iraqi employees, I took the rational and, I would strongly argue, human view and made a human decision about where I stand.

Neil, by contrast, considers those Iraqis who have worked with UK forces, as translators and in other non-combat capacities, as ‘collaborators’ who should be left to rot under the summary ‘justice’ of the death squads and the men with heated pliers and he, and others, have used the Arabic term ‘harki’ to describe those workers – a term that pretty much equates to ‘Uncle Tom’, as I recall. Arguments about the legality or otherwise of the war itself don’t come into, these people found themselves at risk of torture and death because they took a job with British Forces, and that, to my mind, places the UK under certain moral and practical obligations, obligations that one can see and support regardless of where one stood on the war to begin with.

It’s called engaging with the real world – something that Neil and others like him might like to try from time to time.

Anyone who deviated from the official party line – as laid down by a self-appointed uber elite of British bloggers – faced a cyberspace lynch mob, more in keeping with Nazi Germany than a country which is supposed to pride itself on its support for free speech.

Awwww…

For the record, there was and is no ‘official party line’, merely a campaign that bloggers were free to join in with if they agreed with its objectives, or not as the case may be.

And as regards Neil’s ‘cyberspace lynch mob’ the bottom line is that he chose to take the unpopular line and got called an asshole (and a few other choice epithets as well) by a few people who were pissed off with his attitude. No one tried to shut him or his blog down and he didn’t get his windows broken. A few people merely used their own blogs or his comments facility to tell him what they thought of him and his views.

The way this whole free speech ‘thing’ works is simple – you can say what you like and others can disagree and say what they like back to you, even if that amounts to calling you a cunt. By implication, whenever someone deploys the old ‘Nazi’ line whenever they’ve said something to piss people off and got a reaction they don’t like, the version of free speech they’re talking about is the kind where they’re free to say what they like, but those who disagree with him should keep their mouths shut, all of which calls to mind Rosa Luxemburg’s comment that:

Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party – though they are quite numerous – is no freedom at all.

And, in any case, when it comes to using Nazi analogies on-line (yawn):

Godwin’s Law prov. [Usenet] “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” There is a tradition in many groups that, once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. Godwin’s Law thus practically guarantees the existence of an upper bound on thread length in those groups.

As for this “self-appointed uber elite” thing, what a load of bollocks.

Let me explain how this got started.

Dan wrote an initial post that was picked up by one or two other bloggers and falgged up, and there were also a few bloggers who’ve been around long enough to gain a bit of attention here and there (and an audience of course) who were contacted by e-mail about the campaign and asked if they’d be interested in it, purely on the basis that Dan (and one or two others) thought that it looked the kind of thing that they might be willing to support.

As with other such ‘campaigns’ – such as that which accompanied the Usmanov issue – it grew and developed organically. No one was pressured into joining in and no one was excluded either. That’s how blog campaigns operate, if you’re interested then join in.

For the self-appointed uber elite of British political bloggers, the fact that someone, not of their number, and who did defy their three line-whip on the Iraqi interpreters issue – was nominated – and then won, in a free public vote, the title of “Best UK Blog” in the most prestigious prize in blogging, is too much to bear.

Oh puh-leeze. It’s not the ‘most prestigious prize in blogging’, it’s an on-line poll which, I might add, I’d never even come across until recently, and nor, from some of the reactions of other bloggers who were nominated, had they either – at least one of those nominated alongside Neil didn;t even know they’d been nominated until the voting started.

Neil kicks off by pointing out that there are an estimated 4 million bloggers in the UK.

He won this ‘award’ on the back of getting a little over a thousand votes.

Ergo more than 3.9 million bloggers either didn’t know about these ‘awards’ or, like me, couldn’t give a toss about them or who ‘won’.

Sunny Hundal called my victory in the 2007 Weblog awards “bizarre”.

Sunny’s perfectly entitled to his opinion and to express it – that’s free speech.

Sunny has just started a blog which claims to be keen on democracy, yet he clearly doesn’t like it when people vote for someone whose views he does not approve of. My overwhelming victory in the 2007 poll shows, for anyone who still had any doubts, that the media’s and self-appointed uber-blogger’s view of who are the most popular bloggers in Britiain is very different from the situation when the public allowed to decide the issue.

Neil, you got just over a thousand votes on an open on-line poll that the vast majority of bloggers either didn’t know about or didn’t care enough about to vote.

There’s a bit more to this democracy business than just the matter of how many votes you polled, there’s also the question of how many people actually voted in total out the potential pool of voters – i.e. a few thousand out of 4 million bloggers – and that’s without getting into the technicalities and asking questions as to how robust the polling system might have been. There are few, if any, on-line polling systems that aren’t tractable to the principle of ‘vote early, vote often’ if you know how to get round the very simple checks they tend to have on duplicate voting.

Had I been minded to take part in any of this, and even allowing for the best possible automated checks, I could have voted at home, at work, nipped over to my mom’s place and voted, gone over to see my partner’s parents and voted, and then nipped into any of several cyber-cafes in my area and voted as well, and that’s without firing up the surfing anonymity software I have that allows me to bounce my connection off a whole raft of different servers, all round the world, and vote from each of them.

And, in any case, even in a democracy who says that just because some people vote for a particular individual or party, those who don’t vote for that party or individual have to like it.

Articles on British political blogging always seem to feel it compulsory to mention the blogs of Iain Dale and Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes), yet in the 2007 Weblog Awards, I polled more votes than both men combined.

For one thing there may well have been a bit of tactical voting at work – one or two bloggers called for an ‘anyone but Dale/Guido’ vote, precisely because they’re pissed off with them always being talked up by the MSM, and some, no doubt, responded by voting for Neil, most likely because his blog winning would be thought the most likely result to piss them off. Not that I suspect that either of them care anyway. Guido certainly won’t give a toss, I can tell you that for nothing.

Like it or not, both Iain and Guido have the ‘status’ they have, in part, because they do generate traffic in quantities unmatched by the majority of other bloggers – you can quibble over the full validity of the counting methods and the numbers its produces, you can quibble over whether they merit that kind of traffic in terms of the quality of what they write and you can certainly argue the point that they probably get as much traffic from people who don’t care for them and their politics and are spoiling for a fight as they do from people who agree with them. But even allowing for all that, the raw numbers they generate in terms of traffic do justify their claim to be ‘popular’ in terms of attracting readers.

That said, blogging isn’t a popularity contest as far as I’m concerned, so my response to that is generally a big fat ‘so fucking what’. Popular does not mean good – look how many people buy the Sun and the Daily Mail every day.

The reason for my blog‘s popularity is not “bizarre”, but very, very simple. Whether it be my unequivocal opposition to the war in Iraq, (and my equally unequivocal opposition to any pre-emptive strikes on Iran), my support for higher taxes on the rich and renationalisation of the railways and Britain’s rip-off privatised utilities, my support for that great post-war achievement, the Green Belt, or my opposition to the draconian smoking ban – the positions I espouse are (unlike the self-appointed uber elite of bloggers) in tune with the views of the majority of ordinary people.

Fuck off. Neil wins a minor blogging poll that few people have ever even heard about and fewer still could be bothered to vote in and suddenly he’s the authentic voice of the people. What was he saying earlier about egos and narcissism?

Remember, Neil got just over a thousand votes. The Sun and Daily Mail have combined sales of 5-6 million copies a day – who’s in tune with a ‘majority’ in that equation. What the fuck does he think goes on here in the real world? That so may people buy those papers just the remind them of how much the country desperately needs a proletarian revolution?

You’ve just gotta love the far left – they win a fucking raffle and they think its a popular mandate to run the fucking country.

I hope that my prize emboldens other people to challenge the smug, self-satisfied cartel of self-appointed uber-bloggers, who for far too long have had it all their own way. Four million bloggers is still too few, it would be far better if we had 40m. When there are ten times more blog posts on the way working people are being screwed by privatised utility companies, on the decline of NHS dentistry and the scandalous level of state pensions as there are on Israel/Palestine and the need for an “interventionist” foreign policy, we will know that the blogosphere has come of age.

And you’ll all be first against the wall when the revolution comes, as well, you bastards. Just you wait and see.

In the name of democracy, it’s time for a blogging revolution.

What did I tell you.

Neil would have you think that all this is proof that him and his oppos are somehow the genuine and authentic ‘voice’ of the working class and that the majority of the working class give (or should give) a toss about the likes of Marx, Gramsci and Trotsky.

Let’s me tell you what the ‘authentic voice’ of the working class, the people who actually live their lives in working class communities, really has to say on the subject of Marx, Gramsci and Trotsky.

Marx was, of course, absolutely brilliant…

…in ‘Duck Soup. Fucking hilarious the guy was, and so were his brothers.

Gramsci? Isn’t he that new foreign striker the local team’s rumoured to be looking at? What’s his goalscoring record like?

And as for Trotsky, isn’t that what Russians get after ten pints of Carling and a serious Vindaloo.

Yes, the blogosphere really does have its share narcissists and egomaniacs.

They’re the ones who think that a few hundred votes in an on-line poll that no one really gives a toss about makes them the ‘best’ and ‘most popular’ blogger in the UK and the ‘voice of the people’ rather than a near certain recipient of another prestigious blogging ‘award’.

Best Tinfoil Helmet.

  • jim evans

    Ther`s a lot of good stuff in this article Unity but it`s too long for the attention span of us children of the television age. No offence meant, but could you express the essence of your point more succinctly?

  • Would ‘he’s a twat!’ do?

  • jim evans

    No…that simply discloses your laziness and arrogance….and makes a mockery of your well thought out but hopelessly verbose article.

  • Indeed. Neil Clark strikes me as a weird, self-fixated weirdo who is best ignored, except for those occasions when he is best laughed at.

    Your blog has just been added to my RSS feeds. Neil Clark’s has not.

  • jim evans

    Weird weirdo`s…whatever next!?

  • Neil Clark was the one who achieved the impossible over the summer and – through his article on how all Iraqi interpreters were “Quislings” who deserved nothing less than a grisly death – united all Comment is Free posters in condemnation of his hectorings.

    In an odd sort of way he’s kinda a uniting force. Comment is Free today, Palestine tomorrow?

  • Nice article, Unity. Oh, and for the record, the polls allowed you to vote every 24 hours from the same IP, notwithstanding the method you outlined of using different machines.

    Which is why I pointed to the fact that for a few days, Neil basically posted nothing except pleas to vote for him.

    Apparently, though, I am a bad loser. I posted one wee admin post and then let it drop down the page with the maintenance of my usual output…

    DK

  • Heh, nice one Unity.

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  • epsilon

    Neil does strike me as the kind of twat who comes from London and thinks that if only the working-classes could be educated into Marx and Gramsci, then they would immediately renounce the Sun and follow the inevitable lead of their middle-class ‘betters’ [like Neil then] to build a socialist revolution.

    Or- as I would put it…Fucking patronising bourgeois cunt. More of a threat to the workers, as Marx actually pointed out, than the Sun will ever be; and the epitome of the petit-bourgeoisie telling the workers what to do.

    Prick.

  • epsilon

    Oh, and his blog tells us that he contributes to the Spectator and the Daily Express. Go figure.

  • Good that he beat Dale and Fawkes though? Unlike DK Dale DID pimp the poll with an item running repeatedly at the top of the blog for several days and latterly including the information on the daily voting opportunity.

    Having done that I think Mr Dale at least owes us a results post?

    But anyway there’s not that much to argue with in this post Unity. And I’m not going to argue with it at all. But I’m still pleased that the usual suspects did not win this particular meaningless award. Aren’t you?

    And I still think there is a menace of defamatory sock puppet comments which are just as much of a scourge of Bloggerdom at Neil’s, Iain’s or even Guido’s.

  • He really is a most frightfully tiresome twat.

  • jim evans

    Could it be that the tiresome twat is right about a lot of things but gets on your nerves because he implicitly criticises your lack of political and intellectual integrity? Reading these infantile,bullying, “me too” comments makes me wonder if the rest of you are MPs….or some other form of professional con men!Living in the Black Country doesn`t guarantee you freedom from metropolitanitis!

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  • douglas clark

    jim evans,

    Re you post, 24613, no it isn’t. It is impossible to believe anyone could be that daft.

    The question arises why anyone would agree with Neil Clark. Why do you agree with him? Have you thought it through? Is thought available to you?

    We need to be told. What, out of curiosity is a sock puppet? Clearly Neil would not indulge in self aggrandisement, but who, exactly, are you?

    Just askin’

  • jim evans

    Hold on there Dougie….I just wonder if Neil Clark may hay have some interesting but irritating ideas and that your irritation with him is caused by the fact that you now live in a political climate that is dominated by issues of style rather than substance and personality rather than political philosophy.
    I imagine a sock puppet is a little hand knitted glove puppet…..and though I did not introduce the idea or use the phrase myself… no doubt it`s yet another stupid american way of describing something which we could have equally well described in english before we started importing our dreary political soap opera wholesale from the USA….you know…all that two indistinguishable main political parties stuff…. both completely controlled by global capitalism…. crap, that you sad bastards still imagine can be passed off as a real democracy!
    Lastly,I am an old nobody with no significance to you at all.I have no money,I don`t appear on telly,I left the Labour Party years ago, while it still resembled an alternative to so called conservatism, and if I didn`t worry about what you treacherous windbags were up to with my son`s futures I wouldn`t bother involving myself at all.But never fear I have come to the conclusion that epolitics is as much a waste of energy as being one of that tiny band of camp followers who remain members of “our” political parties….so GOODBYE !

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