Saturday, June 10, 2006

Too hot to blog...

...and too busy, my new little job seems to be less 'part' and more 'time'. And there are metatarsals about which to fret. Also the silly season seems to have started in January this year so there's been precious little news about-whose to have Hughes Views. Still the nights will start drawing in soon (can't remember when that happens but it's not 21st June; it may already have started). Meanwhile farewell......

Thursday, June 08, 2006

More on rightwing blogs.....

..... and why they're good for Labour. Reasons to be cheerful part 2. Further to the insightful character analysis that I posted yesterday, here's some more good news.

Right-wingers love to 'discuss' politics but only with people who share pretty much completely their own views. My insiders inside their party confirm that their meetings are quite unlike Labour party ones where almost no one agrees with anyone else about anything very much ever. But Tory activists generally always agree with one another and so come to believe that their eccentric views are mainstream. Tory blogs will add fuel to this phenomenon as the people who usually only get together in big groups at their party conference will find that 'thousands of people' agree with them about everything and will therefore be convinced that It Must Be Right.

Europe provides an example. There are probably only two or three million British people who are vehemently anti-EU. Unfortunately lots of them live in the South West which is why we have two UKIP MEPs and why the south Devon coastal strip was covered with their little purple signs in the spring of 2004. Most of the other forty million or so voters are indifferent about the EU (unhappily to judge by the present parlous state of the European Movement, there are only a few thousand EU enthusiasts in the UK).

But, to Tory activists, Europe is the proverbial red rag to the bull. Just look at any rightwing blog. See how the comments count rockets whenever a post mentions Europe. There's lots at the moment because of the pickle David Cameron is in over his promise to pull his MEPs out of the EPP.

So the poor souls will reinforce their prejudices and end up trying to drag their party back again to the 'one more heave' position genuinely believing that their curious views will appeal to the majority.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Why right-wingers blog so nicely

Some B4L regulars have posted about the relative success of rightwing blogs compared to their leftwing counterparts. My amateurish psychoanalysis may show where this difference originates, but does it matter?

It matters not a jot. For all the hype, blogs have approximately zero influence. Even political journalists have far less influence than they probably like to believe and bloggers are way below them. Just as most stuff in newspapers is of the 'that's quite interesting but I've something else to do right now' variety, so too are most posts, sadly often without the quite interesting bit.

As they say in the USA, 'you do the math'. Even if the claims for the reach of some sites are correct and they really do have a couple of hundred thousand unique readers and if they all happen to live in the UK, that's still fewer than 250 people on average per UK constituency. Their real readership is probably lower; it can be misleading to count hits over a month. It's a bit like counting how many times a magazine is picked up to get at its total circulation.

Readers are usually in the 'already converted' camp. Comment boxes show that many of them either agree wholeheartedly with the author or venomously disagree. They are not the vital swing voters who determine our fate at election time.

And what of my pseudo-scientific analysis? Wild generalisations are necessary. Right wingers tend to be more orderly, obsessive and self-disciplined. Read John O'Farrell's amusing book 'Things can only get better' and his observations about canvassing and how to spot a Tory supporting household. A tidy front garden with lawns that end in those steep, dead-straight cliffs that give way to neat little borders is, he writes, a dead give-away.

Right wingers tend to believe the world is simple and could be brought to heel if only everyone behaved like them or were in jail. They love certainty. They like to join 'exclusive' clubs and societies where they can gossip and share conspiracy theories. They often have a passion for what passes as 'breaking' news; it's perhaps a hangover from the playground taunt 'I know something you don't know'.

No wonder their loyal bands of right-thinking readers can’t wait to read their tit-bits. And no wonder their sites are meticulously updated with gossipy posts about the alleged shortcomings of those they label the bad guys. As their chief spokesman Margaret Thatcher said 'if you're not with us, you're against us'.

By contrast those who lean to the left seem to have a better grasp of complexity and a more laid-back approach to life. They tend to think the best of people and are well used to uncertainty especially if they've ever been to a political meeting with people they imagined had similar views to their own........

So relax.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Be careful what you wish for

For a long time I used to* think that a return to consensus politics would be nice. Back to the 1950s, for example, when even the Tories believed in public services such as the NHS and were even faintly proud of its unique Britishness. But, as with so much nostalgia for that decade, the memory plays tricks. There's no such time as the good old days.

Now that we seem to be moving into a strange new political era, with the leaders of the two main parties welded to the centre of British politics and troubled only by having to drag some of their reluctant MPs and foot-soldiers along with them, I'm recalling some of the downsides of consensus.

It's dull. It leads to complacency; in the 1950s people really did believe that British was best. As a result we stopped trying and thought that stamping 'made in Britain' on our manufactured goods excused a dismal failure to invest in new plant or to adopt new working practices. Our manufacturing industry has never recovered.

Also it gave us what Harold Wilson always referred to as "thirteen years of Tory misrule". And did I mention that it was dull?

Where might it all end this time? Will we perhaps get some grand coalition after an election which brings a hung parliament? Neither the Tories nor Labour has much stomach for a coalition with the duplicitous 'we'll promise anything to get elected' LibDems. Both main parties have been the victims of too many such coalitions in local government and are well used to being stabbed in the back by fellow cabinet members from the party that wants us to think it's above nasty politics.

Perhaps such a coalition could lead to a new centre party with 'traditional' Conservative and Labour people breaking off either side. Or perhaps it won't. As I observed, not entirely originally I admit, in the comments box on Skipper's blog: 'it's always dangerous to make predictions, especially if they're about the future'.

Too busy to blog? No, but anxiously waiting for the bathroom to be free.....

* NB je rends hommage à Marcel Proust

Too busy to blog.....

... but had time on Sat. to send this letter to the Guardian; it's on a favourite topic viz. our news media's pathetic lack of interest in things 'overseas'. It's been over two months since my last successful 'letters to the (national)editors'. In them I managed to diss Diane Abbott in the Times and to put Independent readers right about Tory NHS plans during my last blogging hiatus, perhaps I need another......

Monday, June 05, 2006

More thanks.....

...and a post without a hint of irony or sarcasm! Iain Dale of Diary fame has mentioned my site in his “One Minute Guide to Today's Blogs”. As a result my new visitors counter has notched up an unexpectedly high total for a Monday.

I haven’t yet made it to a mention on his “slot for the new daily Channel 4 News podcast” but Councilor Bob Piper has. Hooray! Iain and Bob’s site are ‘real’ blogs and fine examples of what a political blog can aspire to. Iain’s must take him ages to keep going and, with an ear far closer to the political ground than mine is, he’s been able to come up with some scoops amongst his average of five or six daily postings. Mind you it’s more closely matched to his real job than my blog is – well that’s my excuse – and, although it didn’t help him get on the Tory candidate A list, I’m sure his site’s helped get him the odd spot on the telly and now his role in the new podcast. Interestingly, he was wondering out loud a few blogs back about how or if to continue to finance / justify the time he spends on his site. I counseled against taking on extra writers.......

He describes himself as ‘centre-right’. I suppose I’m ‘centre-left’ and Bob is certainly someway to the ‘traditional’ left of me. But, however much we disagree, we, and many other bloggers, seem to be able to use the medium without resorting to gross insult and/or the ‘tis, ‘tisn’t style of argument that infects a lot of the internet. Pithy and/or barbed remarks are much more effective imho.....

Belated thanks

Joy on the doormat; a leaflet from the Tories, just over a month since the election, thanking us for returning our councillor and celebrating their take-over of the Borough Council from the LibDems. The big local issues are, according to them, building new homes and the failing bus service.

Houses make me smile a little because the main opposition to building some on the scruffy fields around here comes from people who live in houses that were built on fields twenty or forty years ago. Even our own crumbling victorian ruin is built on what was an orchard a century and a half ago. I wonder what the Nimbys said back then.

The bus service is also a source of mild merriment especially as I'm fit enough to walk into town instead of using it. The Tories (who always do well around here so you'd think people would support their 'core beliefs') have for donkey's years claimed to be against subsidies and for people and companies standing on their own feet. But, when stagecoach decided that the bus route was no longer viable, our Tory controlled County Council decided to subsidise the daytime service in addition to the evening and Sunday ones which have been subsidised for aeons.

But they did it on the cheap and introduced a timetable that is impossible to maintain. So now they're having to add more subsidy; what a funny old world. And now we have three different companies with three different ticketing systems running it. One does Mon-Sat daytimes, another ditto evenings and the third does Sundays. Deep joy.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Bob Neill – man of the people

Most of the population of Britain is effectively disenfranchised. As a reminder, about 350 people yesterday chose the new MP for Bromley and Chislehurst. White, middle-class male, non-Tory-A-lister, barrister Bob Neill is he. Like the majority of the UK's population, the good people of B&C live in a non-marginal seat. In these the MP is chosen by the party members of the constituency from a list over which their Party organisation has, depending on the party and constituency, quite a lot or hardly any influence.

There’s almost no chance that Mr Neill won’t win the by-election however hard the local Labour and LibDem activists might try. PR wouldn't end this peculiar situation. There are at least 57 varieties of PR none of them completely satisfactory. It could even be argued (although not very convincingly) that FPTP is one of them. Whatever system is in place, getting past the local party’s selection system will be the highest hurdle anyone has to face.

If you want to have any influence over who your next MP will be, join whichever party always wins in your constituency. Or if, like me, you live in a marginal, join one that has a chance. Sound advice except that to follow it would mean me joining the Tories or LibDems. Arrrg, advice is so much easier to give than to take......

Friday, June 02, 2006

Are we snobs or just posh?

Gloucester's MP has hit the front page of the Gloucestershire Echo with his suggestion that one motive behind the opposition to concentrating children's hospital service on Gloucester instead of Cheltenham is snobbism. The Gloucester Echo is sold mainly in Cheltenham and the posh bits of north-east Gloucestershire.

Thing is, he might be right. Some Cheltenham people have a horror of Gloucester and it's certainly a lot rougher than their nice little town. And it's not just Cheltenham people, many in the county, especially the 'home county' set in the Cotswolds look down (in both senses) on the fine City which should be at the heart of their county.

I love the place. It's a pity it doesn't make more of its ancient buildings or its noble heritage but it has a vibrancy lacking in much of the rest of the county. It's also a microcosm of England with, apparently, almost exactly the same proportions of ethnic groups as the rest of the country. It was the seat that Labour had to win in 1997 to be certain of a majority. So if you haven't been there yet, why not?

Battle for Oxford

Another bastion of British tradition seems about to fall. The Times reports that "Oxford University is to press ahead with proposals to end almost 900 years of self-government". But it's not yet a done deal: "a dozen “pro-democracy” academics circulated alternative plans yesterday urging Congregation to reject the reforms.".

Clinging to 'tradition' does Britain no favours especially as so many of them turn out to have been invented by Victorian or Edwardian romantics. The idea of amiably fusty old dons running our great seat of learning may appeal to a John Major vision of Britain as a country of warm beer and gentle cricket but it will do little to help it maintain its eminence into the twenty-first century.

The same appeal to sentimentally faux nostalgia can be seen in some of the arguments put forward, for example, by opponents of NHS reform or police-force mergers. But we've moved on from a world of 'carry on nurse' or 'Miss Marple' and our institutions need also to move on.

Sorry about all the clichés but at least now you know....


.....occupies the 'in praise of ' leader in the Guardian today. "Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the 14th Dalai Lama are not the most obvious company for a cheery round-headed Belgian reporter ... but yesterday a ceremony in Brussels brought them together."

Being a radical journalist obviously endears him to the Guardian especially because "Tintin sides with the oppressed, fighting Nazis, communists and capitalists alike. By the 1970s he had taken up blue jeans and yoga.." . But no mention of open-toed sandals, wishy-washy liberalism or organic muesli.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What constitutes work?

A question apropos the DPM's croquet. Homing from work is a clever little phrase to sum up all the stuff that workers, especially those in offices, do on company time that isn't really work. Booking a holiday, ringing the gas man, sending personal e-mails, blogging and surfing for pleasure; those sorts of things. Adding in talking about football, cars, the price of fish or baby clothes and all that type of inconsequential time-passing; many people probably only manage a couple of hours real work a day.

Would we be as outraged by a photo of a Daily Mail employee playing solitaire on his computer as they would like us to be about one of Mr Prescott playing croquet? Answers on a postcard please (or a comment would be nice).