The 2010 General Election Guide
Mischief-makers, misfits and mums: the bloggers who'll keep us plugged in
Tuesday 06 April 2010
That guy. The one opposite you on the train, hunched over his iPhone, stabbing away at the virtual keyboard and making ssllp-spittle noises. He's probably at it. That other guy, the one in Starbucks with the black Moleskine, the MacBook Pro, skinny latte, Oliver Peoples spectacles and intermittent finger-to-chin pauses for "thought": he's at it. Cube Girl over there is at it, and the Mumsnet brigade are at it, both on and off Mumsnet.
They're all at it. Self-proclaimed masters of the shadowy international scandium oligopoly (a.k.a. Tim Worstall) are doing it economically. The bloke from The Devil's Kitchen is doing it by saying "fuck" a lot, and who can blame him? Sadie Smith won't let you see hers without an invitation, which is a shame, but The Fat Bigot will, which isn't. So will OIiver Peoples spectacles, curiously keen to expose "bigotry" and described by one of her fans as "a counter-weight to the rising consensus of Jew-baiting hysteria that is wrapped up in the guise of humanitarian concern and the anti-war sentiments of the liberal left". The Daily Mail commenters will be at it from their angry sitting-rooms, the BBC's Have Your Say – a source of horrified wonder to the rest of the world, displaying a confined and small-souled rage like a man having a tantrum in a revolving door – will be infested with it, and people like me will be starting new blogs specifically for the purpose.
Now is a good time to be a political blogger. "Citizen journalism" is a nonsense; citizen journalists seldom, if ever, do things like pick up the telephone or go out to interview someone, and never, by definition, have access to the backup channels of sub-editors, copytasters, editorial conferences and fact-checkers that gave the now-threatened "mainstream media" whatever authority we once had.
But it doesn't matter. Politics isn't news, and elections are won or lost not by fact but by opinion.
This is where the bloggers score. For every one that I may think is mad as a bucket of frogs, there'll be one that you think should be dunked in cold water and locked away for good. And the great thing about the bloggers is that they have no agenda apart from self-interest. No proprietors to second-guess, no corporate political position to uphold, no readers to pander to and, on the whole, no advertisers to placate and no particular urge to make a profit. They are writing as the gentlemen of the 17th century wrote: to argue, and to be heard by those they want to hear them. Four centuries on, the amateur rhetoricians are back. But this time their platform isn't St Paul's Churchyard but the internet; their medium, not the pamphlet (or the privately-copied manuscript) but html.
It is oddly comforting, as we approach the most dismal general election in living memory (with a Government that has presided over war, sleaze and economic collapse facing an opposition which has presided over the Bullingdon Club) to know that anybody with an internet connection can read Not Proud of Britain or Slugger O'Toole, Man In A Shed or Never Trust A Hippy, as well as drop in on more established mainstream commentators such as the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson or the Adam Smith Institute.
I have no way of predicting how much, if any, influence the bloggers will have on the outcome of the election. It may in the end come down to how many seats can be purchased with the money Lord Aschroft has saved by his tax arrangements. It may come down to how many people think that it's odd to have a strange fellow such as Lord Mandelson as Secretary of State for Business when (a) businesses are going down the toilet daily and (b) nobody can quite recall electing him. It may come down to whether we are more distressed by Mr Brown's Messianic righteousness or Mr Cameron's seeming ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Most likely, it will come down to our own gullibility, like slightly squiffy girls trying to choose between two berks at a party: which one do we believe when they say they'll be gentle, they just want to hold us, they'll only put the tip in. We're going to be screwed. We know we're going to be screwed. But we'd like to hold on to the illusion of choice just a little bit longer.
The bloggers will have a fine old time. And I can guarantee I'll cover them fairly. Prejudiced? Yes, but equally prejudiced against the whole damn pack of them. What fun.
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