Sunday, 12 April 2009

We have the power

By Gaby Hinsliff, Political Editor of the Observer

"Mission accomplished", ran the brief message posted around 5pm yesterday on Guido Fawkes's blog, next to a picture of the recently departed Damian McBride. For once, it was not hyperbole. Yesterday marked the British blogosphere's first big political scalp, and the day political new media in the UK came of age.

Just as the Drudge Report forced US politicians to take notice when it broke the story of Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky, Fawkes beat the traditional media to a scoop and developed it faster than broadcasters and traditional newspapers could keep up. Now politicians on all sides will be examining the consequences for some time to come.

Tim Montgomerie, the mild-mannered committed Christian who founded, is very different to the maverick Fawkes - his website specialises in intelligent debate on policy issues interesting to Tories - but as one of the "big three" political bloggers alongside Fawkes and Iain Dale he regards the weekend's events as "a very big deal, unquestionably".

The new media, he argues, don't play by "lobby rules" - the conventions governing journalists operating through the authorised system at Westminster - and are thus increasingly likely to uncover damaging scandals.

"We are not treated to private briefings, there is no element of chumminess and no sense of trading of favours. We are completely outside the club and it is that status that means the new media aren't easy to reason with. It's a pioneer, frontier media," he says.

He admits that sometimes the blogging pioneers - untroubled by fears of libel and unchecked by subeditors or lawyers - also get it "badly wrong". And while Fawkes has denied that money changed hands for the leaked emails, the buccaneering spirit combined with lack of regulation can also encourage dubious tactics.

Nonetheless, this weekend the bloggers have been more than a match for two of the Labour party's most effective communicators. So how did Draper and McBride get so outmanoeuvred?
Draper is fond of saying that when he started out in blogging last year, he did not know his RSS from his elbow, and he was certainly wrong-footed by the bitterly personal and vindictive world of the blogosphere.

Of more than 50 responses on his own LabourList website yesterday within hours of Draper posting his version of events, "vile", "arrogant" and "bullying" were some of the more printable terms used about him: over at Fawkes, Draper and McBride are described as "vermin" and "fucking numpties" in users' comments.

It was this kind of damaging language about Labour politicians that a frustrated Draper wanted to combat last autumn when he set up LabourList - and, it is now clear, when he secretly discussed setting up RedRag. What he did not seem to understand is the rules of the game.
Political blogs are a mix of the courtly (they acknowledge a story taken from another blogger by crediting the source with a "hat tip", for example) and the toxic, with bitter feuds regularly erupting between players. Both tactics actually help boost readership, by encouraging casual surfers to hop between sites or raising the profile of both sides in a spat.

Draper took to this game with gusto, prompting a gentle warning from the Labour blogger and ex-transport minister Tom Harris earlier this year against his "continuing and ugly feuds with Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale".

But his mistake was, when challenged directly about claims that his feuds were being politically directed by No 10, to deny it when the email exchange now suggests otherwise. "He denied to my face two weeks ago that these emails existed," says Dale.

Draper also forgot that online, video counts for a thousand words: Tory bloggers took appropriate revenge yesterday by posting a YouTube video of him denying in a television interview previous allegations that Downing Street had helped orchestrate his arguments.
Fawkes's suggestion in interviews yesterday that Labour tactics of "smearing, pouring poison in journalists' ears" were now over may be taken with a pinch of salt - Labour bloggers point out that Fawkes's own website regularly carries unproven innuendo. Nonetheless the affair probably marks the end of Labour retaliating in kind.

Alex Hilton, the blogger behind the grassroots site and Recess Monkey, perhaps the left's nearest equivalent to Guido Fawkes, says Labour does need more firepower online but hasn't yet worked out how to use it: "It's good that they now understand there is something that needs to be understood. But bad that they don't understand what it is."

More from the Sunday Herald HERE


JD said...

The writer seems to have forgotten that Guido's good work freed us from the odious Hain and his orange mug. Happy Easter, eh? JD.

Man in the Street said...

New Labour - It's what they do.

North Northwester said...

I just read this piece on-line too.

But you still get the impression from these dead tree press types of enthusiastic cyclists explaining the joys of the speeds that they attain on their velocipedes... to motor-car enthusiasts.

defender said...

They still do not get it do they, long may that continue to be the case.
The MSM jurnos between them have lost any ability to work out side their box.

"It's good that they now understand there is something that needs to be understood. But bad that they don't understand what it is."

Tom Paine said...

"...untroubled by fear of libel..." is not really true. If you are worth suing, our lying, smearing, degenerate leaders are perfectly capable of lining their pockets by suing you. Reality will dawn in that respect shortly. Isn't it sickening this morning (a) to see the control freaks complaining about the "unregulated" blogosphere (we are subject to the same rules as any other publisher) when their disgusting behaviour has been exposed in a way their chums in the media would never have achieved and (b) to hear them whinge about **their** privacy being violated when violating ours has been the main theme of their government?

Chalcedon said...

How I chuckled last night around 17.00. How I laughed when I caught Ceefax around 18.00. How I laughed out loud reading the online Times and News of the Screws this morning.

And that McBride is only 34. I thought he was at least mid 40s. He had better watch himself or cardiovascular and diabetes problems may beckon.

I love the way that these guys are trying to dodge the flak. It is inconceivable that pols of ministeria rank were unaware of these shennanigans, especially now it has come out that several of these toxic little e-mails were going to be attributed to union big wigs and others. Not to mention those others copied in. It stinks and goes much further than is being admitted. Just when you think Noo Labour couldn't sink any lower, they do. Then you find out that some of their reputedly most intelligent people are low life sleazebags of the worst kind. I expect the dear leader had a bit of a sleepless night because of this. I expect hair to fall out, dark rings around eyes and a bout of stress induced vomiting to occur.

curly15 said...

Is he having some trouble composing himself today?

defender said...

"Unregulated" my arrse.
Try writing shit or unverified "facts" on a blog and nobody but nobody does hatchet jobbies better than bloggers themselves. We dont need regulation, this is self regulation at its best.

Old Holborn said...

Exactly Defender

There are millions of blogs out there that no fucker reads because they are shite.

subrosa said...

Well said Defender. People will only visit your blog if they think you're a reliable and honest blogger. That's what worries the media, they can't acknowledge the power of blogs and are presently going through the 'childish, unaccountable, just a phase' description of us.

Long may we reign.

it's either banned or compulsory said...

The reason that lefty bloggs are less popular is that their contributors all have to "sing from the same song sheet" ( sorry ) and are thus boring whereas those they slag off as " right wing " can happily include all manner of opinion provided we agree that Gordon is a twat.
Neither do we, I think, subscibe to the tired old cliché ( geddit ? ) of having to sit somewhere on a left-right curve of political belief and the self-correcting corruption of ideas that results from this.

Fearless Fred said...

In 1981 I went bankrupt. I worked and paid off all my debts except £80 to a company who was big enough to afford to lose it. That £80 has allowed my to say what I like when I like and, on my 65th birthday I paid off the last company to come out of bankruptcy.

I applied for a bank account with citibank immediately after I went bankrupt. Said I was bankrupt and I could prove paying off everyone except the £80 as I was a journalist and wanted the total freedom that bankruptcy gave me. They laughed, issued me with two bank accounts, a checkbook, a "Platinum" Citicard and a permanent free of arrangement fee and free of interest overflow overdraft - the only proviso that it had to be paid off during the following month. Only used it twice since then.

Amex just laughed and said OK, the forms will be in the post. And I got one of those as well!

So I guess, if you want a free blog, you need to find someone who is bankrupt. Can't be sued and is free to say what they like.

Ampers said...

it's either banned or compulsory said...

A couple above this post - read it yourself...

I think we worry about the left-right 'x' axis too much and don't pay enough attention to the libertarian/Centist/Statist 'y' axis.

Gareth said...

Gaby Hinsliff said: "Yesterday marked the British blogosphere's first big political scalp, and the day political new media in the UK came of age."

I guess Peter Hain is not considered big.

Gaby Hinsliff also said:"Labour bloggers point out that Fawkes's own website regularly carries unproven innuendo. Nonetheless the affair probably marks the end of Labour retaliating in kind."

The difference being Guido can make up bullshit on his own while Labour seemingly cannot. They have to triangulate, plan and scheme. Their downfall was written with their very first step - starting from the point of 'Guido is a Conservative stooge' and that the Conservative party must be challenged. They are unable to play politics without the Party and they are unwilling to let a challenger to Guido appear naturally. It's the statist problem in a nutshell - either a left/statist blogger will appear (or a team will coagulate) or they won't. It cannot be forced.

Katabasis said...

Their fear of course with a 'natural challenger to Guido' would be that s/he could easily become a very credible thorn in their own side should s/he ever decide to turn.

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