Tim Montogomerie’s reflections on Iain’s Dale’s departure from the blog world got me thinking. Tim says the right previously enjoyed being in front on web campaigning but now risk falling behind if they haven’t already. He points particularly at ‘Movement Activism’. This surge in leftist web-based ‘movement activism’ is something I’ve only recently started to worry about. The Centre-Right (of which I count myself) tend to be quite individualistic beasts. We don’t need, nor wish, to be led. We don’t suffer fools gladly. Gather too many of us together and you typically get too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. Collaboration therefore tends to be loose, short , sharp and limited to specific issues. The discipline to slavishly follow a party line simply isn’t there outside of the General Election. Meanwhile the left are getting far better at that ‘discipline’ and all the while are starting to create a sense of being part of a real ‘movement’ for those who use the net to engage with them.
Does this matter? Up until very recently I would have argued it didn’t. Let’s face it, the people in the blogosphere endlessly retweeting the same political articles to each other would always have been died-in-the-wool supporters of whichever party regardless. The political blogosphere draws-in political anoraks like moths to a flame. The floating voters who matter simply give it a wide berth. My gut instinct was just to let the left get on with their ‘Slacktivism’. Those banal campaigns consisting of “click on this to express your rage at the cuts” or whatever. They’ve confused bleating into the ether with meaningful action. They’ve kidded themselves they’re doing good with empty gestures. My attitude has always been if it makes them feel worthy, they’re doing no harm so let them get on with it. Meanwhile, as they are retweeting each other, us grown-ups can go out and take real action to make our schools and hospitals or whatever else around us better.
Recently though, they seem to have reached a critical mass and realised that they were achieving little. They are finally making the giant leap to real ‘action’. Suddenly it is quite scary. We have a single line in Private Eye hinting in its usual mischievous style that ‘Vodaphone owe £6bn in tax’, and then via a web campaign this leads to real direct action on the streets. Not ‘action’ in the sense of working through the norms of society (investigative fact checking, lobbying, getting legislation etc.) but ‘direct action’ in the 1960s/70s “let’s have fun causing trouble” sense.
Folk self-select their fact sources from the internet – as they do with newspapers – to confirm their prejudices. People who read the Guardian will also tend to bookmark ‘Left Foot Forwards’, ‘UK Uncut’, ‘False Economy’, ‘The Other Taxpayers Alliance’ etc. You could make a similar self-selecting list for those who lean to the right. The thing is that those who lean to the left are, by nature, happier to run with the herd. Once a leftist feels part of ‘a movement’ they can be far more disciplined at toeing the party line. ‘Solidarity’ and ‘Unity’ have always been more crucial to the left than ‘free thinking’ and ‘reason’. Those who understand the power of all this seem to be gleefully manipulating it to edge the mainstream left even further left. Once they’ve got their new foot-soldiers engaged – which they are doing well – they can wreak havoc. That £6bn ‘tax-dodge’ figure for Vodaphone from Private Eye is a powerful example. Clearly it is a dodgy figure based in little more than tittle-tattle – and yet it is accepted as an absolute fact by a whole ‘movement’ to the point that people are willing to commit criminal damage in outrage. We have also seen the power of this ‘Movement Activism’ with the student protests.
I’m not sure what the proper response from the centre-right should be but I do know what the wrong response would be: The last thing we need is for the mainstream right to blindly drift further right as a anxious response to baiting. My idea of how politics should be conducted remains through the normal channels and ballot box – not by violent confrontations with leftist thugs having a jolly day out at a demonstration/riot. We are living in testing economic times. Testing economic times have always created an environment to radicalise people. New technology can be a real catalyst to that radicalisation process. We need to watch it and keep level heads.
There will not be a single Coalition MP went into politics to triple tuition fees. Yet here we are. A depressing truth of wielding power is often-times the only responsible choices boil down to picking ‘the least worst thing’. I wont repeat in any depth my own sad feelings on today’s vote – you can see them here.
In all the noise we’ve had on the subject you can break down the core theme into two parts:
- The fact of a raise in the cap on fees three-fold (Boo)
- The funding arrangements for their payment (Yay)
The removal of the cap stinks for everyone who will be impacted. I have two kids to think about and the figures terrify me. That said, given the nation is skint the realistic choices were always to either:
- have fewer people go to university (when it was free for all we only sent 10% of the population)
- keep aspiring to allow 50% of the population to benefit from higher education but revisit funding to ensure we can afford it.
- no change, keep the current funding arrangements regardless and keep adding to the structural deficit
Only 1 & 2 above were realistic (unless we wish to end up like Ireland). We chose 2 (as would Labour). And here we are. Even the right choices can have unpopular consequences.
Which then brings us to the arrangements for payments. One of the things that has got lost in the debate due to the understandable focus on the headline price increase is the new repayment regime. This is a great leap forward from what we currently have in place. There is an excellent website here which covers this in depth and debunks an number of the myths floating about.
Away from the nuts and bolts of the proposed legislation the other thing that fascinates me about today’s vote is the Lib Dem position. They really are between a rock and a hard place. As I noted last week they need this Coalition to work. One of their fundamental beliefs is Proportional Representation. PR would make coalition government the norm not the exception. Coalition requires compromise. They either stick to their coalition agreement, vote with the Government and take an electoral beating else they pander to the public noise and surrender any future argument on the viability of governing under PR. It must be a nightmare choice for them. I’m hopeful that Clegg will carry them over the line in choosing to do the right thing over the popular thing but have no doubt that if an election was called tomorrow they would be wiped out as a result of this issue. This means if the vote does pass then they will need distance between today and the next election so that they have positive achievements to point to as counterbalance to today’s resentment. For this reason, IF the fees vote passes today I am more confident than ever that this Coalition will go the full distance – any Lib Dem recovery will depend upon it.
“[…] for Northerners snow is something to skive for and go sledging in while for Southerners it is a ‘national emergency’.”*
*Slightly misquoted from the book “Pies and Prejudice.” By Stuart Maconie
The first dump of proper snow each year is a very easy time to be a UK news editor. The story has already written itself many times over the preceding years; “Britain Woefully Unprepared for Cold Snap” is the headline followed by pages of:
- outrage at lack of salt or gritters;
- closed schools;
- musings that Switzerland or wherever copes so much better with so much worse;
- forecasts of the devastating economic damage that the nation will endure because thousands like ‘Mrs Jones from Guildford’ could not get to their job as a receptionist at the dentists or whatever.
- Etc. etc. –
Given this current freak cold-snap is of a severity encountered this early once every couple of decades the newsmen can wallow in a dreamland of subtle variations on the above being spawned from copy-paste then minor edit of articles from last time around. It’s a similar news phenomenon to the annual “GCSE Results at Record Level – Accusations of Dumbing-Down” circus. I’m convinced most news editors book their holidays for the third week of August and leave that one pre-written on the deputy’s desk before they set off.
Anyway, I tend to be a bit more philosophical about snow in the UK. When people predictably lament our lack of preparation I wonder – what do they really want? Do they really wish us to spend an equivalent percentage of GDP on snow preparation that the Canadians or the Swiss do to cope with the few days a year we get hit? If so, which services are cut or which tax do we raise to fund this elite snow-disaster-management hit-squad?
And the people who are moaning loudest – can I just check that they have taken personal responsibility for shovelling their own drive and steps? And heaven forbid, while they were at it – have they actually thought of gritting their own street immediately beyond the boundary of their dropped kerbs or are they just sitting on their backsides moaning that big government only does the main roads?
Actually, on that last point I will join the curmudgeons and moan about the vanishing yellow or green grit boxes that used to be on every street so we could help ourselves. These have vanished over recent years almost in direct proportion to the increasing prevalence of the view that for every ‘problem’ there is a government solution, as drilled into us by New Labour.
That aside, I’m going walk my daughter to the childminder then work-from-home today. I can’t see the point in putting myself or anyone else at risk by setting off to the office. My wife, who is a hospital doctor, doesn’t have the luxury of that choice – so she used healthy common sense and set off very early. Once out of our side-street the roads were clear and she got to work quicker than normal thanks to gritted roads and lighter traffic. All power to our supposedly ‘unable-to-cope-with-the-snow’ council for that one.
For everyone who is wound up I suggest you copy the kids enjoying their day off school and treat snow a bit like other annual inconveniences such as flu and food poisoning. The difference is that if you get out on your sledge, build snowmen and have snowball fights then this ‘inconvenience’ can be enjoyed. In a word Britain, pun fully intended: Chill!
This article was first written in January 2010 and I will shamelessly republish it at first snow dump every year.