UK Liberty

blogs fuel political crisis by exposing politicians as corrupt and mendacious

Posted in freedom of speech, state-citizen relationship by ukliberty on December 7, 2006

[hat-tip: Magna Carta Plus]

The BBC reports that,

Tony Blair’s outgoing chief strategy adviser fears the internet could be fuelling a “crisis” in the relationship between politicians and voters.

Matthew Taylor – who stressed he was speaking as a “citizen” not a government spokesman – said the web could be “fantastic” for democracy.

But it was too often used to encourage the “shrill discourse of demands” that dominated modern politics.

Voters, stop demanding things!

He was speaking on the day Mr Blair carried out an online interview.

Mr Taylor said Mr Blair’s online grilling from voters – and other initiatives such as environment secretary David Miliband’s blog and Downing Street’s new online petition service – showed the government was making good progress in using the internet to become more open and accountable.

No, those ‘initatives’ don’t show anything of the sort. We have yet to see how the Government will respond to the petitions to ‘Scrap the planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy‘ (over 20,000 signatures), ‘repeal the Hunting Act 2004‘ (over 14,000), or scrap the proposed introduction of ID cards (over 6,000).

Others such as Devil’s Kitchen and Guido have commented on politicians who blog.

Now add the hobbling of the toothless Freedom of Information Act.

How much progress is this Government making toward openness and accountability?

But he said more needed to be done by the web community in general to encourage people to use the internet to “solve problems” rather than simply abuse politicians or make “incommensurate” demands on them.

Speaking at an e-democracy conference in central London, he said modern politics was all about “quality of life” and that voters had a “very complex set of needs”.

Well, there are over 60m of us, occupying around 20m households.

The end of deference, the rapid pace of social change and growing diversity were all good things, he argued, but they also meant governments found it increasingly difficult to govern.

“We have a citizenry which can be caricatured as being increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government,” Mr Taylor told the audience.

Like “teenagers”, people were demanding, but “conflicted” about what they actually wanted, he argued.

That seems a bit patronising, doesn’t it?

They wanted “sustainability”, for example, but not higher fuel prices, affordable homes for their children but not new housing developments in their town or village.

Of course. But it is the local/national (delete if unapplicable) government’s job to honestly present all the options and a decision is made based on that. That is what we pay you politicians to do. People are, by the way, generally quite happy to pay a little bit extra in tax for certain things – the NHS, for example.

But rather than work out these dilemmas in partnership with their elected leaders, they were encouraged to regard all politicians as corrupt or “mendacious” by the media, which he described as “a conspiracy to maintain the population in a perpetual state of self-righteous rage”.

Whether media was left wing or right wing, the message was always that “leaders are out there to shaft you”.

Well, some politicians are corrupt or mendacious. Sometimes at the same time.

Hmm, let me recall some scandals… back when New Labour made it to Government in 1997, after a promise to be “whiter than white“, there was the discovery of Geoffrey Robinson’s loan to Peter Mandelson, when Mandelson’s DTI was investigating Robinson’s businesses (Mandelson’s first resignation)…

He went on: “At a time at which we need a richer relationship between politicians and citizens than we have ever had, to confront the shared challenges we face, arguably we have a more impoverished relationship between politicians and citizens than we have ever had.

…”cash for access“…

“It seems to me this is something which is worth calling a crisis.”

‘Champagne’ Jack

The internet, he told the conference, was part of that “crisis”.


“The internet has immense potential but we face a real problem if the main way in which that potential expresses itself is through allowing citizens to participate in a shrill discourse of demands.

David Blunkett, Jowell-gate, Cherie-gate, Stephen Byers, Beverley Hughes

“If you look at the way in which citizens are using technology and the way that is growing up, there are worrying signs that that is the case.

…more cronyism, cash/loans-for-peerages, and so on, and so on.

“What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It’s basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.”

Yes it’s a great breakthrough, isn’t it?

“The internet is being used as a tool of mobilisation, which is fantastic, but it only adds to the growing, incommensurate nature of the demands being made on government.”

He challenged the online community to provide more opportunities for “people to try to understand the real trade-offs that politicians face and the real dilemmas that citizens face”.

“I want people to have more power, but I want them to have more power in the context of a more mature discourse about the responsibilities of government and the responsibilities of citizens,” Mr Taylor told delegates.

Part of the problem, he added, was the “net-head” culture itself, which was rooted in libertarianism and “anti-establishment” attitudes.

Oh, those evil libertarians.

Shurely, Mr Taylor, part of the problem is the culture of politicians, which is rooted in corruption and mendacity.

He told delegates: “You have to be part of changing that culture. It’s important for people who understand technology, to move from that frame of mind, which is about attacking the establishment into one which is about problem-solving and social enterprise.”

Technology should be used to encourage elected representatives to communicate better with voters, he told delegates.

Government also needed to “develop new forms of consultation and engagement that are deliberative in their form and trust citizens to get to the heart of the difficult trade-offs involved.”

And there should be more effort to make communities “work together to solve problems,” said Mr Taylor.

Mr Taylor is Tony Blair’s chief adviser on political strategy and the former head of the centre left think tank the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR).

He is leaving Downing Street next week, after three years, to become the chief executive of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts (RSA).

Mr Taylor appears to be someone who has ignored the ‘interim assessment’ of the Party Funding Review and the conclusions of the Power Inquiry (see previous article and a poll of 1,025 non-voters, 79Kb PDF).

  • there is widespread disenchantment with politicians;
  • trust in politicians at a national level and trust in political parties are both low, and have been subject to a long-term decline;
  • the main political parties are widely perceived to be too similar and lacking in principle.

And it aint because of blogs.

Perhaps if politicians stopped having affairs with their staff, taking bribes, lying, giving their friends jobs, stopped wasting our money, living the high life on taxpayer money, and instead got on with the jobs we pay them to do, there wouldn’t be any nasty bloggers to hurt poor Mr Taylor’s feelings.

The better bloggers cite their sources, unlike traditional media and politicians. And, again unlike traditional media (and perhaps politicians), bloggers aren’t perceived to be under the control of a huge corporation that wants influence and advertising revenue. The media and politicians are losing control of the information we want to consume.

Any of us can setup and run a blog for free (rather than £4,500 a year, Mr Miliband), and our politicians don’t like it.

The public finally have a voice.

Three cheers for blogs!

3 Responses

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  1. ukliberty said, on December 15, 2006 at 11:19 am

    Milibands blog: add the setup cost,

    “There are also questions about cost. I’m using proprietary software for this blog at a cost of around £200. It includes forum capabilities we will use elsewhere in ODPM.”

    “Of course, the blog had to be integrated with the departmental website with all the appropriate safeguards. The design, configuration and integration went through ODPM’s web development contract at around £6,000.”

  2. […] course, some Party comrades think it is the fault of bloggers and the media, who encourage the public to think of all […]

  3. Idetrorce said, on December 15, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

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