Archive for November, 2008

Sunny Hundal’s exercise in tarring and brushes

November 30, 2008 3 comments

Is it something about writing for the Guardian that gives individual writers a need to indulge in pointless hyperbole? One might think so, reading Sunny Hundal’s recent contribution to Comment is Free, on the tired subject of what John Pilger and Ralph Nader each said about the potential of an Obama Presidency to fail its supporters:

“What do Ralph Nader, John Pilger and Ayman al-Zawahiri have in common?

Before Barack Obama has even taken office or signed a single bill, all three have dismissed him as a sellout by using racial slurs.”

Sunny and I have already thrashed this issue about at several points; all of the relevant links between Sunny’s articles on his Pickled Politics website and our arguments can be found here, here and here.

However comparing Pilger, Nader and al-Zawahiri, an Al-Qaeda leader, is way beyond the pale of reasonable debate. In fact, bearing in mind that issue came up and was debated so rigorously, one wonders why bring it up again at all?

What makes Sunny’s new article so unreasonable is that he has taken only a snippet of al-Zawahiri’s comments in order to paint Pilger and Nader and their respective remarks about Barack Obama in exactly the same colour, no pun intended. The other remarks rendered by al-Zawahiri should tell us that he’s batshit crazy – compared to the other remarks of people like Ralph Nader and John Pilger, left-wingers of note (whether we agree or disagree with them).

Al-Zawahiri, whose speech can be read here, and downloaded for RealPlayer here, also includes the following gems:

“First, a message of congratulations to the Muslim Ummah on the American people’s admission of defeat in Iraq. Although the evidence of America’s defeat in Iraq appeared years ago, Bush and his administration continued to be stubborn and deny the brilliant midday sun. If Bush has achieved anything, it is in his transfer of America’s disaster and predicament to his successor. But the American people, by electing Obama, declared its anxiety and apprehension about the future towards which the policy of the likes of Bush is leading it, and so it decided to support someone calling for withdrawal from Iraq.”

So nothing to do with the economy then? Or the thought of letting Palin loose in the White House? Or Obama’s victory in the Presidential debates? Seriously, al-Zawahiri is not exactly one to take seriously in terms of political analysis. Pilger and Nader, on the other hand, have demonstrated their capacity to campaign for better rights for average people.

Malcolm XWhatever they said about Obama perhaps being an “Uncle Tom” or serving a “white” agenda, it’s intellectually dishonest to compare them to al-Zawahiri, it scores very cheap political points and someone with Sunny Hundal’s nous should know better.

Also, although Sunny quotes al-Zawahiri accurately in that the al-Qaeda leader says “abayd al bayt” (which translates “house slave”), Sunny still says this is a racial slur. Perhaps. However, the term “house negro” is only used in al-Zawahiri’s video by Malcolm X, making a speech that is inserted between al-Zawahiri’s own comments.

Agree or disagree with al-Qaeda’s appropriation of Malcolm X, and presumably Sunny wouldn’t equate the two, it is Malcolm X to whom Sunny should be comparing Pilger and Nader. Yet Malcolm X’s legacy and thoughts are infinitely more complex than al-Zawahiri, and hardly current news. Thus this linkage with al-Zawahiri seems to be more about seeming relevant and less about being accurate.

I wouldn’t dispute Sunny’s journalistic integrity, but Malcolm X’s points have relevance beyond a merely black versus white view of class struggle, which is the straight jacket into which Sunny sought to fit Nader and Pilger. Except in the most superficial way, al-Zawahiri doesn’t enter into any of this with his comments echoing Malcolm X and his opposition to “Western power structure”.

Finally, there is the issue of perspective. When people like Melanie Phillips are getting frothy about “sharia law” being “imposed upon the US banking sector” what the hell are individual Left-Liberals doing publishing multiple articles that attack Pilger or Nader? Both Pilger and Nader may be simplistic, operating with a context (ill)defined by Malcolm X forty years ago – but we have bigger enemies.

I absolutely think that the Left should have time for introspection, but in this instance, we’ve well and truly shot our bolt and it is time to move on.

E pur si muove!

November 30, 2008 Leave a comment

Left Unity“The earth turns, but we don’t feel it move,” said Amsterdam Vallon, “then one night you look up…one spark and the sky is on fire.” Vallon, in Scorsese’s film Gangs of New York, is addressing the underlying changes to American society driving conflict between races, between rich and poor, between immigrants and natives, between state and people.

If our sky is on fire, it’s merely reflecting the world it looks down on. The current crisis may be allowing the creation of even larger financial blocks than previously, now that safeguards seem to be ignorable; literally hundreds of thousands of workers, both financial and otherwise, are facing redundancy; even though some small traders are weathering the crisis, frippery such as Christmas lights seem to be suffering.

As a socialist, I can’t help but wonder what the significance of all of this is. Traditional analysis suggests that economic hardship equals an upsurge in the class struggle, but what does that mean today? I was only born in 1984 and I don’t remember the period where industrial struggle exercised a pull moving far beyond sectional interests to the wider working class.

Analogies to such a thing are few and far between; the anti-war movement, No2ID, the anti-globalisation movement – despite the involvement of the trade unions and the politicisation of many people, none of these groups seem to have achieved much. Nor was there ever, I think, a clear idea of what they were supposed to achieve. That is part of the problem perhaps.

None but the politically illiterate could genuinely have thought a few million people taking to the streets for a march would divert the course of economies and their assorted politicians. The extent to which we’ve achieved something is in the popularisation of “ethical living” and “Fair Trade” produce. Which is dandy and slightly redistributive, but hardly world changing.

Against such a backdrop of these movements of millions – of people, of dollars, of jobs – how seriously should we be taking the movement of a few hundred activists on the British Left? Today we’re caught by events, unable to properly address them except in miniature, but is tomorrow’s alternative going to be built on existing revolutionary parties or will it be a new departure entirely?

That there is movement on the revolutionary Left we shouldn’t doubt. Splinty carries news of Martin Rees departure from the central committee of the SWP, and Socialist Unity carries rumours of John Rees’ sacking. This is connected with the failure of RESPECT and represents factional struggle internal to the Socialist Workers’ Party. Good or bad, change is happening.

As I’ve documented, there are new initiatives afoot that might provide a rational basis for progress towards unity and debate in the blogging sphere. The LRC members and assorted others who met in London last week have hopes for a better practice emerging from our work.

The Socialist Party has also published a view on Left Unity, critiquing the SWP, which has been reasonably received by at least one Respect Renewal member. In the comments on Andy Newman’s post on the subject, there have been a number of sectarian replies but actually I think dialogue, and a clear setting out of the issues, is very important.

During my time in the Socialist Party, a presentation to Socialist Youth members of the differences between the SP and SWP was something I could never persuade the SP full-timers to agree to. Reasonably enough they suggested that we should be concentrating on engaging with the working class rather than other revolutionary parties.

However I found that quite a disingenuous answer. Praxis demands no theory without practice, but also no practice without theory. As young socialists, we were being asked to help build momentum behind various campaigns, but we were never encouraged to think about what sort of relationship Party and campaign should have, for example.

This is the sort of thing I hope Peter Taaffe’s book will correct. I think that is a positive move – and it highlights that, between the Socialist Party and the opposition to SWP leadership amongst the Socialist Workers Party, there are many common areas for engagement. Actually making that clear to people is vital in the pursuit of unity for groups to the left of Labour.

It may be too much to suggest that the holy grail is within reach, but change is definitely afoot. As the post on Martin Rees demonstrates, the SWP leadership still aren’t friends of debating things openly – but a greater engagement on the part of the wider Left has the potential to force the issue. A healthier practice inside the SWP could see a massive shift for the revolutionary Left as a whole.

I have no doubt that attitudes on the Left are being affected by the changes we’re watching, as we watch businesses go under, new nationalisations and workers in struggle. This changes reflect the greater changes in the world economy – but like the world economy, they’ll soon be righted to the benefit of the ruling class unless we seize upon them.

The quivering foundations of capitalism have proclaimed of socialist alternatives, “Nevertheless, it moves!” Now is the time for socialists to take the next step. Not the rush towards a new party, or even necessarily an electoral platform, but a move beyond narrow party lines, broader conceptual engagement and, practically, sharing information about where socialists can engage, before they decide how best to do so.


November 28, 2008 1 comment

The Venezuelan ambassador to the UK has written an article for the Guardian’s CiF site defending Hugo Chavez and the recent elections in Venezuela as democratic. From a “Hands Off” campaign to David Aaronovitch, this is an issue which draws the attention of people on the Left. Some want to believe in a Venezuelan revolution as the “return of history”, proof that the socialist emancipatory hasn’t died. Similarly, others need to prove that Chavez is Mugabe in disguise, to vindicate their own treachery to the project of freeing working people.

ChavezHow does one decide who is right? My own socialist instincts don’t require the success of a Left-nationalist to prop them up; it’s only common sense that in so delicate an endeavour, almost anything could go wrong with Chavez and his plans. The working classes of Venezuela are obviously behind him – their mobilisation in his defence is proof of that – but they aren’t “in control” of the country. Half measures won’t work, in achieving a working socialist democracy, but whole measures won’t be achieved at Chavez’ direction.

As the Soviets found in the aftermath of the civil war, proletarian democracy cannot be commanded out of a vacuum. It is born amid struggle, out of necessity, and like any democratic mindset, it can be shattered. I don’t think this is a controversial idea; many of the discussions surrounding Weimar and Nazi Germany centre on how, in the aftermath of the German Revolution, democratic behaviours weren’t embedded deeply enough to sustain Weimar against the challenge raised by the extreme Right and Left.

Naturally I don’t subscribe to any description so preposterously facile; it’s true to say that, but “democracy” under capitalism only exists after struggle by the working classes. In the UK, it took a revolution to get us part of the way there and then the Chartists to push us along again. In Germany, that struggle was lost. In Venezuela, democracy was ruthlessly constrained prior to Chavez; the anti-Chavez spin of RCTV, for example, makes the FOX network look positively reasonable, as a former RCTV editor attests.

The structure of any system based on private property gives those with lots of property an advantage, but that is not to deny the role of agency. A teleological view of history doesn’t make a struggle any easier to win; it is still a human fight, but one which must be oriented to reflect the structural difficulties that must be overcome. Yet Chavez has based his government on trying to constrain the excesses of capitalism rather than abolish them. Every government that does that eventually succumbs to electoral defeat.

Far from being a mere truism, it has been the case in every evolved democracy: the US, Britain, France and so forth. Disillusionment must invariably set in if a movement has to expend lots of energy even to tread water.

A government faced with that has two choices: to accept electoral defeat or to shut down the democratic route by which they obtained power – even if that “democratic” route is the formal democracy of modern capitalism. It is this which makes the image of Chavez, slowly encroaching upon formal democracy, so believable. On the other hand, the opposition case to Chavez has been stated around the world, overstated probably. Aaronovitch I mentioned earlier – and his descent into a patchwork of libellous assertions is just sad.

Some of the accusations can be read on the CiF article quoted above, here or here. Apparently there had been threats by Chavez that any state which voted for the opposition would be cut off from food. That seems to be unfounded, outside of the propaganda stands of anti-Chavez opposition. However Chavez did role in troops to an airport in Sucre, has been attacking the opposition leader Rosales as a criminal who should go to prison and did threaten to deploy troops to “defend” the election results.

Chavez also threatened to shut down any television station which gave out early election results. It’s important to consider the context, however. In Bolivia, those opposed to reforms are now simply trying to repartition the country to suit their own views – much in the same way that Ulster Unionists sought to do to overturn Asquith’s Home Rule Bill. There’s every chance that right next door, the opposition will try to do the same in Venezuela – and that should be resisted.

I don’t necessarily think it should be resisted by troops; in fact resistance to a partition of either country needs to come from below.

Similarly, Chavez is working in a country where the opposition have no scruples about using force, about using their coterie of media moguls and about screaming their head off without regard for the truth. We have at least one party like that in the UK; we call them the British National Party. The defeat in the referendum was accepted by Chavez last year; he’s also survived 13 sets of national elections – the opposition during its forty years in power only better this by two sets. Chavez has only been in charge for ten years.

There are other things about Chavez which seem less salubrious – such as suspected intimidation of trade unionists.

Many criticisms of Chavez seem to revolve around the his supporters’ penchant for looting. After the troops secured the airport in Sucre, a Chavista mob looted the opposition Governor’s offices. Chavez is accused of buying the votes of “the mob” and of using criminal investigations at election time to demonize his opponents. Even issues such as Chavez being a rather offensive individual get dragged up in the name of the anti-Chavez cause. Some of this is valid, some is just silly.

None of it causes me to support the 2-D movement or the other anti-Chavistas. I think this is the key point. We can object to Chavez for sure, and there seems to be plenty to object to, starting with the fact that Chavez isn’t a Marxist. However the alternative to Chavez is not the peaceable restoration of a tolerant, liberal democracy, much as the alternative to Lenin’s Politburo was not a fully function Soviet democracy or a Constitutional Assembly. In the one case, the alternative was the tyranny of Kornilov’s successors. In the other, who knows?

Pedro Carmona is alive and well in Florida and even if an opposition electoral victory is not an excuse for his return at the head of an army (no doubt to “restore order” after the Chavistas get excited), you can bet that his agenda of dissolving the constitution, the supreme court, the national assembly and abolishing a great deal of Chavez’ redistributive programmes will be the agenda followed. If the opposition get to portray that as “the will of the people” then the fault lies with Chavez and the failure of the Left now.

Right now is the chance for Chavez to embed his reforms and to destroy the economic basis of the opposition. All Venezuelan industries should be given over to workers’ control at factory level. Journalists should be free to pursue any political byline without fear for their job or of government repression – but that should be contingent upon the agreement of the printers’ unions and the broadcasting unions to actually publish their material. Not the bureaucrats of the unions either, but the rank and file of each shop, as determined by a vote.

This isn’t unfair or tyrannical, it’s the correction of the power individuals wield over civil society by virtue of capital accumulation rather than by virtue of election.

Is it going to happen? Probably not. Power transmits its own mindset to people, particularly when they can use a state apparatus to appeal to the broad mass of people rather than relying on democratic institutions. This is just how the Bolsheviks went from being subversive radical democrats to building a totalitarian state. It’s how life for Soviet leaders changed from seventy families trying to bring up their children in the Kremlin whilst building a socialist government to the ossification of bureaucracy.

Chavez seems to have been caught up in that mindset and now, before it is either consolidated or overthrown, is the chance for a real and lasting socialism in Venezuela. When we’re reading of the papers about the Venezuelan opposition to Chavez, or reading his supporters’ justifications, that window is what we should have our eyes ever fixed on.

Categories: News from Abroad

Stupid festive stories

November 27, 2008 1 comment

A Christmas tree in OxfordI’m seriously debating giving awards this Christmas for the most ridiculous stories of the festive season. Believe me, there will be plenty. It still only late November and already they’re coming thick and fast. There’s one about how atheists and agnostics should relish Thanksgiving as it is not religious and should, while doing so, think of the role of chance in their lives.

Occasionally I wonder if the liberal-left is its own worst enemy in some respects. Who gives a fig if Christmas or Easter are religious? It’s time off, or at least extra pay. There’s an excuse to eat chocolate and not feel bad, to make really sumptuous dinners and not feel like you have to run a marathon immediately afterwards to work off the poundage.

As the most militant atheist in the universe, I give my official seal of approval to Christmas, Easter and any other holiday the government introduces if it means time off. Moreover, I don’t think I’ve ever met an atheist or agnostic who adopts the touchy-feely multiculturalist idea that all holidays should fit all religious bills and none. Does anyone really care? No.

You know why? Because most atheists and agnostics come from religious backgrounds. So put off have they been by the dire irrationality and stupidity demonstrated by so many adherents to their former religion that they left it. Yet we still enjoy meeting up with the family and getting semi-sozzled. The last part is mandatory as it makes family get togethers more tolerable.

Then there is an article by Dave Hill about newspapers reporting how Christmas is being banned. Fresh from stories about Birmingham’s Winterval “replacement” for Christmas, the Daily Mail has apparently moved on to scream about Oxford’s “Winter Light” festival. This festival is to commercialize the switching on of the lights. Some of those lights will be on, you guessed it, a bloody Christmas tree, one of which can be seen in the picture above, standing outside Westgate shopping centre.

Better still, have a list of events coming up over the next few weeks to celebrate Christmas; Christmas card making, Christmas elves visiting, Christmas table arrangement classes, Christmas Victorian decoration making, a Santa’s Snow Trail and the annual Christmas tour at the Ashmolean museum. Yeah, Christmas is definitely under threat in the city with more Anglican churches than several small countries put together.

A really cynical part of me detests the Christmas-is-banned story not because of the reactionary, anti-immigrant fervour it is intended to whip up but because so many of the other faiths feel dragooned into denying that Christmas is banned. Every single story, for a pretence at not being utterly racist, features a mullah or rabbi or some other religious official making a proclamation in defence of Christmas.

The protestations of inter-faith solidarity are not there to be balanced, they are there as a sick subordination of other faiths to Christianity. They must prostrate themselves before Christmas lest they be accused by the media of trying to get it banned. More worrying still, people actually believe a lot of this rubbish. Like Christmas, it seems to appear earlier each year.

So, at some point in December, having collated yet more of this utter nonsense, an award shall be handed out for the most egregious example. Keep reading; we’ll have schools banning Christmas cards, councils refusing to serve mince pies and muslims protesting that they find reindeer offensive. Meanwhile we should all remember the true meaning of Christmas. Santa died for our sins and we must celebrate his birth through the medium of iced pudding and custard.


Categories: General Politics

A West Wing approach to polling: Labour narrows the gap. We think.

November 26, 2008 Leave a comment

There’s a wonderful episode in Season 4 of the West Wing where Josh is trying to come to grips with some polling on foreign aid. Sixty-four percent of people think that the US foreign aid budget is too high, and fifty-five think it should be cut. Josh’s problem is with the nine percent who think that foreign aid is too high but shouldn’t be cut. He regards this as an inconsistency born of stupidity.

Looking at the YouGov figures reported by Tom Harris, I’m reminded of that situation. A whopping seventy-two percent support the new 45% tax band and sixty percent support the VAT reduction. The figures get even better when you look at some other measures in the poll run by the Daily Telegraph: 81% in favour of the budgetary announcements concerning pensioners for example.

All across the board, Cameron seems to be failing: Gordon’s approvals are still in the tank, but “Labour under Gordon” are now within an electoral whisker of “Tories under Cameron”. Asked who they would prefer to see after the next election, Brown or Cameron, 44% chose Cameron and 41% chose Brown. This reflects the general trend of 40% Con and 36% Lab electoral arrangement.

Is it possible, then, that Gordon Brown might pull a Harold Wilson 1966 out of the bag?

It’s possible, sure. I’m not too discouraged by the 59% who disapprove of Gordon Brown as Prime Minister. At least some element of that is left-wing and, when left alone in their voting booth, will still vote for Labour. On the other hand, in every way imaginable, Brown is not too far from Cameron on the key benchmarks: 2% deficit on best Prime Minister, 2% deficit on most trusted Party.

All in all, I’m quite tempted to put this dramatic reversal in Labour fortunes, coming back from a 23-point deficit to a 4-point gap, down to the more radical tone the government has adopted. I’m not convinced by it; most other socialists aren’t convinced by it – and the media have got hold of the stories that a VAT rise was planned up until a week or so ago. Even still, a little redistribution is better than none.

However, 39% still think the government is handling the crisis badly and 50% think that the government is sacrificing tomorrow’s economy by borrowing so large. One wonders what the connection between these figures and the 65% who think the borrowing won’t help the economy or the 77% who think the measures won’t help their families much or at all.

Similarly, with such negative figures on how well we’re weathering the economic storm, one wonders why if few enough people think they’ll benefit or the economy will get better, they support the 45% tax band or the VAT decrease. Could it be that actually, even predating this crisis, a fairly large slice of public opinion was in favour of increased wealth redistribution regardless of other factors?

In each of the key figures Gordon Brown performs woefully…until he’s put up against his real competitors, at which point Labour’s prospective performance increases dramatically. Despite being disliked by 58% and with 54% thinking he’s hamming up the economy, an increasing number are evidently thinking that Brown is a better choice than his opponents – and so the gap between Labour and Tories narrows.

At the root of it these figures are virtually unintelligible without knowing what the correlation between each figure is in terms of who voted for what, i.e. how the votes in each one overlap with the votes in every other one. At least some percentage think either that shops won’t pass on VAT reductions or they have no earthly idea what VAT is, consequently not realising a drop might reduce their shopping bill.

Similarly, either some percentage think that the new tax rate is going to get swallowed up by having to nationalise more industries or pay down debt or they think that extra investment in public services is not a good thing. This is from the percentage who agree with the 45% tax rate but don’t think it will benefit them. And if there’s any overlap at all, some of them don’t think it will benefit the economy either.

This is why we shouldn’t trust market research polling. Newspapers print without any reference to these issues figures from polling to suit their editorial byline. It’s very evident in the Telegraph article for which this YouGov poll was created – and even then, some of their figures are misquoted. Instead of choosing such a cheap, easy story, the newspapers might actually look at the records of each Party.

I know that local government doesn’t exactly make for the most interesting arena – but the ignorance and performances displayed there are what each political party is really about. Labour can be remarkably corrupt in local government, and we should be told about it – but by and large I think that an enormous number would accept the trade off, of Labour’s antics versus Lib-Dem two-facedness or Tory backslapping with national enterprises set up solely for the purpose of leeching off the public sector.

Similarly, a poll is based on news reports and if the news reports are simply based on the polling with a few quotes added for good measure, where’s the news gone? Where have the actual events such as pensioners getting extra money, or the rich getting stroppy, gone? The media likes to report the Baby Ps of every issue, but not the other 25 letters who get looked after – and I’m speaking in metaphor, not specifically about childcare which is never quite so simple as that.

This is a problem but it’s not going to be sorted by running polls – either for the media or for politicians.

Cannabis Capers

November 26, 2008 2 comments

The House of Lords, in its wisdom, has decided to upgrade Cannabis from a class C to a class B drug. Some of the reasons given include the harmful side effects of cannabis, particularly the mental health risks. Now if you smoke cannabis and are caught with it in your possession, you not only risk mental health deficiencies, you also get to go to jail for up to five years. Yes! That’s right. So worried where the House of Lords about people getting sick from cannabis that they decided to increase the maximum jail sentence those people might face.

Superb logic.

When even the Americans are more liberal on this than the UK, isn’t it time to think again?

Categories: General Politics

New media and how to use it

November 26, 2008 10 comments

Web 2.0Received wisdom is a terrible thing. In the aftermath of 1997, the collapse of the Conservative Party became a truism. Last year, it was the “clunking fist” of Gordon Brown. Today it’s “the death of New Labour”. None of these things are particularly true and none of them have enduring relevance to political analysis, not that this will stop journalists endlessly repeating some of them.

In the US, the success of Obama’s grassroots campaign and his use of “new media” – bloggers, small donations, a website dedicated to refuting lies printed about him – is received wisdom. Obama employed a 24-year old, one of the founders of Facebook, to work on his “new media” campaign; the result was, a website where activists could sign up to local groups and know what was going on.

Last night there was a meeting of some veteran Lefty bloggers, a couple of techie types, people who’ve been involved in e-democracy and so forth. The purpose of the meeting was to outline some ideas for adapting new media to a left-wing movement in the UK. A lot of people want to see if they can duplicate Obama’s success – and I wanted to write out some thoughts on the matter.

I’ve long lamented the fact that it’s incredibly difficult for people like bloggers, who are basically just activists with a website, to get information about industrial disputes and other important events across the country. It’s even harder when news has to move over international borders and languages. If there’s a way to remedy that, it would massively intensify the effectiveness of blogs.

There are sources from which we can get international news, reported on by people in the relevant countries and translated into English: the CWI have a good site, there’s Common Dreams, there’s sites about the Middle East and ABC video journals on “liberal” issues such as abortion. Nevertheless, it’s still difficult to find out about the small issues – the demos, the pickets, the sackings of union workers etc.

The sexy issues are covered already – but we need the capacity to focus on smaller issues that matter to working people and to socialist activists. A network of the regular and well-written blogs, communicating via an email list and linked to a much larger email list of people who don’t blog but are sympathetic and want to communicate, even in confidence, is a way to do just that.

My suggestion last night was that a group of bloggers would elect a small executive committee to oversee both email lists, to represent a point of contact for people looking to disseminate information and to organise investigative efforts by playing to people’s strengths. For example, if tipped on a story, they could pass the tip onwards to someone who could a) find out more about it and b) do it justice in the writing.

Additionally, as was suggested last night, the NUJ run technical training courses and courses on news and production values. If they were willing to help train bloggers, many of whom are very supportive of or even members of the NUJ, then we might actually have a chance at dramatically improving the quality and range of blogging output all across the Left.

As far as I’m concerned, bloggers should regard themselves as journalists. We’re never going to win over the newspapers to a left-wing agenda so let’s build our own centres where people can find reliable information, reported in an accessible way. That’s not to say we should surrender political views – our ideologies should be incorporated into our stories. However at the same time, we need to escape from the rather formulaic methods of analysis that plague a lot of the left-of-Labour parties.

Using the blogosphere might be an innovative way to do that.

A lot of the people in attendance seemed in broad support of the move of the Left towards facebook, described as talking to people where they live when online. I agree – it’s good to have large groups and to invite people to events and so forth. It’s important that people know what’s going on around them, but the major disadvantage is that it’s inconsistent.

Facebook is divided into regions and not everyone is connected to all the other regions or to the people who are. There’s a vast number of would-be political types who just have no means of engagement. They may not like Labour, or may dislike their CLP culture but yet, especially if young, may be faced with no alternative. Political activity in such circumstances is very difficult.

This is where setting up a new site would be concerned; some like where each campaign event is listed by region and people can join up to it and decide if they want to take a role. A site like the LRC website would be advantageous for that, though that probably throws up problems of partisan allegiance – a traditional plague on all Leftist houses. With the right know-how, even a UK-orientated socialist Youtube channel would be possible, whereby people could upload their own interviews on political subjects etc.

Labour Members Net was discussed briefly but it was largely agreed that it was badly designed, poorly run and attracted far too many armchair types. It didn’t have a huge selection of resources and what good resources it did have were largely only available to people selected by their CLP and given the correct passwords. Even then, it’s uses are still limited.

Outside of Members Net there are other things afoot too. Apparently John McDonnell’s constituency website has within the last few months become a purely video-blog. Frankly McDonnell’s website is much better presented than most other constituency MPs that I’ve seen – Hazel Blears demonstrates at her site what appears to be the standard layout for Labour MPs.

Whilst I personally wouldn’t choose a video blog just for the sake of it, preferring to write, I think video blogs would be very useful for interviews and filming events. Again, if sympathizing members of the NUJ or people who are hobbyist techies wanted to offer technical training in things like editing, we’d have a very effective tool, especially for those people who don’t read well or feel intimidated by walls of text.

At any rate, the attendees agreed that this “Left New Media Forum”, or whatever it goes on to be called, will become a group that meets regularly. The aim is to choose an event as a testing ground for these new strategies, to see if we can put in place any of the myriad ways which Obama’s campaign have shown the way on. I think that this is a very welcome idea – though I feel compelled to list a few deficiencies.

Most obviously, it’s still London-centric. Whilst I didn’t know where everyone was coming in from last night, I knew that a great deal more people had been invited than actually turned up (about sixteen, though this was compensated for by the attendance of several heavyweights). I imagine travelling to London puts a lot of people off. Still, with this dedication to New Media, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that we create some sort of live-chat feature which enables us to conference without serious expenditure.

Secondly, the issue of accountability concerns me. At MembersNet I’ve debated with several people who have in the past believed that being active on the internet can take the place of pounding-the-pavement activism. I seriously disagree with that – and moreover, where being an internet warrior takes over from real activism, I think it damages our sense of collective responsibility and decision making.

Our activism in real life is never so independent as it is online, where we can fund our own domain names or have a free website so long as we have the money for a net connection. If bloggers are going to begin banding together, to create associative structures which allow the dissemination of information, there also should be accountability for how those structures are used.

The community of bloggers should, therefore, be self-regulating. Each blogger, once accepted to the group, would be able to vote on the small group who would be in charge. If a communal resource is established, such as a video-camera for video-blogging, allocation of such a resource would be an important question. This aspect is, I feel, very important on the grounds that we shouldn’t be trying to cultivate an individualist stance. Every blog is not an island – they are connected by a movement. How we work online should reflect that.

Such structures also allow us to be much more effective and provide a locus through which funds might be raised, whether from the trades unions or other sources. These resources would in turn enable us to pursue our strategy much more aggressively – one idea being a communal video camera as suggested above. This sort of thing would be endlessly useful in filming and editing protest events, and on a protest day there’s no reason why multiple bloggers couldn’t film what they wanted to film and then pass on the camera.

These are some of the opportunities offered by heightened communication between bloggers and by the additional technology open to us through Web 2.0. I’d like the opinion of some of my fellow bloggers on just these subjects, so I’m going to tap Peter Kenyon, Mil, Paul, Susan, Tom, Stroppybird and Penny for their own comments or articles, because I think each of them will have a distinctive point of view ranging from those of feminists to community activists to internet-lovers to ideologically aware Marxists. Also, The Yorkshire Ranter seems to have given this some thought already.

On a side note, it was definitely an odd sensation to be meeting in the flesh no few bloggers with whom I’ve had debates with online, or whose blogs I read regularly. I don’t name anyone – they can name themselves in their own good time. Even still, it was an interesting experience and the range of views on offer were definitely wider than at your average CLP meeting.


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