"The Storm - the world economic crisis and what it means" By Vince Cable.We’ve heard of the paradox of thrift, but there is also the paradox of foresight. People who see things coming are very rarely rewarded for their presience, in fact they’re usually dismissed as a bit looney, much as Vince Cable was back in 2003/4 when he was telling anyone who’d listen that the housing bubble was out of control and would lead to economic disaster. He was firmly put down by Gordon Brown then chancellor, for “writing articles in the newspapers that spread alarm, without substance, about the state of the British economy”. Well, now we know.Cable wasn’t alone in being vilified for stating the obvious. Professor Nouriel Roubini, of New York University, was and still is called “Dr Doom” for his forecast that the credit bubble was going to collapse. In my own small way I was dissed by estate agents and economists for writing articles in this newspaper in 2004-6 criticising the banks for handing out mortgages in excess of 100% at five or six times salary. Nonsense, I was told, how else can people get on the “housing ladder”? Irresponsible to talk the market down.Cable is right to locate the origins of the financial crisis in the housing market, rather than in the inverted pyramid of exotic derivatives built upon it. It was the greatest asset bubble in human history, a global madness, fuelled by government subsidies and Asian lending, that led to the tripling of house prices, and the creation of trillions of in imaginary wealth. This became securitized into toxic financial instruments, like the infamous collateralised debt obligations, which were sold on to other banks.People often ask why banks handed mortgages to people who couldn’t afford to pay for them. It was because the prevailing wisdom, in financial institutions and in government, was that house values always rise; therefore if the householder defaults, the property can simply be repossessed and sold on at a higher price. It was a no lose bet. Until everyone lost when gravity reasserted itself, house prices collapsed, and all those myriad bonds based on mortgages became impossible to sell.People in Scotland still get very angry if you say that house prices are too high. Incredibly, local authorities like Edinburgh and Dundee are now offering 100% mortgages to first time buyers rejected by the banks who are now - rightly - demanding 25% deposits. Utter madness. Actually using public money to lure people into negative equity. The continuing decline of the housing market - Cable believes UK house prices have another 20%-30% to fall - ensures that the banks and local authorities will have more write downs, more toxic assets, more losses which the public sector will have to pay for.This is where it gets messy for Vince. The paradox of foresight means that you are called upon to give solutions for the very problems you sought to avoid. In trying to get to a solution for the world economy Cable - like the Irishman- wouldn’t start from here. Unfortunately he has to. And he has to stick to Liberal Democrat party policy, which which is against nationalisation of the banks. Cable says banks will have to be regulated “as if they were nationalised”. But he goes on to doubt whether the public will continue to finance the failures of this radioactive private financial sector with its obsession with bonuses. He should grasp the nettle: either banks are part of the market economy, in which case they must be allowed to go under, or they are “too big to fail” in which case they should be nationalised. The moral hazard is too great to allow banks to carry on speculating safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer will come to the rescue when things go wrong. As he says, this is “socialism for the rich”.Which brings us back to the paradox of thrift. Cable is torn between orthodox Keynsianism - borrowing to spend - and the realisation that we are all spent out and need to save. “The longer term need will be to boost savings for pensions, long term care and the financing of mortgage deposits. There is a long period of austerity ahead”. Damn right there is, but the Liberal Democrats aren’t calling for it. Their policy, when last I looked, was for tax cuts, increases in spending and yet more subsidies first time buyers.Denial over housing has been replaced by denial over debt - public and private. No one wants to tell the truth: that we have been spending beyond our means for decades and now have to face the reckoning. The great danger, as Cable warns, is that democratic governments will not be prepared to tell the voters what they don’t want to hear. Foresight is a terrible thing.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
You know things are really bad when Blairite ministers start attacking Brown for not being left-wing enough. This week we had the extraordinary spectacle of one of the apostles of New Labour, the former Transport Secretary, Stephen Byers, calling on Gordon Brown to scrap identity cards and shelve the Trident missile system - in so doing joining an unlikely front with the SNP. Perhaps he had advance warning of the story from my colleague, Rob Edwards, about the latest radioactive discharges from the submarines in Faslane on the Clyde
The continuation of Britain's "independent" nuclear deterrent was a key issue for Tony Blair and he made sure that he secured a vote on the renewal of Trident before he left office. Biometric identity cards were also a touchstone for New Labour, seen as an indispensable weapon in the "war against terror". Stephen Byers coming out against these policies, even as economy measures, is a bit like Tony Blair saying he supports the tax increases on the rich - which, incidentally, he has made clear he does not.
Earlier, the Blairite old guard has emerged from the woodwork looking for payback.The Damian McBride smear e-mails affair allowed former Blairite ministers such as Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke to attack Brown by association.There is something tragic in this turn of events for a Prime Minister who made such a virtue of his "moral compass" when he took over. Most of us thought that Gordon Brown really was a "pretty straight kind of a guy", to echo Tony Blair's self-assessment, and that he had roots in Labour's social democratic traditions. "Best when we are Labour", as he said at the 2006 Labour conference.
Everyone in Westminster knew that Brown had long supported a 50% tax on higher incomes but had been over-ruled by Blair. Similarly, his deafening silence on the Iraq war and on Trident replacement before he took over from Tony Blair gave many the impression that he was not thirled to Blairite defence policy either.
Perhaps if Brown had really followed his moral compass, and had had the courage of his convictions, he might have been able to renew the Labour project when he took office in the same way that Barack Obama has changed the climate of opinion in America. Brown could have taken the initiative and offered to put Trident on the negotiating table, not just to save money, but to stop nuclear proliferation. It is no longer the cold war shibboleth it was in the 1980s.
Last week's Budget tax increases looked like a political tactic designed to wrongfoot David Cameron by making him support the super rich. Yet it has been highly popular with a public which is sickened by the wealth and irresponsibility of bankers such as Fred Goodwin. If Brown had raised taxes as a matter of principle, he might have been on to a winner; unfortunately, it has been seen as just another exercise in the politics of spin.The McBride e-mails affair confirmed that, as far as the black arts are concerned, Brown is no different from his predecessor, and possibly a lot worse. No-one believes that he didn't know what his closest aides were up to.
And now, incredibly, the expenses scandal has landed on the No 10 doorstep, with Brown appearing to defend the indefensible. This is doubly ironic, since no-one believes that Brown is remotely corrupt or sleazy. If only he had approached the allowances question as a moral issue, and declared upon taking office that he would make Westminster as honest as Holyrood, he could have been the PM who cleaned up parliament. Instead, it looks like the Tories who will clean up at the next General Election. I don't know about New Labour, but it looks like Gordon Brown RIP.
That YouTube video of Gordon Brown trying to explain his policy on MPs' pay looks like going down as his comic epitaph. Rather like James Callaghan at Guadeloupe saying "crisis, what crisis?" in 1978, or Thatcher elbowing John Sergeant aside at the Paris Summit in 1990, it's the one that will run and run. No politician since Richard Nixon has looked so shifty on camera. Partly, it was that plastic smile that the PM plants on his face at inappropriate moments, as if someone other than he is in charge of his facial muscles.
But it was also the sheer audacity of trying to bounce parliament and his party this week into endorsing a new scheme of MPs' allowances which is actually worse than the existing discredited system and likely to cost more.
There was no way that a flat-fee system - known as "sign on and sod off" in Brussels - was going to allay public concern about the misuse of public funds. Nowadays everyone, even journalists, has to furnish receipts before claiming expenses, and the public cannot understand why MPs should be treated any differently. It was the revelation that MPs could put all manner of items from bath plugs to porn movies on expenses, no questions asked, that brought about the crisis in the first place.
Brown has been forced to dump his own plan to stave off a humiliating defeat in the Commons vote later this week. He still appears to favour a flat-rate fee, albeit one requiring MPs actually to stay overnight when they claim it. This will not work because it still fails the test of transparency. I don't understand why they don't just introduce the system in operation in the Scottish Parliament where everything is open and above board, and where parliamentary expenses are no longer a political issue.
Instead, there is talk of resignations in July when the public finally learn what MPs have been up to. Many have been using their £24,000 second-home allowance to leverage multiple mortgages and have become property developers owning second, third and fourth homes yielding hundreds of thousands in capital gains. Hardly surprising that MPs were relaxed about the house price bubble when so many of them were making so much money out of it. I'm sorry, guys, but the party is over. Wake up to the age of thrift.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
This was supposed to be a white collar recession in which the middle classes in the financial sector would be feeling the pain first. Hasn't happened. The biggest increases in people claiming jobseekers allowance have been in old industrial areas like Glasgow, where the number of people unemployed and claiming benefit has increased by nearly a third in the past year. There, the unemployment rate is now 5.2%; whereas in Edinburgh, home of stricken RBS and HBOS, only 2.8% are without work. There really is no justice in this recession. The non-financial areas of Britain didn't cause the crisis, but are suffering disproportionately from the results.
You might have thought this would make the government think of subsidising jobs for a change instead of banks, but no chance. The Treasury has ruled out subsidising short time work or giving help to companies to retain skilled workers. There's nothing left in the kitty for job creation, we're told. Except in the most bizarre form, which is the proposal to pay people to scrap perfectly usable cars. The government is apparently planning to pay £2,000 to owners of vehicles over nine years of age if they buy a new one
The propose 'scrappage' scheme has been widely criticised by economists – the Financial Times said it was like paying people to break windows in order to keep glaziers employed. It is supposed to boost the UK car industry, but the vast majority of new cars sold in Britain are imported, so most of the money will go abroad. It is supposed to help the environment, but most of the pollution created in a a vehicle's lifetime happens during its production, so scrapping serviceable cars will only contribute to environmental degradation. People who can't afford new cars will be unable to take advantage of the scheme, which is wide open to fraud and profit taking by car dealers.
The scrappage scheme – like the bank rescues – shows that the government really has no coherent philosophy of how to deal with the economic crisis in the real world, as opposed to the fantasy world of finance. Ministers spend most of their time with bankers and the lobbyists from special interest groups like the car dealers, which makes them acutely vulnerable to expensive schemes which benefit the few at the expense of the many. The Chancellor should be investing in job-creating public works, like house building and renewable energy. And he should be addressing income inequality to boost consumer demand.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Or to put it in more statistically meaningful terms, the green shoots were growing backwards at a slower rate than they had been only last month. The world rejoiced at the news. Stock markets leapt and politicians turned to their expense accounts in relief. The mortgage lenders announced that the housing slump had been a sampling error and that house prices had actually been rising, credibility-adjusted, all along. The largest leap in unemployment in Britain for nearly thirty years was dismissed as a lagging indicator that could be discounted on the upside.
But the trampoline recovery was to be short lived. By mid week the killjoy Bank of England warned that the v-shape leap would likely be followed by a head-down slump as the economy bounced off the trampoline altogether and landed in the flower beds. In Britain the debt overhang, and the under-hang of bankers on lampposts, meant that there would not be sufficient finance for a v-shaped bounce to become a self-sustaining orbital high. The British financial services sector has given up on the real economy in order to focus on its core function, which is to deliver bonuses for bankers.
The Bank’s governor Mervyn King, warned that Britain could face the worst slump since the depression, or it might not. He unveiled a new fan shaped recovery graph which showed that, seasonally adjusted, the economy could grow a lot in the medium term or it could shrink a lot in the medium term, but that either way it would be bad for the brown-trouser index.
Shareholders rushed for the exit as the footsie stumbled over itself and fell headlong onto the downside. The Baltic Dry shipping index was soaked by renewed sentiment. Confidence in bank stocks rose on a counterintuitive anti-bear bull rally as hedge funds liquidated short positions in a profit-taking pause for breath.
Green shoots ended the week on a low high when Ladbrokes, the betting agency, announced that punters had got lucky in March. Bookie profits had been left standing when Mon Mome won the grand national on 100/1. Alistair Darling said that he intended to scrap the treasury in future and start putting the public finances on a Dundee Shuffle at Aintree since that was more reliable indicator than a statistically meaningful sample of economic forecasters.
Westminster certainly can’t be allowed to return to the bad old ways. At least there is a political consensus on the need for change. Mind you, we said that about the banks and the bonus culture, and at the slightest hint of an economic recovery, the bankers have gone right back to the trough. How can we prevent the MPs scandal ever happening again?
Well, first of all by demanding complete transparency. One of the most common excuses given by shamefaced MPs dragged before the cameras to explain why they claimed for expensive flat-screen TVs, moat-cleaning and flipped houses is that the system was deficient. It wasn’t their fault; the rules were wrong. Trouble is, they only discovered how wrong the rules were after they had been exposed by the Daily Telegraph. Clearly, if they had known that their expenses claims were going to be made public, many MPs clearly wouldn’t have made them. As Lord Nolan put it, during the last great sleaze scandal in 1995, “daylight is the best disinfectant”.
Transparency has to be policed of course, and the precondition for disinfecting parliament is for the Speaker, Michael Martin, to go and go now. He has long regarded himself as the keeper of the perks, even before becoming Speaker. I discovered this in the 1990s when I was a lobby hack in Westminster and wrote a column about MPs expenses, describing some of the practices that everyone knew went on. He accused me of defaming the parliamentary group of MPs and had me reported to the deputy sergeant at arms. Now as Speaker he likens himself to a trades unionist defending pay and conditions - this is completely inappropriate, as are the methods used to silence dissent.
As the former standards commissioner, Elizabeth Filkin, discovered when she tried to investigate allegations about Scottish MPs, the Speaker is the apex of a system designed to protect MPs from scrutiny. She resigned in disgust. Speaker Martin must resign also, not just because he is an irascible buffoon who can’t even read a prepared statement coherently, but because he doggedly refused to allow MPs expenses to be made public under freedom of information. Indeed, he spent tens of thousands of pounds of public money in legal fees trying to prevent the public learning how their money was being spent. The best suggestion I’ve heard all week is that he should be replaced by Kate Hooey, the Labour MP who got an inarticulate
ear bashing from Martin last week for daring to challenge his handling of the expenses issue.
Needless to say the expenses rules have to be changed. MPs, like MSPs in Scotland, - entitled to claim legitimate expenses. But this does not give them the right to make substantial capital gains on properties paid for by taxpayers. In my view the flipping scandal is of far greater importance than all the ridiculous manure and trouser press claims. One MP, Greg Barker, made £320,000 profit out of buying and selling a second home in London financed by his allowance. That is as close to public theft as it is possible to get without actually robbing the Bank of England. This culture of property speculation made every MP a stakeholder in the greatest property bubble in economic history. If MPs had been required to pay their own way, and buy their own houses, they would have been rather less relaxed about the house price spiral that has crucified their constituents and left a generation unable to afford a home.
Which takes us onto MPs pay. The former minister, Michael Portillo, said grandly on BBC last week that there is no way he could be persuaded back into politics “because it would mean trying to live on £63,000 a year”. His point was that no one could reasonably be expected to survive on such a pittance. We have heard variants of this argument all week from MPs and apologists It reveals an astonishing detachment from reality. Only MPs who have been cosseted and pampered at public expense for years, and have lost touch with their constituents, could believe that £63000, plus legitimate expenses, is not enough to live on. It is more than three times average earnings. 96% of the British population live on less than £63,000 a year. If last week was the Bastille, just wait until MPs demand a 40% pay increase - which is what many think they are worth. The tumbrils will be trundling down Whitehall, a guillotine erected in Parliament Square, and MPs’ heads impaled on railings on Westminster Bridge. Just don’t go there.
A lot of people, like the comedian Michael Fry, still say that we are getting this out of proportion and that most MPs are perfectly straight and hard working public servants. But that is only partially true. Anyone who has seen parliament evolve in the last twenty five years knows that the character of MPs has changed. They have become less principled, less independently-minded, more career-oriented. Even Labour MPs became preoccupied with reward, complaining that they would be making much more in the private sector - sometimes correctly, as in the case of Tony Blair who walked out of Downing Street and into a sinecure at JP Morgan for a reported £2m a year. Peter Mandelson summed it up when he said that Labour was now “completely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich, as long as they pay their taxes”. Or rather didn’t as was the case with MPs and their second homes.
We need fewer MPs - now that we have devolution, we don’t need 650 in Westminster and a third could go tomorrow without anyone noticing. The remainder need to show more independence. What is the point of parliament when it voted for the Iraq against MPs own consciences; which allowed the biggest property bubble in history to grow unchecked. We need a new kind of MP - one who wants to enter parliament out of principle - to change society, not change houses. I just don’t believe that there aren’t people like that in Britain anymore. Hopefully, when this discredited and disgraced Labour government falls from office they will find their voice.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
So, do we buy this user friendly, positive Alex Salmond, eager to pull together, even with bis most bitter enemies? The FM said the SNP "is not the anti Labour party". Well, that'll come as a surprise to those bruised Labour leaders who've suffered rough end of his tongue in Holyrood.
But this is sensible politics. The last thing the Scots want to see right now is endless party political bickering while people are thrown out of their jobs. The numbers claiming job seekers allowance in Glasgow has risen by nearly a third in less than a year. They expect the political classes to join together and do something about it.
Salmond is right that Scotland faces unprecedented problems. "I can't stand here and say when it will end, but I can say that it will end", he told conference. Yes, but not anytime soon, I fear. He insisted that investment in skills and schools will do the trick. "Public investment leads to confidence,confidence leads to private investment and growth".
The First Minister also has a point when he says that Scotland has strengths in renewable energy, life sciences, creative industries. But the problem is that these are all taking a severe beating in the recession - especially renewable energy which has been undermined by the collapse of the oil price. Scotland's big money earner in recent years has been the financial services sector which is being downsized faster than the twn towers in 200i.
There's somethingin the argument that public invesment is crucial to maintaining economic activity, and that "stimulus is best delivered at state level". But whether he can expect public spending to be retained at historic levels in Scotland in the next decade is another question entirely. Britain is in severe debt - at every level. The kind of increases in Scottish spending that have happened in the last decade - when the Scottish budget almost doubled - cannot be repeated. A disproportionate number of Scots are employed by the public sector, and there is going to have to be some shrinkage.
The First Minister's speech was a pre-Budget warning to the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, not to proceed with his threatened £1bn cut in the Scottish budget. That is understandable politics, but dodgy economics. I don't see how Scotland can fail to experience a big reduction in public spending over the next few years. It would be perverse for the UK exchequer to exclude one part of the UK from an austerity programme designed to pay back the trillion pound deficit being racked up during the bank rescues.
Of course, if Scotland had control of its own finances, it could borrow to the extent that the markets allowed it; and it could raise taxes to finance public projects. The argument for this is becoming stronger by the week. Indeed, the only way to rebalance the Scottish economy, and to introduce fiscal discipline, might be through full fiscal autonomy. The Conservatives understand this now, and it can surely be only a matter of time until Labour get the message too.
Friday, April 17, 2009
I suffered from this myself in the ten years or so I spent in the Lobby from 1989 -1999. It was a very unpleasant place in many respects. Hacks are extremely insecure and require a reliable stream of stories to please their editors. No stories, no jobs. This allowed people like Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell to have undue power over a sometimes supine and biddable press corps.
I well recall Campbell marching up and down the press gallery, where political hacks are stuffed into airless and overcrowded rooms, like a drill sergeant at boot camp. He would march up behind you and bark about the bollocks you were writing and how real journalists would cover real stories and not just this process. The real stories of course were the ones being peddled by his lot.
However, the annoying truth was that Campbell, like all spin doctors, did have a lot of genuine stories to farm out. It was not too difficult to build a career on courting a couple of leading spinners and dining out on the exclusives you were given. I was - am - a columnist paid to comment and reflect - so I had the luxury of not having to beg for stories to keep my job.
The other way that leading spinners - MPs as well as press secretaries - would deal with journalists they didn't like was to approach their editors direct to tell them how incompetent the errant hack actually was. "So and so - really, he's completely out of his/her depth. Never gets any stories. Nobody speaks to him". Happened to lots of us. In fact, it's amazing that some many stories do come into the public domain. That's where the role of a parlimentary opposition comes in.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
I agree that the old media for which I work, has failed to come to terms properly with the new. The dead tree press is in a bad way, and we can't yet see the wood for the trees. This is because the architecture of the blogosphere is very different to the 'one-way' media of old. If you want to be a practioner, or a citizen journalist, it is extremely difficult to get heard. The best way is to make inflammatory attacks, preferably on other bloggers. This is the easiest and quickest way to get noticed and to generate traffic for your blog - as my silly stunt this week has confirmed. And apologies again to Iain Dale and Alex Massie for abusing them gratuitously.
Attention-seeking behaviour is turbocharged on the web. To get a blog going you need as many links and hits as possible and this can best be done by hooking into a current controversy and making inflammatory statements about the bloggers who are talking about it. This is why the blogosphere gets so personal. You want to establish links to the main blogging sites because this is the surest way of attracting people back to your own. I don't know if I'm making this very clear - I don't fully understand it myself yet - but it clearly works in practice. This is why it gets so personal so fast.
As in all forms of new media, the blogosphere isn't quite what it appears on the surface. Sophisticated bloggers use search engine optimisation techniques to get their blogs promoted. I have actually been closed down by Blogger because they thought I was using one of these techniques. There is a science to blogging which mitigates against its mission statement as a new and accessible democratic medium of comment and debate. There is an inbuilt tendency to the ad hominem and the inflammatory.
The old press faced the same dilemma of course. It was always easy to get readers by saying outrageous things - by lies, smears and half truths. But a culture of editorial discretion built up over the years and consigned attention seeking and sensationalism to the outer fringes of the tabloid press - such as the National Inquirere or the Sunday Sport.
I really want to have a debate about this because it is clear to me that the future of journalism has to be on the web. But we still don't have a way to go about it. It's a little like democracy itself. Everyone accepts that the old party structure is dead. But the new form of politics - a politics without parties - has not yet been born. And the mother of the new media - the web - isn't even pregnant yet.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Again, this is how the blog form actually shapes a lot of the content. The idea is to make as much of an impact as you can within the parameters of the hundred and fifty word post. Unlike newspapers, no one actually sits down and reads a blog, in the way they read a newspaper or a magazine. You can't cuddle up with a computer - even a laptop. I don't know how bloggers manage to preserve their eyesight sitting in front of the computer for that long. You have to hit and hit hard.
But there is a more serious issue. The form requires that sources and information comes largely from the blogosphere itself. This is because to promote the blog you need to link to as many other bloggers as possible. I'm useless at it as you can see. In fact I'm useless with the web full stop. Surreal things always seem to happen when I try to use it.
For example, Blogger has just told me that it is going to take my blog off the air because it thinks it is a spam blog. Something to do with repeating words and search engine optimisation. I had been doing this as part of my controlled experiment in blog-promotion. Of course I am not a spammer, I am a real person. Honest.
Blogger has a link to a form which you are supposed to fill in to plead your innocence. But when I hit that link it comes back to my own edit blog page. I'm sure there is a reason for this, but I can't work it out. This means that I will be removed with extreme prejudice in twenty days time and there will be a warning plastered over this blog until I can prove I am innocent.
I'm contemplating a new form of it - slow blogging. These will be very very long pieces that need to be downloaded, taken away and read. But the trouble is finding the time...
But this puerile attention-seeking on my part was entirely to demonstrate my point: that the blogosphere encourages personalised attacks and that the best way to get a blog noticed is to attack prominent bloggers. I can't be bothered putting in all the links but if you search my name on google blogs you will see the controversy that my previous posts provoked. It is now being called "Blog-gate", apparently, and blogs are trying to out do each other in their efforts to put me in my place. I've even been called "rectum" a witty allusion to the fact that I am rector of Edinburgh University.
Of course, I asked for it. That was precisely the point. Blogging is all about traffic and and achieving critical mass. To get a blog noticed it has to attract as many hits and links as possible. This is so that it will appear on search engines like Google. When I googled my name my J'accuse the blogosphere came second top.
Other people then start to read about it. When I was on Newsnight last night I was introduced as Iain Macwhirter who now writes a blog. This is amusing because of course there has been a blog on this space for over three years. There are probably a million words on it but it has never raised anything like the interest it has this week. By the way, I started posting my Sunday Herald and Herald pieces here because I found I couldn't get search them any more on the papers' own websites. No, I don't understand either.
Look, there are lots of very good and intelligent blogs - take Paul Krugman's Conscience of a Liberal or Robert Peston's blog on BBC business, But the most effective way to get noticed is to go ad hominem. Because of what economists call disintermediation (now google that!) on the web, everything becomes personal. The sheer immediacy of the web means everyone is on a hair trigger.
Bloggers have feeds that send them every post that uses their name. Iain Dale got back almost before I had posted my remarks saying "And to think you get paid for this". Which is quite funny because of course I don't. Blogging doesn't make money - it is all about getting noticed. The money comes later from speaking, consultancy interviews on tv etc if you get the hits. This was what Derek Draper was looking for with his proto-blog that cost Damian McBride his job.
I have been thinking of starting a rumour that Draper leaked the offending McBride emails to Guido Fawkes deliberately to build up interest for his blog when it finally emerges. The only problem is that people might think I'm joking.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
As expected, I was soundly bitch-slapped by the blogging fraternity. I instantly entered the blogosphere as "quote of the day" on Iain Dale's diaryand was subjected to excoriation throughout the blogosphere. For those who don't know, Iain Dale is the blogger's blogger, following Guido Fawkes daily screenwipe. Alex Massie also quoted my column extensively in his blog.
This rather beautifully confirmed what I had argued, namely that the blogosphere is a new frontier of ego-journalism, in which the content of the contributions matters far less than he identity of the blogger.
This is more than a little worrying, because this is the new journalism that I will presumably have to adapt to as the old print media declines into insolvency.
Like most journalists I am a bit of an egotist as well, so I'm not saying that I am in some way morally superior. You can't pontificate day in day out without being just a tad, well, self-opinionated. But the blogosphere is technologically determined in that it is a field which has been taken over by a particular kind of savvy geek. It's immediacy and its lack of any cost-base makes it ideal for people who love their computers and hate the world.
Which I don't. I like the idea of the internet - a digital democracy where all can have their say - but I loathe the practical reality of it. The people who tend to post comments after newspaper articles tend to be of a particular personality type, who indulge their rage behind the anonymity of silly pseudonyms. It is a little like speaking to an audience wearing Donnie Darko masks. This has now become institutionalised in the form of the blog, which is an extension of this kind of citizen journalism.
I also hate the practice of working on the web - links and search engine optimisation strategies - which is about as interesting as programming a video recorder. I can't bring myself to start blogging at one am either. Immediacy is everything on the blog, and it is a medium which positively discourages reflection and any kind of serious thought. It is, as I said, a medium of ejaculation - you splurge your emotions, raw and runny, straight onto the electronic page, and - click - it's away and 'out there' for eternity. Probably.
I have written for decades very widely all sorts of political, cultural and economic issues in the Sunday Herald, The Herald, The Guardian and The New Statesman. But I have never had any presence on the blogosphere before. I can see now that the way to making a name for yourself here is to attack the bloggers, as personally as possible.
So perhaps I should say that Iain Dale is a right wing bigot who writes a totally unreliable and poisonous diary of self promotion. Guido Fawkes, aka Paul Staines, is a demented crypto-fascist who has made racism respectable on the web. Alex Massie writes a turgid and tiresome and frequently incomprehensible column and trades on his name.
Hey, I think I'm getting the hang of this! Roll on the google ads...