Monday, 20 April 2009


1819: Organ's Original Offices

There is one thing I love about the Guardian, and it's the Comment Is Free forum. To be fair, their editors are, in fact, gradually wising up to how deeply moribund the Labour Party now is but they remain hamstrung by their own tradition of loyalty to something that was once called 'The Labour Movement'. The problem for them, but maybe not for us, is that that phenomenon no longer exists in any way, shape or form. Whatever the relatively complex socio-political reasons for its demise, there is no 'Labour Movement' in this country any more.

So what's next for the Guardian? Well, if they keep producing editorial copy like this, there might be hope that it will not sink with the terminally holed Labour ship on which it has been transported for so many years. Can it finally jump ship and rescue itself? Well, it does have a potential lifeboat: CiF.

CiF is surely one of the best ever open forum-type innovations on the web. It provides, uniquely, a smooth-flowing junction between the MSM and the blogosphere that no other broadsheet - or tabloid - has managed to reproduce. The swift and open flow of ideas from one medium to the other has no parallel or equal anywhere else on the web - in the world - (including the horribly over-moderated, bullying BBC effort). It must surely be - or should have been - regarded as the exemplar for other newspapers attempting to develop their own new/old media idea-exchange with the right balance and chemistry. That it does not or has not been is their and our loss.

Cif encourages, through strict but often deft and conspicuously disinterested moderation (depending upon the topic - I should note that comments on AGW & Israel articles and essays penned by serving Labour ministers are occasionally mercilessly mutilated), open and serious debate from contributors who have something to say and passionately wish paid-up members of the (left-leaning) Fourth Estate might hear them say it, whether they like or not (usually not).

Because people are treated like free agents and grown-ups, by and large they behave that way. The site self-moderates like no other I have seen. The traffic flows without the need for a police car on every corner of the intersection. For this reason, the comments are often interesting; occasionally, they are simply brilliant - depending upon your point of view, naturally.

Below the editorial linked above, which was headlined "Labour Running on Empty", there was a pair of comments by one contributor that fall comfortably into the 'simply brilliant' category. For one thing, among many other great things, they contain some pretty radical, sound advice for the Guardian itself, advice with which I wholeheartedly agree.

Comment 1:
BrotherBig wrote:

How many times does it have to be told – the Labour Party is dead, killed by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

• Six years ago, the party died because of the Iraq war and the dodgy dossier.

• One year ago, the party was pronounced dead over the 10p tax issue.

• Six months before that, it was dead because Brown failed to call an election after revving everyone up for one.

• Last summer the economy imploded and, more telling still, David Miliband mounted a leadership challenge, a latter-day party death certificate.

• This time last year, your columnists were having a nervous breakdown, their postings were cries for help, ravings from the depths of bereaved despair. Peter Preston wrote an article on the theme of "with friends like these ..."

Labour's death cannot keep coming as a surprise to you. Not unless you're suffering from Alzheimer's.

Can anyone sincerely maintain that Mr Brown leads a party with an engaging account of why it wants power, impelled by a driving sense of what a fourth term could do for the country?

You know the answer to that.

And you know what has to be done now.

Your support for Labour is support for a party that no longer exists. That party was killed by Its leaders and its NCOs are all complicit. You have documented the death yourselves on the Guardian. Now you need to acknowledge it.

And you need to determine precisely the cause of death.

It is nothing to do with the economy. That is a red herring. Any clot could have messed up the economy. That clot could still have remained human. Flawed. But human.

But Labour have become inhuman. Their mushroom cloud of the UK's civil liberties fails to recognise what it is to be human and is itself recognisably inhuman.

Which suggests the prescription. You need to find a party to support which has maintained the covenant on civil liberties. And you need to promote them.

It doesn't matter that they're untried. Or that they haven't been in power for the best part of a century. All that is important for now may be all that they can do – mend the covenant – but that is essential and it is enough, the rest can follow later.

Think Blair, Brown, Mandelson, Campbell, Blunkett, McBride, Balls, ... You wouldn't sup with these people, would you, not even with a long spoon.

Face up to it. Now. You can't carry on being forever surprised at what's happened to Labour. You have responsibilities.

Comment 2:

1. David Miliband<./a>, 4 April 2008:

Labours success has been built on the Blair/Brown mantra that 'what counts is what works' ... from independence of the Bank of England to ASBOs to nuclear power, Labour ditched dogma and embraced common sense.

... common sense remains essential, but it is not enough ... New Labour is learning the limits of pragmatism and Gordon Brown is driving the Government forward better to define and defend its convictions. It is one thing to ditch dogma; new Labour became expert at that before 1997. It is another to build a coherent ideology that provides a clear sense of direction for the country and speaks to peoples aspirations. That is our challenge today.

There it is. From the horse's mouth. Labour are expert at ditching dogma. Read principle. And filling the gap, replacing it, remains a challenge.

2. There is not a huge choice of other parties. None of them is perfect. At least the Lib Dems say, in the Preamble to their Constitution (and they seem to mean it):

The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.

3 (a) The Guardian withdrawing support from Labour would be seismic. So it won't happen. Indeed, it can't happen.
3(b) Labour no longer exists. So there is nothing there for the Guardian to support, the withdrawal of their support is inevitable.

Which is it? Impossible? Or inevitable? All we know is that it can't be both. I/we can't dictate to the Guardian.

Are there any indications which way the Guardian's decision might go?

• The Guardian supported the Convention on Modern Liberty.

• They do document Labour's descent into the sewer. They keep hoping that Gordon Brown will change/reveal his true and decent self, but at least they also document the facts. The need to maintain their sanity by adopting a consistent and coherent position might finally require them to acknowledge the facts and give up wishful thinking.

What would happen if the Guardian switched allegiance to the Lib Dems?

• The whole newspaper would feel liberated and be liberated.

• Several unions/financial backers would switch their support, too.

• Those Labour MPs not beyond salvation would switch parties.

• The UK might survive in some recognisable form.

And if they don't?

The big problem is that they will have to continue to believe, against all the evidence, that Labour does not condone torture ...

Apart from that, take your pick from the long list of blind eyes that need to be turned and clothes pegs needed on the nose: Iraq; 28 days detention without charge; eBorders; ID cards; transformational government; MPs' expenses; smear tactics; politicisation of the civil service and the police; government by targets; government by management consultants; postal voting; Erith; Trident; nuclear energy; environmentalism; ...

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