The gentlemen of the Lobby are as thin-skinned and status conscious as a gaggle of gay hairdressers on a night out, currently they are up in arms about Downing Street insisting that their briefings be held at their offices. Usually ebullient Lobby chairman Christopher Hope is complaining that they now have to nip across Parliament Square and pop into Downing Street to hold the government to account. The truth is it is way past time to open up the government’s briefings, make them transparent and disintermediate the gatekeepers of the political news agenda.
In a digital world where news happens in realtime, not to inky deadlines, it is time to just put the briefings out live, streamed to everyone on all platforms. During the election Boris livestreamed his “People’s PMQs” on Facebook, demonstrating there is no technological reason why the briefings can’t be broadcast via a free digital feed to everyone. Hacks will still get to ask the questions, they just won’t be able to spin off-camera, privately delivered answers as they do now.
The reality is that it isn’t in the interests of hacks to open up the Lobby system or insist more often that quotes are on the public record. Intermediating allows them to more easily introduce their opinions into their new reports. Transparency will devalue their role because information scarcity makes their possession of a spokesman’s phone number so much more valuable. A start to improving and opening up the system would be to put the people’s briefings into the open, in realtime as it happens…
As much as it amuses Guido and generates television producer pleasing social media buzz, hasn’t the rise of the TrotsApp generation of talking heads on our screens undermined the Labour Party more effectively than the “billionaire-owned media” could ever do? In the postmortems the effect of the continuous platforming by broadcasters of far-left types – just because they are extremely active on Twitter – by current affairs shows should be reflected on. It normalised people who would in the past have only been selling Trotskyite papers outside train stations.
The negative effect is two-fold, firstly the zealous Labour activist base become ever more radicalised as the self-defined Trotskyites and communists normalise policies that are far away from the views and values of traditional Labour voters. As we found out last week.
Secondly, it just encourages polarisation, pitting Katie Hopkins against a silly luxuriating communist might make a noisy and watchable bunfight, does it really inform the viewers much? Policy development is made in think tanks of the left, right and centre. It is made by single-issue campaigns with deep knowledge of their subjects. It is not made by people who scream about billionaires and want “to kick the Tories out of Labour” whilst describing the Prime Minister as a fascist and “alt-right”. Shouting slogans and their well rehearsed soundbites doesn’t add to the sum of political knowledge in any meaningful way.
This is not to say they should be no-platformed. When Paul Mason or Owen Jones has a book out, let’s hear from them. They are articulate voices of the left, that articulacy alone does not warrant giving them almost continuous airtime. Do we really need them on our screens every day? That hasn’t done the Labour Party any good. Producers and bookers may want to reflect and seek out more representative left-of-centre voices.
Eurosceptic MPs have had a lot of thinking to do over the weekend. Do they hold their nose and vote for May’s less-than-perfect deal, or do they roll the dice again and run the risk of losing Brexit altogether? Some Brexiteers believe if they just sit tight Britain will automatically leave the EU next week. ERG supremo Chris Howarth – a hero of the long fight for Brexit – argues that it’s a “certainty” that so long as the ERG MPs hold their nerve that the UK is “leaving the EU on 29th March without a permanent backstop.” Guido would love that to be true, it is however a triumph of optimism over reality. Before MPs make their mind up, they need to face up to the political reality of where we are…
Let’s look at Howarth’s arguments in turn, because they are at the heart of the divide among Brexiteer allies:
Howarth argues these are certainties, Guido disputes that:-
Since the Tories came into government the national debt has risen by over 70%. By any measure that is hardly evidence of the savage austerity of left-wing rhetoric. Britain is still running a deficit, in 2018/19, taxpayers will fund interest payments of some £53 billion. A billion-a-week to service the national debt, you can put that on the side of three red buses.
Spreadsheet Phil is getting nearer to finally closing the deficit that George Osborne promised to close by 2015. This should not be taken by spending ministers as a signal to up spending, the national debt still has to be serviced and it would be prudent to start paying down the debt. Likewise giving councils carte blanche to borrow to finance an extended council house building programme will add to the debt burden. If that is what Theresa May is signalling in her conference speech it is bad politics for the Tories.
In Asia it is not uncommon for the state to build low cost housing for sale at below market rates. If councils were encouraged to build and sell properties they would not end up on the state’s balance sheet. It would spread capital ownership more widely by allowing people to own their own homes. It is good politics because property-owning democracies don’t tend to elect socialist governments…
By all means encourage councils to actively build new developments on their land. Scrapping the government cap on how much they can borrow to fund new developments should not however be a licence to build another generation of council estates – the petri dish for municipal socialism. The government should insist that the low cost homes should be offered on construction to qualified buyers who would have to be owner occupiers. When Phil Hammond announces the budget at the end of the month it would be good if the removal of the cap was coupled with a new “right to buy” that granted local residents the right buy any new council homes built. Councils would be obligated to offer new build homes for sale without the high profit margins often commanded by private sector developers. Politically it is a winner and the Treasury would be happy that long-term it would pay down the government debt used to fund the construction.
The Economist is celebrating it’s 175th year of publication with a paen to liberalism in the form of an essay. It is a bit of navel gazing combined with dollops of self-justification. Editor Zanny Minton Beddoes admits in her essay that The Economist has become the in-house journal of the liberal elite, what Steve Bannon calls “the party of Davos”. No institution is immune to intellectual fashions, the newspaper has in Guido’s lifetime championed Keynesianism, then neo-liberalism, and now the ‘Washington Consensus’. It has of late become overly preoccupied with climate change and whatever else concerns the faddish Davos crowd. The irony of The Economist, which was founded in 1843 to champion free trade, free markets and limited government, being on the wrong side of the argument on Brexit, in thrall to the EU and the thousands of tariffs that protectionist bloc enforces, is striking. Never mind the ambitions of those in Brussels for a pan-European super-state rigidly regulated from the Black Sea to the Atlantic.
On immigration Zanny admits for liberals “it is not too wide of the mark to caricature their views on migration as more influenced by the ease of employing a cleaner than by a fear of losing out.” Not a single democracy has escaped pain from uncontrolled mass migration, no politician can ignore the votes of those who have to compete with newcomers, the so-called “deplorables” in America and working-class Brexit voters in Britain. Almost all Western democracies have tired of fast migration. On this Zanny recognises reluctantly that “in the short run, liberals risk undermining the cause of free movement if they push beyond the bounds of pragmatism.” She proposes reform of the rules for refugees, despite accepting that in reality most immigration is driven by economics.
How adrift the current editor of The Economist is from the founding principles can be seen with her support for Universal Basic Income – putting everyone on the dole, disincentivising work. She cites a modest proposal for America to introduce a “UBI of $10,000 a year” which she admits “would require a tax take of at least 33% of GDP”, to be paid for by more disincentivising wealth taxes. So much for limited government.
One could go on, Steve Bannon did at their recent shindig. Judge for yourself how Zanny fared:
Happy birthday to The Economist…
Guido is instinctively uncomfortable with censorship, even of liars. In the marketplace of ideas, good ideas should best bad ideas in free debate. That is the theory. So the exiling of Alex Jones from Facebook, Apple’s iTunes, YouTube, Vimeo, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Flickr, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn and MailChimp seems to be shutting down open debate. Twitter have now put Alex Jones in a half-way house where he is unable to tweet. That cuts off Alex Jones from most of his audience.
He’s not completely exiled from public discourse, the InfoWars apps are available to download, his website is running. His freedom of speech has not been taken away, Big Tech has just exiled him from their huge social media audiences. They are it seems to Guido making an example of him because he is the highest profile “fake news” outlet associated with Trump. The tech titans are of course completely within their rights to purge InfoWars from their platforms.
Jones says “Mass censorship of conservatives and libertarians is exploding. You’ve already seen this with the demonetization and ultimate purge of Infowars and other alternative media outlets by mega-corporations working in tangent to stifle competition.” He is right in that it really does seem that it is right-of-centre voices that are being purged disproportionately, the left argues that is because the right are disproportionately “haters”. The alt-right does revel in being provocatively confrontational. Milo being kicked off Twitter was an early sign of this reaction.
If the social media platforms are going to start discriminating about what content they will host and distribute they will become like the US TV networks, seen as partisan and thus subject to partisan heckling. The left are hard-wired to “no platform” people, banning voices they don’t like, the right are not so temperamentally inclined. This means there is a continuous lobbying from the left to silence people they don’t like; the ceaseless effort to get advertiser boycotts of the popular press, to get Nigel Farage off LBC, Owen Jones’ shrill screeching about Andrew Neil (nothing to do with his humiliation at Brillo’s hands). Does all this matter much to voters? Only at the margins, those who want Alex Jones will still be able to get Alex Jones. It increases the self-filtering effect on public discourse. As our information sources become ever more filtered we live in our own increasingly polarised social media echo chambers, that is not good for democracy.