Update From The Road

Angkor Wat - Cambodia - Sam Hooper

And now for something completely different

Those who watch my Twitter timeline particularly closely or otherwise follow me outside of this blog may know that I am heading to graduate school in the United States to study law this September.

Just as my initial career in management consultancy was wonderful and taught me much but ultimately was not where I wanted to make my life’s contribution, so producing this blog for the past six years has (hopefully) stretched me as a writer and thinker but ultimately proved frustrating due to the rather incestuous UK political media’s absolute refusal to acknowledge or promote the blogosphere, or nurture the kind of positive symbiotic relationship between old and new media which still characterises American political discussion at its best (even now, this blog is cited far more in US outlets like the National Review than most UK publications).

Fear not, this blog and the political writing will continue. But having read and written so much about policy and political values in recent years, I’ve reached the point where I actually want to see some of my ideas implemented – or at least to advocate for those ideas from a position where there is a fighting chance of making a tangible difference. Deeds, not words.

As I recently wrote in the personal essay component of my various law school applications:

I am proud of my part-time work as political writer and campaigner, particularly my advocacy for Britain’s secession from the European Union during the 2016 referendum, but writing and commentating from the sidelines is often frustrating. I now realise that without a legal education of my own, there will always be a constraint on my ability to fully participate and influence many of the technocratic and constitutional debates about which I care deeply.

Through my writing activities, I see that the future is being shaped by intersecting developments in trade and international law, intellectual property, privacy, civil liberties, national security and constitutional law. I know from my current activism that my future work will require a rigorous knowledge of several of these fields, and that the law, if not quite the battleground on which these issues will be fought, is certainly the language in which they will be contested. I want to have a voice in those conversations, and it is for this reason that I now seek a legal education.

My wife and I have now left London as our permanent home, and having shipped off all of our personal belongings are currently en route to the United States by way of an 11-week trip through southeast Asia. We began in Hong Kong, moved on to Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand, spent an enlightening few days in Siem Reap, Cambodia and are now back in Thailand doing various beachy things before travelling to Singapore, Bali, Australia and New Zealand, arriving in Los Angeles some time in June and then road-tripping back to my wife’s native Texas.

I am currently in the process of hearing back from various law schools and while I am blessed to have already received some very appealing offers of admission we still find ourselves in the strange and rather stressful position of not yet knowing where we will be living and working come September – it could yet be on either coast of this vast country, or somewhere in between. I am also having to frantically switch my brain from work mode to study mode after a decade-long hiatus, and hoping that Study Brain successfully reboots after its extended hibernation.

All this by way of saying sorry for the lack of recent new blog pieces. We front-loaded the trip with most of our time-intensive activities (as of yesterday, for instance, I am now a PADI certified open water scuba diver) so writing time has been largely nonexistent for the past three weeks, but we are now moving into a more relaxed phase of the trip which should afford me some time to blog from various coffee shops and beaches. It’s a tough life.

The benefit of half unplugging from the daily news cycle and not feeling the need to react to every twist and turn of the Brexit negotiation, the establishment backlash against democracy or the metastasization of corrosive identity politics through our culture is the opportunity to gain clarity and perspective which is easy to miss when one is in the fray of daily political debate.

I am currently re-reading Charles Murray’s excellent 2012 book “Coming Apart: The State of White America” in the context of our present reality, which itself is perfectly captured in Amy Chua’s new book “Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations”. Murray’s warning about the growing societal schism (in terms of both geography and values) goes a long way to explaining how the ruling classes – the “new upper class” in Murray’s language, the “coastal elites” in Chua’s, but both equally applicable to Britain as America – have come to hold very different values and priorities to the broad centre of the countries they lead, to the extent that there has been a near-total breakdown of mutual trust and empathy.

It has long been a theme of my writing that the fault for this schism lies first and foremost with the ruling elite – the well-educated, well-connected and well-employed – for having been content to run society exclusively in their own favour for so long, and for the stunning lack of consultation or restraint with which they pushed ahead with their policy goals. One can potentially agree with every single one of the coastal elite or pro-EU centre-left’s values and still deplore the way in which those who make policy and influence the culture have become so ignorant of the lives of their fellow citizens, and the open disdain shown by many elites for those who hold different values and aspirations. For democracy to long survive, those with power, wealth and influence have a particular responsibility to be magnanimous and empathetic to their political opponents, but instead we are currently witnessing an establishment backlash which ranges from the hysterical to the furious, by way of the conspiratorial.

I have more detailed thoughts on all of this which properly belong in a future blog post, which will hopefully also include some ideas for how these bewildered and furious elites might actually begin to regain the pulse of their own countries – if they are willing to do so. For now, however, I wanted to give this quick status update and apologise for the recent lack of blog posts. More updates (and new material) to follow soon.

 

Law school - books and gavel

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Harvey Weinstein Hypocrisy And The Westminster Cesspit

Westminster Big Ben Telephone Box

British journalists have reported and commented extensively on the Harvey Weinstein scandal, yet seem curiously unwilling to lift the lid on the seediness and sexual harassment which routinely takes place within their own industry

In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal (were you as stunned as I was?!) we have seen a range of responses from genuinely shocking and awful first-hand accounts of serious harassment and abuse to the now-obligatory collective guilt lectures delivered condescendingly to All Men.

But I am particularly interested in the response of journalists and commentators in Britain who took the time to report on a sexual harassment scandal unfolding in Hollywood while remaining curiously silent about a similar culture at work in their own industry.

I make no pretence of being a Westminster insider, but in my life on the far, far outer periphery I have attended a number of political functions, meetings, party conferences, boozy book launches and parties where very high profile journalists and moderately high profile politicians were present, and I have seen behaviour with my own eyes which would shame some of those who lent their voices to the chorus of condemnation of Harvey Weinstein and other serial alleged harassers. I have also heard disturbing personal accounts of inappropriate and unwanted advances by married men in the media, though having been relayed to me in confidence, these are not my stories to tell.

The seediness of Westminster politics is reasonably well known, but while political journalists are generally now willing to report on politicians when they come a cropper, most are understandably much less eager to lift the lid on their own sub-clique. Yet ultimately, journalism is no different from many other professions where people work, travel, eat, rest and play with the same group of colleagues in a high-pressure environment. Throw in the fact that politics and political journalism falls squarely into the “showbusiness for ugly people” category and is dominated by big beasts who grew up in a very different Fleet Street era and young people desperate to get a break, and a pulsating atmosphere of illicit romances, scandals and unwanted advances is all but guaranteed.

I have been to events where wine-sodden journalists said eyebrow-raisingly inappropriate things which made others feel uncomfortable, or in some cases made fumbling physical advances which had to be repeatedly warded off by the unfortunate recipient. Most of these incidents amounted to little more than general slovenliness and lechery, the kind of thing which reflect badly on a person but should not necessarily end a career or put somebody in court. But other times the behaviour I witnessed and heard about fell distinctly into the dodgy end of the grey zone.

And yet so far the only people from the political media world to have faced any kind of scrutiny in Britain are the writers Rupert Myers and Sam Kriss – both of whose cases were summarily tried in the fiery crucible of the Twitter and Facebook Star Chamber with no due process. As happened for so long in Hollywood pre-Weinstein, a couple of relatively minor fish in British political journalism are being made scapegoats so that the Big Fish can swim on unsated, undaunted and unchecked.

Much is being written about the bravery (or lack thereof) exhibited by certain individuals in Hollywood in their dealings with Harvey Weinstein and other powerful men accused of sexual harassment. And many of us probably feel rightful admiration for the brave few who first came forward at considerable personal risk, and shake our heads at the powerful A-listers who didn’t once think to risk anything to warn or protect others.

But I am curious about the household name journalists who behave nearly as badly at SW1 events or party conference hotel ballrooms yet go unreported and unpunished year after year. And I am particularly interested in their media peers, who know exactly what is going on and whether or not it fits a pattern of behaviour, and find all the time in the world to excoriate Harvey Weinstein while saying nothing about the atrocious behaviour that occurs right under their noses.

Tom Bradby, former ITV News political editor and current anchor of News at Ten wrote quite a stirring call-to-arms about an unpleasant “lads culture” at his old rugby club and various stag parties he later attended. Yet after all his years at the top of British political journalism he couldn’t think of any relevant anecdotes about his own peers and colleagues of sufficient concern to make it into the article? Perhaps not; Bradby may very well have purposefully avoided many of the booze-fuelled, bacchanalian evening events which make up the Westminster social calendar, and saw nothing. But I suspect that many others of equal seniority and profile to Bradby know exactly what goes on but give their own industry a Get Out Of Jail Free card.

As anyone who works in politics and answers truthfully will attest, Westminster can be a very seedy place. I understand that the ascension of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 saw some dispossessed Labour centrists indulge in behaviour which would have been considered scandalous at King Belshazzar’s feast. It seems likely that Theresa May’s bungled campaign and the trauma of election night this summer saw some similar desperation-fuelled behavioural lapses on the Right.

The two mini scandals du jour – Labour’s Clive Lewis getting a bit verbally carried away at a Momentum event in Brighton or Jared O’Mara having posted unsavoury comments on the internet fifteen years ago as a young man  – barely scratch the surface of what goes on. Indeed, these cases are almost decoys, relatively minor transgressions being seized upon so that the accused can be made scapegoats for the graver sins of a much larger group. One almost wonders whether the enthusiasm with which the UK political blogosphere, print and television media picked up these stories was a way of over-compensating for the profound silence about what takes place within their own camp.

But this seediness and sexual harassment within British politics and journalism will not be eradicated by offering up some scrawny, barely-known writer from Vice or a slightly bigger deal from GQ Magazine as a sacrifice to the Twitter gods. It will take a big fish to land a big fish – a heavyweight figure from a major publication or broadcaster must put their credibility on the line. The world of politics and journalism, like Hollywood, is a very hard industry to crack and those struggling to gain admittance from the outside risk everything by speaking out, even as they are the ones predominantly being preyed upon by grotesque, self-satisfied insiders.

One day – perhaps quite soon, given the rapidity with which Harvey Weinstein fell from grace – one of the big beasts of UK political journalism will be revealed for what they are. Somebody who everybody in the Westminster political/media world has been paying obsequious homage to for years will receive first one allegation of improper conduct, then another, and then a steady drip-drip of accusations until the sudden resignation, admission of “errors of judgment” and flight to celebrity rehab inevitably follow.

And when that happens, we will all be sitting here wondering how it was that so many people whose sole job it is to unearth and report stories of public interest – so many respected, well remunerated household names – somehow neglected to mention what was going on in their own back yard.

And what little scrap of credibility the Westminster media retains will be gone for good.

 

Harvey Weinstein - Meryl Streep

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Will 2017 Be The Year That Independent Political Blogs Make A Comeback?

fighting-on-the-internet

Now more than ever, we need good political journalism and incisive commentary to make sense of the world and the challenges (and opportunities) facing us in the new Age of Brexit and Donald Trump. And increasingly, the only way one can find good analysis is by turning to independent bloggers

Veteran American television journalist / late-in-life social media champion Dan Rather has shared with his Facebook audience some thoughts on how they can best encourage and reward good journalism in the Age of Trump, following a presidential election campaign in which much of the mainstream media was deemed to have failed in its core duty to provide rigorous, civic-minded coverage and analysis.

Rather, who has provided an articulate and dignified left-wing running commentary on the 2016 presidential election via his Facebook page, writes:

There is no shortage of long, thoughtful articles that are worth a read. The problem is that our current journalism business model doesn’t seem to support the better instincts of the press as much as it should.

So if you want to know what you can do, please choose to support the press. If you find a news source you like and you think it is doing a good job, pay for the subscription. This doesn’t just help the bottom line but it is a vote of confidence in the system. Share smart, thoughtful pieces on social media and in emails to your friends. Let’s run up the clicks and views of the best of journalism. Also, I think we can not be passive with our news any longer. If you like what you see, let the publicans and journalists know through all the digital tools at your disposal. If you don’t like what you’re seeing, let them know as well. Or turn it off, refuse to follow the click bait.

The press is a vital partner in out democratic process. It is under incredible strains from a drastically changing media landscape and a potentially hostile in-coming administration. As citizens we should care deeply about this and vow to do something to help.

Many of us, for various reasons, have cause to be greatly disappointed with the mainstream media – whether we are left-wing or right-wing, British or American, supported Brexit or staying in the EU, preferred Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

With very few exceptions, television news has become a wasteland of quacking, know-nothing talking heads who specialise in providing visually pleasing, information-lite political gossip and who force their way onto our screens either by virtue of having had some dismal prior political career, fortunate social connections or simply the willingness to wear a bow-tie un-ironically while under the age of sixty.

And the print media is little better. While there are honourable exceptions at many publications, too many venerable titles have either dumbed down to the point where they have become utterly unreadable clickbait, or else sold their inquisitorial souls to the establishment in order to churn out tedious defences of the status quo and scurrilous hit-pieces on those who seek to disrupt it.

In many cases, a combination of scrambling to capture new revenue streams and remain financially viable combined with a fawning desire to be “liked” by the right people in Westminster and Washington D.C. has all but hollowed out the ranks of decent political journalists and de-fanged once-formidable publications.

In this, my good friend and fellow Brexiteer-in-arms Pete North has it exactly right:

In the final analysis the legacy media is dying. Our media was once a luxury liner. It is now a corred garbage scow with corrosion holes in the hull. It is dying a much deserved death and every bit of bad news for the newspapers is good news for us bloggers. I can think of plenty blogs who produce better and more informed content in an afternoon than the usual suspects manage in a week of trying. And there is good reason for that.

Outside of the bubble you have a certain distance from the fray and not in hock to the peer pressure inside it. Outside the bubble is the only place where free thinking can occur. To join them is to become them. And who would want to stunt their intellectual and personal growth in such a way?

This does of course mean that writing is now done largely as a labour of love. There is no money to be made nor recognition to be had. All that matters to me is that for every moment readers spend on advert free blogs is a moment they are not reading the Spectator or any of the other garbage. Every blog post I write is an act of vandalism on an established media whose final gasp cannot come too soon.

[..] This is the year where the word “blogspot” and “wordpress” carries prestige. The low grade tat of the legacy media shouldn’t even be acknowledged. If it didn’t exist at all we would be no worse off in our understanding of events and politics would be all the better for it. The dinosaurs have had their day and we should not mourn their passing. We should do what we can to hasten their demise.

Trust Pete to find the almost John Galt-like nobility in what we bloggers do – it certainly beats “fighting on the internet”, which is how I had previously been describing my nocturnal pastime of ranting into WordPress.

But joking aside, as Dan Rather says, “If you find a news source you like and you think it is doing a good job, pay for the subscription. This doesn’t just help the bottom line but it is a vote of confidence in the system. Share smart, thoughtful pieces on social media and in emails to your friends. Let’s run up the clicks and views of the best of journalism.”

Some of the best political commentary right now comes from independent bloggers who write entirely in their spare time as labour of love, with no hope or expectation of recognition by the failing mainstream media. Therefore, if you have a favourite blogger or bloggers and are in a position to do so, consider making a donation or regular subscription to aid their work and acknowledge their effort. Share their articles with other people who may be interested in reading. It all helps.

I am personally very grateful to all those who have kindly donated to Semi-Partisan Politics over the past year. The vote of confidence you make in me with your PayPal donations and standing orders helps to keep me writing.

But this is much bigger than me and my little old blog. One thing that struck me as I live-blogged the US presidential election results last Tuesday night was she sheer number of outlets providing live coverage. Beyond the usual television stations there were live YouTube channels, Periscope broadcasts, websites, other live-blogs, Twitter and Facebook personalities and more. Newspapers were offering video broadcasts and television broadcasters were offering written analysis. And all of this from every political perspective under the sun, from triumphant Trumpists to crying Clintonites to Bernie Sanders supporters shouting “I told you so!”. From having to rely on a handful of networks and newspapers a generation ago, one is now paralysed by having too much choice.

(Now of course this raises important questions about the bubble effect, and one certainly doesn’t want to saturate oneself with endless sources bias confirmation – but that is a separate discussion).

But of all the cacophonous voices offering independent perspectives on politics today, very few will likely still be around in the same guise to cover the 2020 presidential election in America or general election in Britain. And more than likely, some of the best will have had to hang up their keyboards because of the pesky need to pay rent and buy food, while other, inferior writers and journalists go from strength to strength.

So I’m with Dan Rather. If there are writers or publications which provide you with indispensable or enjoyable analysis or commentary, make sure you vote with your wallet (and the social media sharing buttons) to let them know. And the sum total of these efforts may be a newly flourishing independent political blogosphere which continues to put much of the mainstream media to shame.

 

Political Blogging 2

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Why I Write

Political Blogging

At the risk of sounding like a PBS telethon…

Why isn’t there more good journalism out there? Gawker paints a depressing picture for those of us who toil away in the often thankless business of writing.

Hamilton Nolan writes:

Many writers believe that our brilliant writing will naturally create its own audience. The moving power of our words, the clarity and meaning of our reporting, the brilliance of our wit, the counterintuitive nature of our insights, the elegance with which we sum up the world’s problems; these things, we imagine, will leave the universe no choice but to conjure up an audience for us each day.

Time and experience have long since disabused me of any such idea. Fortunately, writing about politics and public policy – if immensely frustrating at times – is also its own form of reward.

Nolan concludes:

Maybe there is a talented young writer out there with a dream of starting the very best, smartest magazine or website that has ever existed, and building it into their very own historic legacy. I am here to tell you that it will not work. The business of media has very little, if anything, to do with quality journalism. If you aspire to be a Writer of Legitimately Good Things, the best you can hope for is to get the prestige spot that is paid for by the garbage. To hope for a prestige spot that is not paid for by garbage, or by a lone rich wacko, or by a new advertising technology, but instead by the mass audience that will flock to your brilliance is to ask for too much. If you are able to get a job writing good stuff, you are one of the lucky ones in the big Exercycle of Mindless Entertainment that is “the media.”

Now, political writing certainly shouldn’t be an easy career option. After all, it takes a certain arrogance to expect to be remunerated for sitting at a keyboard ranting about the state of the world and pontificating on the “obvious” solutions to society’s ills, particularly when there are people out there doing real work like serving in the armed forces, providing healthcare, creating world-class art, working out how to get to Mars or producing amazing, unthought-of new consumer products.

There are certainly times when my own efforts at political writing seem depressingly far from the high ideal set out by George Orwell, and much closer to the ranting of the pub bore or the slick keyword focus of the SEO marketer – though having done this (with varying levels of commitment) for four years now, I hope that I am somewhat better than when I started out.

Earlier this week I was at a talk given by Dan Hodges about his general election book “One Minute To Ten”, and got chatting to a senior journalist from the Sunday Times. I put to him that while political blogging may have been ripe with promise ten years ago, the format seems to have dried up today, and readers left with the choice between established legacy media outlets or the latest viral clickbait funnelled through social media.

He didn’t disagree, and hammered home the fact that many readers currently have almost zero loyalty to any specific news outlet, and instead get their news according to what happens to be trending on social media or appear in their (often bias-reinforcing) news feeds. This trend is reflected in the traffic stats for Semi-Partisan Politics. A sizeable minority of traffic now comes through Facebook in particular, and there is always the temptation to devote time and effort to promoting pieces on Facebook to get more eyeballs on the latest piece, even if it brings in few potential long-term readers with whom one can develop a relationship.

The one positive trend at present is the growing and thriving community of Brexit bloggers and campaigners coalescing around eureferendum.com and the work of Dr. Richard North to promote Flexcit – by far the best (and only) properly thought-through plan for how Britain might best leave the European Union and re-emerge as a globally engaged, prosperous sovereign democracy.

If only the same collegial, rigorous and dedicated spirit could be found elsewhere in the political blogosphere as exists among many of my fellow Brexiteers (see links in the sidebar on the right), journalism in this country – particularly citizen journalism and the concept of the campaigning blog – might not be in quite such a parlous state.

Regardless: whatever the people at Gawker say, Semi-Partisan Politics will continue to grow and flourish as we enter 2016, and will campaign – loudly and unapologetically – for the following goals and ideals:

 

Brexit: freedom from the European Union

Democracy and national sovereignty

Constitutional reform and a federal UK

Separation of church and state

Healthcare reform, not NHS worship

Smaller, smarter government

Free speech, without restriction

Fighting timid centrism on the Right

Fighting empty virtue-signalling on the Left

 

If you agree with these objectives and enjoy this blog’s coverage of UK politics and current affairs, please do consider using the PayPal tip jar to make a small regular contribution or a one-time donation:

 

 

Any reader donations will 1) be a personal ego boost to myself, 2) help me to do more original reporting, like the successful live blog of last year’s UKIP annual conference, and 3) help me promote this site and the work of other like-minded writers – particularly in the crucial effort to win a “Leave” vote in the coming Brexit referendum – so that we can actually make a difference.

Small donations from individual contributors are not only greatly appreciated by me, but also help to preserve independent journalism and commentary in general – so that nobody has to rely exclusively on the BBC, the Guardian or the Telegraph to understand what’s going on in our country and around the world.

But it’s not all about the money. What matters even more than that (for me) is spreading the word and sharing the message – and these days, like it or not, that means social media. So if you read something you like here, don’t just sit on it. Share it on Twitter or Reddit. Email it to a friend. Be that person on Facebook who posts provocative political articles on their timeline.

2016 is already off to a good start – pageviews and comments are at their highest ever, and an appearance on a certain major national political TV show (to be announced soon) is in the works. Onwards and upwards!

Many thanks to all my readers for your continued generous support.

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A Merry Semi-Partisan Christmas

Political Blogging 2

Onward to 2016, with your help

2015 has been a very good year for this blog. The frequency of posts increased dramatically as we covered the general election and its aftermath, and we have kept up the pace ever since. There are now new articles nearly every day, as well as a more lively Twitter feed.

The net result has been an increase in readership of nearly 400%. This blog is still small, but a number of articles have caught the attention of influential MPs, journalists and activists. And nobody recognised or wrote about the eventual cause of Labour’s general election defeat before this blog, though many others have subsequently swooped in to take credit.

My writing is syndicated at Guerilla Policy, where I seem to be the lone conservative voice amid a sea of unabashed lefties, and I am proud to contribute regularly to the excellent campaign group Conservatives for Liberty.

Semi-Partisan Politics will continue to grow and flourish as we enter 2016, and will campaign – loudly and unapologetically – for the following goals and ideals:

 

Brexit: freedom from the European Union

Democracy and national sovereignty

Constitutional reform and a federal UK

Separation of church and state

Healthcare reform, not NHS worship

Smaller, smarter government

Free speech, without restriction

Fighting timid centrism on the Right

Fighting empty virtue-signalling on the Left

 

If you agree with these objectives and have enjoyed this blog’s coverage over the past year, please do consider using the PayPal tip jar to make a small regular contribution or a one-time donation:

 

 

Any reader donations will 1) be a personal ego boost to myself, 2) help me to do more original reporting, like the successful live blog of this year’s UKIP annual conference, and 3) help me promote this site and the work of other like-minded writers so that we can actually make a difference.

As I swiftly learned this past year, writers don’t get paid very much (unless you are Owen Jones). This blog is written in my spare time around a day job, usually between midnight and 3AM, and is available to everyone free of charge.

However, small donations from individual contributors are not only greatly appreciated, but also help to preserve independent journalism and commentary in general – so that nobody has to rely exclusively on the BBC, the Guardian or the Telegraph to understand what’s going on in our country and around the world.

If you are happy getting all of your news, analysis and commentary from the BBC or the big national newspapers, then by all means carry on. But if you value independent writing which is not beholden to any party, clique or the Westminster establishment, then please consider helping to ensure its continued existence by donating a couple of quid to the independent sites which keep you coming back for more.

But it’s not all about the money. What matters even more than that (for me) is spreading the word and sharing the message – and these days that means social media. So if you read something you like here, don’t just sit on it. Share it on Twitter or Reddit. Email it to a friend. Be that person on Facebook who posts provocative political articles on their timeline (but all things in moderation).

With the help of my informed and generous readers, 2016 will be another record-breaking year for Semi-Partisan Politics.

Many thanks to all of you, and a very Merry Christmas.

Christmas Wreath 2

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