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Will The Snap General Election Damage Trust In Politicians?

Theresa May - Snap General Election 8 June 2017

Does the prime minister’s decision to call a snap general election damage trust in politicians? No, but the actions of those MPs fighting a desperate rearguard attempt to overturn the referendum result and thwart Brexit certainly will

The received wisdom among the punditocracy seems to be that Theresa May has seriously damaged the public trust in her own leadership, and in the character of politicians in general, by reversing her earlier statements and calling a snap general election for 8 June.

The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman seems to be taking particular offence, singling out this decision as being emblematic of why voters distrust politicians and hold them in such low regard.

This might be true on the margins, but I would argue that most people do not devote a huge amount of time to storing up resentments over acts of political skulduggery and gamesmanship which impact the careers of individual MPs far more than the country as a whole.

The real reason for flatlining public trust in politicians is the fact that successive ministers, parties and MPs have continually promised radical change and sweeping improvement while offering nearly identical variants of the same centrist political consensus. People distrust politicians because for years they have claimed to hear public concern and anxiety about numerous issues – immigration levels, EU membership, state involvement in the economy, foreign policy – and then gone and done exactly what they wanted to do in the first place, without taking those concerns into account. People get angry about the real, material policy betrayals, not the cosmetic political ones.

Promising to cut net inward migration to the “tens of thousands” (wise or not) and then missing the mark by a factor of ten is liable to make people distrust politicians because it is a real and tangible failure. Offering a “cast iron guarantee” to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and then performing a complete U-turn is liable to make people distrust politicians because it actively takes away something that was promised to the electorate. By contrast, electoral shenanigans barely register on the same scale.

And yet the narrative that Theresa May has supposedly mortally wounded voter trust in politicians continues to grow, like a massive snowball picking up debris as it rolls down a hill:

Meanwhile, Isabel Hardman writes:

Today Theresa May broke her own promise about there being no early general election [..] She had been so adamant that even those who thought they knew her best after years of working together in Opposition and government had taken her at her world and were insisting until recently that May believed in keeping her promises and that there would be no snap general election.

[..] Oddly one of her complaints was that Westminster wasn’t ‘coming together’ after the referendum, as though it would be better if everyone agreed on everything she suggested, because consensus is such a good way of refining legislation so that it leaves Westminster in good shape.

This is great snark, but poor analysis. While unthinking, automatic consensus are never good, neither is blind, unreasonable opposition. The task before MPs is to help ensure that the UK achieves the best possible form of Brexit, given the clear instruction given by the British people to engineer Britain’s exit from the European Union. Yet there are many MPs – the entire SNP and LibDem caucuses, for instance – who have zero interest in abiding by the referendum result, and in fact have openly declared their intention to scupper the result and prevent Brexit by any means necessary and via any opportunity which can be grasped.

This is not reasonable. This is not respecting the will of the people as expressed through a majority of voters in a referendum whose legitimacy none of them complained about when they expected to win. In fact, this is deeply unreasonable.

To use a comparison from America, the behaviour of many Remainer MPs can be likened to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell declaring that the GOP’s main objective was to make Barack Obama a one-term president – not to help ensure American success despite their ideological differences, but to blindly and angrily oppose everything just for the sake of it in order to weaken the president. A temper tantrum rather than constructive opposition.

One can also compare the attitude of die-hard Remainers to the US Republican Party strategy when ObamaCare was being debated in Congress. Here was a president with a mandate and a congressional supermajority, but rather than engaging with the legislative process to inject conservative thinking and ideas into the eventual bill, the Republicans again chose blind opposition – including opposing policy ideas (such as the individual mandate) which were once approved by conservative think tanks and enacted by conservative governors. The result was a flawed attempt at American healthcare reform, which fell far short of achieving universal coverage or access and giving almost none of the parties what they really wanted (either single-payer or a deregulated insurance market).

Remainer MPs have a chance now to engage with the Brexit process, to apply pressure to help achieve the best kind of Brexit – in this blog’s view, an interim Norway-style option which preserves maximal single market access and avoids having to draw up alternative trade, regulation and customs arrangements against the clock. But this already unlikely goal cannot be achieved so long as so many Remainer MPs openly salivate at the idea of blocking Brexit altogether and brazenly boast about their intention to blindly oppose everything that this “Evil Tory” government tries to do.

Theresa May was right to state that Westminster needs to “come together” – not in blind obedience to a Tory manifesto but in acknowledgement of a legitimate referendum outcome which must now be enacted. Under this umbrella of basic respect for democracy there exists a vast spectrum for disagreement and opposition of particular policies and ideas, as is right for a liberal democracy. But unless we observe common rules and accept certain undeniable facts then we cannot work together productively.

Presently, too many pro-EU Remainer politicians are choosing the path of blind opposition as opposed to constructive engagement. They refuse to live in the real-world universe where they lost the EU referendum and the Brexiteers won. Living in denial is certainly their right – but in doing so they have given Theresa May exactly the cover that she needed to call this early general election.

Hardman concludes:

Actually, politicians are decent people, and all people can end up breaking promises. But the problem is that the voters have the same childlike sense of justice that doesn’t easily forget those broken promises (remember what happened to the Lib Dems in 2015 after their broken tuition fee pledge?)

Anyone who has worked with children who have been neglected in their early years knows that keeping promises is even more important, as each broken promise hurts terribly and reminds the child of the pain they felt when they were younger. Voters as a whole aren’t vulnerable in the same way, but they consistently show the same frustration with politicians when asked for their attitudes towards them in polls. And whatever they may say about their commitment to public service, but Theresa May and David Cameron have in recent years made it even harder for politicians as a group to gain the public’s trust.

This is a little condescending to voters, but there is some truth in it. I wouldn’t necessarily describe voter anger at broken material promises by politicians as being “childlike”. Rather, I think it represents that innate sense of fair play which is common to children and decent adults alike.

Promises should certainly be kept, but let us not pretend for another moment that all political promises are created equal. David Cameron standing down as an MP after first promising to stay on, and Theresa May holding a snap general election after promising not to do so – these acts simply do not offend the public trust as much as other, far more significant policy betrayals committed by all parties of government in recent decades.

Perhaps it is easy to lose perspective as an establishment journalist used to following every detail of the Westminster Game of Thrones, but out in the country actual tangible outcomes matter far more than the kind of palace intrigue which fascinates The Spectator.

But as even some Remainers (at least those outside of Parliament and the political elite) now realise, attempting to thwart the outcome of the EU referendum – either through procedural shenanigans or attempting to roll the dice with a second referendum, ignoring the fact that Article 50 has already been triggered – deeply offends that sense of fair play, and does so far more egregiously than Theresa May’s broken promise about not holding a general election until 2020.

 

David Cameron confronted by angry voter

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The Elites Are Fuelling A Backlash They Do Not Comprehend And May Not Withstand

david-cameron-resignation-statement

Accustomed to getting their own way and furious at being thwarted by mere democracy, the political elite are responding to recent setbacks by doubling down on behaviours which could soon see them swept away completely

One would be hard pressed to find a better charge sheet against the British political elite – and explanation for the populist backlash currently being felt by every well-manicured and over-rehearsed politician in the country – than the one recently laid out by Charles Moore in The Spectator.

Moore writes, in explaining why he is now “cheering for the populist right”:

It may sound Marxist to say this, but I do think the elites have constructed a world order which serves their interests, not those of their subject populations. You see it in little things, like the fact that European commissioners, when they leave their posts, receive enormous ‘transition’ payments (it was reported that Peter Mandelson got £1 million) on top of their salaries and pensions. You see it in big things, like the fact that nearly half the young people of Spain, Italy and Greece have to go without jobs in order to enforce Germanic theories about central banking and Brussels doctrines about European integration.

In the second half of the 20th century, the huge projects to which the western world bent its mind more or less worked — the Marshall Plan, Nato, the United Nations Security Council, even the European Community, when it had only six members. What are the equivalent achievements in the 21st century? A pseudo-virtuous climate change agreement reached only because its members know it won’t be observed. A banking crisis resolved in the interests of bankers. A threat from Islamist terrorism which the outgoing President of the most powerful nation on earth still cannot admit even exists.

It does sound a little Marxist to talk about the elites in this way, as Charles Moore fears, until one remembers that with our decaying institutions and system of crony capitalism, the best and most able to serve the marketplace of goods, services and ideas are no longer the ones rising to the top. Therefore, to criticise them is not to criticise capitalism or the free market, because if you were to strip away the privilege of those at the top of the political, legal and commercial worlds and force the inhabitants to fight their way back up to the top from a level playing field, most of them would be living on the streets within a year. This is the dismal calibre of people we now allow to rise to the top of our society; to criticise them is not Marxist, it is to yearn for some semblance of a meritocracy.

Moore continues:

The response of elites to their failures is too often to stigmatise the people who complain. Those who protest at immigration levels ten times higher than 30 years ago are treated as racists. Even the ballot box itself is seen as ‘populist’. Remainers argue that the referendum issues were ‘too complicated’ for voters. They seem actively to dislike the idea that our nation should once more be governed by its elected representatives. Having failed electorally, they turn to ‘lawfare’ — preferring a case before the Supreme Court to the direct implementation of what Parliament handed to the people to decide. Voters now believe that their rulers really do not like them very much, so the feeling becomes mutual.

Yes, a thousand times yes. And it is hilarious watching tone deaf politicians openly disparage the same parts of the electorate that they will be sucking up to in futility when the next general election rolls around. Most people possess a base level of social awareness. They know when they are being looked down upon, or worse, mocked. The experience shuts ears and hardens hearts against future persuasion. That so many MPs and commentators still do not realise this is a testament to the low calibre of people we have allowed to rise to the top of the political and journalism worlds.

Consider: Ed Miliband fought the 2015 general election on the premise that David Cameron and the Conservative Party were evil, far-right ideologues. Many respectable people who voted Tory in 2010 did not take kindly to the Labour Party suggesting that they were aiding and abetting evil, and now you can find Ed Miliband on the backbenches, giving forgettable speeches to a half empty Commons chamber. And yet the lesson has not been learned – many politicians now calling Brexit a calamity and deriding Brexiteers as either malevolent racists or useful idiots will be asking those same people for their vote in 2020 (or sooner). You don’t need to be Nostradamus to figure out how the electorate is likely to respond.

More from Moore:

In this respect, the culture war matters. You cannot go on saying that white straight males are brutes without eventually annoying them (and even a significant proportion of what John Prescott used to call their ‘womenfolk’). The cultural signals from the powerful are almost unthinkingly hostile to majority populations. This month, to take a minor example, a report into ‘diversity’ in the theatre commissioned by Andrew Lloyd Webber reported (reusing a phrase from Greg Dyke years ago) that it is ‘hideously white’. Why should the dominant racial characteristic of all western societies be considered ‘hideous’? If you said that anything was ‘hideously black’ you would (rightly) be shunned by polite society. Such asymmetry inspires revolt. The rise of Trumpery shows that the right has learnt a tactic of the left, which is to play up grievance to get power, money and attention. Grievance politics is extremely unattractive, but if western societies no longer deliver rising general prosperity and disrespect the people whom they are failing to serve, what do you expect?

And yet the Left continues to push aggressive multiculturalism and identity politics, even seeking to thwart Brexit so as to continue working towards their goal of undermining of the nation state.

This is dangerous. As Michael Lind once remarked, “the loyalties that succeed national solidarity are likely to be narrower, not broader”. Focus on individual racial identities, undermine the nation state, undermine Britain and any healthy sense of national identity and purpose we might otherwise have, and we very quickly descend into a jealously competing confederation of special interest groups, each one claiming some special victim status and viewing itself as oppressed by the others.

The Labour Party, which has long served the elites rather than the working man or woman, is currently in the process of falling down a chasm of their own making, between people who recognise and oppose this danger (their rapidly diminishing working class vote) and those who choose to remain blithely ignorant because they are not presently feeling many negative consequences (the virtue-signalling middle class clerisy). Both groups are coming to hate and scorn one another, yet Labour needs both to turn out in sufficient numbers if they are ever to win a general election again.

But indulge the populist side and the elitist side becomes enraged, and vice versa. Try to fudge the issue by making half-hearted gestures to each side (like Labour’s immigration coffee mug) and it alienates one side while failing to persuade the other.

In fact, populism vs elitism is rapidly becoming the new axis of our politics, which is a shame. There should be no question that when the interests and attitudes of the elite turn stridently against those of ordinary people, we should side with the ordinary people against the elites. That does not mean adopting every daft populist idea that comes along, but by actually taking into account the hopes, concerns and aspirations of ordinary people in regular policymaking we might hope to avoid finding ourselves in another situation where so many people see the likes of Donald Trump or Nigel Farage as their only salvation.

In other words, a certain amount of populism should be hardwired into our politics, so that it does not fester unseen and then break free to dominate proceedings and create destabilising uncertainty. The left vs right, authoritarian vs libertarian arguments remain far more interesting than the populism vs elitism shouting match, but it is currently being overshadowed as we debate idiotic questions like whether or not the wisdom of a powerful elite ought to cancel out the result of a national referendum. When we disagree about such fundamentals, worrying about what the government does and does not do for its citizens inevitably rather takes a back seat.

Moore concludes that “if, in a parliamentary democracy, the elites and the voters markedly diverge, one must surely bet that the elites are likelier to be wrong”. And the elites certainly have been short-sighted, self-serving and often outright wrong on a parade of key issues.

The political elite have perhaps one last chance to check their arrogant and selfish behaviour before they trigger an even bigger backlash, and things start to get really bad.

 

globalism-versus-culture

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Isabel Hardman Is Right To Criticise The Labour Party’s Toxic Brand Of Feminism

Isabel Hardman has a great piece in The Spectator in which she rightly castigates Harriet Harman and the Labour Party for their narrow, possessive and parochial attitude towards feminism and gender equality.

Hardman writes:

Harriet Harman also described the Prime Minister as ‘no sister’, arguing ‘we’ve got a new Tory prime minister – and she’s a woman. But like Margaret Thatcher before her, Theresa May is no supporter of women’.

Now, it’s probably quite irritating for Labour to have to hold a women’s conference while the Tories are still crowing that they’ve got another female Prime Minister. But is this sort of ‘you’re not a real feminist’ moaning very, well, feminist? Naturally, Theresa May has a different interpretation of what a feminist politician should do to some Labour MPs: though perhaps not as different as they might think. After all, she did set up Women2Win, which has increased the number of female Tory MPs in parliament by lobbying the Conservative party and mentoring candidates. And after all, she did do quite a lot of work on domestic violence when in the Home Office, including working with the now Labour MP Jess Phillips when she was working as a national adviser on domestic abuse, and introducing the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour. And she also introduced a number of measures on female genital mutilation and forced marriage. But still, she’s not a Labour MP, so that means that obviously she’s not really a feminist.

Sorry, ladies, but feminism is even more important than partisanship. If you start claiming that only women who meet with your politics are real feminists, then you break into the People’s Front of Judea when feminists haven’t run out of problems to solve. You also alienate those on the right who are feminists but who you tell aren’t welcome in your special exclusive left-wing ladies’ club. Feminism has to span the political spectrum, otherwise it gets stuck in one party. And given the Labour party isn’t going anywhere right now, that’s not much use to the women who still need a politician who’ll show them what a feminist in government looks like.

Amen to that. Feminism (or egalitarianism) is much bigger than the Labour Party – thank God. And Lord knows that it needs to be.

Labour’s brand of feminism views women as weak supplicants and perpetual victims, helpless waifs entirely dependent on government largesse, social protection and financial support from the state.

It is a toxic creed of inferiority which imagines that women cannot make it on their own without help from enlightened white knights in the Labour Party to vanquish their foes and smooth their path in life. And that’s why Harriet Harman and other left-wing feminists hate Theresa May, and hated Margaret Thatcher before her. For here are two unapologetically conservative women who strove and succeeded on their own merits, and and overcame an (at times) extremely sexist culture and workplace by quietly getting on with the job rather than exulting in their own supposed fragility and victimhood.

Harriet Harman views Theresa May as a traitor to Proper Socialist Feminism because Theresa May (and other independent conservative women like her) never asked for Labour’s help on her path to success, and because Britain’s new prime minister is a living, breathing example to girls and young women (and men, for that matter) that success and full equality are not contingent on swallowing Labour’s nasty, backbiting politics of identity and victimhood.

For in reality, it has been the Conservative Party who have put egalitarian and meritocratic principles into practice when it really counted, electing not one but two female party leaders. Labour is the party of the all-woman shortlist, affirmative action, gaudy pink minibuses and thinly-veiled misandry. The Tories are the party of Britain’s two first female prime ministers.

So three cheers for Isabel Hardman reminding us that believing in gender equality should not and does not also require swallowing whole Labour’s politics of grievance, weaponised victimhood and government dependency.

Feminism and egalitarianism are bigger than the Labour Party, which is probably just as well – because Labour’s leading feminists are looking mighty churlish and downright small right now.

 

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Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party – No Home For Centrists

jeremy-corbyn-rally

Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters vastly outnumber the Labour centrists. So whose party is it really?

Very slowly – journalist by journalist, publication by publication – the realisation is beginning to dawn that the unwelcome outsiders in the Labour Party are now the centrist members of the PLP, and not Jeremy Corbyn and his leftist support base.

From the Spectator (my emphasis in bold):

A few months ago, Watson and his fellow MPs thought Corbyn was the anomaly. That if he was dislodged, the natural balance of the Labour Party would be restored. Now it’s clear that there are tens of thousands of Corbynites who now hold party membership cards and are itching to use them. Labour MPs are starting to ask if they are the anomaly. And an anomaly that the new far-left members will seek to correct when Westminster boundaries are redrawn and MPs are selected.

Slow hand clap.

Yes, centrist MPs are indeed now the anomaly, just as centrists should always be the pitiable, wishy-washy anomaly in a political party. Finally, realisation dawns that maybe it is the centrist machine politicians who are the parasites in the so-called Labour Party, and not the socialists.

A political party is nothing if not the voice and champion of its members. Any other arrangement – such as the noxious idea that MPs, once selected, should have license to ignore their local party at will while being at no risk of ever losing their seat – makes the party membership little more than a fan club for some generally rather unremarkable career politicians. And under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party is finally becoming less of a fan club and more a champion of its members.

Naturally, there are losers in this reconfiguration, namely the centrist MPs who have enjoyed utter dominance since the late 1990s, who suddenly find themselves out of favour and at theoretical risk of deselection. But what is the alternative? That Blairite and Brownite machine politicians, despised by the very constituency associations who will be tasked with pounding the pavements and handing out leaflets to get them elected, have the right to a “job for life”?

This is why we need to radically re-examine the way in which MPs are selected and removed from office. We need real powers of recall, so that constituents (on gathering a sufficient threshold of signatures in a petition) can recall from Westminster an MP who is underperforming, betraying their election pledges or dishonouring themselves and Parliament through scandal. But more than that, we need to move toward to mandatory re-selection and a competitive primary system.

As this blog recently pointed out:

This would bring Britain into line with other countries like the United States, where Representatives and Senators do not have “jobs for life” and must compete in party primaries if they wish to run for their seat at the next election. Such a move would put the wind up an often self-entitled political class, forcing MPs to justify their worthiness of a place on the ballot at regular intervals and forcing many of the older, less useful bench warmers off into retirement.

No constituency should be lumbered with a doddering old MP who doesn’t care any more, or a sharp-elbowed go-getter who ignores their constituency as they focus on climbing the greasy pole. Mandatory reselection goes a long way to solving those problems.

The current system, by contrast, is an abomination – incumbent MPs, often initially selected to stand for parliament in their constituencies through dubious, opaque or even downright corrupt means are then largely free from scrutiny by their own party for the rest of their career. As soon as they enter parliament they are enveloped in the Westminster self-protective cloak which serves to insulate parliamentarians from the consequences of their behaviour and political decisions.

If you know that nothing you can do will ever get you fired – if there is no political betrayal (like, say, pretending to be a eurosceptic during selection and then turning around and supporting the Remain campaign) for which you will ever be held to account – then there is every incentive to lie about your real political beliefs and motivations during selection, and then behave in as abominable and self-serving a way as you please as soon as your are elected to the Commons.

The Labour Party now has two choices if it wants to avoid a permanent schism:

  1. Rig the leadership election process (deceptively known as “restoring the electoral college”) to ensure that pesky party members and their awkward convictions never again elect an ideological leader, or
  2. Embrace a system of mandatory contested primaries, where sitting MPs have to win a party primary in order to stand as the Labour candidate for their constituency at each general election

Failure to adopt one of these two solutions (and this blog strongly favours the second) will ensure that the party remains permanently vulnerable to irreconcilable differences between the directly elected leader and the PLP, thus rendering Labour ungovernable.

Either it must be made harder for ordinary party members to choose the leader they want, or it must be made significantly easier for party members to remove MPs who prove themselves unwilling to work constructively with that elected leader.

The past year has been a viscerally painful case study in what happens when the can is endlessly kicked down the road and people pretend that some other magic solution will offer itself, saving them from having to pick one of these harsh medicines. And whatever harm Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing positions may have done to Labour’s electoral fortunes pales in comparison to the harm inflicted by the centrist-led campaign to undermine and destabilise their leader.

Either the centrist Labour MPs must take a hike (at least resigning themselves to a few years of quiet irrelevance on the back benches) or the hundreds of thousands of new party members must take a hike, for they have proven themselves incapable of co-existing.

And while this blog disagrees with nearly the entire Corbynite platform, I side strongly with the ordinary Labour Party members who are about to overwhelmingly re-elect their man.

 

Jeremy Corbyn - PMQs

Top Image: Mirror

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Sincere Congratulations To The Spectator For Their All-Women Cover Issue

Fraser Nelson - The Spectator - Westminster Media - Journalism

A brief rant before normal service resumes…

The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson today felt the need to publish a self-congratulatory humblebrag remarking on the fact that their latest print edition’s cover page apparently features only the work of female writers, despite no conscious decision having been made to indulge in affirmative action.

Nelson gushes:

Just before The Spectator went to press yesterday, my colleague Emily Hill pointed out that I’d just taken away the only male name away from the cover: all seven of our coverlines were stories written by women. Did I really want that? I hadn’t thought about it until then, and for a while I did consider engaging in tokenism and slapping a man on for the sake of it. But why bother? Spectator readers don’t really care about gender, just good writing.

In fact it hadn’t occurred to any of us, until that point, that we were about to run what Ariane Sherine, who writes our cover story, today hails as the first all-woman cover in The Spectator’s 188-year history. But this wasn’t a patronising attempt at a ‘wimmin’s issue’ or some other awful tokenistic wheeze. Our all-women cover wasn’t deliberate, it was just the way the cards fell. Each week we want to get the best writers on the most original topics: this week, they all happened to be women.

That’s not to say there’s no difference when it comes to getting hold of good writers. As Emily will tell you, women don’t put themselves forward as much as men. To get the full range of talent from all available writers can mean people like Emily going to great lengths to find and encourage new writers – like Ariane Sherine. As so often, Fleet Street follows up. As I write, two national newspapers are vying for the right to republish her cover story.

Full disclosure: I have a bit of a beef with lead article author Ariane Sherine (a one-sided affair; she, I’m sure, has no idea who I am) following her previous effort for The Spectator, an appallingly condescending report about how she performed a comedy gig in the heart of UKIP-supporting coastal Essex and somehow, miraculously, was not ripped to shreds by the rabidly racist, evil Brexiteers who dwell there.

It is interesting, too that Sherine (and apparently other women writers published in The Spectator) had to be sought out, coaxed and persuaded to write for the venerable magazine because “women don’t put themselves forward as much as men”. Funny, that. I, a despicably privileged man, have pitched to The Spectator before – it was actually a terrible piece from a few years back when my writing was very green, not at all worth publishing – but then I never had the pleasure of being sought out and implored to honour The Spectator’s readers with the fruits of my keyboard. That must be quite a nice feeling.

I don’t normally do this, but let’s just muse on the topic of gender equality for a moment, particularly as it relates to journalism. Regular readers will know that I spent pretty much every spare moment of the past year campaigning for Brexit in the EU referendum, initially rather haphazardly but (I hope) increasingly coherently as I read Richard North’s peerless eureferendum.com blog, learned about Flexcit and fell in with The Leave Alliance. I claim zero credit for any of the specific ideas this blog has supported around Brexit and the future of international trade – my tiny bit part in this effort consisted merely of standing on the shoulders of giants, particularly Richard North and Pete North, whose technical mastery and polemical writing I admire enormously.

The point, I suppose, is this. For some time now, a group of independent, citizen bloggers have churned out consistently better analysis and commentary on the EU referendum and Brexit on any given day than the mainstream media has given the British people in an entire year. Even now, dim-witted publications like the Guardian and FT are scrambling to catch up and think through some of the ramifications and issues which the people in my circle have been writing about for months. And what mention or recognition has this work prompted from the Westminster media? How many links to our widely-read and shared articles have appeared in mainstream outlets like The Spectator?

I think you know that the answer is zero.

Now, you don’t have to rate Semi-Partisan Politics at all – though I am personally quite frustrated, this issue is much bigger than little old me. But doesn’t it seem slightly odd that the entire Westminster media managed to somehow overlook the hard work of a small army of pro-Brexit bloggers on the biggest political issue to face Britain, just when fresh analysis was sorely needed, and yet The Spectator has time to scour Britain at great length for underappreciated female talent to promote to the front page?

Fraser Nelson claims that The Spectator’s all-women front page was entirely accidental, and I take him at his word. But isn’t it telling that this feat was achieved at the height of silly season, the summer recess, when the political news which is the Spectator’s bread and butter is almost entirely absent? When MPs come back from recess and things get serious again, let’s see how many months or years it takes for the next unintentional all-women issue to go to print. My guess is that it will be some while; that when PMQs is back and party conference season gets underway we will be seeing a lot more of James Forsyth, James Delingpole and Rod Liddle on the cover. Just a hunch.

So what was the amazing piece which made the cover of The Spectator anyway, you ask? Well, it was a thrilling exposé of a growing trend among millennials whereby single women stop looking for a suitable man and choose to marry themselves instead.

A snippet:

As far as the bride was concerned, the wedding was perfect. Her dress was beautiful, the vows were traditional and she changed her name after the ceremony. The clifftop scenery was breathtaking, the seven bridesmaids were encouraging and supportive: move over Princess Di. There was only one thing missing: the groom. Like a growing number of single women, Sara Starkström had decided to marry herself.

‘I thought about people marrying other people without loving themselves first,’ says Starkström, a writer, explaining what many would call a bizarre overreaction to finding herself single at the age of 29. ‘How could they pledge to do all this stuff for another person when they couldn’t promise themselves the same thing? I decided to marry myself to celebrate my independence and strength. I did it to promise to be my own best friend.’

[..] While many commentators make scathing judgments about sologamy (the feminist blog Jezebel ran a dismissive piece called ‘Single women, please stop marrying yourselves’, chiding, ‘You should be aware that you’re no trailblazer and you’re sure as hell not thumbing your nose at the system. You’re buying into it’), this hasn’t stopped increasing numbers of women from taking the plunge. For Starkström, self-marriage was a liberating act for which she is quite happy to take all the jokes ‘about me carry-ing myself over the threshold and making love to myself’.

And the thrilling conclusion:

Perhaps this is the crux of the sologamy issue: self-marriage is harmless, cheap compared to the £20,500 average cost of a classic wedding, and the union seems to make the bride very happy. If only the same could be said for the majority of traditional marriages which feature a groom. Princess Diana’s fairy tale fell apart when she found that there were three people in her marriage. Now, for an ever-increasing number of determined modern women, one is more than enough.

This isn’t even original. Even I know – don’t ask me how – that Sex and the City featured a similar storyline nearly fifteen years ago, in which protagonist Carrie Bradshaw decides to marry herself as a way of recouping the money spent on friends’ engagements and replacing an expensive pair of shoes which were stolen at a previous party. This kind of story is “and finally…” fodder on the TV news, not lead article material for The Spectator.

This may be silly season, but British politics is hardly dull at present – we have the ramifications of the EU referendum result to pick through, and the slow-motion car crash that is the Labour Party’s self-destruction, while America continues to wrestle with the Donald Trump phenomenon. In these circumstances, I’m sorry to say that Sherine’s story about sologamy has more than a whiff of affirmative action about it.

Before the inevitable feminist lynching begins, another disclaimer: I have long believed that The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman is the outstanding political journalist of her generation and, based on my couple of conversations with her, a genuinely nice person in the SW1 bubble. If The Spectator had ten Isabel Hardmans on staff, I wouldn’t expect a male-written cover story any more than once a year. It shouldn’t be necessary, but I want to put any idea that this rumination is some alt-right, anti-woman rant quickly to bed.

Note too that even when quoting the established feminist blog Jezebel, The Spectator fails to provide a link to the article Sherine cites by name. This is how unwilling the establishment British media are to share readers, clicks and opportunities. It is selfishness beyond measure, and is ultimately counterproductive – the American political blogosphere grew and thrives today not only because bloggers link to one another, but because there is a dialogue between what were traditionally the “legacy” print media outlets and alternative voices.

Readers aren’t forever lost to a publication which dares to link. In fact, readers often respect the original source all the more as a curator of other worthwhile information across the internet, thus increasing their loyalty. Maybe this doesn’t easily show up in the monthly SEO and web traffic reports which now seem to drive all media behaviour – and which have turned the Telegraph from a respectable broadsheet to a sensationalist purveyor of clickbait – but it is a real factor nonetheless. My own personal blogging hero, Andrew Sullivan, built the most influential political blog in history based entirely on this philosophy of curating the web for his readers and also providing fresh commentary which was picked up by the legacy media.

To this day, if there is a worthwhile piece of commentary or analysis on an American political blog, it is not unusual to see it linked to in a piece by an “establishment” journalist on the staff of, say, the New Republic or the National Review. Semi-Partisan Politics has been cited in the National Review a couple of times, a courtesy not once extended by any major British publication, and this despite the fact that 80 per cent of this blog’s output concerns UK rather than American politics.

So how should the British media interact with the blogosphere and promote new talent? Well, call me old fashioned but I believe that a simple commitment to meritocracy can’t go far wrong. Sure, The Spectator will always hire the likes of Pippa Middleton to write vacuous society guff about hunting for truffles in their Christmas issue, and that’s fine. But when it comes to political coverage, one wishes that established British publications would at least pretend to aspire to genuine meritocracy, seeking out the best analysis and commentary regardless of race or gender rather than indulging as they do in flagrant nepotism on the one hand and leftist affirmative action on the other.

I’ll speak plainly, because it’s better than dancing around the issue, from my perspective as someone no longer in the first flush of youth trying to build an audience and reputation as a writer. It is frustrating to pour every spare minute into this blog, providing (I dare to hope) sometimes original and refreshing commentary – particularly I think on the 2015 general election, the ongoing Labour leadership saga, free speech or academic freedom issues and the EU referendum – and see what is  objectively weaker commentary from nepotism beneficiaries or the obvious fruits of affirmative action benefit from a prestigious platform, greater recognition, and – oh yes, from monetary reward too. It’s just a little bit hard to take day after day.

I could play the minority card too, if I wanted to talk up my BAME working class background, but I would never compromise my principles by demanding that I be given a platform based on who I am rather than what I have to say. I won’t go there – it would be a violation of everything that this blog stands for. Others sadly seem happy to do so.

I write because I love to write, and because I think I have slowly created something quite small but precious here at Semi-Partisan Politics; because I have a small readership whom I love to serve, write for and debate with; because it is better than ranting into Facebook 24/7 as I used to before I opened a WordPress account. But sometimes it is a bit galling to see an inferior product exalted and given prominence when I and several of my good writer friends toil in obscurity.

Building a reputation and audience as a writer should be hard – it rightly takes time, effort, humility and perseverance. It has taken me over four years to even begin to get a sense of who my audience is / should be, and how best to serve them – and I claim no special skill at what I do, only a great deal of enthusiasm for it. But whether it is Twitter interactions, links to my site or other interactions, the amount of support I have received from American journalists and publications on the other side of the Atlantic vastly exceeds what little help or hand up I have ever received from the British media class – despite the fact that at least 80 per cent of my written output, networking and outreach efforts are focused on British politics and the Westminster media.

And I think British journalists and editors should be made to feel a little bit ashamed of that fact. Not for my sake – I’ll be just fine, and 95 per cent of the time I am happy to keep plugging away without a murmur of complaint. They should feel shame because my situation is far from unique, and because there are writers in my acquaintance whose insight, bravery and raw talent would enrich our country’s entire political discourse if only it had the bully pulpit it deserves.

The Westminster media establishment should be ashamed because the way they seek out and promote writing talent fails the British people, serving them an often substandard and derivative stream of written output and unoriginal thinking from the pens of the well-connected (either by parentage or ability to fill the checkboxes of a Diversity Officer’s form) while effectively pretending that the struggling political blogosphere – the primary outlet for so many talented, aspiring writers – doesn’t even exist, and certainly not as a source worthy of links or interaction.

Okay, rant over. I don’t have the energy to bring this piece to a neat end.

Normal business will now resume. Read it here first, or three months later from someone who gets paid to do this kind of thing.

 

Political Blogging 2

Top Image: The Spectator / Sky News

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