Silly, Vulgar, Jejune

Matthew Elliott from the Taxpayers’ Alliance said that yesterday’s ‘Rally Against Debt’ would ‘speak for the normally silent majority who know that, like it or not, spending cuts are right and necessary to cut the deficit and control the national debt.’ It turns out that the ‘silent majority’ consists of around 350 people, plus a speaking line up of some of the silliest personalities in British conservatism – frothing libertarian Paul Staines, climate change denialist Martin Durkin, UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

Is the TPA disappointed with this poor turnout? 350 people – there are cats on Twitter with more followers. It’s a good stat to remember the next time a conservative blogger accuses you of being a liberal elitist who is out of touch with the great British public. The low number is even more striking when you consider the Hardest Hit demo on Wednesday, a protest from disability groups against the government’s welfare reform bill. The Met confirmed around 8,000 on this demo despite the obvious physical difficulties many demonstrators would have to surmount to get to the venue.

I thought it was only a matter of time before we had a proper US-style Tea Party movement in this country, but perhaps I was wrong. It could be that the Guido Fawkes brand of extreme metropolitan conservatism doesn’t resonate with people in the same way that the TUC/UK Uncut demonstrations seemed to.

No one likes the idea of a national debt and no one outside the public sector management class would dispute that there is huge public sector waste. But we are not getting cuts in management consultancy fees and council exec salaries, we are getting cuts to policing, legal aid, welfare payments. The cuts are not just an abstract slogan any more, they are happening now, up here in Manchester there is real uncertainty over the future of libraries, SureStarts, debt advice services and law centres. Meanwhile the screamers in the Tory press complain that the government is not going far enough – Telegraph finance writer Ian Cowie recently argued, in apparent seriousness, that Cameron should take the vote from the unemployed.

The rally also illustrated the disadvantages of this government’s reliance on web-based activism. Iain Dale and Tim Montgomerie are big names in the Westminster political class but I doubt they would be recognised outside it. Meanwhile the Taxpayers’ Alliance is looking less like a national grassroots movement and more like another small monetarist pressure group. Why then is it given automatic right to reply on any newspaper story involving public finance?

Finally, I think the political blog is reaching the end of its natural life. The Tories won the internet war, but was it worth winning? The blog form is declining for a multitude of sins. For obvious reasons, trained journalists are much more reliable when it comes to finding actual news and many bloggers are far too partisan in their opinions to deliver interesting commentary and analysis. You get better quality of debate on Facebook and Twitter than on blog comment threads, mainly because most people on social networking sites write under their real names.

The lack of professionalism in even the most respected bloggers is astounding – Conservative Home has just appointed an eighteen year old as Deputy Editor. The best political bloggers – think Steven Baxter, Sunny Hundal, Laurie Penny – have been absorbed into mainstream journalism. Announcing his ‘retirement’ from political blogging, conservative pundit Iain Dale reflected that ‘the mainstream media has eaten up the independent political blogosphere’, and went on to say this:

For whatever reason, the political blogosphere in this country has not met the expectations of many. It has created media careers for a small group of the chosen few – me among them.

The right has more to lose from the death of political blogging because rightwing bloggers have so much more invested in the medium. Check out the breathless and portentous tone of Dale’s piece: ‘When I gave up blogging six months ago, the reaction to it was astonishing. It was akin to being witness to my own funeral. It was considered such a momentous event that I was invited on to more or less every news channel going.’ The Tory blogosphere is full of people who take themselves very seriously and mistake the voices in their head for the Voice of the People.

Despite Dale’s pessimism, he’s thrown himself into a new internet venture, ‘a new online magazine’ called ‘The Daley: Iain Dale and Friends’. According to the Guardian, featured writers include ‘Shelagh Fogarty, BBC 5 Live’s recently departed breakfast presenter, Tom Harris MP, and television personality Christine Hamilton.’

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