Labour Conspiracy

This post will be of no interest to anyone who is not hugely interested in the minutiae of British political blogging, and the wankery that goes on therein… I hate writing posts like this, and I hate contaminating my own blog with them, but i can’t really see anything else to do. I would post this on Liberal Conspiracy, but I don’t have direct posting access there – everything I write for it goes through an editor… I’ll post something about comics tomorrow.

As some of you will know, I recently started to contribute a weekly ‘netcast’ to Liberal Conspiracy, a group blog to which I’ve also occasionally contributed longer posts (reposted from this blog or my old LJ, and heavily edited by the site’s owner, Sunny Hundall).

Now, a lot of Liberal Democrats are very wary of Liberal Conspiracy. The site is supposed to be a cross-party liberal left site, but many Lib Dems consider it to be a way of trying to co-opt us into Labour in some way or other – a Labour fifth column. Many Lib Dems refer to it as ‘Labour Conspiracy’, and most of the prominent people on the site *are* Labour supporters. However, I do think it is a good thing to work across party lines, and some of the Labour people on the site (Laurie Penny, for example) are decent, there are Greens on there, and non-aligned people like Debi Linton, and the presence of people like the very strongly opinionated Lib Dems (and friends of mine) Jennie Rigg and Mat Bowles keeps me reading and contributing.

But my patience is wearing thin.

Just over a week ago Liberal Conspiracy became overrun with tedious, masturbatory posts about a non-issue storm-in-a-teacup sleaze story that involved *A BLOGGER!* and therefore must be talked about at excruciating length by all other bloggers, apparently. Charlotte Gore summed up my thoughts about that pretty well. Several people started calling for the site to stop being up its own arse and actually start talking about politics, rather than blogging about bloggers blogging about bloggers blogging (and now you see why I didn’t want to post this…)

But I thought when that nonsense died down, the site would get some semblance of a reasonable editorial line again. I was wrong. In just the last few days we’ve had a post headed “Our Ethic of Progressive Blogging”, the very first line of which started “We are a group of Labour party members and supporters”. The disclaimer at the top was added later, by Jennie RIgg, who *does* speak for me at least when she says in the comments “YOU might be a collection of Labour Bloggers but I’M not, and nor are any of the other Lib Dem or Green or unaligned contributors, and this is the sort of thing that makes us feel pushed out of the theoretical “big tent” which appears to only exist as long as Labour members are the ones in charge of the tent pegs.”

This apparently made Jennie and Mat and Tez Burke and myself and the other Lib Dems who commented there ‘mindlessly tribal’. But fine – the disclaimer was added, it was an obvious crosspost, mistakes happen – though they do tend very much to happen in one direction. But Sunny Hundall is an honourable man, and he says that he genuinely wants the site to be cross-party, so let it go.

The next day we get this nasty piece of bile, an attack on a decent ex-Labour MP (a proper Old Labour MP on the Stop The War Coalition committee and so forth) for leaving the party. I actually think it’s meant to be an anti-Labour piece, but I can’t tell because it’s just complete gibberish – sub-literate nonsense written by someone who hadn’t even read the resignation letter in question. Someone thought this was worth posting to the third most-read political blog in the UK…

Then we get a post about how “It’s Time For Socialists To Rejoin The Labour Party”, which unfortunately calls to mind nothing more than a spousal abuser begging for one more chance and promising he’ll change.

And finally we get this post, which conflates the ‘progressive, liberal left’ with the Labour Party and states that there is no ‘major national poltical party’ to represent ‘progressives’, while still also going on about how much Labour has to be ‘proud’ of (he mentions increased spending on the NHS – which would be good were it not that much of it is PFI spending and much of that is actually detrimental to patient care – I’ll explain why another time, the minimum wage – an actual good policy, from twelve years ago, and Sure Start childcare, which I know little about. Hardly a record to compare with the great reforming governments of the past, even if you discount the huge negative side).

Now, at least two of these posts are ‘guest posts’, which means that it’s not as if the writer just hit ‘post’ and didn’t think about it – they had to be submitted, and someone had to look them over and say “Yes, this is what we think should be published on this site.”

It seems to me that there are two types of posts on that site. The first, and so far still the majority, though a small one, are ones by members of many parties (including Labour) arguing for various policies because they are, in the view of the writer, correct. Those posts are often worth reading, and include some of the best political writers out there.

Then there are the posts which talk about ‘positioning’ and ‘narratives’. Almost all of these advocate the same policies as the other posts, but they also claim that those policies can *only* work if implemented by the Labour party. They usually, in fact, just assume implicitly that the readers are Labour members. Many of them talk about ‘saving Labour from itself’ as if it’s up to those of us who aren’t members to join a party that has committed war crimes, removed civil liberties, taken from the poor and given to the rich, and generally spent the last 12 years acting exactly like the Tories had for the eighteen years before, because otherwise ‘the Tories will get in *and it’ll be your fault!*’

If this doesn’t change, and very, very soon, then I shall have to come to the conclusion that this is not just a series of embarassing cock-ups and stupid comments, but a calculated attempt to marginalise those of us who consider ourselves ‘liberal’ and ‘left’, but who consider that a political party has to actually do something we agree with more than once a decade to be worthy of our support.

This entry was posted in politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Labour Conspiracy

  1. S. Barrios says:

    “Many of them talk about ’saving Labour from itself’ as if it’s up to those of us who aren’t members to join a party that has committed war crimes, removed civil liberties, taken from the poor and given to the rich, and generally spent the last 12 years acting exactly like the Tories had for the eighteen years before, because otherwise ‘the Tories will get in *and it’ll be your fault!*’”

    …what you write should resonate with many Americans. many regard Bill Clinton as the man who promised the Left everything, but delivered nothing. some have claimed his “welfare reform” was essentially the capstone of the Reagan Revolution. my impression of America’s public and vocal “polite Liberals” is that their primary objection to the former President Bush was his STYLE more than his behavior as President. it doesn’t help that the present Administration – one i helped, with mixed feelings, elect – has decided to put more resources into Afghanistan, that famous “graveyard of Empires.” i find Mr Obama’s seeming lack of arrogance refreshing, but it’s really too soon to tell how substantial changes on the foreign policy front may be (he seems to want to PLEASE the crowd / and, the crowd being fickle and often the plaything of a dishonest press, this is not always the best instinct…)

  2. Bravo, Sir. Going to put this in your daily netcast? I dare you. I double dare you :)

    • Why else would I write it? ;)
      Of course, today’s netcast going up at all is dependent on Jennie getting to a working computer, but it’s in there…

  3. IanH says:

    I read LC quite regularly, strating just before the 42 days debacle, at that time I felt many of the regulars there – with the notable exception of Lee Griffin – did not really fee that strongly about the issue. Some time later in one of the regular discussions about what a constituteS a liberal-left blog this Sunder Katwala posted to the effect “if you don’t like the Labour bias, piss-off elsewhere”.

    God, I even think Paul Staines has better served the cause of checks-and-balances on the executive than that bunch of circle-jerkers

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I didn’t get that impression, Ian – certainly the regulars who are known to me seemed quite incensed by that particular issue. And Sunder’s always struck me as one of the good guys (though he definitely has his off days, like the piece I linked in the post). That being said, I don’t often delve into the comments there, because when I do I go into “Someone’s wrong on the internet!” mode, so it may well be that the comments told a different story…

      Incidentally, I’m not going to censor comments or anything here, but I have a policy of not mentioning a few ‘high-profile’ bloggers (the one you mentioned and two with surnames beginning with D, one Tory and one Labour) just because I don’t want to give them publicity. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention their names here in future…

  4. Paul says:

    Hmm, I can see why your angry, but..

    1. I think Sunny was right to run the articles on “Smeargate”. It wasn’t just a blogging issue, it was front page of most Sunday newspapers on Easter Day, and affected quite a few of the bloggers who write for or use LC in a semi-direct way. So I think Sunny got that right.

    2. The “Progressive Blogging” post by Sunder may well have been a lapse of judgement, given that Liberal Conspiracy is not a Labour site. It should have been more clear that it was a re-print and not intended to speak for everyone. But I don’t think anything more sinister than a lapse of judgement occured.

    3. I too was very surprised by the article attacking Alice Mahon, not simply because it was nasty and unresearched, but because it was so badly written I’m surprised Sunny let something go up which was so evidently below the usual LC standard.

    4. I thought the piece about leftists joining Labour was pretty good. I didn’t agree with all of it, but I think it made for reading which would be interesting for both Labour and non-Labour party memebers.

    5. Lot’s of other articles went up over the past 2 weeks: a response to Rowenna Davis’ criticism of the left’s reaction to the global crisis; a good article about anti-semitism and the left, and how to deal with Nick Cohen generally; a thoroughly excellent and perhaps even magical article about VAT posted by some unknown person, discussing the strange dearth of reaction on a key tax issue from all parties, and so on.

    In summary: it’s only fair to point to the good stuff that went up on LC as well. I think perhaps Sunny had “a bad week at the office” regarding a couple of things that went up, but it’s no more sinister than that. Considering that i’ve had a very bad week at the (real) office, I don’t want to start sticking the knife into people for a couple of misjudgements, especially when they normally do a really top-rate job.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      Oh, I want to give the site the benefit of the doubt – I contribute myself there, and many of the people I respect most do also – it just becomes difficult when you get a whole bunch of posts in a row like that.

      To take your points one at a time.

      1) One or at most two posts on ‘Smeargate’ would have been appropriate, but having it be two-thirds of the blog’s content for several days isn’t, and the jokes about disability and repetition of slanders about David Cameron’s sex life should never have been posted *anywhere*, they were an absolute disgrace.

      2) True. But that kind of ‘lapse of judgement’ does happen rather a lot, and always with Labour-oriented posts rather than Lib Dem or Green ones…

      4) Oh, as a post itself it was fine – it’s not an opinion I think should be removed from the site or anything, although I happen to disagree with it vehemently. But as part of a larger pattern of posts it’s annoying.

      5) I agree (not necessarily about every specific example, but the general point),but I think I did address this adequately in my post, pointing out that the good posts (just) outnumber the bad ones.

      And I certainly don’t want to ‘stick the knife in’ to Sunny or any of the contributors to the site – Sunny’s a good bloke, and when he gets things wrong it’s usually with good intentions. But some of the stuff on there recently has been irritating, and other posts have been absolutely disgraceful, and I think it’s incumbent upon me as a contributor (albeit a minor one) to say “this isn’t what I support or stand for” as loudly and clearly as possible…

    • MatGB says:

      Paul, I think there was too much coverage of the smear thing, for a very simple reason.

      It was a non-story, played up by the Tory press machine, and picked up by the mainstream press as a way of attacking Brown/Labour knowing full well that most people either wouldn’t know or wouldn’t understand what it was about.

      The Red Rag website was touted as being a left leaning gossip blog, they were discussing setting it up, and were playing around with daft story ideas—the tone of the emails makes it clear they don’t think the stories were serious.

      The timing of the release is apposite—just after the G20 meeting, that Gordon had been planning for good publicity. The emails had been doing the rounds of the press offices for months, why release them then?

      Non story, non issue, playing into Tory hands.

      Other than that I agree with you—there has been good stuff and bad, and a lot of the bad is sorted as issues—Sunny’s publicly apologised for the Mahon thing, and Sunder’s agreed the blogging article coulc’ve been done better for the site. I could, and ought, to be writing more there, I can post what I like after all, but I wonder if the reason I don’t is the atmosphere the site has these days, it’s becoming more of an inward looking circle jerk all the time, and that bores me.

      • I certainly hope the bad stuff is sorted. This kind of thing’s happened before, and I also get the impression (I may be wrong) that some people in Labour are more panicked than they have been and trying everything to drum up pre-election support…

  5. Dave Semple says:

    To me it often seems that the Lib Dems are much more prone to tribalism when it comes to discussing the issues. MatGB and his exhortations that socialists should join the Liberal Democrats being one example. Jennie and Alix complaining about an unimportant slip at the top of Sunder Katwala’s cross-post is another one. Everyone knows who the Lib Dems are on the site – they make it obvious enough!

    I am a Labour Party member (though we’ll see for how much longer) and in none of my articles for LibCon – which, like yours, go through the editorial process – will you find me encouraging people to join Labour. In fact at least two of my articles for the site openly question whether or not it’s time we made a break for Labour in favour of more flexible forms of organisation. Therefore, I rather resent this nonsense about how it is the Labour members of the site who are being partisan.

    Finally, presumably as an author you are included upon the email list and were witness to the great commotion caused by the article about Alice Mahon. You will also presumably have been witness to offer by Sunny to discuss an editorial line or method of organisation with the various regular contributors. Bearing that in mind, I think the recent public declarations about ending contributions are reminiscent of children throwing their toys out of their pram.

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      “Jennie and Alix complaining about an unimportant slip at the top of Sunder Katwala’s cross-post is another one.”
      *YOU* see it as an unimportant slip. Jennie and Alix saw it as an insult. Telling someone they shouldn’t be insulted when the person doing the insulting is in your group and the insulted person is in another group is not a particularly pleasant or productive tactic. To me this reads rather like complaints about ‘humourless feminists who can’t take a joke’.

      As I’ve said over there, if you’re trying to build a ‘broad coalition’ but one of the groups in that coalition is feeling excluded – *WHETHER THAT IS YOUR INTENT OR NOT* – it is a sign that something is wrong.

      I didn’t say “the Labour members” are being partisan – and indeed I have nothing against partisanship, just against the assumption, which is *only* made by *some* Labour contributors, that everyone on a supposedly cross-party site belongs to and supports one single party. You don’t get posts on there talking about “what we need to do to save the Liberal Democrats” or “why you should join the Greens even if you disagree with everything they stand for”. If you don’t make posts like the ones I complained about, then you’re not being complained about – I deliberately spoke about posts rather than people.

      “Finally, presumably as an author you are included upon the email list and were witness to the great commotion ”
      You presume wrong. The only LC mailing list I’m on is tips@ . This post is *only* based on my own opinions about what has been posted publicly on the site itself, either as posts or in the comments.

      “You will also presumably have been witness to offer by Sunny to discuss an editorial line or method of organisation”
      Ditto. I also suspect those emails were probably confined to a private list because the people involved didn’t want their contents made public, so I’d appreciate it if private emails (whether or not they’re on lists I’m on) weren’t mentioned in the comments here.

      “I think the recent public declarations about ending contributions”
      What ‘recent public declarations’? The only one I remember is Alix asking for her name to be removed from the contributors page, which given that she hasn’t contributed anything there for a long time (I think over a year) and doesn’t agree with the editorial line she perceives in the site, is fair enough. As far as I know, no other regulars there have made any ‘public declarations’ at all. I certainly haven’t – and given that I did in fact contribute today’s Netcast, and fully intend to contribute next Thursday’s, it should be clear that I don’t have any intention of doing so at the moment (not that anyone would notice – I am far from the biggest contributor there).

    • MatGB says:

      Dave, you’re right that I do, in replies, tend to post about the benefits of getting involved in the Lib Dems a fair bit. But virtually always in response to something said in which they’re completely ignored.

      The Lions post is a case in point. It even talks about Vince Cable and his approach to CGT, but then goes on to say that there’s no progressive party for people that feel that way.

      There palpably is, thus I feel obliged to point it out. I’m fairly reactive in comments, and I do feel at times like I’m merely beating my head against a brick wall—articles or comments that pretend the Lib Dems aren’t an option at all are just frustrating, I joined them (recently) because I feel they’re the current only option, and to see so many people doing the “so now who do we vote for” thing and then rule out the LDs because “they’ll never get anywhere” is just stupid.

      If half the people that, like us, thought the Lib Dems would be worth it if they had a chance actually gave them that chance, Vince’d be in #11 right now.

      I could, and should, post original articles more. Worth noting that when I do post actual articles, it’s virtually always non-partisan policy or issue based stuff.

      Hell, my last post was defending Jack Straw over FOI. That wasn’t something I thought I’d ever find myself doing.

  6. Neil says:

    If this doesn’t change, and very, very soon, then I shall have to come to the conclusion that this is not just a series of embarassing cock-ups and stupid comments, but a calculated attempt to marginalise those of us who consider ourselves ‘liberal’ and ‘left’, but who consider that a political party has to actually do something we agree with more than once a decade to be worthy of our support.

    Y’know, speaking as someone who also considers myself to be on the liberal left but isn’t a member of a political party and doesn’t think my posts betray a particular partisan leaning (I’ve written in praise of Labour, Lib Dem and even the odd Tory politician in the past and am currently writing a bit about the libertarian line on drugs), I’m struggling to relate to this. LC’s had a bad week; it’s had bad weeks in the past and there will be bad weeks in the future. But will those bad weeks to come really be a calculated attempt to marginalise? I don’t see it.

    From my own point of view, most of what I write about (domestic social policy and international relations) is pretty marginal in the context of the blogosphere, but it still gets lifted from my little, tinpot blog – where it’s read by about six stray cats and a lost pigeon – to the 3rd most linked-to in the country. I’m certainly not the only non-affiliated blogger who enjoys this kind of promotion, either.

    If, on the other hand, we’re talking primarily about seeing more posts on Lib Dem policy (though the policy section of your party’s website is horribly designed), or more posts by party members, then I’d agree that this is something which could be improved. It’d be nice to see those Lib Dems who’re already valued contributors writing a bit more, it’d be nice to see the odd web-savvy pol dropping in for a guest post, and it’d be nice to see us hosting more content by less well-known writers. The site needs to figure out how to do that; not because it will banish the slightly batty notion that LC is a Labour 5th column, but because it’ll improve the range of voices above the breadth it already boasts.

Comments are closed.