Wikileaks is More Than Assange

As was debated a few days ago at Liberal Conspiracy, it is very difficult to know what to think about the Swedish allegations against Julian Assange. In such situations one can only hope that the evidence against him is presented in a timely fashion. Then he can be either charged and tried, or released, as the available facts dictate. We will know what to think in due course, there is no need to pre-empt a due process which so far seems to be progressing as it should.
But let us assert one thing right now: the personal exploits of Julian Assange tell us nothing about the morality of the Wikileaks project and it’s recent #Cablegate actions.
If Assange is convicted, watch out for those who use it to cast doubt on the idea and mission of the Wikileaks project. Such arguments will merely be an ad hominem that will add nothing new to the debate around Freedom of Information that the site has brought into sharp focus.
In the arts, many critics take the biographical approach when they analyse artists’ work. The classic questions: Is ‘The Wasteland’ reduced if T.S. Eliot was an anti-semite? Was Paul Gauguin a worse artist because he abandoned his wife and children? We might ask the same questions of political philosophies too: are we to abandon the American experiment because the Founding Fathers were slave owners? I don’t see how (especially when the principles which ultimately guaranteed the freedom from slavery were written by those same men in the Bill of Rights). Likewise, should we abandon the philosophy of Wikileaks if Julian Assange turns out to be a rapist? I think not.
Indeed, the very name of the website argues against this. It would be a very poor sort of Wiki that was vulnerable to a ‘decapitation’ strategy. Surely the whole point of a site worthy of the prefix is that it depends on a community, not an individual. Those who try to propagate the ‘Assange ⇔ Wikileaks’ meme in the next few weeks should be reminded of this.

Would Libdems be better off with a ‘two-tier manifesto’?

All this chat about how the Libdems have broken their manifesto promises leaves me a little cold. Or rather, in the modern parlance, “a bit meh”.
I think my failure to become outraged or agitated stems from a sense that the Liberal Democrats have fallen into a semantic trap. ‘Manifesto commitments’ are things that you promise to enact when you have Power to do so in Government.
But the situation that the Lib Dems find themselves in does not seem to fulfill the sufficient and neccessary conditions to merit such a desription!
A “U-turn” doesn’t really capture the essence of what has happened – It implies an agency and a mens rea that, by virtue of their Junior status, the Liberal Democrats simply do not possess.
This conundrum will have consequences for future elections. Now we have become used to the idea of coalitions (a prospect more likely if an AV or PR voting system is introduced), the way that political parties put their manifestos to the electorate could change.
The Liberal Democrats might present a ‘Two-Tier Manifesto’ to the voters (although they would never use such a crass term). First, they will present a more general statements of principles and ‘red line’ policies, which they would expect to be a part of any coalition deal.
Then they could present more detailed manifesto commitments, which they understand they may have to ditch if they were the minority partner in the Cabinet. The Greens, the Nationalist Parties and the Unionists might choose to do the same.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives and Labour could publish their own red-lines and general principles, signalling what is up for grabs in coalition negotiations and what would be out-of-bounds.
Such a convention would be a nightmare for those drafting the manifestos, and would lead to much factionalism within the parties around election time… but at least the voters would have a much better sense of what would happen in various coalition scenarios.
x-posted at LibCon.

This Is The Digital Election We Have Been Waiting For

Last week, Anthony Painter launched a Digital Election Analysis he wrote for Orange. A key conclusion was the that the eager awaited ‘Digital Election’ we had all been expecting (after the fantastic Obama ’08 campaign) simply failed to materialise, and it was TV wot hung it. My thoughts on the events were blogged elsewhere. However, since Sunny has just posted his provisonal Blog Nation programme, I will offer a quick addendum to my earlier thoughts here, which is simply that it is the Labour Leadership Election which will prove to be the Digital Election we have all been waiting for.
I note that David Miliband is becoming prolific at posting AudioBoos (short podcasts, for those not yet up to speed); and Ed Miliband’s campaign team are turning around a particular type of on-the-hoof, off-the-cuff campaign video with efficiency. Tom Watson MP, former Minister for Digital Engagement, is running Ed Balls campaign, so I am sure we will see some innovative uses of social networking courtesy of the man from West Bromwich. All the candidates seem to have Twibbons, an innovation which I fucking hate but others seem to enjoy.
The difference here, compared to the General Election campaign in April, is time. Much like Barack Obama’s gruelling journey to the White House, the campaign for the Labour leadership will be a drawn-out affair. It will allow all five candidates to experiment with the different technologies on offer, and develop a deeper and more sophisticated conversation with their party… and each other. Groups like Compass, The Fabians, LabourList, Left Foot Forward and, of course, Liberal Conspiracy, will also be able to plan and launch multiple interventions, as will entirely independent initiatives like the unofficial Ed Miliband for Labour Leader campaign. Who knows, we may even see some ‘swift-boating’ or negative campaigns, like #KerryOut – the doomed attempt to unseat Kerry McCarthy MP from Bristol East through the medium of Twitter.
The next hustings event is tonight, and is hosted by the Fabians. Expect your Twitter streams to be cluttered with multiple, competing commentaries. Expect images and video to pop up online before the weekend. There will be no spin room where Machiavellis, Mountebanks and Madelsons can suck our attention away from the substance of what is being said, and the digital commentary will count for much more that it did during the #LeadersDebates in the spring. This is the Digital Election we have been waiting for, so get stuck in.

Politics of Persuasion on Proportional Representation

Take Back Parliament
Take Back Parliament rally, 8th May 2010. Photo by Lewishamdreamer on Flickr

*This post contains excessive alliteration, which some readers may find offensive.
Politics means different things at different times.  During the election campaign, it was the politics of presentation:  of a leader (and his lovely wife), and of a suitable narrative that you think chimes with the voters.
Now the election is over, we seem to be moving into the politics of game-play and strategy.  The discussion centres around what Nick Clegg can force out of the tories, and how to bounce David Cameron into Proportional Representation.  Associated with this are the recriminations over failed tactics.  For an example, see @hopisen (his debates with @sunny_hundal yesterday were a good example of this kind of politics).
This kind of politics assumes an intransigence on the part of your political opponents, and it is useful to remember that this is not always the case.  At this crucial juncture, we need a politics of persuasion too, especially on the case of electoral reform.

@ellielevenson: RT @ericjoyce A near-painful read, near-pathetic, read. RT @krishgm: Guardian group feeling guilty?

The above comments, discussing the Guardian’s Saturday editorial, sits within the second type of politics, the politics of strategy.  But as a piece of persuasion, I think the article is very useful.

But the fact remains that victory, under the electoral system we have, means securing a Commons majority. Constitutionally, no other metric matters. If the Conservatives believe that share of vote and lead over the nearest rival should have some moral weight in deciding a winner, they have already conceded a vital point about the need for electoral reform: the proportion of overall support in the country as a whole matters. …
The Tories by contrast are confused about electoral reform. It cannot have escaped their notice that they have suffered as a result of the system they are determined to keep. It is Labour whose results are most inflated by systemic bias. The Tories insist that first past the post delivers clear results, when it has just failed to do exactly that. Conservatives have always grumbled that coalition politics means shadowy deals between parties cobbled together in dingy corridors. The opposite is now proven.

Now, I am not a Tory, but I think this sort of logic that might persuade them.  These kinds of arguments need to be in the foreground.  My three aspects of politics overlap here:  A persuasive argument, presented right, can give your cause a strategic advantage.  In this case, if the Conservative party become a little less cold to the idea of electoral reform, that’s a good thing.
There has also been some discussion over political power in the past few days.  Here’s Laurie Penny, barging in on that Sunny/Hopi debate I mentioned earlier:

@PennyRed:  @sunny_hundal @hopisen yes and no. I think there’s enough damage that only a real defeat, preforably temporary, can make us regroup.
@sunny_hundal: @hopisen @STEPearce @PennyRed I dint believe in power for it’s own sake. That is where labour is at and that is the path to hell

Its little comfort, but the politics of persuasion persists even when the party is out of power.
All of this is a way of saying, that while the Tories and Liberal Democrata hammer out whatever deal they can; while the Labour front bench has been told to keep quiet; and while Gordon Brown keeps a low profile, it would be a good use of Labour supporters’ time to help promote and grow the Take Back Parliament Campaign.  The coalition has taken only three days to amass over 41,000 supporters, which is very impressive.  However, I think it needs a broader base than the middle-class Lib Dem supporting demographic I saw at the rally on Saturday.  This is a practical task that Labourites can take on right now, while we all twiddle our thumbs waiting for opposition.
Here’s my Flickr photoset from the Take Back Parliament rally (though I think Lewishamdreamer’s photos, one of which is reproduced above, are better).

Do Daily Mail Journalists Cry at Night?

I posted this on Liberal Conspiracy yesterday. Happy to say it got a lot of RTs.
The pathetic and desperate hatchet job on Nick Clegg, by our friends at the Daily Mail, was pretty much instantly rebutted last night, in just 140 characters.

@DougSaunders: British journalism in microcosm: 2002 op-ed by Nick Clegg: Resulting Daily Mail front pager tomorrow:

Merely linking to the article that was the basis for Tim Shipman’s front-page piece shows the real context, debunks the Mail‘s outrage, and exposes their highly partisan agenda. Iain Dale is right: this will backfire on the Conservatives (regardless of whether they actually had a hand in placing the smears), and further highlight The Slow Death of the British Newspaper As We Know It.
Alongside the online rebuttals and link-sharing, we see the rise of the satirical #hashtag, in this case #NickCleggsFault (seeded by Justin McKeating, I believe), and Chris Applegate has updated his seminal Daily Mail Headline Generator to capture the Zeitgeist:


A few questions present themselves. The first is the obvious perennial: how deep does this sort of ridicule penetrate into the national conversation? Are these jokes just a distraction for a insular blogosphere, the “Twitterati”, or does the meme spread out enough to properly counter the spin being spread by the Mail?
Social marketers will spend all election trying to answer this question… but whatever the level of influence right now, I think it is safe to say that it grows on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the tabloids diminish in stature. This is now a given.
But what I really want to know, is this: What do the journalists at these outlets really think about the satirical attacks on their paper? I can well imagine a bunker mentality affecting the editorial team at the Mail, or the Express, or the Telegraph – these are intense and high-stakes positions, after all.
But does this attitude extend to, say, a young journalist working on the news desk? Or the sub-editors? Or the music reviewers? Or the poor chap (or chapess) who has to moderate all the angry comments!? What do they think when they see the Daily Mail Headline Generator and the #NickCleggsFault hastag cluttering up their screens? Just as the Mail’s readership is not a monolith, we know that their staff cannot be either.
I would love to know their reaction to these kinds of online surges – and not out of any sense of schadenfreude, fly-on-the-wall, Downfall-type snigger. I think it would be a genuinely useful insight into how major media operations operate in the second decade of the 21st Century.
Any pseudonomynous contributions in the comments would be gratefully received.