It Was The Sun Wot Manufactured It

The Sun crows over the Shannon Matthews case:

The prosecutor said cops recovered at [Michael] Donovan’s flat a copy of The Sun from March 11, with the headline: “£50,000 for Shannon. Sun ups reward to find lost girl.”

Police also discovered a copy of the Daily Mirror which had been ripped up and dumped in a bin.

Its bizarre that The Sun should choose to delight in this little factoid, because it draws attention to a few rather negative interpretations:

  • The Sun is paper of choice for evil scheming child abductors”
  • The Sun falls for trap set by evil scheming child abductors”

or worse

  • The Sun’s dubious track record inspires evil scheming child abductors”
Karen Matthews and Craig Meehan pose with a 'Sun' branded reward poster, February 2008
Karen Matthews and Craig Meehan pose with a 'Sun' branded reward poster, February 2008

Now the paper’s editors will no doubt suggest that by offering their reward, they were merely acting as good citizens who just wanted to see Shannon found safely.  However, the crass branding of the reward poster, which they gleefully reproduced in today’s paper, shows that their motives were altogether more commercial.  Not content with merely reporting the story, they insisted on influencing it.  They delighted then, and they still delight, in the part they played.  But the shocking truth is, by quickly fulfilling the plotters’ prophecy and advertising a reward, they inspired the kidnappers to keep Shannon hidden for longer, thus prolonging her ordeal.

Of course, if Karen Matthews and Michael Donovan are found guilty, then they will be rightly condemned for their actions.  They have free will.  However, blame is not a zero sum game.  We do not live in a vacuum, and the media can send signals which inspire others to act in negative ways.  Usually, violent films, rap artists, or computer game producers shoulder the criticism.  When they are put in the spot-light, these groups usually cite free-will, but also agree that they should act responsibly, that they should add caveats and warnings to their art, and that it should not be marketed to the vulnerable or easily impressed.

I note that this contrite and defensive attitude is nowhere to be found on the pages of The Sun.  They have fuelled this case, sparked a sales bonanza, and will surely do it again the moment they are given another opportunity.

And next time – mark my words, there is always a next time! – it is likely that the disappearance will be genuine.  Another pair of worried parents, bamboozled into supporting “The Sun’s Campaign” to find their child, followed by a period where they themselves come under suspicion.  Its a winning formula for The Sun, and not one politician will call them on it.

Cross-posted at the Liberal Conspiracy, please comment there.

Second Life Event at Labour Conference

An avatar looks at the Public Sector 2.0 event poster in Second Life
An avatar looks at the Public Sector 2.0 event poster in Second Life

I’ve just had word that one of the SMF‘s conference fringe events will be streamed into Second Life on Monday morning. I know that politicians in the US have held events in Second Life, but we think this will be a first in the UK.

The event is titled Public Sector 2.0: How can emerging information technologies improve public service delivery? and will feature contributions from Tom Watson MP and Jerry Fishenden from Microsoft. Watson is the Cabinet Office Minister responsible for E-Government, and of course one of the first MPs to inaugurate his own blog.

It is an 8am breakfast meeting at Charter 4, Manchester Central. In Second Life it will be in the Manchester Central Hall on the Manchester ‘Island’.

The Government’s fairly poor use of the web is a particular bugbear of mine, so I am looking forward to attending the event (in the flesh) but also encouraging people to submit questions and comments via Second Life. Given that the event is inside the secure zone, opening it up online obviously increases access to the discussion. However, there is the perennial risk of disruption, but since the event is on a fairly specific subject matter I confidently hope this will not be an issue.

A wider point is that Web 2.0 technologies allowing better communication and broadcasting of ideas, at a lower cost. They are therefore inherently equalizing, and something that the Liberal Left should welcome in public service delivery. It would be great if some Liberal Conspiracy readers and writers could join in the discussion, although I appreciate 8am is a big ask. At least in Second Life you don’t need to shower and shave before joining in.

Cross-posted at the Liberal Conspiracy

Is Labour Really On its Knees?

Amid the cacophony of speculation about the future of Gordon Brown’s premiership, the imminent electoral meltdown, and the future direction of the Labour party, I think one aspect is being marginalised, which is the future of the party at a local level, and in local government. It is clear that current crisis is playing out on a national level, with national and international problems catalysed by Westminster intruigue and a failure of national leadership that can speak to the concerns of the people.

Now, the fall-out from this is obviously felt at the local level, as Labour’s loss of councillors in the May elections demonstrates. But it is not clear that the existential worries currently afflicting Gordon Brown and his parliamentary colleagues are shared by their Labour friends on local councils. In Tower Hamlets, for example, the Labour group recently increased their majority after four defections from Respect, and a by-election win (after a popular Lib Dem councillor stood down for health reasons, no less).

Of course, if the local parties are not suffering from the same crisis of purpose, this is probably to do with the differences between the nature of local and national governance. Localities like Tower Hamlets have very specific problems, to which a Labour council can confidently respond within their current ideology, without having to worry about national unity, or whether the same policy would be effective in different boroughs.

So, as the columnists and bloggers search in vain for a viable alternative to Brown, and a new direction for the party, I wonder whether the most coherent and confident voices might come from local government, rather than the national scene, policy wonks, or the unions. They are ideally placed to comment on pressing issues such as community cohesion and knife-crime, and how other concerns such as the environment and immigration can be dealt with in practice.

These are purely my anecdotal thoughts – what are the thoughts and experiences of other Liberal Conspiracy readers and writers?

Cross-posted at Liberal Conspiracy.

Fifth Estate or Democratic Tool?

An old printing press at the Guardian's offices in Farringdon, London.
When we think about blogging and the development of human interactions through the web, it is easy to assume some kind of historical determinism.  The Internet is one huge sandbox, with new blogs and campaigning sites being launched all the time.  Most peter out (I’ve been involved in a couple of those myself) but others persist, and grow.  This trial-and-error approach suggests that we are at least inching towards a more sophisticated and empowering blogosphere, which exercises more influence over politics and therefore the direction this country is headed.

The Blog Nation event earlier this week raised some of the key issues that the Liberal Left needs to answer in order to become more effective online:

  • Are we campaigners or pseudo-journalists?
  • Will it suffice to form ad hoc coalitions to fight single-issue campaigns, or should we be forming a more formal and wider coalition to try and affect a broader cultural shift?
  • In order to be effective, do we need to promote the rise of super-blogs or power-bloggers to rival Guido Fawkes?  Do we need a figure-head like Barack Obama around which we can coalesce, or can a leaderless network build momentum on its own?

As I crouched in the front row of the event, rubbing my temples and trying to think of answers, the following thought occurred to me: What if this is all there is? By which I mean, perhaps it is impossible to become much more organized.  I refrained from articulating this thought at the time, but it did seem a deft, if nihilistic way of avoiding giving an answer to some of the questions posed, above.  Perhaps there is no historical determinism to any of this, and we are not destined to develop anything significantly more efficient than what we have now.

Now I don’t know whether I really believe things to be so hopeless, but if its true it may not be such a bad thing.  Rather than grandiose ideas of the blogosphere become some kind of Fifth Estate, perhaps we should aspire to nothing more than another tool for the people to use in checking the power of the elite (both elected representatives and others who hold positions of influence).

Of course we should ask how existing bloggers and activists can work better together, but that is just oiling the machine, rather than inventing a new one.  A more important focus is to try to increase access to the new information and opinion that is appearing online.  Just as increasing literacy strengthens democracy and promote equality, so computer literacy can strengthen it too.  So, my suggestion for the next open source campaignintroduce one relative, friend or colleague to blogging each month.  This need not mean forcing them to set up their own blog.  Instead, just a gentle explanation of the power of RSS, and the suggestion that they bookmark one – just one – of the fine sites listed on the right.

Cross posted at the Liberal Conspiracy

On 'Open Source Campaigning'

Yesterday at the Blog Nation Event, Dan Hardie gave an account of his experiences running his Iraqi Interpreters campaign. He mentioned my post on Open Source Campaigning, but said he thought that ‘open source’ wasn’t an appropriate label, because you need a heirarchy and a leader to run an effective campaign.

To clarify, I’m not sure that the ideas of ‘leadership’ and ‘open source’ are mutually exclusive. Open Source coding projects tend to have a core team of dedicated developers, but individual tasks to code are farmed out to volunteers. Likewise with Jay Rosen’s ‘open source journalism’ – an editor or lead journalist still writes up the piece, but dozens or hundreds of other journalists are able to perform the many discrete pieces of research required.

So it is with Open Source Campaigning. You still need someone like Dan to lead the campaign and make strategic decisions, but the leg-work can be decimated if the lobbying or writing to individual MPs is shared throughout the network.

Cross-posted at the Liberal Conspiracy website.

To Win, and To Win Fairly

Oh, the twists and turns of the Democrats Primary season! Now its Hillary’s turn to feel the heat, after she invoked the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in a discussion over the lengthy nomination process:

My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don’t understand it.

The implication from many quarters is that Senator Clinton is hanging in there on the off-chance that Senator Obama is murdered. However, if you watch the YouTube of her interview (with the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader) its clear that is not what she is saying. The operative word here is quite obviously ‘June’ and not ‘assassinated’.

Now, I’m an Obama fan, and wish Clinton would drop out of the race. The controversy a few weeks ago surrounding comments from Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s pastor, was ruthlessly exploited by the Clinton campaign. If this comment about Bobby Kennedy sinks her, there would be a real sense of schadenfreud, reap-what-you-sow and (to borrow a phrase from Wright) chickens coming home to roost.

However, Obama is really supposed to be above all that. He is running on the rhetoric of change, to wash the disingenuity from Washington politics. For the knock-out punch to be landed so unfairly would be a shame. It would show that such dirty politics is still legitimate. Victory, for Obama, would be less sweet.

Meanwhile, there is an ongoing debate within the Democratic Party as to whether the Florida and Michigan delegations, previously banned for breaking the DNC’s rules governing primaries, should be seated. Clinton argues that they should, and of course stands to benefit if that happens. Obama argues that they should not, because they broke the rules, and everyone agreed not to campaign there. Currently, Obama has the moral high-ground here, and the consensus is that this view will prevail.

However, a little piece of gossip threatens this claim. It is rumoured that 40 or so Super-Delegates are planning to defect from Hillary Clinton, and endorse Barack Obama. Over at The Field, Al Giordano hints:

Cardoza is one of the leaders of this effort (which includes not only superdelegates, but here’s something that should set off some paranoia in Camp Clinton: there are pledged Clinton delegates in “The Cardoza 40,” too).

Emphasis mine. Obama should not be welcoming other people’s pledged delegates into his fold. These people, unlike the super-delegates, have been awarded their position on the basis of a popular vote in favour of Senator Clinton. To condone her delegates to vote instead for Obama is profoundly undemocratic, and unworthy of the Illinois Senator’s inspiring rhetoric. Let us hope he distances himself from this possibility.

Winning makes history, and confers power. But winning in the right way is just as important, because it generates goodwill and political capital.

All this reminds me of Manchester United’s Champions League victory on Wednesday evening. Yes, they won, and lifted the trophy. But their achievement is sullied by the manner in which it came about. The previous win, in 1999, will be more highly regarded, and will be more fondly remembered.


Via the Dish, xpostfactoid highlights the ways in which Obama has maintained his integrity, and killed Hillary with kindness.

A Protest for Science

Evan Harris et al

Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, with parliamentary colleagues, at an event in support of the Human Fertility and Embryology Bill, which will protect and extend the right of scientists to perform crucial stem-cell research.

Clegg and the Digital Revolution

At the Social Market Foundation on Wednesday, Liberal Democrat Leadership Candidate Nick Clegg began a speech by outlining the technological context of 21st Century politics. It is a good approximation of my own view. He said:

… the innovations and technological advances that are already shaping and defining the 21st century – Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube – are about something very different: they are about creating the tools that will enable people to deliver services to each other.
Continue reading “Clegg and the Digital Revolution”

Comments Policy

One interesting quirk of the new Liberal Conspiracy site (at least, for me) is the comments policy.

We believe in free speech but not your right to abuse our space.

In the past few years, I have scrolled through countless online debates about the nature of free-speech versus reasoned debate. I have read innumberable criticisms of Blogistan as a place of visceral name-calling. I think the policy arrived at reads like a conclusion, or at least, a summing up, of all those online debates. To one who is new to online discourse, it might seem surprising. But I am sure that those who have been part of the blog hive mind for a while, would have found themselves nodding, knowingly. Its unapologetic, and pre-emptive tone seems to be very much “of” its time, and the Internet.

Those Daily Mail Readers

I have heard it twice in seven days. Twice, at two very interesting events, run by two very respectable think-tanks: Its those dreaded Daily Mail readers who are to blame.

In both cases, that journal was being used as a convenient short-hand – to signify something right-wing, reactionary, and irrational. The implication is that there are all these subscribers out there who are somehow intractable. A block of voters who can be persuaded of nothing.
Continue reading “Those Daily Mail Readers”