Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 17 April 2009
And there I was thinking the worst was over… As Neil Kinnock would have put it in his pomp, it is difficult to exaggerate how completely, totally and utterly Derek Draper and Damian McBride have let down the Labour Party.
OK, there are questions about how the creepy Tory blogger Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, got hold of the emails the idiots exchanged. OK, the grand plans for a website publishing rumours about the sexual peccadilloes, drug use and mental health of leading Tories and their spouses never came to fruition. OK, it’s hardly Watergate.
All the same, the scandal takes the breath away. To put it bluntly, what the fuck did they think they were doing?
I am absolutely in favour of a full-on anti-Tory attack blog – as it happens, provoked by the oleaginous Dan Hannan’s dissing of the National Health Service on Fox TV the week before last, I was in the process of planning one myself when the scandal broke, though I now think it can wait a bit.
But the way you get at the Tories is not by spreading puerile defamatory personal tittle-tattle. David Cameron’s fitness for office has nothing to do with whether or not or why he visited the clap clinic at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford as a student many years ago: what counts is what a Cameron government would do for the funding of clap clinics. As for the supposed mental instability of a senior Tory politician’s wife – you what? There’s nothing to suggest there’s anything to the story. But even if it were true and you had evidence, you wouldn’t touch it in public, and in private, if asked, you’d express sympathy, warmth, tenderness, understanding, even solidarity. Only a complete shit would even think of doing anything else. And unless you have solid evidence for coke-and-hookers stories, just leave them alone because of the libel laws – and I say that as a confirmed coke-and-hookers man myself.
Seriously – I’m not into coke and hookers really, darling! It was a joke, honest! Why have you put the phone down? – this is the end of New Labour’s spin regime. And it’s time to state the obvious. Derek Draper, Damian McBride et al: what a bunch of tossers you are.
For all your cocksure swagger, you couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. Your antics – not just in the past couple of months – have done incalculable harm to people’s faith in the democratic system in Britain and to the cause of social democracy. I thought you were rubbish many years ago, but now it’s clear to everyone. Charlatans. Liars. Incompetents. Now get lost, and don’t ever come back.
The Draper-McBride affair has prompted a lot of speculation about why the political blogosphere in Britain is dominated by the right – but no one has mentioned the main reason, which is money.
This might seem a little counterintuitive, because blogging – unlike self-publishing in print – doesn’t cost a penny. You write your piece, upload it to your personal website and that’s it. There’s no need to buy expensive desktop publishing software, there’s no printers’ bill and there are no postage or promotional costs. What could possibly be less elitist?
But that’s not quite the whole story. To generate traffic to your blog, you need to get a reputation both for the quality of your posts and their frequency – and that takes time most people don’t have.
I’ve had a blog for more than six years, and when I started I was full of enthusiasm for the possibilities of the medium, posting nearly every day and eagerly following dozens of stories.
Slowly but surely, however, I started to flag. Spending a couple of hours a day researching and writing for a blog read by a few hundred people simply wasn’t compatible with working full-time and all the other commitments of everyday life – and that was with a flexible work routine, a generally indulgent employer and no kids. Increasingly, I found I was posting my monthly Tribune columns, the odd review, lots of You Tube videos – and nothing else.
Would it have been different if I’d been a man of independent means? I’ve no idea, but I do know that being rich and not having to work is rather an advantage in the new media age. The most obvious case in point is Arianna Huffington in the United States, who has used her fortune to bankroll the Huffington Post website – but Britain’s Tory bloggers have got the upper hand at least in part because they don’t need to do anything else. Yes, it’s easier to be oppositional on the web than it is to support a ruling party. Yes, the blogosphere is inherently individualistic. But cash counts too. Give me loads of it and I’ll show you.