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A crisis in politics?
November 17, 2006 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Is the web fuelling a crisis in politics? Matthew Taylor, Blair's chief strategy advisor has commented "as a citizen" that the "net-head" culture of political criticism is fuelling a crisis in politics where the populace is "increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government." One of his chief targets is the blogosphere, because he says bloggers are like teenagers - demanding, but "conflicted" about what they actually want.
posted by talitha (37 comments total)

 
Oh, that article annoys me on so many levels.

All I'll say is that the blame for a breakdown in the relationship between politicians and the populace can hardly be laid at the door of the populace. It's their job to adapt to us.
posted by Leon at 8:21 AM on November 17, 2006


Whether media was left wing or right wing, the message was always that "leaders are out there to shaft you".
...
"What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in the last few years? It's basically blogs which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.

He's right. I guess leaders really are looking out for our best interests.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:23 AM on November 17, 2006


He makes some good points, but eveything he is complaining about is 90's political tactics coming home to roost. For example:

They wanted "sustainability", for example, but not higher fuel prices, affordable homes for their children but not new housing developments in their town or village.

The problem is that politicians (and political activists in the environmental movement) created the word sustainability as a political device to describe an end result while hiding the sacrifices required to achieve it.

So many of the political buzzwords "universal healthcare", "family values" etc are marketing slogans that hide the sacrifices. Now bloggers are attacking details of those plans, and the politicians are complaining?

If government had been responsible in the 80s and 90s, and 2000's the blogging would be as shrill and aggressive.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:23 AM on November 17, 2006


Troll!
posted by imperium at 8:24 AM on November 17, 2006


who me?
posted by talitha at 8:27 AM on November 17, 2006


Blame the messengers, at its worst.

If there wasn't rampant corruption and a horribly broken system, regardless of who is in power, then the discussion of this wouldn't have risen to such a fever pitch.

I'm sure the same thoughts appeared when Martin Luther was printing on his press, or when newspapers appeared, or when people started having their own cable access shows.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:27 AM on November 17, 2006


"increasingly unwilling to be governed but not yet capable of self-government."

I'm fine with being governed to some extent, and I think most people are.... not so fine with being lied to though. I think that's the real issue. With the internet it's not as easy to pull the wool over citizens eyes.
posted by twistedonion at 8:32 AM on November 17, 2006


This is an unequivically good thing.
posted by Paris Hilton at 8:33 AM on November 17, 2006


Let's try this:

"The internet hasNewspapers have immense potential but we face a real problem if the main way in which that potential expresses itself is through allowing citizens to participate in a shrill discourse of demands.

"If you look at the way in which citizens are using technologynewspapers and the way that is growing up, there are worrying signs that that is the case.

"What is the big breakthrough, in terms of politics, on the web in newspapers in the last few years? It's basically blogs leaders which are, generally speaking, hostile and, generally speaking, basically see their job as every day exposing how venal, stupid, mendacious politicians are.

"The internet is Newspapers are being used as a tool of mobilisation, which is fantastic, but it only adds to the growing, incommensurate nature of the demands being made on government."

I know the old 'substitute' thing is a bit facile, but really, what a wanker. This kind of attitude, by somebody in this kind of authority, is more of a threat to democracy than Al-Qaeda ever will be.
posted by randomination at 8:35 AM on November 17, 2006


if the politicians don't like it, they can quit pandering to it ... (of course they probably won't get reelected if they do quit)

people get the government they deserve ... right now, they don't want a government that really DOES things that would change society ... they don't want a government that will be truthful to them ... they want a government that will lie to them and give lip service towards solving their pet issues, (partially because it would be impossible or illegal to solve many of them), while not actually doing anything

they want a government they can kick around for being weak, indecisive and venal, which is why they keep voting for a government with those qualities ... voting for a real government might actually mean having to take some responsibility as a citizen and we can't have that ...
posted by pyramid termite at 8:36 AM on November 17, 2006


Meanwhile, in other news, Baron Harkonnen has banned mirrors from his palace.
posted by adamrice at 8:43 AM on November 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


Is there anyone at all in the UK who believes a word Tony Blair says?

Chief Strategist... Oh what a wonderful job he's done over the years...
posted by quarsan at 8:47 AM on November 17, 2006


I dug up the guy's wikipedia entry, because I suspected he was a career politician - someone who's never had a life or a career outside The Party. Lot of them around these days.
posted by Leon at 8:52 AM on November 17, 2006


Is there anyone at all in the UK who believes a word Tony Blair says?

And yet, you keep voting Labour, knowing that means Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

So, dear United Kingdom, who I love dearly (other than the coffee, and the guys handing out free newspapers, but the beer makes up for both.) all I can say is "Suck It."

Oh, and be thankful that things like the BNP are the worst of your problems. At least your leader can spell and say "terror."
posted by eriko at 8:56 AM on November 17, 2006


And yet, you keep voting Labour, knowing that means Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Common misconception. Just like America, we aren't very good at democracy. At the last election under 25% of the electorate voted Labour.
posted by twistedonion at 9:04 AM on November 17, 2006


If it were rephrased as the web creating a crisis for politicians I'd buy that premise.

Common misconception. Just like America, we aren't very good at democracy. At the last election under 25% of the electorate voted Labour.

You need to replace that first period with a colon.
posted by srboisvert at 9:21 AM on November 17, 2006


I'm also tired of this relentless empathy-free confrontation. I'm not persuaded that things are any different from (say) 20 years ago though, it seems that there is some fundamental human need for a daily hate.
posted by teleskiving at 9:26 AM on November 17, 2006


Ooh! People are 'conflicted'? They don't know what they want? They ask for contradictory things? Gee, that's shocking!

If people all wanted the same things and had no conflicts, there wouldn't be much need for politics, n'est pas?
posted by freedryk at 9:31 AM on November 17, 2006


srboisvert, which is the misconception you think I make?

Like America, the UK isn't good at democracy?

Or that at the last election less than 25% of the UKs electorate voted labour?

maybe both?
posted by twistedonion at 9:34 AM on November 17, 2006


I think you confused about what democracy is twisteddomain. It sure as hell isn't everybody agreeing or even simple majority rule. I know it is hard when the current powers are not in synch with your personal beliefs but that doesn't mean the system isn't democratic. It just means enough people disagree with your beliefs that you don't get your way. Losers often want to change the rules after losing.

In Canada this always comes up just a in the U.S. where people constantly want to change the rules of Senate composition. The problem is that those representational rules where put in place initially to protect the smaller, less populated provinces and states from the tyranny of the Ontarios and Californias. Strip away those protections and those smaller regions may as well secede because they will have no say in federal governance at all.

Name any countries that are better at democracy than the western democractic model used in the UK, Canada or the US. Your only chance, I suspect, will be with tiny homogeneous countries that are largely devoid of regional differences but I doubt those even exist.

I tend to suspect that the "System isn't Democratic" whinging is really driven by anti-democratic tendencies of well meaning individuals who yearn to be either far left or far right benevolent dictators.
posted by srboisvert at 10:03 AM on November 17, 2006


There's nothing new about this sort of whining. The sixties and seventies were full of it. Indeed, anytime in history when groups of rank and file citizens have gotten together to participate in politics in a meaningful way, they've been labeled as rabble, extremists, radicals, irresponsible, childish, etc., etc.
posted by Clay201 at 10:16 AM on November 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


I know the old 'substitute' thing is a bit facile, but really, what a wanker

no, it's not facile - but are you trying to suggest that the printing press did not radically change the way society worked? newspapers had a tremendous impact on democracy, although the change took place over centuries rather than years. The speed of information and the accessibility to the forum is having/ will have major repercussions. I do think it's important that we take notice.

And it also seems increasingly inaccurate to think in terms of "us and them", so the notion that "the government" is blaming "the governed" or something is not really the point - it's that we all have to work out how to govern - we are all the governed and the government, insofar as we are all citizens, taxpayers and voters. The actual representatives & bureaucrats are all self-chosen, so in that sense too there's no excuse for yelling at "them" for their failure (because 'they' are just the portion of 'us' who chose to be more involved).

Obviously there are countless other factors that complicate matters, but I do think the constant presence of information on the internet has already seriously affected politics. In Orwell's dystopia, the info coming through the screen in every house only went up the ladder or down the ladder. Our screens connect into each other's houses and we all have control over what to share or not share. I'm not saying there are no hierarchies or anything, but at least hierarchies are harder to maintain absolutely. I even kinda wonder what GWB in a pre-internet, pre-cable era might have become. I don't doubt his willingness to mislead the populace, and I bet he'd have been more successful without all the lateral communication.
posted by mdn at 10:39 AM on November 17, 2006


"Name any countries that are better at democracy than the western democractic model used in the UK, Canada or the US."

Way to ignorantly bundle together three unrelated electoral systems.

"[Democracy] sure as hell isn't everybody agreeing or even simple majority rule."

-1 Troll. He said nothing of the sort.

In the UK and the US, the system is explicitly designed to return a simple majority between exactly two viewpoints. When, as in the UK, three in four eligible voters don't vote Labour, the system returns a minority government anyway, and gives it a commanding majority.

Apparently objecting to that makes 74% of Britons "anti-democratic" and favouring "far left or far right dictators" if you're srboisvert. As one of those 74% at the last UK election, I call 'ignorant North American jerk'.
posted by genghis at 10:46 AM on November 17, 2006


So, this guy has joined Bush the Elder and Judy Miller in admonishing the bloggers? Capital idea!

Tiny Revolution has a little post from a couple of years ago that Greenwald linked to (based on an exchange of the author with Richard Cohen) on how the Beltway Brahmins (both political and pundit) despise the great unwashed. The net and blogs are proving quite disruptive to their little arrangement. So they lash out and circle the wagons, which in turn strengthens the bloggers, repeat, etc., etc.
posted by rzklkng at 10:47 AM on November 17, 2006


Although I don't think that 'system is not democratic' == fascist, I do think it's a simple take on a complex picture.

25% of the electorate voted for Labour, but that's still more of the electorate than voted for any one of the other parties. To say 25% = undemocratic doesn't really fly since (a) it implies that all those who don't vote disapprove of the Government, which is unlikely; and (b) it implies that simple arithmetic gives you the will of the people:

E.g. 20% of people vote for the Tories, 25% of people for Labour, 15% for the Liberals and 40% for no-one. Hence the only acceptable democratic government would be an all-party coalition that would bicker incessantly and achieve nothing.

I don't think First Past the Post (US = Winner Takes All) is the perfect system, but it does have some things going for it, notably stability of government and local representation. Italy, for one, has tried to move towards it in recent years.
posted by athenian at 11:19 AM on November 17, 2006


You're a politician and you don't like people making actual demands on you?

Somebody call the wah-mbulance. And get this man a new career.

I want people to have more power, but I want them to have more power in the context of a more mature discourse about the responsibilities of government and the responsibilities of citizens

If you get to define the context and the terms of the discourse, they don't have any power.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:33 AM on November 17, 2006


"Will somebody call the wah-mbulance?"

Sorry.
posted by jason's_planet at 11:35 AM on November 17, 2006


I'm quite interested in this topic. I wonder if Taylor has read Joshua Meyrowitz' No Sense of Place, which makes the point that television has had a huge influence on the US and other societies since the 1950s--it tends to break down hierarchies.

The Internet may exacerbate this even further because it makes it even harder for politicians to evade the spotlight. Just as all bugs are shallow if you've got enough people looking at the source code, the collective gaze of the Internet makes it extremely difficult to maintain a "backstage" area where public figures can rehearse their "onstage" performance, or where inter-party bargaining can take place; if all negotiations take place in public view, the two sides may play to their most partisan zealots instead of trying to work out compromise policies.

And then there's the digital mob effect. (Try to imagine Tony Blair posting to MetaTalk.)

On the other hand, one advantage that the Internet has versus television as a forum for discussion is that it's largely text-based, and so it's much easier to discuss complex issues without "dumbing them down." You can easily link to detailed background information on a topic, or to past discussions. TV-based politics, on the other hand, is largely a form of show business--if it's not entertaining, people will change channels.
posted by russilwvong at 11:40 AM on November 17, 2006


no, it's not facile - but are you trying to suggest that the printing press did not radically change the way society worked? newspapers had a tremendous impact on democracy, although the change took place over centuries rather than years. The speed of information and the accessibility to the forum is having/ will have major repercussions. I do think it's important that we take notice.

I wasn't suggesting anything of the sort. Discussion is crucial to knowledge and knowledge is crucial to decision-making for voters. My point in changing Taylor's quote was to show he wasn't complaining about the internet, he was complaining about negative public discourse. That's the kind of irresponsible remark from a politician that gets the UK knocked down in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom table.

Of course, being a hack I'm biased, but I am in a combined state of WTF? and fury at Taylor's remarks.

In Orwell's dystopia, the info coming through the screen in every house only went up the ladder or down the ladder. Our screens connect into each other's houses and we all have control over what to share or not share

I largely agree with the rest of your post. Orwell got his telescreens pointing the wrong way round, CCTV notwithstanding.

Predictably, Guido Fawkes has reacted to Taylor.
posted by randomination at 11:41 AM on November 17, 2006


I think the wah-mbulance might need to be put on hold. Taylor was not slamming bloggers, or people, or complaining about democracy per se. He was talking about debate being pushed to the extremes by the virulence of the British media, and in particular their eternal "all politicians are stupid and evil" mantra. I think it's a valid concern: it's one I share.

And to be honest, a lot of comments here have headed straight down the road "all politicians are stupid and evil".
posted by athenian at 11:44 AM on November 17, 2006


Political management has always depended on metanarrative to compel obedience: God, king, country, race, progress. The prospect of finding a new and compelling metanarrative seems increasingly remote. This means that ever-more radical democratization is now a permanent feature of political life. Blair himself seems well-able to navigate in these circumstances. Perhaps, though, the management longs for something to believe in. But what's wrong with just plain old sex, money, and fame? It may not be metanarrative, but it certainly compels the obedience of the masses. If you want more, you can always quit politics.
posted by No Robots at 1:17 PM on November 17, 2006


How the Web Polarized Politics.
posted by ericb at 1:19 PM on November 17, 2006


"Name any countries that are better at democracy than the western democratic model used in the UK, Canada or the US."

Way to ignorantly bundle together three unrelated electoral systems.


To say the UK, Canadian and American systems are unrelated is interesting. The Canadian and US were hugely influenced by the existing UK systems of governance and all try to balance proportional and regional representation using largely the same mechanisms although the American system is a bit more deliberately inefficient due to their distrust of government resulting from their colonial issues.

"[Democracy] sure as hell isn't everybody agreeing or even simple majority rule."

-1 Troll. He said nothing of the sort.


I had to interpret but I am pretty certain I was accurate in guessing from the evidence he gave that he feels that UK democracy was "not very good" because it wasn't simple majority rule - which is at least a form of everybody (or at least an majority) agreeing. I'm pretty sure that form of government doesn't exist in a genuine democracy anywhere outside of very small, perhaps tribal sized, communities.


In the UK and the US, the system is explicitly designed to return a simple majority between exactly two viewpoints. When, as in the UK, three in four eligible voters don't vote Labour, the system returns a minority government anyway, and gives it a commanding majority.



I think you are factually incorrect. If more people in the UK voted Social Democrat they would be the governing party. There is no explicit design that prevents this. The only thing that prevents this is that people don't vote for them in sufficient quantity for them to win the seats to form a government. There are more obstacles in the US but they are also not insurmountable. If enough people wanted a third party their would be one. If you want to make an argument that the system promotes two parties by installing a ruling party and an official opposition party thus limiting the political opportunities for third parties maybe you should actually try making that argument and explain why it is so evil, bad or a failure or whatever.

In the UK elections, in particular, there is nice strong evidence that it really isn't a simple two party system. That you choose to ignore it as proponent of the popular vote view doesn't make it go away.

You're being like a Footie fan who feels the game should be decided by time of possession rather than score. It simply isn't how the game is played.

Apparently objecting to that makes 74% of Britons "anti-democratic" and favouring "far left or far right dictators" if you're srboisvert.

If you are going to claim that I inferred incorrectly what TwistedOnion meant you really shoudn't go on to completely misconstrue what I said. Those 74% you refer to are not "on your side" or "a majority" because they are not a single unified group. In fact you can't even be certain they are all even anti-labor since you are including people who didn't vote (labor actually got ~35% of the popular vote in 2005). Not only that but I seriously doubt that very many of the supposed 75% agree with you that democracy is a failure (or serisouly flawed or that "we are not very good at " or whatever you or twistedO want to say)

I'm really not sure what system you could be arguing for when you think your democracy sucks.

I still stand by my assertion that most people who whine about the failures of western democracy are people's whose party or views have lost and the changes they want are the ones that would make their party the winners. The motives may be benevolent, at least in their own minds, but I find the behaviour is creepy, antidemocratic and frightening.


As one of those 74% at the last UK election, I call 'ignorant North American jerk'.


I call and raise you one Canadian jerk who is a UK resident and gets to vote in "your" elections. Interestingly, I am part of the 74% that you presume agrees with you. I assure you that I do not. It is precisely this sort of bullshit that is why I distrust people, such as yourself, who assume democracy is flawed. You don't know me, you don't what I want politically and you have zero right to speak for me, or anyone else who hasn't granted you some sort of proxy, at all. So when you or TwistedOnion, in your benevolence, assume that it was democracy that has failed rather than your ideals I see a serious and insidious attack on my freedom even though my own ideals almost always fail to garner political support.
posted by srboisvert at 1:23 PM on November 17, 2006


Clay201 writes "Indeed, anytime in history when groups of rank and file citizens have gotten together to participate in politics in a meaningful way, they've been labeled as rabble, extremists, radicals, irresponsible, childish, etc., etc."

"Yes. Usenet is essentially Letters to the Editor without the editor.
Editors don't appreciate this, for some reason.
Larry Wall lwall@netlabs.com"
posted by Mitheral at 2:17 PM on November 17, 2006


And to be honest, a lot of comments here have headed straight down the road "all politicians are stupid and evil".

I guess in theory a politician could be neither (or at least stupid or evil), but I see overwhelming evidence to the contrary everywhere.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:36 PM on November 17, 2006


Stupid and evil? No.
Cunning and self-interested? Yes.

Like everybody else.
posted by No Robots at 2:54 PM on November 17, 2006


IMO the blogosphere is a media event, not reality.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:37 PM on November 17, 2006


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