Thursday, 6 May 2010

Debating debates

I spoke of my but three hats before. On this important day of potential sea change and tide shift, let me throw some more hats into the ring.

One of the most entertaining things about this election has been the debates. Correction: One of the most entertaining things about this election has been reading Twitter during the debates, an endless stream of witty oneliners from friends, alternative stats from 63336, and poll listings from Tweetminster. Almost as interesting were the partisan tweeters; each declaring their own party as a winner, although these were amusing for a different reason.

The 'winner' of the debates became as moot as the issues being debated themselves. The after match analysis was a similar affair on television to Twitter - William Hague congratulating Cameron, Cable commending Clegg, Balls bravoing Brown. I would have loved, loved if they had shaken it up a bit! If one had acknowledged the strength of another, if one had admitted a particular slip-up or failing of their peer. It would have made for almost shockingly frank discussion. Of course I more than understand the nature of party politics, but the commentary would be a bit more progressive if it was somehow edgier. It would hold more purpose. And entertainment, for sure!

On a similar topic, there are plenty of partisan blogs, and some of them are very good. They cover a wide range of subjects and party issues and are constantly updated. Guardian did a good round up of the party interwebz efforts. Tweetminster does a fantastic job of following all the MPs and party candidates across the political spectrum. I follow a wide range of them, but unsurprisingly often none of them are particularly revealing and their tweet stances are predictable.

Our national newspapers offer a cornucopia of views, and most of them have endorsed a party, as is their absolute right to do so, but it would be good to hear/read their real motives. The most stimulating justification for support was outlined by the Economist, and that was even based on politics rather than hyperbole and self-interest (or so I would like to believe from a publication that aims to progress intelligence...)

So what's the other option? Our BBC bastion is required to be neutral, and give a certain amount of coverage to all sides (though Murdoch would surmise that it has a left-wing bias). However, because of its mandate towards its license payers, it plays safe rather than cover all the views in a truly cutting coverage. Does this stifle good debate or risque discussion? Paxman excluded of course. And perhaps John Humphrys. But they both take the role of the 'cynical general public' and partisanship is not often seen from commentators on the BBC, only from the candidates themselves. A room full of Paxmen and Humphrys left to their own, real opinionated devices could make for brilliant television.

If you let me cross the pond for a moment of digression, political debate pundits in the USA are a different breed and approach the notion of spreading political information in a totally different manner. My personal favourites are Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann. They provide what can only be described as full-on infotainment, and get away with much more commentary and bias than the BBC would probably allow, and possibly even the commercial channels, and can put forward criticism and ideas that political candidates themselves can't get away with.

The problem is when all of this political commentary and information leads to misinformation. When media machines and individuals execute themselves in wholly irresponsible manners. It is damaging and it is dangerous.

Sometimes they come across as stereotypes of themselves. Olbermann fights a relentless vitriolic verbal war against the likes of Hannity, Beck, Bachmann, Coulter and Limbaugh, which has recently extended onto his Twitter feed ... and we are back with the partisan problem. Then it becomes less about the discussion of ideas and more about point-scoring against the other team. Again I worry that this becomes damaging towards the 'info' element of the broadcasting, verging on self-serving, self-congratulating and alienating the undecideds or floating voters. I suppose the British equivalents could be the Daily Mail... and the Guardian?

Incidentally, it may be that we'll see Sarah Palin go this way. While I haven't read 'Going Rogue' I'll hazard that it will be a different kind of manifesto than 'Audacity of Hope' - Palin could reasonably expect to make a lot of money from doing the speaking n' signing route rather than public office, and she'd get the bonus of being able to say whatever the hell she likes. As a commentator she'd have no mandate to hold up, answering to no call but her own, and the occasional sling of insults from Olbermann, which she gets already.

And that's all very well, for them to become an aggressive evangelist for an issue or cause in which they feel passionately and expert in is almost admirable, regardless of whether they are a commentator or fully in the political ring as a candidate or representative. But becoming an ardent spokesperon for a certain side can slightly marr their credentials (whoever would have though Olbermann and Palin could be lumped together like that?!). And this is the crux of the problem of the politics of misinformation. If only hardcore conservatives follow the likes of Palin or Beck (or, again, the Daily Mail), and only hardcore liberals follow the likes of Olbermann and Maddow (or, again, the Guardian), there is never anything new to learn from or teach the moderates stuck in the middle of them.

The moderates are our floating voters who haven't decided on their own political voice amongst the chattering and twittering political classes. For those of us who have - the party members, the candidates, the papers, the media outlets and the political evangelists, there rests a delicate responsibility to these undecideds, whether avid political readers, pub politicians, or vaguely disinterested polling card carriers. The responsibility is to offer a fair fight, and a genuine (and interesting) representation of the issues.

Is this at all possible amongst the melee of voices? Cathy Newman fills a niche quite well with her election 'fact check' blog. Entertaining as well as somewhat purposeful.

But after all these 'hats', the other voice would be an academic blog. And let's be honest, that'd be bloody boring.

So I'll leave you with just a few more points to chew on. Charlie Brooker pretty much hits the mark for lolitics during this campaign. And with a beautiful balance of cynicism, but not so much to self-righteously announce that he's too above voting. Nothing irks a political geek more than a tacit consenter with a chip on their shoulder. Well done Brooker.

And finally, Stephen Fry's compelling blog piece. After weeks of coquettish smatterings of hints on Twitter of who he might support, I had to wonder if he knew just what power he was wielding in those 140 characters. 140 characters and 1.5 million people. I supposed he would know, and hoped he knew the level of 'delicate responsibility' that would also hang on those 140 characters. And he did not fail to deliver to me such a beautiful poliloquy to make me proud. It carries what I would wish to articulate, though more wonderful, vulnerable, and (thankfully) to a much larger audience.

And that is why I steered clear of it all.

And because I'm just not as funny as Charlie Brooker.


  1. SO, lolitician, what do you make of this for Glasgow Central?

    Lib Dem: from his own biog "a bit of a character" - mutiple degreed ventriloquist who isn't working to 'let the recession ride out'

    Labour: the son of the current MP - presumably expects to be elected given the lack of activity in the constitiuency. His Dad was good - should we assume that he should be too?

    SNP: The only candidate I have actually met. Looks like he works hard, but I don't want Scottish independence so I fundamentally disagree with him.

    How would a lolitician find someone to vote for?

    (and no 'vote green' or 'vote pirate' - I'm too tired to go into my reasons0

  2. Bit late on response, but still an hour 'til polling shuts!

    I'd have a think about the kind of representative I want, whether someone who works on local issues, or who is a national figure. Whether there's a particular policy I like or dislike, or if I want to vote along ideological lines. If any of the candidates came across strongest while considering those factors I'd probably vote for them. If all else fails, tactical voting and ballot spoiling are also options, though less positive ones.

    The smart-arse (though, to be fair, equally earnest) answer would be if there is as little political activity in Glasgow Central as you say, then you could get involved and change that unfortunate situation in time for the Scottish elections next year ;)