Questions, questions. I’ve got two more for you:
Q. Why are haggis and Damien McBride’s inbox similar? A. You don’t wanna know what’s in them.
If you remember, he wrote emails to a blogger attempting to spread malicious falsehoods about Conservative politicians and their families. He chose to do it on a blog and that bears further examination, because there is a general impression that blogs are anti-politics.
Perhaps this represents public opinion. Most people in the country at the moment are cynical and disaffected with political parties and Parliament. Expenses scandals, torture scandals, public spending scandals, even going back to the unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are all reason to feel removed from politics.
But with McBride it was almost as though we expected it of our government. We didn’t know who McBride was but we were sure someone like him existed and nobody liked him. The McBride scandal was handy because it combined our preconceptions and dislike of politics in one story with a useful scapegoat (‘McPoison’) to cling on to.
Cynicism: a British pastime
Where does this seemingly unconquerable mistrust of big ideas and public figures that is burned into our national psyche come from? Of course, briefly we did allow ourselves to become soppy at Blairism, but its aftermath has left the country weary, drained and almost totally apathetic. It has had the same effect on the Labour Party.
We have a history of cynicism – and it’s been useful. Britain didn’t succumb to fascism, communism, despotism, tyranny or anything really. It has remained a steady constitutional monarchy manned mostly by ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ politicians. They all go in the end, even Thatcher – and whilst her ‘ism’ encompassed something concrete it’s taken decades for us to get over it. Blairism was supposed to be bland, it was a huge shock when it involved a war – before then it was just photo-ops and mild increases in public spending.
It’s often noted that America is more comfortable with outbursts of political pride and hope. Before Obama (if we can indeed contemplate such a time), there was a wave of pro-Bush sentiment. Mostly, this was misdirected patriotism to the Commander in Chief following the September 11th attacks, here in the UK arguably the monarchy soaks up patriotic sentiment.
Our cynical national mindset can also hold us back: we fear big projects and developments (in ‘The English’, Paxman blames our indecision for making us lag behind the French in building the Channel Tunnel). Change is generally seen as a bad thing and we identify with past glories. In England it is the Second World War, in Scotland and Wales it is Celtic heritage and traditions. Nowhere in the UK do we idolise now. Gordon Brown’s attempts to define Britishness have been seen as a perfidious ploy to mask his Scottish identity and whenever such a discussion emerges it is always greeted with our trademark cynicism.
We can see as much in cartoons, British cartoons have always been more hostile, more cynical, more rude than those of other countries – especially in the 18th Century.
But I am a blogger so I want to talk (briefly) about blogs.
I started this post noting that McBride was now only a ‘bloggers’ story’. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so cynical, but it’s notable that there are many blogs that attack politicians. The comments of most blogs and even newspapers are often appalling. This weekend Sarah Brown guest edited the News of the World’s fashion magazine to highlight a women’s charity she works with. The comments were rabid in their anger: how dare she campaign for something? It was obviously a hateful ploy to boost the popularity of the Prime Minister! Often the commentators seem to think that they alone have spotted something hateful, a conspiracy of some sorts. As a rule, they are wrong.
No journalist nor blogger is a moral arbiter, and most would not claim to be. Guido Fawkes doesn’t, and that’s one of the reasons why his blog is so successful: it mostly attacks politicians’ hypocrisy, not their reasoning for entering politics. Fawkes himself is an ideologue – he is a libertarian – so he does not attack politics completely, although he does give Parliament a hammering.
It was the downfall of Damien McBride that he thought he could publish smears against politicians on the internet – and he was found out and brought to task first by bloggers (Mr Guido Fawkes no less).
And now there’s a campaign been launched this week by 38 Degrees that wants the public to send in pictures of MPs on holiday, just to prove to those who already knew it (doubtless our friends the insatiable web commentators – and not you, you’re very nice, why not comment below?) that MPs don’t do anything but take expenses and live in second homes.
They’ll publish these photos … on a blog. You already guessed that, didn’t you? But not all blogs are like that, and not all politicians are bad. I’m trying not to end this sounding smug, patronising or like I’ve got a big idea so …. stop being so damned cynical all the time. Most times it’s ok but take a break every now and then. How’s that?