...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day 2733: There's little that's Liberal about THIS Conspiracy


This is going to sound SOOOOO ungracious after they were kind enough to invite me to their meeting, but the "Left Liberal Bloggers Summit" organised by the Labour Conspiracy and the Grauniad this week was DULL with a capital DULL!

I was not sure what I was expecting it to be about going in, but more disappointingly I am really not sure what it was all for coming out!

What I CAN say is that it felt like a typical Labour Students meeting: a panel of the "important people" at the front addressing a lecture hall of us "proles". If you were a friend of the chair you were called by name; if he didn't know you you were made to declare name, rank and blog serial number.

"I don't want this to be a pyramidical hierarchy," declared Labour Conspiracy chairperson Sunny at one point.

"Well what are you SITTING in, then?" replied Daddy Alex.

"And who's in the BURIAL CHAMBER?" added Daddy Richard.

The problem for me – and I suspect for the several Lib Dem bloggers sat next to us, and probably for several of the other members of the audience, not least the man who said he would rather gnaw off his own arm than vote for the Labour – the PROBLEM was that the entire affair seemed to be based on the PRESUMPTION that we should be trying to SAVE the Labour (possibly from ITSELF… more probably from the GOVERNMENT!).

Daddy Alex said that as far as they were concerned, there are clearly two sorts of Liberal Left Bloggers: Labour Bloggers and DISGRUNTLED Labour Bloggers!

Okay, I put my fluffy feet up and admit I am being slightly unfair to the panel, most if not all of whom seemed to have even less idea why they were there than WE did! Mr Tim Bloggerheads gave us a brief history of blogging, saying how it really all began on the liberal left, before during and after Lord Blairimort's campaign to make sand smoulder, and that the Conservatories did not get involved until after Mr Dale Winton lost in North Norfolk at the 2005 General Election and decided to do something else with his diary.

In fact I am sure that Mr Winton would be THOROUGHLY thrilled in the "Dear Oscar" sense to know that the Labour Conspiracy were spending so much time TALKING about him.

"My dears: the ONLY thing worse than being BLOGGED about… is NOT being blogged about!"

Much was the wailing on the part of the Labour bloggers that they do not have a big STAR NAME blogger like him or ME! Or denouncing the very idea of star names and saying that they never needed one anyway! And besides those grapes looked really green and sour etc…

Mr Bloggerheads stood aside from all of this, occasionally pointing and laughing. His position appears to be – and forgive me if I have this wrong – bloggers should do BLOGGING. Getting organised, coordinating action, having hidden agendas isn't really in keeping with the whole individual freedom / shooting your mouth off ethos that blogging springs from.

Having AGENDAS was very much what the other panellists seemed to be about, though. There was a man from the Labour Home saying how they set it up so that members of the Labour could feel like they were having a conversation with the leadership. Riiiiight. And there was a lady from the f-word. Apparently this means FEMINISM and is nothing to do with Gordon Ramsey. There was Dan the Angry Man from the Iraqi Interpreters campaign. He gave us a brisk (or brusque) lecture on how to set up an online campaign. (Clue one: if you're not willing to work at it hard full time for more than a year: give up! Clue two: offline campaigning is, still, more important than online campaigning; get your phone calling and letter writing done.) He arrived late and seemed personally cross with each and every one of us for the government having shafted him, his campaign and above all the Iraqis. And then there was one of the moderators of the Grauniad's comment is free. She was there to explain to us why the Grauniad is DIFFERENT to the Torygraph. And apparently it's NOT because the Torygraph still MATTERS.

The only real thing that we learned is that the Green Party are to launch a rival to ConservatoryHome and LabourHome called… "GreenHome" which is… erm… original.

After two hours of this we were all given a two-minute break to stretch our legs and sing the INTERNATIONALE.

Then there was a change of panellists in order to spend another hour on the section billed: "Where are all the women bloggers?". I do not know where the women bloggers are because we spent the hour answering the question: "why can't men just do what feminists tell them to?" (In fairness, at least one of the feminist bloggers didn't know where the women bloggers were either, since she insisted that the only women in the room were the ones on her row, which overlooked the few-but-not-none scattered through the rest of the audience, including our own Mayor Mary. But since her point was "how dare you not name any feminist bloggers" to a man who hadn't named ANY bloggers at all, there may have been more going on there than a fluffy toy can understand.)

What we really learned from this is that there are a whole SPECTRE SPECTRUM of (often contradictory) things that these particular feminist bloggers wanted: independence, recognition, not to be bullied, not to be ignored, men to support their arguments, men not to "muscle in" on their arguments, the internet to be more inclusive, to be left alone… Blogging, of course, allows you to speak with ALL of these voices, or as many as you choose to, but not if you are going to try and impose some kind of collective unified "purpose". Which brings us back to where we were for the first two hours.

Still, the NIBBLES were nice, and I am sure the sandwiches would have been delicious if they had not been left to mummify in the desiccating atmosphere of the Grauniad's photo gallery. (Some nice snaps, by the way!)

If this had been a really LIBERAL do, though, we would have STARTED with the nibbles and the drinkies (not for baby elephants!) and had some get-to-know-you chit-chat. Then maybe we would have had a couple of speeches from the likes of our panellists. And they could have finished up by giving me the Blogger of the Year Award. Erm.

We would have got to know a few people, maybe found some blogs that we want to read.

We did manage to meet nice Mr Bloggerheads, who sort of recognised Daddy Richard which scared Daddy no end (he is not used to FAME and ATTENTION the way that I am!) And also nice Mr Malcolm of Make Votes Count, Mr Lee Griffin, Mr Chris and Ms Kate Smurthwait who is also a fan of Mr Dr Evan Harris!

But the people of Labour Conspiracy did not make any effort to introduce themselves to us or try to engage us or find out what it was that WE wanted. Au contraire. It was all about what we should be doing for the Labour.

Mr Paul Burblings had bravely spoken up to suggest that left-wing bloggers might be happier with a period of opposition, that after so long in power they had found themselves caught in the position of defending… well, rubbish. A palpable GASP had gone around the room.

"With maybe two years to the election," the Grauniad lady asked, "what is it that we can do to stop the Labour from falling?"

"Give it a good shove," was Daddy Alex's barely subvocalised suggestion.

Now THAT is a conspiracy I WOULD join!


Jennie Rigg said...


I keep telling Sunny that if he wants to create a Liberal Left coalition he'd be better off to stop telling us to support a party that's neither Liberal nor Left, but I appear to be a very-much minority voice.

I am sad that they went for the "lecture" rather than "meeting" format though. If anything, this makes me very sad that I couldn't make it and heckle...

Unknown said...

Hmmm, I think this is a fairly unfair analysis. For a start there was no presumption that we should be saving Labour, the room was in fact fairly split on what the liberal-left should be doing on that front...trying to support a different Labour strategy or simply giving them enough rope to hang themselves. If anything the prevailing mood was that Labour are done for and that's why we need to be more efficient and creating the narrative.

Also I wouldn't call it a lecture, at least not after the first 45 minutes of somewhat pointless background history. Questions were flying in from all around, comments and quips too. To me it was almost 50/50 the front table talking and the audience discussing the issues.

That's not to say that I think it was perfect at all, just that I think your criticisms are a little on the harsh side :)

Jennie Rigg said...

Lee, "lecture format" as in "these people at the front are more important than the rest of you" does not necessarily involve actual lecturing. Even in the first 45 minutes. ;)

Having a table at the front with a few people and an "audience" of everyone else is trying to divide things into the people who are telling everyone else what to do/think, and the people who are there to be told. Of course, the people who are there to be told might or might not actually DO what they are told, but that does not mean that the hierarchy is not there.

I also think that if you are going to pick people out to speak from an audience, you should get all of them to announce who they are - just because YOU know, doesn't mean that everyone else does, and it just makes the people who don't feel excluded.

I much, much prefer meeting that involve everyone right from the get go, and think that a round table format is much much better. I suspect finding a round table big enough would have been difficult without raiding the set for Dr Strangelove, though...

Unknown said...

Quite frankly, Jennie, with that many people a round table format just doesn't work as far as I'm concerned even when looking outside of logistical reasons (like you say).

I agree with the elephant though, it'd have been good to get to mingle with people first...but then I was late so it wouldn't have helped me.

Also I think it's worth pointing out that... "I also think that if you are going to pick people out to speak from an audience, you should get all of them to announce who they are - just because YOU know, doesn't mean that everyone else does, and it just makes the people who don't feel excluded." is not really how it happened.

Sunny started with people like Laurie Penny and asked them specifically to say who they are and where they're from. It actually started falling apart when time was running short and people that sunny didn't know were just making statements without stating their name, but Sunny seemed to think keeping the debate going rather than ensuring that the person accounts for themselves was the better option. I'd tend to have agreed.

The people in the audience weren't stupid, and there were far too many ego's for us to be sitting there thinking and/or accepting these poeple at the front were "those in power", everyone put their oar in when they could, and were quite happy to completely disagree with those at the front.

As I say, I think the basic set up of this event (on paper) betrayed just how open it actually became, despite its other flaws, and sunny certainly wasn't singling out his "mates" with preferential treatment.

Anonymous said...

Heh, this reminds me of the comment that Charlie Beckett made on his blog about people screaming about the People's Judean Front.

I guess I should be thankful the Greens didn't pipe up and declare the event was about absorbing them into some Labour /Libdem coalition, while the non-affiliated bloggers walked out in protest at being asked what should be done about Labour's failing project.

After two hours of this we were all given a two-minute break to stretch our legs and sing the INTERNATIONALE.

If I could have gotten anyone to just listen to me on anything, that would have been a surprise in itself.

But the people of Labour Conspiracy did not make any effort to introduce themselves to us or try to engage us or find out what it was that WE wanted. Au contraire. It was all about what we should be doing for the Labour.

Yeah, I'm sorry but I don't get this bit at all. I know people have been declaring us the Labour Conspiracy from day one so this washes off like water off a duck's back... but I did try and spend as much time as possible engaging the audience - to the point we ran grossly over time. And I don't recall asking anyone at any point what they should be doing for Labour. Some clearly wanted to, others couldn't give a toss (as panellist Kate Belgrave said) and I'm less interested in helping political parties and more in seeing what can be done with online campaigning.
So not exactly sure what you're referring to here.

Anyway, it was an amusing read, even if I don't agree with the central premise :)

Cruella said...

oh yes and i agree i felt like the conference was saying "how do we support the labour party from here" and I wanted to get up and say "sorry I don't support the labour party ... you see I'm LEFT WING!"...

BenSix said...

I didn't feel like that, and indeed I commented that I'd rather make a meal out of my appendages than vote for the sordid little sods in the General Election.

Still, the aims and ambitions of the atendees were incompatible, so it will be difficult to find unity on anything except single issues/promotion of ideas.