THE SATURDAY ESSAY: Time for the Blogosphere to fight the Establishment on its own terms

Maybe the Resistance needs to be less virtual and more litigious

In the last few days, The Slog passed 8 million hits alltime, having started up in January 2009. It continues to add core, loyal users….but its average daily readership ticks over at around 8,500. Although its highest ever figure was over 42,000 last year, the site remains very much a niche one. I think there are a number for reasons for this.

One is undoubtedly that I have pulled back dramatically from investigation-generated news of an exclusive nature. Not only was it becoming very expensive and time-consuming, I found that it attracted rubber-neckers for a day or two, who then drifted off again. Above any other consideration influencing my decision, however, is the essentially transient, generic nature of ‘news’: news rarely explains, it merely records. News-junkies devour it voraciously but usually have little interest in overall socio-cultural change. The loyal, regular followers The Slog attracts today stand at around 6-7000 in number. By and large, they are people who know the human race is facing a potentially catastrophic crisis – very probably the collapse of personal liberty, genuine democracy, material well-being, and the rule of egalitarian Law for most of us. That is still, let’s face it, the view of a tiny minority.

Another reason is the very strong sense of ennuie I have observed among all social classes and age groups over the last year or more. A sort of cynical apathy is setting in that runs roughly as follows: “The bastards are going to get their way, they’re all involved, they’ll never change, and now there’s a new generation of novice wonks coming up. Nobody can be arsed to rise up and stop it, the cops are all bent, the governments are corrupt and broke, and the politicians are in the pocket of the very people driving all of it forward. It will end in tears, so bring it on. Then – one day – we can string them all up and start again”. I suspect all bloggers are suffering from this attitude. Indeed, as I’ve been predicting for more than two years, blogging has passed its Zenith and is, I think, slowly on the way out. All the major pioneers have packed it in – and most of those that haven’t, predictably decided to join not beat.

A further factor one can’t ignore is the retaliation of the Dark Powers. Sites are troll-swarmed and closed down, or denied access to recruitment media: I no longer have access to Twitter, Huffington Post, The Guardian, China, Russia, US Government employees, EC employees or any Murdoch-owned site. The net-neutrality of access and speed that could’ve kept the big boys in check is now all but dead, and the ISPs are all both financially and administratively in bed with the Western security agencies. Those who blow whistles are crushed…..unless they’re blown to slag off the NHS, in which case of course they are to be encouraged.

But perhaps one final fact – and it’s one that certainly gets to me most days – is that despite all the causes championed across nine years by The Slog (and its predecessor Notbornyesterday) not one of the wrongs involved have been put right. The Secret Family Courts may be on their last legs now – but we’ve been here before and only when they’re formally abolished will I declare it a victory. We got rid of the ghastly Blair/Mandelson/Brown stream of spin, but it’s been replaced by a cesspit of the stuff. We are no nearer any genuine investigation of systemic/Establishment paedophilia. Harriet Harman has been kept away from the Labour leadership, but she and husband Jack remain (along with Unite) the seamy influence they always were in the Party’s Kingmaking process. Boris Johnson’s career has gone from strength to strength – to the point where he now seems impervious to any scandal, no matter how clear the evidence of wrongdoing. Jeremy Hunt’s rise continues, Baroness Nettle is still pulling the private health strings behind him, Rupert Murdoch remains as powerful as ever, and no Newscorp employee has yet come to trial over Hackgate.

Michael Fallon’s anti-democratic influence continues in the Tory Party. He emerged unscathed from the Libor scandal. Bob Diamond lost his job, but avoided even a hint of legal proceedings against him. Mutuality as a company format is on the increase, but remains largely off the radar in those areas where it could do most good – community/small business banking, and health provision. Baron Green simply ignored the charges of money-laundering made against him during his years as Chairman of HSBC. Despite mountains of evidence about illegal and/or criminally perverted goings on at the Groucho Club, the police have never gone near it. Nobody has bothered to dig deeper into the mysterious role of its former Chairman JHJ Lewis, and his relationship with the protegé he continues to bankroll, Jeremy Hunt. No charges were ever brought against those who ran a paedophile exchange from the Groucho’s domain.

More recent concerns have been globally based (a sure sign that things are deteriorating still) but despite the intervention of thousands of influential Bloggistas, none have been pushed off course. Fukushima is still a highly dangerous accident waiting to repeat, Fracking (an obvious threat to Britain) is being pushed hell-for-leather by the UK media. Obama’s unemployment figures were finally proved to be bollocks, but the Black Dude simply carried on regardless. Osborne’s Help to Buy scam has turned into a price bubble, but The Draper carries on regardless. David Cameron’s Conference speech was a tissue of lies from start to finish, but Camerlot goes forth nevertheless. The application of austerity both in Britain and ClubMed has been a destructive failure, but the Treasuries blunder on unhindered by public opinion, because most of our publics don’t care. And last but not least, the European Union is insolvent, unaudited, undemocratic and stuck in an economic slump: but in Germany, more people are in favour of it than ever before.

The latest Slog exposé of an obvious Samaras set-up to politically neutralise the neo-fascist Golden Dawn Party in Greece made not a jot of difference here: partly because most people (understandably) are glad to clear away some of the eyesore – but mainly because the vast majority of “respectable” Greeks have swallowed the framing of GD’s leaders in one satisfying gulp of wide-eyed naivety. The trailered then exposed and finally named contacts being used by Antonis Samaras to flog off a National Bank subsidiary went completely unnoticed in the West European media. Since coming to power in the midst of the worst financial crisis in modern Greek history, Samaras has personally ordered a motorway to be constructed from Athens to Kalamata….his home town and major basis of his support. In the five times I’ve used it, I have seen three – count them – cars using it.

On a similarly broad canvas, The Slog’s warnings about American recovery, the Arab Spring, Recep Erdogan, Italian financial mendacity, Syria, Spanish Cajas and Japanese QE madness have all proven well-founded, but nobody has learned any lessons and nothing has changed. Given half a chance, the US State department and its creature William Hague will do equally mad things next time in North Africa, Berlin will continue to bang its monetarism – using the heads of innocent ClubMed citizens as the drum – and Mario Draghi will continue in his role as the European banker who answers to nobody…..with the possible exception of Goldman Sachs. His influence above any others has facilitated the rollout from Cyprus of Global Looting – a development quickly spotted and then logged meticulously by The Slog……….to a wave of international indifference.

In short, the puppet masters are, every last one, still in place. There’s no script and the farcical antics aren’t funny any more, but Mr Punch is still being encouraged with shrieks of “That’s the way to do it!”

One could go blind endlessly debating why the situation is as it is. And while debating causality will be very instructive when the time comes to try and avoid making the same mistakes yet again, the central problem today is that they’re all in place: above the law, with growing surveillance ability and supine electorates to help ensure their continued hegemony. What can the blogosphere do to change that reality? The answer is “nothing until there is concerted action to demonstrate our power”. And that’s never going to happen online, because this virtual sphere we inhabit is variously peopled by communists, socialists, liberals, conservatives, fascists and other tribes who can’t get on with each other: or libertarians, racists and assorted loudmouths who can’t get on with anyone. I’ve had four attempts at proving this wrong, but not being Wolfgang Schäuble I must now accept it is almost certainly correct as an analysis of what complete ego-driven plonkers most of we bloggers are.

And so the question becomes, “What’s the bloody point?” I think there will always be a point to resistance (if there’s one thing that terrifies bullies, it’s a show of strength by the bullied) but I’m pretty certain online accusation isn’t the way; and I’m beginning to doubt if anything involving the use of digital technology as the main spearhead is ever going to achieve anything that might tip the scales in favour of a return to decent, ethical societies where public life is a duty not a deceit.

Aside from digital, the three words used most commonly in relation to the internet are virtual, remote, and electronic. I believe the one that’s missing is invisible. Close the computer or tablet, and we are the sphere that disappears. Put up something the élite doesn’t like, and your blog or thread or tweet will disappear. Put the netbook or Ipad in a bag, and it disappears. Wander out of range into a tunnel – or go off on an island holiday – and it will probably disappear. As a medium, the Net is virtual not real, remote not personal, electronic not physical.

Much of that could also be said about television, but TV has never been bombarded with smears by the Establishment and its élite-owned commentariat. Words used by those folks about the internet are, typically, ‘extreme’, ‘beyond the law’, ‘unregulated’, ‘foul-mouthed’, ‘amateurish’, ‘hysterical’ and ‘lacking in credibility’. The Leveson Enquiry (set up supposedly to rein in Newscorp tabloidism) ended with an outlandish and vicious attack on the blogosphere by Leveson himself. Both the politicians and the ‘old’ media owners are just gagging for blogs to be brought to heel: you will hear them witter on endlessly about press freedom on Radio Four – but not about security service censorship with which, in many cases, they go along.

As a sector, the blogs are distrusted, disposable, and easy to dismiss. Television and the press aren’t. Anything that emerges from a blogsite is potentially tainted – and will be ridiculed by those it attacks. Worst of all, that critique will be believed by the majority. 

By and large, that isn’t true of television or the press. TV programmes and newspapers are still a fixed part of most homes. Politicians appear regularly on telly and write frequently in newspapers. The only blogs they appear in are their own. Face it: the blogs are still, for most people, that scruffy home where all the Oddballs live. The newspapers by contrast – especially the Sundays or the Saturday FT – lie around the house in various bits all day, and for half the ensuing week. By the time our kids are facing later middle age, much of that familiarity with the physical will have disappeared; but even then, there will still be magazines….and all of them on Kindle, alongside all those classic books.

Whatever we may think of them, the BBC, Sky News, Sky Sports, most of the daily papers and hundreds of magazines have one thing in common: provenance. They come – for most people – with a certain trust, reliability and level-headedness factory-fitted. Although I regret this very much, the fact is that the vast majority of blogs don’t. Even data-crammed efforts like Zero Hedge (required reading for most traders these days) still predict more Tsunamis than ever arrive, and make mistakes as to the significance of stuff. Now, I know perfectly well that the physical press’s real level of accuracy is far more risible, but that’s not how most readers see it. For them, the blogosphere is still out there to the point of being way out there. It’s just more of that wacky output from the Oddballs at Number 17 Weir Avenue-on-sea. The indestructible Anna Raccoon has for aeons been churning out original-source, first-hand evidence to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that most of the stuff reported in the media about Jimmy Savile is complete tosh. But Newscorp has rendered him The Man Who Groomed a Nation, and his long-suffering family is stuck with it.

My point is this: if smears, your own silliness, and the ability to put you away in a box mean you’re not getting anywhere, then it’s time to change tack. So I’d like if I may to spend a few paragraphs shocking people about what lessons we might learn from the way those I (however mistakenly) deem to be the Bad Guys manage to get their message not just across, but also believed.

There could be few better starting points in this process than the profoundly unlovely Alistair McAlpine, who has somehow managed to present himself as a nice old duffer with a dicky heart who wouldn’t hurt a fly. If that’s Ali McAlpine then I’m Barbara Castle, but let’s analyse the crafty old bugger’s modus operandi in this matter.

They consisted of three main facets: competent acting ability, the threat of legal action, and access to the media. Along the road that led to the scandalous outcome of the Sally Bercow case, it emerged that his lawyer was a flea-bitten lowlife, his case shaky to say the least, and that his book on the use of Machiavelli in dealing with the media was a predictive template for what he’d just perpetrated upon those same media. But rapid access to the BBC, a cheesy performance on air, and a threatening attitude to bloggers allowed him to overcome all that…..and ignore the questions about his family history of paedophilia suspicions. To the best of my knowledge, in the event McAlpine has never collected a penny in damages from any blogger anywhere. Does anyone other than me find that odd?

Very interesting, you see: projection of self as victim, determined threat of financial ruination, getting his media profile in high and early…and targeting a famously disliked celeb. I’d be willing to bet that Alistair is also a student of Chinese battle strategy: ‘choose your opponent carefully, and then know him/her well’. Something Mrs Thatcher practiced to great effect in the earlier part of her political career….with advice from McAlpine, no doubt.

In something close to joint First Place in the league table of manipulative arseholes comes Lord Mandelson, who for the sake of accuracy and fairness I shall refer to henceforth as Peter Mandelson. Cornered by well documented blogosphere demands for an explanation of his inexplicable relationship with notorious jailbird society paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, Peter Mandelson refused any comment and toughed it out. He knew, for he had been one of those quick to smear the sphere rear (as it were) that he could ignore the source of the story on the grounds of it being by nature dubious.

Now remark his reaction when Geoff ‘I’m a Taxi’ Hoon was caught on camera by the mainstream media claiming that, as Minister for Business, Mandelson could be relied upon to push certain policies and generally exert his influence in return for certain exchanges involving brown envelopes. Within eighteen hours, our Peter was on Newsnight facing the Devil incarnate Jeremy Paxman, denying live that there was any truth in Hoon’s claim. His answers to Paxman seemed to me (as a bloke whose profession involved spotting liars) contrived, but Mandelson’s chutzpah and relaxed demeanour won the day.

Here too we have the same basic tactics: competent acting ability, attack not defence, getting that media profile in high and early, and tackling the worst the MSM wolves had to offer head-on.

One can distil this further: look determined and create fear among your accusers.

This is what the blogosphere fails to do. When McAlpine went on the warpath, the rush of flappy-bottomed soi-disant hard left bloggers towards the hills and beyond beggared belief: apart from the desire to run, they truly hadn’t a clue what to do.

OK, let’s go back to my assertion above: look determined and create fear among your accusers.

I will offer my four-word view on what this tactic requires above any other factor: money and committed lawyers.

Where Sally Bercow went wrong was in hiring Carter Ruck – a firm renowned for smashing the vulnerable, but with no track record whatsoever in deconstructing Establishment mendacity.

What we need to do from here on in is the following:

* Remember that liars hate going into Courts where they will face cross-examination

* Remember that bullies will recoil in the face of determined money

* Recognise that several renowned Chambers will gladly take on those who threaten liberty

* Wake up to the fact that some folks with money do not support the parlous state of our public-life ethics.

I think that the first requirement is for serious Resistance members to hire some good and empathetic donation consultants. The second is to start building a Fighting Fund, while concurrently putting out feelers to decent barristers. And the third is to scope out a list of the worst as yet unapprehended perpetrators. I could suggest that Michael Fallon might be a good place to start, but then again I may well be wrong – who knows?

Wild, unsupported and swivel-eyed accusations are close to destroying the Blogosphere. Evidence-based charges in the hands of aggressive lawyers could yet destroy the gargoyles. Perhaps it’s time to fight fire with fire.

Last night at The Slog: Protecting privacy from control freaks and idiot techies