THE SATURDAY ESSAY: Why new debates will always achieve more than old bile….and one should never read reviews.

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Commentary is a frustrating business at the best of times…..and time consuming. But occasionally, one has something of a blinding flash. To others, it might seem only to throw a glaring right on the obvious. But then, all the best ideas are obvious once someone’s had them.

Probably the main frustration in socio-econo-political (and therefore constitutional and cultural) commentary is that, in the contemporary world of politics, one knows before any observation is made that the people doing the job have two things holding them back. First, they are low quality on pretty much every dimension. And second, all they want is power for themselves. So as nobody in the electorate wants them to have power any more (because they’re low quality) those who fancy themselves as ‘in charge’ look around for other means of getting the power.

They soon find it in the shape of gigantic media egos and megarich lobbies. The result is thus that poor quality people out for themselves are in Government to work for those who call the tune. The electorate nearly always comes last.

From the outset, therefore, one knows the entire thing is a charade hiding behind a facade, and not even making a very good job of it. In compiling The Slog, I am mainly these days writing about corrupt, lying, we-saw-you-coming gofers working variously for Rupert Murdoch, Brussels, the TUC, Washington, the banking system and above all munneee. It can get rather tedious at times, it is very expensive as a hobby, and it brings with it all the grief in all the sizes and all the colours. Further, it isn’t made any easier by the idee fixe mentality.

I will give an example here – or rather, express an opinion – which most of you will have seen before. It is that one thing we must do at the earliest opportunity is remove all the lobbying and donations from political life. To me, this is so patently obvious, I’m amazed anyone in their right mind doesn’t want to do it. But political Parties cannot live on thin air, and so the only way to make this omelette is to break eggs. That means the taxpayer funding political Parties.

The money required to do this borders on the inifinitessimal in the greater scheme of things. In Britain, we are talking (as of the next election) 600 MPs’ salaries needing an increase because of banned sponsorship, and say three organisations getting an allowance over 5 years of £8million each, with a reserve held back for genuinely extraordinary items.Let’s be exceedingly generous and say £30m tops – with (by the way) no media advertising or PPBs allowed at all.

That would cost 1/6,000th of Britain’s deficit to implement, and instantly return the taxpayer to centre stage while breaking the power of The Three Stooges. But I know, within minutes of my pressing the ‘publish’ button, in will pour the same drones gibbering on about why-should-we-they’re-all-crooks-how dare-you-suggest-such-a-thing-pass-me-another-banana and all the rest of it.

It doesn’t occur to these folks that, without the City and Wall Street being such powerful lobbies, we wouldn’t all be lumbered today with $5.6trillion of toxic bank debt, we would have a far stronger SME sector supported properly as opposed to defrauded, and we wouldn’t have had zero, zillch, knob-all reform of the system since 2008. No, the nay-sayers would rather go to Hell in a handcart than do the emotionally painful thing.

What such people are actually saying, when you boil it all down, is “Something must be done but not the only thing to be don under any circumstances”. It almost seems at times as if depriving them of an élite they can despise is what drives them.

I use despise as the verb there advisedly. Because the most common emotion in Western electorates today (and also those of North Africa) is that the other lot are despicable. In far too many cases, hate has replaced debate. This stretches all the way from religious nutters further up the tree (yelling as they swing from branch to branch) to the Left Socialist v Right neoliberal diehards further down…and all the climate, paedophile and race fanatics scrabbling about on the ground.

Now myself, I think Deity-based religion is bunk, the two economic ‘alternatives’ should be consigned to the past, nobody understands the climate complexities, the understanding of paedophilia is mired by ignorance, and compared to culture, ethnicity is a red herring. But if people want to think the Earth is flat and all the moon missions were shot in Nevada, then fine: it’s their privilege to be dotty so long as we don’t give them guns. But just as with writing about lowlife every day, moderating the intrinsically immoderate becomes a terrific bore in the end.

I believe more and more that this is why most people find politics boring: the same old cliches, the same old promises, the same old PMQs childishness, the same class war, the same politics of jealousy, the same old Nobs in charge after all these years. And yet the seeming paradox of this is that, right across the West, what we have today is a preponderance of Government by Coalition. If there is no majority for good governance and common sense – and the wonks can’t agree about anything – then we are going to get Coalitions: it is the nature of what passes for democracy these days. However, Coalitions based on mutual hatred are never going to be anything but dysfunctional.

Tectonic tension and mutual hatred mean constant showboating, blocking and standoff. Although the US has a Democrat in the White House, the legislative power of the Republican Party (egged on partly by the Tea Party) means a constant series of cliffhanging fights between Federal expenditure and socio-fiscal need. Ironically, as I’ve written before, neither Big Government nor taxation are at the centre of America’s debt problems….but they take centre stage a hundred per cent of the time.

The mutual loathing between the Tory Right and LibDems ‘in Coalition’ in Great Britain has to be witnessed at close hand to be appreciated. From the start there has been, not compromise, but muddle, meaningless dilution and mud-slinging. While there are many economic reasons for this, the main one by far is the EU in-or-out question which, as with all schisms today, has become a Grand Canyon fit only for firing missiles from one side to the other. And while everyone has been distracted by these personal spats and ideological illogicalities, offstage  educational, health, austerity, media and energy policies are passing into law without touching the sides. They’re all ill-conceived and illiberal, but I don’t see any Coalition LibDems having much effect on them.

More to the point, I don’t see an effective Opposition. Hold that thought while we move on to Germany.

German government is now in the hands of those I would call Settled Science Populists. The CDU and SPD represent a giant Coalition whose main belief (shared by the overwhelming majority of Germans) is that the euro is irreversible and the European Superstate is A Very Good Thing. The Berlin and Frankfurt Establishments propagate this idea because they’re power fixated, while the People believe it because they’re distracted, well-off, and believe anything they’re told by Mutti Merkel and Schäuble the Scheisskopf.

The real Opposition in the BundesRepublik now is a series of squabbling shards. But sadly, Alernativ für Deutschland (AfD) and the FDP are the only ones facing reality: this time the majority is wrong – and there’s an express-truck coming down the road from Athens via Rome and Paris to deliver that message in short order. That is going, again, to create mutual hatred, government squabbling, and ultimately, chaos.

The European Union stage as a whole is undoubtedly the best place to discuss frustrated Opposition to old ideas and smug rent boys, because on that stage it is the story of the hour. We are to have euro elections this year from May 22nd-25th, and the surfers riding the wave this time are Golden Dawn in Greece, The Front Nationale in France, the Dutch Freedom Party, and UKip in Britain. They are connected chiefly by one train of thought: they loathe immigration, and all things EU, Socialist or politically correct.

The polls suggest they are all going to do well, but only one leader – Marine Le Pen – is likely to be in a position of national power in the foreseeable future. Irony upon ironies, here we have the previously ‘unacceptable’ Opposition excluded from power – but totally united in its aims.

The position in the European Parliament is something of a complicated bunfight by comparison – and rendered largely irrelevant by two things: the unelected power of the Commission, and the growing dominance of Germany. (These are, of course, precisely what those further to the Right don’t like about it). But by June this year, we could easily see an elected Assembly where 40% of those in the damned thing are opposed to the very currency it uses.

The case of LePen in France is another one where debate has been replaced by virulent ridicule and violent language. The FN makes no bones about its intense dislike of Islam (the same goes for Geert Wilders in the Netherlands) but the most astonishing sight of the last six months in France has been the merde heaped upon the head of Hollande the Hapless.

As a francophile of 45 years standing (and falling over) I’ve been fascinated by the spectacle of a President drowning in vitriol for the intrinsic Gallic crime of chassant la maitresse. It is nothing short of amazing to see this in the French media, and even more so when directed against the occupant of the Elysee Palace. But talk to most ordinary French people, and they shrug: “There is no change to our way of life in this,” said one shopkeeper to me last week, “we just can’t stand the man”.

M. Hollande has of course been a thoroughly hopeless leader (whom Merkel dislikes intensely) but many French people didn’t vote for him anyway….they voted against Sarko the Psycho. And this too brings us back to the generic problem of the West: countries divided by old ideas that produce factionalism among the mature, and boredom among the young. There is no better soil in which to grow the giant beanstalk of dictatorship. And no better way to frustrate it than by trying to ban wannabe dictators….as Antonis Samaras discovered the hard way last year.

You see, there is nowhere near enough acceptance of the need for new ideas that can grow a new commonality; there is only the sterile hatred derived from past bitterness. And as I find here at The Slog over and over again, when new ideas are suggested, the response is threefold: rage, fear, and torpor. There are always at least 500 reasons why people prefer the security blanket to the fresh air outside.

Tribalism is not only splintering the minority, thinking proportion of the electorate who oppose braindead fanaticism…..it is stifling the production and acceptance of new ideas.

It knows only the semantic catechism of disdain…a disdain that divides. It rejects all new approaches that stress cooperation and commonality.

We have the Coalition we have in Britain today because Ed Balls went to meet the LibDem team in May 2010 and behaved like a twat. In short, he put his pathetic, infantile desire to crush a former Labour breakaway before the obvious threat that lay on the other side of the corridor.

Tribalism leads to weak Opposition. Weak Opposition leads to dictatorship. And distracted, dumbed-down electorates applaud dictators that deliver.

This inevitability has in recent times received a most remarkable catalyst. For what I suspect has made all the bile, insincerity, censorship, hiding from responsibility and lack of understanding even worse has been the blogosphere comment thread.

The arrival about 15 years ago of the ‘Me’ generation found its metier in a place they’d never used before: the personal computer. The beginnings of ‘Have Your Say!’ when the old main media went interactive convinced millions of previously attic-bound dumb-bells that they had something worthwhile to say….and that the more abusively unevidenced it was, the greater would be their success.

Now they are not only everywhere (except on a blog of their own) these trolls and assorted fantasists have been delightedly adopted by the élites to mess up every website that suggests the opposite of their mantra might be true.

They come to the Slog regularly now. They have six identities, at least ten IP addresses, and they say the same things – almost word for word – at anything up to 50 other similar sites. Their aim, yet again, is division and the nurture of hate.

Not all those who do that sort of stuff are genuine trolls. Some of them are merely armchair activists whose life would be meaningless without a good dollop of negativity. What blogging has done, in effect, is give some sense of regulation to those who had previously been the noisy 35 among 35,000 spectators. Thanks to blogging and the internet, we now have 35 linesmen all arguing about who is or isn’t offside. And most of them don’t even understand the offside rule.

“Never read the reviews,” said Barbara Streisand once. More wittily, Oscar Wilde chose the elliptical approach by averring, “I never read a book I must review; it prejudices one so.’ Either way, I’m about to avail myself of Streisand’s fine nose for commonsense advice.

From today, I will confine myself to keeping nutters out via observation of dodgy IPs and mad comments at the new user entrance. As for the main thread, I’m not going to settle disputes, or respond to comments whether positive or negative. First and foremost because it never makes a jot of difference in this, our culture of ideas set in concrete…rather than concrete new ideas per se. And second, because it takes up far too much of my time.

Yes I know, a swarm of comments will now descend telling me what a f**king Nazi I am and how I’ve gone for a sulk and all the rest of the playground banter. But they’ll be wrong…and it won’t matter anyway, because I won’t see them.

I’ve been hinting for weeks now that I want to broaden my perspective beyond blogging. I am starting to use Youtube, and actively looking for columns on sensible sites alongside podcast opportunities. And I will continue to be interviewed on digital radio by anyone sane who’s interested in having me. I’m also fleshing out a book, and putting together an anthology of Slogposts. And finally, I’m about to enter six months of building site hell and life in a motor home.

So time is of the essence, and I don’t want to waste any. The reality is (my own and others’ data suggest) that this move will make not a jot of difference to 98.5% of Sloggers. I do desperately want them to keep talking to me via email, because they come up with so many good stories that check out. But I won’t be reading the main threads or commenting on them going forward, as they say in management consultancy.

And now I’m off to Villareal market. Enjoy the weekend.

Yesterday at The Slog: WHAT CONNECTS PAEDOPHILIA, TEPCO, BANKERS, OSBORNE, GOVE, YEO AND JOHNSON?