Friday, March 27, 2009

The clackity claque

It says something of the political claque that the issue of the moment is Eric Pickles' performance on the BBC's "Question Time" programme yesterday – on the vexed issue of MPs' expenses in general and the second homes allowance in particular.

Not having watched the programme – not last night or ever – we can only take it on trust that last night was "something of a train wreck" but it also says something of the political classes that they do not seem to be able to "park" this issue and move on to more important things. Why they cannot go for this elegantly simple solution is beyond me.

It comes to something, however, when Tory Boy Blog is writing earnestly that, "It's vital that the Conservative Chairman and the wider Tory Party understand the level of public anger towards the political class." It is probably not a first, but to see this blog referring to a "political class" is quite significant, especially in terms of public anger.

Something of the same sentiment comes from Daniel Hannan, explaining why his speech on YouTube has gone "viral", now recording (at the time of writing) 1,167,339 views. "I think it has to do with pent-up frustration," he writes. “People feel ignored, ripped off, lied to, taken for granted…".

Hannan also suggests that the episode has served to show "how utterly and irretrievably the internet has changed politics." Repeating the point he made on his blog, he notes that in 24 hours, 380,000 people had watched a video before a word appeared on the BBC or in any newspaper. The days when political journalists got to decide what was news are over.

Actually, even with the view level of just over a million, Hannan might be overstating the case. That is about the daily level of readership for The Daily Telegraph and about a third of the readership of The Daily Mail.

It is also less than the hit rate that we achieved for our Qana reports in 2006, about which the British blogosphere was noticeably silent – and the media even more so. Thus, if the internet has changed politics "utterly and irretrievably", it did so some time ago – only Mr Hannan did not notice.

But if there is a revolution going on, it is not in the claque that regards itself as part of the British political blogosphere. It is to be found in the more focused political blogs such as Watts up with that and our own Defence of the Realm, which has far more influence than the hit rate would suggest.

What one would like to believe is that the "Hannan effect" is a reflection of the frustration shared by many people at the superficial treatment of political issues by the politicians and their fellow travellers.

For instance, while Mr Pickles' travails may have been the news of the moment for ToryDiary, the issue of the moment on the US blogs is Obama's long-awaited new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The strategy, we are told, involves not just military intervention, with more than 20,000 US military reinforcements to Afghanistan and extra training for Afghan security forces, but billions of dollars of direct aid to Pakistan, and even the creation of "opportunity zones" in border regions.

This strategy is of vital concern to the UK and there is, even in narrow domestic terms a political edge to it with the recent intervention by Liam Fox in the debate. That, though, is of no interest to the clackety claque, to whom the soap opera is far more important than real life – or death.

Having just completed the arduous process of writing the book on Iraq, with the design concept for the front cover (pictured) reaching me today, that project now seems to me a lot more real than the petty preoccupations of the claque.

Yet, on this issue, the dreary focus of the mob is still on the "legality" of the war, more of a subject for historians than politicians. The real issue, with a live war going on in Afghanistan, is what do we need to do to stop the failures of the Iraqi campaign being repeated. Such issues, as we observe, are stuff of real politics. When the politicians wake up and start dealing with these, then perhaps they will get as much attention as Mr Hannan's YouTube.