Boris: The New Wave?

May 3, 2008

Despite my fears for London under Boris (such as the consequences of the abolition of Livingstone‘s commitment to 50% of new housing being “affordable” – see Question That‘s reasoned analysis), I admit to a guilty pleasure in listening to him perform, and a hope that his refreshing style will revitalise our politics.

Photo by lewishamdreamer: some rights reserved.

If Boris really can pull of an effective job, without losing his humourous flair, he will demonstrate that politicians can be colourful and serious. 

Watch his acceptance speech; his openness and self-deprecation are disarming.  He acknowledges that some of those who voted for him may have let their pencils hover in hesitation before putting a cross in his box.  How refreshing not to hear the usual spin about this being a victory for Conservatism in the face of Labour incompetence.

You get the impression that this was really Boris speaking, not the Tory Party, who surely must have wanted to ensure their big moment on camera went according to script.  I think he will need to build a strong support team to do the job well, but if he can do that whilst resisting any attempts to handle him against the grain of his character, he might just find a formula that works, and in doing so, champion political oratory of the intelligent, spontaneous form that we lack.

I don’t think the voters are just tired of Labour, I think we are generally disenchanted by the boring government-speak and play-it-safe attitude that has characterised British politics for at least 15 years.  If nothing else, our kids will hear a prominent politician speak with an unusual vocabulary and an intelligent turn of phrase.

If Boris brings back delight in eccentricity and the nuances of the English tongue, he will have done us a favour.


Live blogging the London mayoral and UK local elections

May 1, 2008

* It’ll be a long wait for results (many places are counting tomorrow, but plenty tonight), but true political junkies will be staying up to watch what drama there is, with the old stalwart BBC reporters…  Updates added to the bottom of this post as the night unfolds.

* First share-of-vote figures in to BBC: Lab -3, Con +6, Lib Dem -4.  First results trickling in indicate patchy swing, or none at all, so perhaps local issues have trumped national mood. 

* Political bloggers are getting a fairly high profile on the BBC coverage: 3 well-known bloggers, one from each main party, are in the studio.  Host Emily Maitlis invites us to submit our “twitter” by email – but makes no mention of Twitter

* American spectators may not be familiar with David Dimbleby, but he’s a venerable anchor of political coverage, and a comfortingly familiar presence on election night.  He’s on his usual disarmingly avuncular form tonight.

 * Jeremy Vine has just performed an embarrassingly dumbed-down sketch, presumably designed to impart psephological data in a “fun” way, by impersonating a Texan gunslinger “shooting” vote percentages. 

Bring back Peter Snow!  His animated jinks, bringing life to the swingometer, were daft but harmlessly amusing.  Vine’s attempts are inappropriate pandering to a non-existent audience.  People staying up to watch results are interested in election data, they don’t want mindless joking to make it “easier” to digest.  Beeb, please stop patronising your audience.

* Twitter must have an aversion to election nights.  It’s down for me now, just like before the Pennsylvania primary.

* BBC’s projected national share of vote with 69.3% of wards reporting: Lab 24%, Con 44%, Lib Dem 25%.  A very good night for the Conservatives, and the governing party in third place.

* Labour talking head buzz phrases: “This has not been a good night”; “This isn’t a general election”; “The last few months have been a difficult time for the government”; “We are listening and will get back on track”.  Lib Dems: “We expected to lose and are happy to do so”.

* Interesting point from Anthony King: the percentage of wards that buck any national trend has grown over the years. 

* I wish Jeremy Vine would stop going on about Gordon Brown becoming Mr Bean.  It isn’t edifying.

* Seems it’s only that’s down.  You can still read others.  Love this tweet from Iain Dale: “Michael Portillo is sitting on a sofa reading a book, not deigning to talk to anyone“.

* This is the first election since the start of the Iraq War in which the atmosphere has not been poisoned by it.

* Anthony King predicts the decline of tactical voting in favour of the Labour Party.  He is surely right; there is not enough enthusiam for Labour for people to make a tactical vote against their natural inclination.  This will be a major change in the electoral landscape.

* David Dimbleby: “God knows” if bloggers really “have their ear to the ground”.

* Iain Dale sounds very bitter about Michael Portillo: “he should remember the party that made him”.  Apparently Portillo thinks 44% isn’t good enough for the Tories.  I can’t wait for the next Michael & Diane show.  No doubt there will be joshing on the sofa.

* Portillo on Livingstone: It is now time to talk about Ken in the past tense; Ken has been a remarkable figure in London, 28 years ago we all made fun of him for standing up for gay and lesbian rights, that’s now mainstream.

* Why on Earth don’t they count the London mayorial votes over night?  Ridiculous to keep everyone waiting.

* I can’t remember the last time the computer-generated House of Commons predicted a Tory government.  On the basis of tonight’s vote, projected as if it were a general election, the Conservatives would have a majority of 138.  It won’t happen that decisively, but simply seeing the little blue men lining up on the animated government benches must send a chill down Labour spines.

Scoble un-minimalizes

May 1, 2008

Coincidentally, a few hours before Scoble redesigned his blog, I was admiring his persistence in sticking to old school white minimalism.  I even thought, “Gee, maybe I should go to plain white with a header graphic, à la Dave Winer” (before he replaced the charming rotating header photos with text). 

And yet there was something about the old that didn’t sit right.  The header graphic didn’t suggest Scoble – his public persona and pursuits – the way the new one does.  So I’d keep the new header (not sure about its subtle inclusion of part of the Seagate logo though – ad, okay, but sponsor’s logo in your personal header?), and I like the Friendfeed widget, but I’d rather have them on the old plain white background.  The new style is clean and user-friendly, I just miss the amateur character of the less slick approach.

Given that I read Scoble’s and others’ feeds in a reader, why do I care?  Because the blog as a physical place on the web – rather than a stream of thoughts I can access in any RSS-friendly space that suits me – still matters, as a projection of the blogger, and a place I go to “visit” him/her.  I somehow feel more connected with a blogger when I click through to their site for a change. 

LATER: Apparently the riff on the Seagate logo that is in Scoble’s header was accidental.  Just shows how designers can get too close to their work – it jumped out at me straight away, and seemed a little too cosy with the sponsor.  I hope it is changed.

Keller on Romney, and the value of local journalism to national reporting

September 25, 2007

I enjoy Jon Keller’s political reporting and commentary on Boston’s WBZ-TV. His irreverent style provides light relief, but is also incisive.  It seems he doesn’t often miss a trick in the world of Massachusetts politics, of which he is a veteran reporter. (Although I have to admit to surprise at how blunt he can be, and wonder if he sometimes jeopardizes his objectivity.)

His light-hearted assessment (flash video) of the latest Romney ad, “Change Begins With Us” (embedded below), gave me a giggle. He also makes a serious point about the precarious nature of Romney’s attempt to distance himself from unpopular Republicans by taking an unveiled swipe at them in this ad.

Keller’s work highlights how useful local and state political reporters can be in covering the home state record of candidates that have moved to the national stage. Some have followed a candidate’s rise to prominence over years, whereas national reporters, lacking such a detailed knowledge of their political past, can overlook the nuances of a politician’s back story in favour of recycled caricatures based on perceived wisdom .

(Hat tip to Seth Gitell for bringing Keller to my attention.)

A Quarrel In A Faraway Country

September 22, 2007

I highly recommend a listen to the latest episode (.ram file) of BBC Radio 4‘s Archive Hour (audio available for the next seven days only).

It brings together unique recordings discovered in the basement archives of the Czech national radio building in Prague, some of which have never been heard since they were recorded before World War II. Through these illuminating original audio sources, it tells the story of appeasement by the western powers, and the build-up to Hitler’s seizure of Czechoslovakian lands.

I found it incredible to listen to the less well-known pronouncements of Chamberlain and others, but was particularly interested in the Czech recordings from the 1930s, which, surprisingly to me, show how pro-western and modern Czechoslovakia was in the decade before its freedom was snatched away.

American listeners may be interested to hear the speech of the first President of Czechoslovakia Tomáš Masaryk, in a 1932 broadcast to America from Prague, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of George Washington.

“When we severed the bonds binding us to the old Habsburg monarchy, I was aware that our decision must not be less motivated than the resolution taken by the founder of American liberty. And having recovered our liberty, we again follow the example of Washington in that we must no longer feel the old antagonism and anger which originated in the suppression of our liberty. My hearty wishes to the American people.”

I find it amazing to think of this nascent free nation, with so many hopes for liberty and friendship with the free world, being unknowingly on the cusp of devastation, and subjugation that was to last for almost the rest of the century.

I also wonder what I would have believed, had I been alive in the 1930s, knowing only what they knew then. I hope I wouldn’t have decided that appeasement was the least worst option. However, the position of wanting to accommodate Hitler, in the hope of pacifying him, would have seemed logical to those who held it, and perhaps preferable to a repeat of the slaughter of the First World War.

Chamberlain’s words sound so foolish now, but who could have known it then? I wonder what we are saying now that will be deemed so ridiculously erroneous in years to come.

Gordon: not flash, but safe

September 15, 2007

Saatchi’s new Labour ad is inspired. Taking the inverse-Rovian approach of exploiting one’s own apparent weaknesses, it succinctly expresses why Middle England will feel better off with Gordon.

He is so obviously not flash, he needn’t bother trying to be. This poster says that Brown is a safe pair of hands, and Cameron a risky, trendy lightweight. I love it when political art is so simply expressive.


September 14, 2007

I’m not a particular fan of Steve Bell, but I love today’s cartoon in The Guardian.

If you are not old or geeky enough to get the reference, read this.

Not quite the Bartlet Administration

September 14, 2007

I always wondered how long it would take to see a British version of The West Wing; a drama that depicted the Prime Minister as an honest, heroic warrior for Truth and Justice (yet somehow still believable). It has seemed a totem of UK political fiction that it be cynical and slightly – if not overtly – comedic. Yes, Minister, House of Cards, The Thick of It… some wonderful dramatic assessments of the art of government, but where the optimistic alternative?

Perhaps we British don’t feel the need for escapist political wish-fulfillment. Somehow it seems un-British to “blow our own trumpet” by watching our political leaders reach for the stars. The very thought inspires a cringe, swiftly followed by a giggle. We have the Queen to look up to, to inspire national pride, and to unify us with pomp and ceremony. We are happy to let the Prime Minister get on with the dirty work essential to maintaining our interests, without any need for moral leadership from Number 10.

Nevertheless, after the brilliance of the genre-defining The West Wing, it was inevitable that someone would attempt to bring a touch of the Bartlet Administration to Downing Street. It is not surprising that radio is the medium for the first obvious try at this. BBC Radio 4 is running a series of Friday Plays by Jonathan Myerson called Number 10.

I’m sad to say that what little I’ve heard of it so far has indeed inspired my default British embarrassment at the sound of earnest, posh-accented, politicians wading through the nastiness of the world, trying, a little too pompously, to make it a better place. But it’s a start. If we are to overcome our cynicism we have to begin somewhere, and that is why I will be listening more and doing my best to believe.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • Prospect article by Myerson explaining his motives for writing the series.
  • Gordon Brown’s web presence: whither the Tech Prime Minister?

    May 30, 2007

    I just searched a bit more for Gordon Brown stuff (see previous post), and it turns out he has his own YouTube channel. That I didn’t know about it, despite being subscribed to the Labour Party YouTube channel, and searching YouTube for Brown, tells me his web team are not doing their job. It has 16 subscribers.

    I found it via his own site, Gordon Brown for Britain, which is itself only fifth in a Google search for his name. The profile of his site and his YouTube channel could easily be raised, and should be if his staff want to serve the next Prime Minister well. The site tries, but leaves much room for improvement. The “moblog” links to a somewhat half-hearted flickr account, which nevertheless has some potential when used with Google maps to “Follow Gordon“. The “Team Blog” is written by Oona King, and hasn’t been updated for a week.

    Mr Brown, we want more. Show us you will be the first Tech President Prime Minister.

    British Foreign Secretary on YouTube

    May 30, 2007

    Margaret Beckett, the British Foreign Secretary, appears in a new video on the UK Labour Party’s YouTube channel, Labour:Vision.

    She is at least talking to us directly, asking for questions/comments, and promising to reply in a future video, which is an improvement – in style at least – on Tony Blair’s attempts. Whilst the channel hasn’t been a YouTube hit (only 1122 subscribers to date), and it is difficult not to feel cynical about the sincerity of the claim to want a conversation with the public, the branding as a place to discuss Labour’s “vision” is a wise move by the party web strategists. The channel description reminds us of Labour’s role in recent British history, and attempts to move our minds off current controversies, and on to themes of social justice.

    I hope Gordon Brown’s conspicuous absence from the purpose-made-for-YouTube videos is not a hint at the future Prime Minister’s attitude to web video. (See this attempt at interaction at a moderated hustings event.) Brown could have exploited his honeymoon period online with a cosy, spoken-to-camera, message to the web, telling us his “Labour Vision” for the future. It would be an opportunity to show himself as distinct from Blair. The new, web-savvy, PM would be embedded in blogs making obvious favourable comparisons with the outgoing premier. If nothing else he really needs to make something to change the top YouTube search result for “Gordon Brown”.