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SPEAKERS CORNER...Gerry Hassan

Two significant moments in the British political blogosphere: Tom Harris’s declaration that he is retiring from writing a blog, and Eric Joyce’s attack on voters as ‘liars’ and then subsequent qualification/semi-withdrawal.

Harris and Joyce have many similarities: both are Scottish Labour MPs of a fairly undiluted right-wing character, both are identified Blairites, and have attracted and courted all kinds of controversies with their opinions: Harris in identifying himself as an anti-Brownite when Gordon Brown was PM, and Eric Joyce in willingly portraying himself as the must gung-ho warmongering Labour MP in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Tom Harris’s blog, ‘And another thing’ became one of the must read Westminster blogs, regularly ruffling feathers and making news, and consistently being voted one of the best political blogs in Iain Dale’s annual round-up of blogs. Well now – with similarities to Tony Blair’s long goodbye – and Sinatra like – Harris has announced he is shutting up shop.

In a blog entitled, ‘A Blessed Relief’ (1) he writes that he is calling it a day:

I love blogging because I love writing. I love politics, I love the Labour Party, I love writing about Labour Party politics.

But the blog has become a burden. It’s taking up too much time (though not as much as some might think – I am a very fast writer), it’s getting me into too many squabbles with people I have never met and are likely never to meet. And increasingly I’ve felt like I’m adopting stances simply for the sake of being confrontational and provoking a row.

Most of us who have a profile on the blogosphere can relate to these last comments, and he concludes:

Basically, the bottom line: blogging is having a negative effect on my personal, family and political life for reasons too many and complicated to recount.

On the same day, Eric Joyce on ‘Labour Uncut’ has written a blog entitled ‘Liar, Know Thyself’ (2) which isn’t directly on the Phil Woolas affair, but indirectly is, addressing the themes of how voters see politicians, and the contradictory pressures and expectations which voters all have.

This all sounds fine and relatively uncontroversial so far. But the former Major Eric Joyce has a reputation for finding controversy and disagreement wherever he goes, from his fanatical Blairism and zealous pro-warmongering, to courting trouble over how much money he has spent in parliamentary expenses, and how he has spent it; in 2008 he claimed a total of £183,334 in expenses – making him Britain’s most expensive MP.

Joyce writes tongue in cheek:

So why is it that all politicians, apart from me, are such lying liars? Why are they all, with the same caveat, such cowardly cowards? What’s so wrong with democracy that it only elevates to public office scoundrels and never the pure (me aside)? It’s a puzzle.

He answers his dilemma with the following set of thoughts:

Here’s the truth. It’s hard to lie as a politician because everything we say is subject to enormous scrutiny – we’ll get found out even if we wanted to lie in the first place. But politicians know the lies a lot of people live and they pitch to you accordingly. There’s a lot of lying going on, for sure. The letters-page paragons are right in that respect. But they might want to reflect on who is really doing the lying.

This has got Joyce in a lot of trouble with Michael Fallon, Conservative Deputy Chairman:

This extraordinary online rant demonstrates contempt for the electorate. Yet again, it calls Ed Miliband’s judgement into question. Only a few weeks ago he appointed Eric Joyce to Labour’s front bench [as Shadow Northern Ireland spokesperson]. (3)

Joyce felt the need to issue an immediate qualification:

I was simply saying that issues are not always as straightforward as they seem. I have the highest respect for the public and I would never insult voters.

Two blog moments of controversy. Tom Harris’s retiring for now at least, and Eric Joyce yet again seeking out trouble. These two episodes tell us something about the perils of conducting intelligent political conversation on the web, and what kind of politics and political community we want to aid, and the changing role of politicians and backbench MPs.

I don’t like Tom Harris’s and Eric Joyce’s politics one bit. I regard both of them as symptomatic of a changing style of our politics which is part of the problem. Both are defenders of the status quo: the wider currents of our politics which have taken us to this unfortunate position, both are unapologetic defenders of parliamentary privilege and tradition – Harris in particular venting his anger on the new IPSA regime at length – and both are strident, shrill voices who like the politics of condemning and attacking opponents, and finding opponents everywhere (sometimes correctly, and sometimes incorrectly).

Harris has grown tired of the world he has created around himself, of hectoring, abusive non-debate, populated by enemies, and a lack of real exchange. Joyce has stumbled yet again into another mini-crisis of his own making, one in a long serial set.

I cant help feeling that Harris and Joyce are – dislikeable as they are in style and content – merely manifestations of a wider set of currents of confusions and changes. What is the point of being a politician today? If one is not a careerist – or more accurately in these two cases – if you are a failed careerist – what is the point of your existence? Harris tried to provide an answer to this through his entertaining and often controversial blog, but it is a question we still need to ask. What is it that we expect of modern politicians? Of backbench MPs? What is the role of the majority of MPs who don’t sit as part of the government payroll vote or opposition equivalent?

What is the point and purpose of being a contemporary politician in the UK? This is a debate we urgently need to have touching the Phil Woolas controversy, the mounting anger felt at the Lib Dems, and the whole anti-politician public mood which has not dissipated since the expenses scandal a year and a half ago.

Notes

1. http://www.tomharris.org.uk/2010/11/15/a-blessed-relief/

2. http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2010/11/15/liar-know-thyself/#more-5571

3. Paul Waugh, ‘Joycean Politics’, http://www.politicshome.com/uk/article/17841/joycean_politics.html

 

This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Gerry Hassan.
Read Gerry Hassan by visiting his blog:
http://www.gerryhassan.com

Comments  

 
# rgweir 2010-11-17 09:36
I think harris has been told that if he wants a front bench post he would need to stop blogging.
As for joyce,politics would be a better place without him.
 
 
# brusque 2010-11-17 10:15
Eric Joyce is probably one of the most unworthy "representatives " of any political party. I'm fairly certain that his ill-conceived contempt for voters is just another manifestation of his contempt for everyone who isn't Eric Joyce!!

I think it is fair to see that Joyce is a horrible excuse for a human being, never mind politician.
 
 
# Crazyhill 2010-11-17 10:33
Harris is at his happiest on Radio 4's 'The week in Westminster' where he can intellectualise to his heart's content. I sometimes find it hard to believe that I am listening to a LAbour politician; but then again, what is a Labour politician these days? Any resemblance between, say, Denis Canavan in his prime and either Joyce or Harris, is purely cosmetic; and what Kier Hardy would have thought of that pair would probably be unprintable!
 
 
# J Wil 2010-11-17 10:48
So the voters are liars! That's rich coming from a politician, especially a Labour one.
 
 
# muckledug 2010-11-17 11:07
Harris is the blogger who characterised an SNP conference as a 'hate-fest'.
Perhaps he was courting controversy, perhaps he actually believed it.
Neither reflects very well on a man of whom George Galloway said:

Quote:
No more loathsome piece of flotsam has floated to the surface of Scottish New Labour than the lumpen piece of wood that is Tom Harris.


I find it strange that, like so many of his fellow travellers who declare their hatred for the 'tribalist' policies of the SNP, he also proffesses his love for the Labour Party.

Just another Labour careerist, I'm afraid. I suspect that if he finds his ambitions thwarted, we just might see him cross the floor.
Like his inamorato Blair, expediency is his only compass.
 
 
# Robert Louis 2010-11-17 11:18
Never forget, Tom Harris, comes from that fine breeding ground of compassion and intellectual discourse, called Scottish tabloid journalism.
 
 
# m4rkyboy 2010-11-17 16:25
Joyce is a prime example of the 'vote for anyone as long as it is Labour' principle that we are so familiar with here in Scotland.His expenses claims are notoriously high.He only cares about feathering his own nest and protecting it.
 
 
# G. P. Walrus 2010-11-17 21:45
"What is the point and purpose of being a contemporary politician in the UK?"

The point ought to be to represent your constituents' interests in Parliament and act on local issues. This has been eroded because three major UK political parties are:
a) founded around 19th / early 20th century issues that have ceased to be relevant and
2) Are entirely in hoc to rich individuals for the benefit of whom they vote en bloc

There is a clear point to being an SNP or Green politician. both those parties are largely funded by grass roots members (literally for the Greens) and have a clear political purpose.

A wider issue is the competence of politicians to comment or make policy on a wide range of complex issues. Party hacks like Harris and Joyce (ex-soldier he though) are ill-equipped to deal with the complexities of the financial or environmental problems we face.

The concentration of power in the hands of ill-educated puppets is the root problem in our "democracy".
 
 
# Robabody 2010-11-19 17:25
and there's more:
news.stv.tv/.../...
 

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