Guido Fawkes Blown Up?

April 26, 2008

The influential Guido Fawkes blog disappeared from the blogosphere this morning. Has its author finally succeeded in getting himself blown up?

What I Didn’t See This Morning

I didn’t see something this morning [Saturday April 26th 2008]. I didn’t see a blog on the web. I was looking for the latest posting from a political blogger described as one of the most influential around. The blogger goes under the name of Guido Fawkes, in homage to that earlier revolutionary figure Guy Fawkes.

This Guido Fawkes has acquired a bit of a cult status among bloggers. He has been attributed with breaking political stories which eventually have impact in the real world. For example, he can claim credit for starting the stories about a damaging bit of naughtiness by Peter Hain, during the campaign to replace Mr Prescott (arguably also caught in e-flagrante.

The convenience of pseudo-anonymity was blown most obviously in a Newsnight interview, after which a Mr John Staines claimed that he was indeed the blogging Guido Fawkes.

Guido Revealed

Another blog ['Tunbridge'] described the outing of Guido:

Despite the pantomime of the shadowy, unidentified mystical figure sitting in the studio, which everyone in political circles knows is Paul Staines; and Paxman’s usual put-them-on-the-back-foot opening gambit of “Why do you insist on this preposterous charade of sitting in a darkened studio?…” or words to that effect, the central question being raised by Paxman and Michael White, of the Guardian, was a crucial one. That Guido as a blogger can say pretty much whatever he likes and that newspapers, TV and more traditional media have all kinds of pressures and restrictions on them which prevent them from being so loose tongued.

Which remains the central point of the blogging debate and of this post.

In Search of Guido

Anyway, this morning there was an item on the BBC webpages which again referenced the egregious Guido, which prompted me to follow the link to his web-site. Not available. A bit surprising, but it happens, so I tried a few other ways to locate his site. Same results. Guido was no-where to be found.

Conspiracy?

Only if you believe in conspiracy theories. I’m on the opposite side of the world on this one, as far away as possible from believers in Lady Di assassins, cover-ups of alien visitors, Masonic plans to rule the world, and so on.

But I found myself wondering if Guido has been taken out of the game, having gone too far. Something he has done, or was about to do called for swift action. It would have taken some clout to do that. The sort of influence required to ‘persuade’ Google to operate a censorship filter to prevent its zillions of users in China from accessing the sort of information available in the West. A Mr Big has nobbled Guido. Or maybe a Ms Big ?

Guido Restored

Later: [1500 hrs]. Guido is back. But he was worried too, noting

Overnight something has happened. Not sure if it is technical failure, a hacker attack or just a glitch. Everything is backed-up and will be restored in due course…

[Later] UPDATE : It was a glitch.

The Importance of Blogging

A debate going on about the merits of blogging, and its willingness to transmit (and create) unsubstantiated, and mainly scurrilous stories. It was touched on in the Tunbridge post above on the kind of virtual world whose inhabitants can write ‘pretty much what they like’.

The BBC Story

The BBC story prompted me to take a look at the Guido Fawkes site was about a hoax purporting to be reporting the resignation of a government minister.

Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman is the latest MP to become a victim of internet hacking. An item was posted on her personal site for several hours announcing her defection to the Conservatives. It began: “To friends, foes and fans, below is a copy of the resignation letter that landed on Gordon’s desk this morning.”
Beneath it was a link to a spoof Harriet Harman blog. The site ..appears to have been taken off-line following the discovery of the rogue message, which was highlighted by the widely-read Westminster gossip blogger Guido Fawkes.

The story also pointed out that

Last year, Conservative housing spokesman Grant Shapps was targeted by hackers who broke into his YouTube account to post a message under his name saying the party could not win the Ealing Southall by-election. In 2006, David Miliband [environment Secretary at the time] was forced to shut down an experimental wiki site after it was bombarded with surreal and abusive additions.

Games People Play

These examples seem to be indications of assorted behaviours, including creative if malicious japes, to the web equivalent of graffiti, passing off, and evidence of the wisdom or otherwise of the crowd.

The Bloggers we Deserve

One of the few clear aspects in the debate is that no simple answer seems to be adequate. At present, bloggers have a well-earned reputation as purveyor of unreliable stories.

In keeping with the interests of this particular blog, I find myself arguing that the development of the blogosphere comes with its particular context of social action.

Through it, in ways we are still trying to understand, ideas gain credibility in the old world of modernity, with its traditional concerns about truth, reality, and morality. Some ideas take hold. This happens probably because of what people are inclined to believe, which itself indicates something about deeply-held fears and hopes.

On this line of reasoning, celebrity bloggers like Guido Fawkes are the bloggers we subscribe to, and are the thought leaders we create and deserve. The hackers, and jokers come as other denisons of the new blogospheric territories.

Something Old, Something New

For what it’s worth, I find connections with various old and newer ideas about innovation and change. I’m reminded of Rosabeth Kanter who developed a visionary picture in the 1980s of a future in which the most successful organizations operate with open access to information

More recently, a similar ‘freedom is good’ theme can be found in the ideas of Henry Chesborough under the catchy rubric Open Innovation

These ideas present the case for the virtues of cherishing freedom of expression in the interests of social and economic good.

However, I wish I could agree with Guido that ‘everything is backed-up and will be restored in due course…’ That would be very nice.


Waiting for Gordon

September 24, 2007

Unity ruled. Not the name of a Union, but the mood of unity enveloping the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth. The New Leader outlines his vision for the future. At times he retreated into the comfort-zone of his old role as Chancellor

The images from the first day of the Labour Party Conference offered some interesting surprises. At lunchtime, the faithful moving to the main auditorium wiating for Gordon’s speech were like fans heading for the Centre Court of Wimbledon when Tim Henman is playing. No, not quite. These were the faithful, queuing to get a good spot on Henman hill, clutching their thermos flasks and sandwiches.

The United Band of Hope

‘Where are the Blairites?’ asked Andrew Neill of the BBC’s Daily Politics show, in mock consternation. They were not to be found. The big-time defector Peter Mendelson had been one of the first of Brown’s political friends to betray him. Now he became one of the first of the Blairites to double-cross the frontline back to Brownite territory. He had announced his re-conversion in suitably confessional surroundings at a fringe meeting yesterday evening.

That was surprising. Then there was the even more surprising spectacle of another defector making an impassioned ‘come and join us speech. This was Quentin Davies, who had quit the conservatives last June [2007] as Gordon was becoming the party’s new leader.

Delegates struggled with the situation. Except for Dennis Skinner, who has a great taste for irony. Dennis Skinner sniggered. Mr Davies ended with a rallying cry. Come and join us, he called. A cheer-leader jumped up applauding enthusiastically. Brave fellow. A few others, stood up more reluctantly, applauded even more reluctantly. If they were looking for a lead from the senior party members present, they might still have been unclear what to do. Harriet Harman and the other platform leaders seemed rather unclear whether to applaud, and with what degree of enthusiasm.

Eventually there was a (sort of) standing, (sort of) ovation. Sadly I didn’t catch how Dennis was reacting. I don’t think it would have been ambiguous.

The main course

The anticipation of Gordon Brown’s speech was higher than I can remember. In some part, the first chance for those in the hall, and far beyond to see what he had to offer.

He started surprisingly by personalizing the events that had dominated his first hundred days. That was not the surprising bit, but by acknowledging a member of the audience, a fireman who had served with distinction in the thwarted attack on Glasgow airport. A more convincing standing ovation for this, than the one that had greeted Quentin Davies.

The new Prime Minister then returned to familiar ground. The impact of his father’s values on the young Gordon. His commitment as a conviction politician. Very worthy. Perhaps dutifully rather than enthusiastically received from time to time. New Labour as the party of aspirations, of expanding the middle ground.

He moved to equality of opportunity, and illustrated this with images of children and their education. The applause was far warmer. Curiously, some of his specific pledges seemed just a tad less well received than the rather platitudinous bits. But the bits well-received sounded to me too much like the Chancellor unfolding the sweeties in his budget plans.

Then, the offer of more sweeties. We (did he mean The Chancellor?) will renew the link between pensions and earnings. That was a surprise. (Unsurprisingly well-acclaimed). National minimum wage completely achieved. More new homes in environmentally and socially acceptable ways. Youth budgets in every community.

Yes it was a bit like his speeches as Chancellor. But it did not sound as a simple pitch for votes for a snap election. On the other hand, it wasn’t a simple anything. Rewards balanced with obligations. A Yes And speech for those in the Hall. One Member one vote; carbon omission legislation; All-elected House of Lords. (Phew).

Then a Yes And on being a good national leader and a good European and a good friend of The United States (phew, again.). And the debt owed by the nation to Tony Blair (lengthy applause, another surprise). Robust opposition to Al Qaeda. Humanitarian intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever (Yes And deepest commitment to the safety of our armed service people.

A National Health Service that is also a Personal Health Service. More specific examples. The speech had run for an hour. More Chancellor-like stuff on investing in medical research. Now more like the son of the Manse as he ended personally and patriotically.

No mention of the election.


Prime Minister Brown – At last, at long last

June 28, 2007

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Tony Blair exits after a last Prime Minister’s question time. The house settled for a dignified and good-humored farewell. Rumors leak out of names in Gordon Brown’s cabinet, and of a new job for Tony Blair.

Today’s political comings and goings are recorded for posterity in infinite detail. The leadership transition is now beyond the control of any one person. The ritual kicks in. It is worth noting, as it is a relatively rare event. The essential features for a century or so is that the incoming Prime Minister is received by the Monarch, is invited to serve, and accepts, almost always without hesitation. Sometimes it is possible for this to be preceded by a visit from the outgoing PM to hand in the bunch of keys and Rent Book for No 10 Downing Street.

Goings on at The Palace

In today’s ritual, the ceremony unfolds with TB being driven to Buckingham Palace in the Prime Ministerial vehicle, spending an hour with the Queen, and leaving as ex- Prime Minister Blair, in a more modest car. Conversely, Gordon arrives in a humble People Carrier, meets the Queen, does the business, and returns in the swanky Prime Ministerial car and with the keys and rent book for No 10.

The traditional speech on the steps of No 10. Slightly creepy because the area is mostly clear of people for security reasons. Prime Minister Brown predictably speaks of ‘doing his utmost’ (a translation of a school motto?).

The last and first leaks?

Possibly the last leak of the Blair administration. The rumor was right. Before the day is out, Tony Blair is to resign his Parliamentary seat and take up a job as special envoy to The Middle East. His mandate is particularly to assist in a resolution to the Palestinian issue, on behalf of the UN, EU, America and Russia.

Seems Tony mentioned it in a telephone conversation to his old friend Bertie Ahern. Bertie blabs to the press. These are two men who kept schtum with many a secret during years of delicate negotiations over the future of Northern Ireland. But this is what happens when demob-happiness kicks in.

The new manager draws up his team sheet

Meanwhile, in the quiet of his new manager’s office, Gordon completes the names on his team sheet. Even without Bertie’s help, more rumors trickle out. The late-night editions of tomorrow’s papers speak confidently of some names and appointments.

There have been more rumors of surprises on the team-sheet. We will have to wait just a little longer for the names, and the positions in which they have been selected to play.

A new job for Alan?

An obvious rumor. Alan Johnson will have a nice consolation prize, after losing out to Harriet Harman in the deputy leadership battle. a more surprising rumor is of a new job for Sir Alan Sugar in revitalizing British Business Leadership. Possibly in Business Education. Now that will offer some scope in future posts on leaders we deserve.


Gordon and Harriet take the floor

June 26, 2007

150px-gordon_brown_imf.jpgharriet-harman.jpgAt a special Party conference in Manchester, Gordon Brown becomes leader of the labour party, a few days before assuming the post of Prime Minister. A minor shock follows as Harriet Harman unexpectedly wins a closely- contested contest for deputy Leader, and Brown announces that she is also to become the Party’s chairperson

Sunday June 24th 2007

Tony Blair begins his final week as Leader of the Labour Party and as Prime Minister. Today Gordon takes over in the former role, and will acquire the greater prize on Wednesday.

The transition was never as smooth as was desired, but neither was it as difficult as it might have been. The opposition parties may still be reflecting on opportunities lost. Opinion Polls show that the long-established lead by the Conservatives over Labour has diminished, and may even have been wiped out.

From a great distance, darkly

I caught a glimpse of the final twists in the drama from a hotel room in Munich. A last minute break dot com had sold us on a quick visit to a city now emerging with some dignity from its darkest historical period.

The distance had some benefit. I could not take soundings of what the pundits were saying and writing, and had to make up my mind on the occasion, and its implications.

The first shock

Why was the camera switching from a lip-lickingly happy Brown to a gently glowing Harriet Harman? Got it. She must have won the election as deputy leader of the party. This turned out to be the case. This is thanks to the complicated transferrable vote process through which she just edged out the bookies’ favorite, Alan Johnson. Gordon invites her to join him centre stage.

The shock was his announcement that the post of deputy leader would be combined with that of party chair(person). Harriet scoops the jackpot (if you can call it that).

Harriet? I tried to remember how she had fared in the seven weeks of campaigning. An outsider with the bookies. Nothing particular in the curious Newsnight hustings with the six candidates. On the other hand, I had also noted her vivid metaphor, likening herself to Radio Two to Gordon Brown’s Radio Four, light and serious broadcasters respectively.

Gordon’s Speech

The speech will be analysed to death. Overall first impression: The about-to-be Prime Minister has produced a rather rich dish. It seems to have been condensed into its eventual format, in contrast to Tony Blair’s recent offerings, which seem to have been whipped up from rather lighter ingredients.

‘I know a lot of you [in and beyond the Party faithful] don’t trust me, yet’ he appeared to be saying ‘but I’m going to show you why that will change’. He spoke of winning hearts and minds. Also of The Health Service, The Middle East, Poverty, and Social Responsibility. The social commitment expressed with a rather muted delivery reminded me of grainy recordings of an earlier Prime Minster, Clement Atlee, captured sixty years earlier.

Coming down to earth

The flight to Manchester was unusually bumpy. On approach, we could glimpse newly-created finger lakes through grizzly grey clouds. There’s a bit of catching-up to do.

On the ground

Non-stop news summary from taxi-driver confirms that there has been very bad flooding but your house will be OK because the worse is over there in Yorkshire. He follows the official taxi-driver Union view that the ceaseless political news is even worse than the flooding and who ever gets elected it won’t make any difference and so on. And no one was doing anything about immigration. I said that if he was older he would be a grumpy old man. He replied that he was only grumpy in his cab, but he was in his cab ten or twelve hours every day. And the sort of people he had to deal with would make the Pope grumpy.

Susan cleverly moves the discussion on, suspecting she would have to endure a debate on whether being Pope was more likely to make you grumpy than being a taxi-driver.


Labour’s wannabe cheerleaders fail to convince in listless Newsnight hustings

May 30, 2007

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The candidates for deputy leader of the labour party do themselves no favours with disappointing performances in a below-par antiquated and amateurish Newsnight production. Alan Johnson and Hilary Benn do their career prospects least damage. Jeremy Paxton as King Lear is irritated and irritating. A night to forget.

BBC’s Newnight proudly trailed its coup of arranging the first televised debate of the Deputy leadership contest. All six candidates accepted an invitation to appear. The format, set, performances were all pretty dreadful.

Perhaps it was always naïve of me to expect anything enlightening from this kind of speed dating, although some viewers with a taste for black comedy may have found something in the show.

The candidates were each given two minutes for an uninterrupted pitch. This ended with all six standing uncomfortably behind a set of cheap-looking lecterns arranged in a shallow arc. In the next act, Jeremy Paxton asked a series of futile questions. This was followed by the trick or treat game ‘You’ve got to answer YES or NO’ or you will be shown up as the buffoon we all know you really are’. This is usually great fun, because everyone knows that the questions can’t be answered Yes or No. So mostly, the contestants cheated and offered qualified Yes or No replies. At one stage someone answered with a firm Yes, which seemed a surprisingly adequate response.

Tiring of the lack of gratification from this extended play, Jeremy made a remarkable triple-lutz kind of technical move, announcing that he was going to ask each of them in turn a philosophical question. Through some kind act of personal psychological protection I can recall neither question nor the replies it generated. By this time Hilary Benn and Harriet Harman were draped miserably over their flimsy barriers, and Hazel Blears had almost disappeared behind hers.

Overall impact

It would have been an astonishing performance for any candidate to have risen above the nightmarish situation they found themselves in. In a briefer extract from an earlier event, Hazel Blears had seemed to be the most impressive, speaking with warmth and intelligence. These qualities were not so much on view tonight. Jon Cruddas made a reasonable case for a role in which he would gee-up the morale of party activists. Peter Hain was far too weighed down with gravitas. Harriet unconvincing.

Hilary Benn was able, from time to time, to rise above the questioning with intelligent (but not too clever) replies. I thought both he and Alan Johnson offered the promise of something authentic if they were to be elected. Johnson will eventually be able to avoid mentioning postal deliveries. Benn is well on the way to escaping from being son of a loveable but strange dad.

If only

It would have been wonderful if any candidate had found a way of stopping the performance through some act of creative destruction. That would have shown something special. Would it really have been damaging to a political career? But it was not to be. Newsnight’s curiously banal format trundled on. And, yes, maybe I should have just switched off earlier. No wonder leading politicians are reluctant to accept invitations to appear. Newsnight is likely to be a mostly Gordon-free zone over the coming months.


Harriet works on her social identity

May 24, 2007

harriet-harman.jpgIn the soporific contest for Deputy leader, Harriet Harman finds a neat way of locating her social identity. In contrast, Hilary Benn struggles with his. However, Benn appears to be a more likely winner.

The battle for Deputy leader to Gordon Brown’s Premiership has been something of a low-key affair. BBC does its best to to pimp it up. We take a social identity perspective on the contest.

John Prescott, Tony Blair’s deputy, is leaving office. In the run-up to the election of JP’s replacement, the BBC’s Nick Assinger points to bookmaker Coral’s misreading of the gender of one of the candidates

“All the money today has been for Hilary Benn to win the Deputy Leader job and we have been forced to slash her odds dramatically”, said Coral’s representative.

Her odds? Not for the first time, Hilary is presumed to be a female name. We can only speculate on any career damaging consequences of such gender rendering.

Assinger also picks up on Harriet Harman’s efforts to define herself. This is actually an interesting issue which indicates how Social Identity approach has much to offer in leadership research.

She told a campaign hustings that Gordon Brown was Radio 4 while she was Radio 2. Make what you will of that – but perhaps it’s John Humphrys to Jonathan Ross. Fit the names to the stations: Alan Johnson, working class boy made good; Peter Hain, smooth former anti-apartheid activist; Hazel Blears, pint-sized cheerleader; John Cruddas, former Blair aide turned voice of the people and Hilary Benn, “modern” son of New Labour’s bete noire.

Social identity tips for wannabe leaders

It is important for a wannabe leader such as Harriet to work at her social identity. The concept has to achieve consensus regarding its elegant appropriateness. Novelty, interest, and (trickier) authenticity are valuable ingredients. Symbolism and metaphors are well-tested rhetorical and creative devices.

Harriet seems to me to have hit on a promising approach for communicating the image that she would like to convey during her campaign. Her suggestion neatly differentiates and defines her, not only against the other candidates but also against the all-conquering Gordon Brown.

[Note for non-listeners to The Beeb: Radio 2 is a pop channel; Radio 4 is seriously elitist].

Straw polls

The contest has not been widely reported in the British news media. I have only seen one broadcast, catching a snippet from a public debate involving all six candidates. Hazel Blears came across as the only one with that little bit extra in presentation style. The other five all seemed less able (or willing) to present themselves in an engaging fashion. I suspect that her style will not be universally admired.

On reflection, the impact of Blears’ presentation, was again, like Harman’s impressive in presenting her social identity, differenting herself for her commitment to the cause and her struggle to overcome diasadvantages in early life.

What the bookies say

Most commentators had been predicting that Alan Johnson remains a front-runner in the contest. He has already succeeded in presenting his own rise from disadvantaged circumstances as an asset, and important part of his social identity. Blear’s story came across as fresh partly because it was less well-known (at least to the majority of viewers learning more about some of the candidates).

The bookmakers offer aother perspective.

According to Sporting Life [May 24th 2007]

Hilary Benn has regained favouritism for the race to become the next deputy leader of the Labour Party.

Bookmakers William Hill have cut his odds from 5/2 to 2/1, making him joint favourite with Alan Johnson, who is also a 2/1 chance.

“After drifting out in the betting immediately prior to the announcement of the six contenders for the contest, Hilary Benn is back in favour with political punters and after a string of three figure bets we have cut his odds to make him joint favourite with Alan Johnson,” said Hill’s spokesman Graham Sharpe.

Hazel Blears is the 3/1 third favourite while Jon Cruddas is available at 7/1, Harriet Harman 8/1 and Peter Hain the 16/1 outsider

Somehow I can’t see any candidate gaining much ground through a charismatic performance between now and voting time. The voting is a three-way split between MPs (including Euro MPs), Party members, and affiliated Unions. The result will be announced on June 21st, 2007.


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