By Mike Small
Douglas Alexander is the head of Labour’s election strategy. He’s worried about where people get their news from.
Speaking at a Labourlist event in central London, Douglas Alexander yesterday betrayed an extraordinary degree of self-denial in his analysis of the political change of the past few years. Blaming ‘conspiracy theory’ online rumours and Facebook for Labour’s demise, Alexanders private fantasy world was made public:
“We are used to a politics where we share facts and have divergent opinions. We are confronting increasingly a politics where people’s social media feeds can be an echo chamber for at best their own opinions and at worst their own prejudices. That’s a tough challenge for all democratic politicians.”
He’s right, it is.
It’s a fantastic insight into the worldview of a career politician.
His argument is this: people being able to create their own content, people being active in exchanging information, people being able to express their opinion and engage with others about politics, creating an analysis and making sense of the world. This is a bad thing for democracy.
Apart from the sublime beauty of this madness, you are left wondering, does Labour not exist in the same world as the rest of us? Does Douglas and his team not have access to Facebook? Have they lost their password?
Why can’t Douglas, Miliband and the comrades utilise these media tools to create their own narrative about a fairer society, about Scotland’s future? About why we should be part of Britain? Where’s poolingandsharing.com?
His comments show not just a complete misunderstanding of the nature of social media but a party bereft of vision, policy and fresh thinking. He’s like an old man complaining about not being able to work the video controls.
It’s an entirely negative view of communication tools which could be used to reinforce messages of hope in times of austerity, ideas for the future when people are clinging to the past and feelings of solidarity when so many are feeling alienated. But no, it’s just something that creates prejudice. Douglas is fond of quoting the Austrian thinker Ivan Illich. In Silence is a Commons (1982) Illich wrote:
“The machine-like behaviour of people chained to electronics constitutes a degradation of their well-being and of their dignity which, for most people in the long run, becomes intolerable. Observations of the sickening effect of programmed environments show that people in them become indolent, impotent, narcissistic and apolitical. The political process breaks down, because people cease to be able to govern themselves; they demand to be managed.”
Illich – who’s a brilliant thinker – was wrong. The problem for Douglas is that people are demanding to be able to govern themselves. That’s what he is finding intolerable. Political messages handed down from above just doesn’t work any more. People need to not just agree with you but believe in you as well.
New media forms have been a central tool to the democratic revival that we’ve just witnessed, a huge uprising of political participation and engagement of people who had previously been excluded from the political process. Young people getting the vote for the very first time and participating in extraordinary numbers. Alexander forgot he’s supposed to celebrate that.
It’s an outburst that lacks history and politics. Labour lost in 2007, then again in 2011. These were losses under his watch. They are about people rejecting Labour’s political message and what it stands for. The contributing factors that he fails to take responsibility are variously: the long shadow of the debacle in Iraq and Afghanistan and the turning against the Blairite agenda; the embracing of a privatisation economic agenda, the development of language about a ‘something for nothing culture’; all overseen by catastrophically hapless leadership from Iain Gray to his sister Wendy, to Johann Lamont and now under Jim Murphy. Nothing to do with Facebook.
Yesterday he said: “Among the 45 per cent of those who voted yes there’s a great sense of grief and grief sometimes presents itself with anger. The nation made a judgment not to leave the UK. Some of them blame the BBC, some people blame the Scottish Labour Party. My strong sense is Scotland doesn’t want a Conservative government.”
As is frequently pointed out in comments on these pages, and as was hinted at by Peter Arnott earlier in the week, the pro-indy movement needs to re-examine its own arguments and how it relates to the No voters of yesterday and tomorrow. But that’s true of the other side too. Portraying the Yes voters – a large proportion of those who left his own party to do so – as deranged conspiracy theorists rattling about their own wee mad prejudices – isn’t going to do that. If that’s really the best analysis that the head of Labour’s election strategy can bring to the table then they are in more trouble than they realise. It’s an astonishing misreading of not just Scottish political culture but of democracy and media. He is betraying a sadness at his own disempowerment ‘We are used to a politics where we share facts…’
It was the chemtrails all along.