Beyond the headlines: Politics, Technology & Social Media

paul clarke rain over London

Summer! (Photo: Paul Clarke)

Another week has gone by in politics, and as it’s post-Brexit summer 2016 (or as I like to call it: The Summer Britain Cut Off its Nose to Spite its Face, or Why is it Raining So Much?) we managed to squeeze more drama into that week than many countries manage in a year.

In my last post I discussed Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May all throwing their hat into the ring for the Tory leadership race and thus the Prime Minister’s job. In mere days, Michael Gove dropped out, Andrea Leadsom made mean comments about how only a parent could really run the country, denied saying them, and then when faced with her interview recording from The Times, admitted she did say it and dropped out, and Theresa May came home ‘victorious’. I use the inverted commas because of the three of these power-hungry tools I’d probably rather Theresa May took over as the other two candidates were even worse, but whilst experienced and unflappable, she is no people’s hero.

PM May boasts a dire human rights record (I’ll say it again: Buzzfeed writing is on form these days!) and her Prime Ministerial acceptance speech yesterday was mostly rhetoric, as this short video shows. I know I shouldn’t be surprised by that kind of performance – it’s politics, stupid! – but I think May trades on a kind of dependable hard work image that, like Boris Johnson, isn’t the whole picture. You should’ve seen her on Saturday Kitchen extolling the virtues of my dream-chef Yotam Ottolenghi. I never want to open Plenty again. I said as much on Twitter, before realising in horror that the show live-tweets highlights from the audience: reader, mine did not the grade. Make no mistake: her new government has shifted to the right again post-Cameron. Incidentally, Boris Johnson finds himself the new Foreign Secretary, which should really have come as no surprise seeing as our political establishment has gone bat-sh*t crazy.

Keen not to be outdone, Labour managed to engineer its own civil war inside the party. Jeremy Corbyn refused to step down, despite half of his shadow cabinet deserting him – a bit like the kindly but dithering colleague who just won’t go. To the Corbynistas, I know, the media have dealt him a poor hand. But he needs to trade on his decades of experience and use that as his USP. Where is his PR team? Meanwhile Angela Eagle, precisely no-one’s idea of an invigorating contender for the Labour party (I say Labour, but her parliamentary voting record looks more Tory), waded in as competitor for Labour leader. Awkwardness ensued as Andrea Leadsom promptly stole Angela Eagle’s thunder by resigning in the middle of Angela’s leadership bid. You’ll need to watch it through your hands. Does all that make sense? If not, Angela’s logo won’t help either, because it kind of looks like it says Andrea. Or Aaargh?

andrea banner

Meanwhile, my own (diminishing) dream that Chuka Umuna will magicly decide to go back into the Labour leadership contest (hey, it could happen! This excellent interview hints at a return) was put on ice. The reason? My Labour membership application, which I applied for after having seen Corbyn solemnly declare himself “uh, 7 out of 10” in favour of remaining in the EU, has been mysteriously stalled in Labour party HQ for the last fortnight. Twitter users tell me that it’s normal practice for an application to be vetted. I can’t decide whether writing ‘Chuka as leader etc’ in the ‘reason for joining’ box rather invalidated my application – what can I say, I didn’t have time to elaborate – but I would have thought they need all the help they can get. To be fair, the surge of 100,000 new members probably slows down processing time, but it seems odd they wouldn’t anticipate this with Brexit. Then again, post-Brexit everything is bonkers and the world is looking at us puzzled, so all bets are off.

The Shakespearean drama took a further turn when the Labour party conference decided this week that anyone applying for membership in recent weeks would either not be considered, or considered but have to pay an extra £25 to vote, or would be able to vote no problem as part of an aligned union. Confused? Me too. All I have is the below screenshot from another applicant on Twitter to show me that it wasn’t all a dream, plus my vain hope that membership of the Labour party is a way of taking action on this Brexit mess rather than talking about it. Just think: Labour could be a strong, questioning opposition party, asking tough questions about the claims made in favour of Leave, the impact on EU trade, and the need for a general election to get a better gauge on the nation’s politics. Instead the party’s a complete mess. And on consideration, a general election might backfire: I fear Labour would make little gain right now, whereas in our post-factual democracy UKIP’s fantasy would appeal to many. But take heart, Remainers: a 4-million strong online petition for a second referendum has enough names on it to be mandated for debate in the House of Commons on September 5th. Never underestimate what you can do yourself with social media.

Labour cropped

This brings me on to technology. See, this blog hasn’t strayed too far from its focus on technology and the city! (And if it has, you can’t blame me when the news is like House of Cards minus theme tune.) Katharine Viner, new editor of the Guardian, has written a great piece about how social media has swallowed the news. It’s a fascinating, thought-provoking piece that deserves a read. As Viner quotes Brexit donor Arron Banks: “Facts don’t work. You’ve got to connect with people emotionally. It’s the Trump success.” Viner points out that when we look for news via social media, it’s peer-led, which means that it’s filtered through like-minded people, a bit like the echo chamber I talked about here. The result is that clicks come before facts in online news, lowering the quality of what we access and reducing editorial input by the experts, who we previously paid to organise the information in newspapers.

Many of the reader comments below Viner’s article disagree, arguing that supposedly solid outlets like the NY Times or the Guardian are getting just as bad at clickbait, but I think we’ve got to be really aware of the changing environment of digital media. We have to recognise that if, or when, companies like the Guardian or Independent bite the dust (the Independent has gone online-only already, so who knows how long it’ll last), we’ll have an ever diminishing pool of media outlets. And, as we’ve seen in the last few weeks, some of them make better chip papers than newspapers.

fish & chips

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2 thoughts on “Beyond the headlines: Politics, Technology & Social Media

  1. Pingback: Digital detox: fact or fiction? | sexuality and the city

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