My own personal elephant

MY LAST post seems to have antagonised at least a couple of Labour-supporting readers because they object to my indulging Iain Dale’s blog memes. They also seem to have a problem with the content of my blogroll, specifically that it includes Iain’s and other blogs which are antipathetic to Labour.

I knew this would raise its head at some point – my own elephant in the sitting room, as it were. One of the reasons I started this site was to try to redress the obvious imbalance of right- v left-wing blogs out there, specifically the scarcity of good Labour Party-supporting sites (blogs which bang on about Iraq and PFI might well be left-wing, but they’re really not much help).

What LabourMatters seems to be suggesting is that bloggers should only recommend blogs which are written from their own particular political perspective, and that Labour bloggers shouldn’t recommend any other sort of blog to their readers. My own blogroll features blogs which I read, not necessarily blogs with which I agree (the clue is in the title: “Blogs I read…”). Is it really being seriously suggested that we shouldn’t read anything unless it’s written by someone in our own party? I’m not necessarily endorsing any blog on my blogroll, though I hope I’m discerning enough not to read those which aren’t well written, humorous or interesting.

Let’s face it: Guido and Iain Dale between them get more traffic than the rest of the political blogosphere put together, and there’s a reason for that. These are well-written and entertaining sites. I know that sticks in the craw of most of us lefties, but instead of discouraging others from reading them, how about we try to compete and produce some sites that others actually want to read, instead of sites which people feel they ought to be reading out of loyalty to the Labour Party?

It’s only because Dale and Guido have done so well in terms of breaking stories and offering unique perspectives that the wider mass media have started to notice blogs and to take them seriously. So, yes, people should read them, and I don’t apologise for saying that.

Apart from anything else, it is surely healthy to read others’ political perspectives.

Should Labour only listen to itself? Yeah, because things worked out really well the last time that happened, didn’t they?



Filed under Blogging, Labour, Media, Politics

43 responses to “My own personal elephant

  1. Daniel

    Well said Tom.

    I rarely agree with anything you have to say, but read you anyway purely to get some perspective.

    People naturally prefer to read opinions with which they already agree, but it’s perhaps more healthy to challenge ourselves and our preconceptions.

  2. Couldn’t agree more Tom. I had the same issue when I started linking to other parties – and I roundly ignored that criticism, as I still do.

    Engaging with others from across the political spectrum is what blogging in particular and politics in general should be about. I don’t really agree with most of what you say – but your blog has become compulsive reading, if only because others keep talking about it!

    So really, don’t listen to these nay-sayers!

  3. richard

    I agree with Daniel. Despite my right-leaning tendencies I find it very appealing to read your blog and labourhome.

    It’s always helpful to understand the mentality of those who don’t believe the same things as you but seek (largely) the same goals.

  4. I agree Tom. Though Politicalbetting plus a couple of the lefty ultra blogs match the Dale/GuF numbers without the rest of us.

  5. Madasafish


    You are totally wrong.
    LabourMatters is 100% correct.

    Labour bloggers should exist in a reality free world where idealism and airy fairy ideas can be promoted and never tested. After all those nasty Tory trolls or even those nasty voters may read something they do not like and argue about it.

    Just because your opponent may know something more about the subject than you do or have better ideas, does not mean you should read a word they say.

    I am of course jesting.
    Only absolute nutters of course would promote such a self defeating policy and I am glad you are not one. A statement of the obvious!

  6. Yeah, I knew you were jesting…

  7. James

    I would describe it more of a dinosaur than an elephant, and it belongs in Jurassic era.

  8. Martin Cullip

    I’m staggered that LM is promoting a view such as that. Isn’t giving your own views while exhibiting an unwillingness to countenance other viewpoints or even admit that they exist, tantamount to propaganda?

    I’d have thought it was better that an MP of any political persuasion keeps an open mind and takes into account opposing views so as to better understand how to address the concerns of their electorate.

  9. Not sure you’re quite with me on the whole “elephant” metaphor, James, but thanks for dropping by

  10. My explanation as to why any Labour blog shouldn’t link to the opposition:

  11. You know you’re on the wrong track when Madasafish agrees with you!

  12. Zorro

    “Apart from anything else, it is surely healthy to read others’ political perspectives. ”

    That was the key point I think. It’s /very/ unhealthy to not even look at the other side’s point of view.

  13. James

    I guess I was trying to compare the elephant in the way that Iain Dale has used the Bull in a China Shop with Charles Clarke being the bull, in his blog today, your elephant being those ‘antagonised’ readers.

  14. Madasafish

    As I am always wrong (hard luck Tom), I quote from a 6th century BC writer Sun Tzu: The Art of War.

    The last verse of Chapter 3:

    So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will fight without danger in battles.
    If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose.
    If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.
    This has been more tersely interpreted and condensed into the modern proverb:

    知己知彼 百戰不殆 (知彼知己,百战不殆)
    If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can come out of hundreds of battles without danger

    I can recommend it.

  15. John

    To Tom Harris MP
    May it soon be Tom Harris PM

  16. I take Madasafish’s reference to the Art of War and counter with Machiavelli.

    “I DO NOT wish to leave out an important branch of this subject, for it is a danger from which princes are with difficulty preserved, unless they are very careful and discriminating. It is that of flatterers, of whom courts arc full, because men are so self-complacent in their own affairs, and in a way so deceived in them, that they are preserved with difficulty from this pest, and if they wish to defend themselves they run the danger of falling into contempt. Because there is no other way of guarding oneself from flatterers except letting men understand that to tell you the truth does not offend you; but when every one may tell you the truth, respect for you abates.

    Therefore a wise prince ought to hold a third course by choosing the wise men in his state, and giving to them only the liberty of speaking the truth to him, and then only of those things of which he inquires, and of none others; but he ought to question them upon everything, and listen to their opinions, and afterwards form his own conclusions. With these councillors, separately and collectively, he ought to carry himself in such a way that each of them should know that, the more freely he shall speak, the more he shall be preferred; outside of these, he should listen to no one, pursue the thing resolved on, and be steadfast in his resolutions. He who does otherwise is either overthrown by flatterers, or is so often changed by varying opinions that he falls into contempt.”

  17. I must say, I’m increasingly impressed at the intellectual tone of comments on this blog.

  18. Madasafish

    ” I’m increasingly impressed at the intellectual tone of comments on this blog.”

    Don’t worry. That is my intelelct exhausted for 2008.

    Who was Mac Hiavelli.?

    I have not heard of the Hiavelli clan before. Obviously lived in a hidden and secret part of Scotland.

  19. Patchouli

    “I can be but a spectator for I have no opposable thumb”
    Shih Tzu

  20. Did you hear that? That noise… It sounded like… like something going right over my head…

  21. Johnny Norfolk

    Because most of the media is left wing led by the BBC. The right wing blogs have given peole like me the oppotunity to be heard> The left is very anti right wing whereas people on the right are more tolerant. that is why you are getting the hassle from the left.

  22. John

    “It’s the taking part that counts, not the beginning or the ending”

    Anon. written on a headstone

  23. James

    Tom said:

    ‘I must say, I’m increasingly impressed with the intellectual tone of comments on this blog’

    Remind me, how long has it been since Dr. Who was mentioned (damm!) 🙂

  24. Madasafish

    It is nobler to declare oneself wrong than to insist on being right – especially when one is right. ”

    “ Insanity in individuals is something rare – but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. ”

    Frederick Nietsche

  25. I trust you’re not suggesting that “Doctor Who” is in any way low-brow?

  26. Andrew F

    In terms of British blogs, I regularly read Dale and Guido on the right; you, Sadie’s Tavern and Hopi Sen on the left. However, I’m thinking of giving up Guido, because he’s just nasty. And Dale’s reecent lists have introduced me to “Stumbling and Mumbling”, which is… brilliant.

    At any rate, I have no problem with reading right wing media for entertainment. I make a point of reading Ann Coulter’s column every week, simply for the giggles.

    I do, however, think you fanboy Dale a little. “Ooh, he told me to fill out this meme. It was such an honour, so I dropped everything and got right to it.” The guy is entertaining and well-connected, but he’s not exactly the kind of intellectual heavy-weight I want to see revered by government ministers.

    (I also can’t figure out why people take his “Top Blogs” poll so seriously. Quite clearly, it’s biased towards his readership’s preferences: notice how people he’s plugged recently appear high up the lists. Iain Dale’s readers voted Iain Dale the second best blog in the land! Crikey, what an accolade.)

  27. James

    Not at all Tom, just teasing.
    Whilst we are on the subject, being somewhat of an expert on the subject and assuming you can recall the originals can you remember episodes where there was a central control and everyone had to vote on important issues via computer(?) at a certain time otherwise big trouble (that’s all I can remember)

  28. James – Given the limited information, I’m guessing you might be thinking of 1985’s “Vengeance on Varos” starring Colin Baker. If it’s not that, can you remember who played The Doctor?

  29. Well said Tom. Having read the votes of a number of the other Scottish bloggers we all know that you gained votes for every hue of the political spectrum as did most of the Top 20 Scottish blogs because we’re not scared to actually link to, debate and comment on each other’s blogs and what better way to enable us to do that than by having the links and feeds where we can see them.

  30. Ani

    Tom. Have you read the article and comments on LabHome?
    For what it’s worth I agree with Labourmatters and the excellent Snowflake 100%,
    and Tom; we can read and sometimes comment to Tory blogs, and feel dirty afterwards (!) but there’s no need to dance to their tunes – as in recent memes – and advertise for them. Is there?

  31. Patchouli

    Simply trying to get ahead in the quotes game, Tom.

    “I am playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.”

  32. James

    I bow to your superior knowledge Tom.
    I did watch Dr Who from the very first episode in the 60’s and i’ve always remembered (vaguely) that bit, but i’d have thought it before 1985.
    I’m actually not far from some Daleks at the moment (Lands End Exhibition)
    I am sure they filmed some of the scenes in one of theDr Who – Dalek movies in a quarry near where i used to live in Bedfordshire.

  33. Tom, you’ve inadvertently replied to the wrong thread on LabourHome, although I’ve replied to your question there too:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I admire you for blogging (particularly after that Daily Mail BS), not least because I know that your intentions are pure. But the fallout from all this, particularly Dale’s disingenuous response, should tell you all you need to know.

    Nobody has challenged the facts of the matter – that links to Tory sites hurt Labour – quite the opposite. There’s a good reason for that: I happen to know what I’m taking about in this regard, if nothing else.

    There is actually a bigger issue than whether a few Labour blogs inflate their Tory counterparts.

    Labour has little support in the corporate media historically, and even less nowadays, and nobody is going to buy or set up a newspaper to counter pro-Tory bias because newspapers are in big trouble because of the Internet.

    In addition, currently the BBC’s unbiased reporting helps counter the likes of Sky News and the newspapers, but that may very well change if the Tories get in because they hate the BBC and are rumoured to be in favour of partisan broadcasting. You’ve seen Fox News, right? Eeeeek!

    The only medium we have left to us happens to be a growing one – the Web – but we’re behind in that too.

    There are people, and I’m one of them, who are working to change that, sadly with little support from HQ (although I’m pleased to report not no support). You profess to blog for the same reason (sort of) too. Yet links to the opposition really don’t help that cause frankly.

    It is not personal on my part, although Dale’s choice in playing the man and not the ball is typical of him from what I read elsewhere, and of course it remains your (and others’) choice, but I stand by my advice.

    If only Machiavelli had lived today. I’m sure I would be able to quote him more relevantly if he was!

  34. Johnny Norfolk

    The problem Labour has had is not being able to take on board other points of view. Has this blog had any effect at all on your views Tom from these nasty right wing people. I hope it has as I have admired you as the only labour person who at least will join in on other points of view. It must be healthy as surly there should be areas that all reasonable people could come to some agreement in education or the NHS. Why do labour hate tories so much. The Toriers I meet do not hate labour except for Prescott ,Brown Blair …………………………..

  35. This is a typical Pravdaesque control-freak view. One of the reasons the Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes blogs are so popular is that they tend not to be “on-message”. Besides, there is a certain reciprocity in the blogosphere and links to blogs are usually two-way, so this would cut down on routes to your own blog.

  36. Frank Davis

    I’ve read what LabourMatters has to say about linking to Conservatives. It boils down to saying that the more links Tory sites get, the higher they get pushed up Google rankings.

    The result is to confirm them as the sites to read and their offerings shoot up the search result pages, perpetuating an upward spiral.

    This strikes me as a variant sort of Global Warming argument, in which CO2 has been replaced by hyperlinks, with the threat that a “tipping point” will be reached with too many hyperlinks resulting in runaway Toryism on the web, and with Labour opinions becoming as rare and as endangered as polar bears. Not linking to Tory sites is accordingly a moral duty like reducing your carbon footprint or recycling.bottles.

    Or again it is exactly the same argument that Labour is using to advocate banning displays of cigarettes in shops: if you can’t see them, you won’t buy them. If you can’t find Tory blogs, you won’t read them.

    The way Labour (and LabourMatters) control freaks see it, people only ever get new ideas by reading them somewhere and passively absorbing them like so many toxic sausage rolls. Nobody is ever persuaded by reason or argument or facts. No. If you want to control what people think, you have to feed them a steady diet of the right (Labour) ideas, and prevent them getting the wrong (Tory) ideas. Linking to Tory websites can all too easily lead to people inadvertantly taking on board wrong ideas, and, worst of all, becoming Tories, and voting for Tories. This must be prevented at all costs. Like global warming. Or smoking.

    In fact, I can well imagine that Labour are considering requiring Tory blogs to carry large health warnings on them.- e.g. “Reading this could make you go blind.” – and to demand Tory-free public spaces, so that members of the public (particularly children) are not exposed to toxic, dangerous Tory ideas, of which there is No Safe Level.

    And they wonder why they’re going to lose the next election…

  37. tbf katic

    It is funny how people automatically assume that because you read a certain blog, you somehow a) agree with everything that person thinks and writes, and b)you don’t read other opposition blogs because that somehow wouldn’t tally with the blogs that you do read.

    In Britain, we do seem to be a very bias lot who put people into boxes and assume that everything is black and white. You are either for or against, and there is no middle ground.

    (I’ve come across your blog through Mr Dale’s recommendation. Thanks for the good articles.)

  38. Frank Davis

    LabourMatters wrote elsewhere::

    “This week a few of us Labour ‘geeks’ discussed ways to improve our sites to help achieve their aims: to help Labour communicate online.”

    I always get a sinking feeling whenever anyone says that they/we/you should “communicate” better. Ordinary people don’t “communicate”. Computers do that with each other. How would you feel if someone in pub said, “Feel like a bit of two-way communication?” You’d start eyeing the door, wouldn’t you?. The five-vowel word itself is almost indicative of its opposite: anyone who uses the word “communicate” almost by definition doesn’t know how to. e.g. “I don’t seem to be able to communicate with my wife any more.” Yes, I know you can’t. Perhaps the only sense in which “communicate” should ever be used is in terms which express its negation – like “communication breakdown”.or “communication failure”.

    Perhaps the problem is that LabourMatters is a self-confessed “geek”, who can’t communicate. He thinks that if he “improves the website” he might be able to attract more girls, like that jammy b*st*rd Tom Harris does. .”Improving the website” includes removing all reference to the competition, natch. That’s a no brainer.

    The simple truth, however, is that Tom Harris writes good, conversational English. And that’s what girls like. Someone who can chat, and have a bit of laugh. You can improve your website all you like, and dress it up with all sorts of stylish features and gimmicks, and delete all those Tory zits, but if you can’t write good English, you’re dead..

  39. Blackacre

    I will join the merry throng of agreeing with the vast majority of comments here. Intelligent people reading a few blogs will I expect be able to sort out what they want to agree with and what they do not.

    I am neither a Conservative nor a Labour supporter, but I read primarily Iain Dale and your good self. With both of you, I know that when you post on party lines, I am likely to disagree with what you say. Other times I agree. But what keeps me coming back (and what fails to interest me in a lot of other blogs) is that both of your sites are well written and interesting. Personally I am not interested in “Smith Institute is a baddie” investigations but in the thoughts of some of the political classes on what is going on as I am not an insider and have no access.

    As with another commenter above, I was introduced to your site by Iain Dale, so on that score the reciprocity has worked this time in favour of the left. I very much doubt that any reader who has approached your blog from a different route and is a Labour supporter will suddenly be voting Tory just because you have linked to Mr Dale.

  40. Ani

    I think that if some of the commentors here actually read the two articles on LabHome they might, just possibly, realise that the issue is nothing to do with ‘controlling what people think’, writing style, light hearted
    banter, ‘turning’ Lab supporters into Tories (you wish), or attracting girls!
    Being deliberately obtuse online does seem par for the course for some.
    Incidentally, looking a some other Lab MP’s sites that don’t link, guess what?, they still attract comments. Mostly of the non abusive category.
    However, I do hope that Tom will understand the concern expressed and the reasons behind it, dispel the ludicrous charge of control freakery and just give it some thought, and perhaps even discuss it with colleagues and others who only have the well being of Labour at heart.

  41. Ani

    A point of view from a blogger taking up this discussion, that you aren’t linked to.

  42. Madasafish

    I read that: full of abuse.

    He’s lost his argument before he started.

    (“If you can’t play the man play the ball “articles fail for onvious reasons.)

  43. Ani

    I’ll be generous and suggest that ‘full of abuse’ was stretching it quite a bit compared to most of the stuff we read.

    Tom. Have a look at this if you’ve the time.
    Well worth adding to you reading list.

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