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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Blogs and the blogging bloggers who blog them

Upon the historic day in 2009 when I was selected as the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Hendon, I started a campaign blog, and copied across some pages from another blog that I'd started in 2007. It was then that I became a regular blogger, blogging also on the websites of the Hendon Times and the Jewish Chronicle (JC).

Prior to that, I'd not thought much about blogs or blogging. I'd never set out to be 'a blogger'. I'd always planned at some point to do some more writing, having spent large parts of my working life in editorial jobs and having written this and that, but I had never planned to blog.

At that time, I saw blogging as often being the journalistic equivalent of amateur dramatics, and a professional pride made me think that unless someone had agreed to publish what I was writing, then it had not passed a certain quality threshold - like when someone self-publishes a novel, and I can't help thinking that they've only done that because they couldn't find a publisher, which might mean that the novel isn't very good.

Post-election, I continued to put stuff up on my Hendon and JC blogs, although not all that often, by my current standards. Last year, I started this blog, which you are reading now, and copied most of my Hendon blog across to it.

I decided that I might as well keep blogging as it's fun, easy and mostly harmless. I also wrote on my JC blog (http://www.thejc.com/users/matthewharris) quite often and I am on Twitter. Then, I guess about a year ago, I found myself blogging a lot more (and at greater length) here, and I started getting noticed a bit.

People started telling me that they were reading it, including some people for whom I have a particular respect, and some people who can make a difference to the things that I care about. I started getting invited to events, asked to do the odd guest post for a blog called Harry's Place (http://hurryupharry.org/2012/05/28/matthew-offord-and-same-sex-marriage/), that sort of thing, because of this blog.

I have continued to hear from such people and it's great that this blog is read by the people who read it. It's called 'narrowcasting', in the pretentious jargon of our age.

Then Huffington Post started its UK site last year and invited me to blog for them there (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-harris/), which is terrific, as people take HuffPo a lot more seriously than they take 'me'. It's a great platform and I should blog there more often, rather than treating it as the fine china that must only be taken down for special occasions.

So, I am now "a blogger" (all unpaid, of course), and it's part of who I am and what I do. Which is great, but not actually something that I really set out to do on purpose. Where does blogging stand in relation to other things that I might or might not want to do with my life? I'm not certain.

Also, blogging means that I am now a very noisy person. I possibly had more respect in certain quarters when I maintained a dignified silence, which is the opposite of blogging.

The most exciting things that I have done politically are things that I was asked to do before I was a blogger, although I have been asked to do some of the same things since, so I guess blogging is not necessarily problematic.

But as a blogger, I appear to be saying "Look at me, I'm dancing!", which is not always attractive. I never leak (I don't even seep), but could some people ever imagine that, as I blog, I am someone who shares confidences in public? I'm very much not, but I wonder - the people with whom I have worked at all closely know that I don't leak, but I wonder.

I mostly blog about politics, including foreign policy and the Lib Dems, while also sometimes attempting to be funny in pieces that are nothing to do with politics at all, because this is my blog and if I sometimes want to use it to write a 'column' that attempts to impersonate a blend of Unreliable Memoirs and The Smoking Diaries, then I can.

I also sometimes comment here on what other people have written elsewhere. My doing that, in what I consider to have been a reasonable and constructive tone, has sometimes generated a response that is simply vicious.

It seems that I am not allowed to so much as discuss another person's writing without being accused of having egregiously attacked that other person, prompting a response that amounts to character assassination of me, based not on what I have actually written or done, but on my alleged personal qualities (or lack thereof).

And before anyone tells me to get 'a thicker skin', one can object to unpleasant personal attacks without necessarily being 'thin skinned'; also, it is now more than two years since I ran for public office and I have no current plans to run for anything - I am a private citizen.

I recently blogged about two Barnet bloggers; there are five 'Barnet Bloggers' who play an increasing role in the politics and journalism of my local area: http://famousfivebarnetbloggers.blogspot.com/?m=1.

They claim, with some justification, to have played a part in the outcome locally of the recent London Assembly election. It is, presumably, great to have people blogging about Barnet's local politics, but if they are going to claim such influence, then it is reasonable for someone like me to write about what they have written.

Having done this (http://www.thejc.com/blogs/matthewharris/pro-palestinian-tory-and-local-jewish-community), I then discovered that two of these bloggers (Roger Tichborne at Barnet Eye, and 'Mrs Angry' at Broken Barnet) had responded on their blogs, with these pieces: http://barneteye.blogspot.com/2012/05/failed-lib-dem-candidate-attacks-barnet.html?m=1 and http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.com/2012/05/battle-for-brunswick-park.html?m=1 (if you scroll down to the bit about me).

The former piece is obviously, simply a very personal attack on me, and there is no point pretending otherwise.

I rose to the bait and responded with a couple of posts on this blog. This then extended on to Twitter, with Mr Tichborne tweeting regularly about my accent (!), my being "boring and very dishonest" and my having told "a whopping great porkie" (because I said that I had started blogging upon being selected as Hendon's candidate in October 2009, when I had actually had another, separate blog since 2007 - Mr Tichborne sees this as being very important, as it proves, according to one of his more polite comments on this blog, that I am "a proven liar").

I did respond on Twitter, and immediately felt very foolish to be having such a spat in public - that is not what I do, and it is not who I am.
Mr Tichborne will doubtless see this post and respond here and on Twitter with out-of-context quotes that 'prove' that I was as 'rude' to him as he was to me, but, actually, I really wasn't.

For example, I said that Mr Tichborne's campaigns against Tories like Cllr Brian Coleman and Matthew Offord MP are sometimes "raucous and ugly". Mr Tichborne then tweeted that I had said that he (Mr Tichborne) was "raucous and ugly", which I had not - I would never write something like that.

I simply would not, and it's hard to have a debate with someone who pounces on every little thing that I say, and on any perceived inconsistency, and start haranguing me about the detailed semantics of what I did and did not say.

Similarly, 'Mrs Angry' posted on this blog: "I can only imagine that you are working out some sort of personal issue in this continued attack on the Barnet bloggers: if so, this is something you need to address, and not project on to others." She later added: "What on earth is wrong with you?"

This does remind me of a certain New Labour spin doctor's tactic of saying that Blair's critics had "issues", and I really don't like it as a tactic.

Even when Messrs Coleman and Offord are worthy of criticism politically (which they very often are), I recoil from the sort of highly personal campaigns against such people that some bloggers sometimes engage in: http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.com/2011/05/brian-coleman-fightback-starts-here.html?m=1; http://colemansgottogo.blogspot.com/?m=1; http://barneteye.blogspot.com/2012/05/captain-useless-special-who-saved-all.html.

With respect to 'Mrs Angry', for example, I do not like her calling one Tory politician "tubby" and "portly" - as we are adults, must we really poke fun at fat people (I write as someone who is himself not the slimmest of gentlemen)?

Once we've finished laughing at fat people, shall we move on to laughing at alcoholics and people affected by depression? Mrs Angry then wrote that she'd only called him "tubby" because he's someone who's eaten a lot at the taxpayer's expense, so we're entitled to care about his weight, but surely...

There are some bloggers for whom it is all about squabbling with each other, and I can't run the risk of appearing to be such a blogger. Even when I might be 'right', I do not wish to look like someone who blogs about personal disagreements - nobody cares 'who started it', so it just makes me look petty and argumentative.

So I have deleted a number of posts (and the associated comments) from this blog, because they were posts in which I was having that sort of argument with different people. Tory Cllr Robert Rams then tweeted that my deleting these posts will make Mr Tichborne and 'Mrs Angry' "think they are right" - Cllr Rams is quite right, it will.

I am going to rise above it and be more judicious from now on in how I respond on this blog and on Twitter. I shall aim not to rise to the bait of people who are being deliberatively provocative, and any comment on this blog that is simply full of knockabout abuse might simply be deleted. Onwards!

6 comments:

  1. I'll bite,

    I've seen your attention seeking on twitter and have just read this blog post. I also read Mrs Angry's comments on you JC post, but only now have I read RogT's post. Please explain where it is a personal attack on you, as it does not read like that at all. Sure it suggests you were only in politics for yourself, but that is the default view that needs proving otherwise - which you make no attempt at.

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    Replies
    1. "During the course of the campaign dozens of local people privately told me that they thought he was a complete idiot."

      "Worst of all, he is pompous and completely up himself. "

      All sounds quite personal to me?

      Delete
  2. askmikefreer,

    Perhaps the suggestion that anyone who engages in politics is in it for themselves, and that this needs to be proved otherwise, is part of the problem?

    It might be that some, or most, are, but that would assume that there is no such thing as altruism. Some people involve themselves because they want to serve their community, others because they have an agenda. But that's true of bloggers too isn't it, or are bloggers above accusations of hypocrisy or bad behaviour?

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  3. Mark, the suggestion or the current environment that leads to that suggestion.

    Of course, the suggestion needs qualifying, definitely most coalition politicians in Barnet, and definitely Harris himself.

    Anyway, Harris is silent on how RogT's blog was personal, like most of his posts they are unsubstantial.

    I see Harris is hanging on the coat tails of the pro-Israel argument, I am guessing he is not of Jewish descent but is, like Freer / Coleman / Dismore et al, ensuring he can be elected in Barnet.

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  4. askmikefreer,

    I think that you might want to withdraw that last paragraph, given that Matthew is a Vice Chair of the Lib Dem Friends of Israel, his mother's family came to this country as German Jewish refugees, and I happen to know that he's taken a fair bit of flak (some deserved) for his somewhat pro-Israeli stance in Lib Dem circles.

    But I note that you now refer to most Coalition politicians, rather than all politicians. So, rather than draw your conclusion about an individual's motivation from a basis of assumed guilt, why not consider what Matthew has said and done, and then judge.

    I could assume that you're just ill-informed and biased on the basis of your first wrong assumption about Matthew's faith (easily found using Google), and treat you the way you're treating him, but I'd rather give you the benefit of the doubt as I ask you to do for him...

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  5. Matthew,

    I cannot let you misrepesent the truth in the manner which you are seeking to. The question of when you started the blog is relevant. May I remind you why. I stated that in 2010 you rejected a suggestion I had made for the our election campaign. When you dismissed my suggestion, you did it on the basis that you'd been "blogging far longer than I had". When I reminded you of this comment, you denied it and stated that you'd started blogging in 2009, well after I started. I pointed out that the first entries on your blog where 2007. The issue isn't when you started the blog. It is that you had misrepresented this to give the impression that I had fabricated a comment. I have saved all of your comments and if you like, I will post them up on the Barnet Eye, which completely validates this.

    As to the issue of my accent. May I remind you that you mocked my "mockney" accent and stated that as I came from a London Suburb, I should speak as if I went to Eton and Oxford, because everyone you know does. That was the start of that particular discussion.

    As to your comments that it was my blog and not me you were attacking. As far as I am concerned, my blog is me, unless it is a guest post. I am not some pseudo intellectual who "adapts a persona" to write under. Those are my opinions.

    When you criticise me for my treatment of Brian Coleman, you clearly forget the fact (or maybe you agree with Mr Coleman) that I lodged a successful complaint with Barnet Council in regards to his behaviour. As to Matthew Offord, whilst you seem deeply offended by my comments, Mr Offord is quite capable of looking after himself and socially we have a decent relationship. I even assisted him last year in finding bands for a competition he was organising. Mr Offord is rather more thick skinned and seems to possess a sense of humour, which is lacking amongst cetrain other failed Hendon candidates.

    The most offensive thing for me is the total distortion of the truth in the above blog. I note with interest that the number of blg hits has shot up immeasurably since you began your campaign against other bloggers. Am I too cynical to think that this is the true motivation. Sadly I doubt that, unless you keep up your campaign, you will hang on to too many readers.

    I suppose this blog will also get deleted at some point, if you don't like the content of the comments.

    ReplyDelete