Extremes of stupidity: StartUp Britain vs. The March26 Anarchists

It’s my hope that by comparing two recent high-profile fuck-ups from both sides of the political divide, we might learn from their mistakes. Or, at least, sneer at their stupidity.

From the left, we have the anti-corporate, socialistic practitioners of the dreaded ‘black bloc’, who, in Central London on Saturday afternoon, unleashed their emo fury in violent protest of the government’s cuts. On the right, we have the champions of the free market, willing cannon fodder in the government’s war for growth, who launched StartUp Britain on Monday to widespread, often hilarious, occasionally furious derision.

The members of both sides are (despite what some may claim) essentially apolitical. The former are arrogant teens, latching on to the recent wave of popular protests to boost their egos, play the romantic revolutionary and bash shit with sticks. The latter are self-assured entrepreneurs, riding the waves of Cameron’s pro-business rhetoric to gain publicity and try to make some easy cash. Grappling with political realities they barely understand, the two forces have ignorantly suicide-bombed the causes they purport to advocate.

So what went wrong? A lot of things. But I’m going to focus on the misplaced confidence, political misjudgement and the perils of cyber-utopianism which characterised both efforts.

Join the Bevoiviions! (awesome photo via alethiaphotos.com - link at bottom of post)

“Well, I’ll smash this window with a brick and then, one day, they’ll build a fucking statue of me”

Both sides vastly overestimated how much other people think like them. The rioters may believe they’re at the forefront of a popular revolt to overthrow an unjust regime; but to most observers they’re seen as a thuggish minority of idiots. In a letter sent to UKUncut, they even identify themselves as representing a “highly visible radical presence” of the mainstream movement. I’ve seen supporters claim in online comments that left-wing critics of their actions are not displaying sufficient solidarity.

While it is no surprise to me that they are being turned upon by those they saw as their ‘comrades’, overconfidence in their own righteous indignation blinded them to the inevitable divisiveness of their plan.

It’s a similar story with the brains behind Start Up Britain: a concept so vacuous and devoid of creativity, only other entrepreneurs could appreciate it.

Heroes within their own echo chamber, I’m sure they never imagined the ferocity of negative opinion their little website would incite. Unfortunately (for them), not everyone ‘gets’ the entrepreneur mentality. The inherent flaws and slapdash sloppiness of the product on launch may not bother the type of people who are focusing on the ‘bigger picture’ (whatever that is) and already working on their next ‘revolutionary’ idea, but the general public simply hasn’t bought in to that bullshit.

On Twitter, they seem genuinely surprised that people don’t understand where they’re coming from (and trying to get to). If they’d have tried thinking like ordinary people, they might have anticipated such a reaction.

Text expertly aligned by the broken ruler society

“I tried to get Nick Clegg involved, but he was worried about it damaging his credibility.”

The political misjudgement of the rioters hardly requires explanation. It was only a matter of time before measures were proposed to clamp down on such activity, and it’ll take a brave politician to oppose them. Protests will be a little less free in the future, wholly because of the rioters.

Did they really think such indiscriminate violence would be likely to attract popular support? For the majority of the country, watching Saturday’s events on TV or reading about them in the Sunday papers, the overwhelming impression is not going to be one of honest families, unified in support for a real alternative to the coalition cuts, but of masked yobs starting fights with coppers and terrorising shoppers. To what political end does this serve?

Of course, the rioters would angrily contest this portrayal. The entrepreneurs, on the other hand, wandered blindly into a political shitstorm. Following hot on the heels of the budget and Cameron’s pro-growth speeches, it’s unimaginable that they would not expect to be intimately associated with the government. Maybe they thought the presence of the Prime Minister and Chancellor at their launch party would have a positive impact? Big fucking mistake. They opened the floodgates and within hours spoof Twitter accounts, spoof news articles and even a spoof website had turned their vision into a joke. They failed to put their scheme in context.

One of the charges of incompetence thrown at the entrepreneurs was their recommendation of a US crowdsourcing site for logo design. ‘What’s wrong with that?’, they ask, naively. After all, new businesses don’t have money to throw around and the crowdsourcing solution is a practical, cheap alternative to a professional designer. In the context of growth for Britain, however, such a recommendation is understandably seen as undermining British graphic design companies – exactly the opposite kind of message the government wishes to promote. This wouldn’t be a problem for the average non-political startup, but has proven a disaster for the politically-loaded Start Up Britain.

God gave up on humanity the year "Speed-Networker" passed for a job description

“Just think, a little over a decade ago we’d have had to travel door-to-door to sell this shit”

I think both examples are products of cyber-utopianism, the belief that the internet, or, more specifically, social media, is the ultimate harbinger of enlightenment, liberalism and progress. Evgeny Morozov warns about the dangers of cyber-utopianism in his book, The Net Delusion: How Not to Liberate the World, in which he chastises those who preach the internet as a panacea, while conveniently ignoring the poisonous elements.

What we’ve seen over these past few days are some of those poisonous elements.

If we are to accept the conventional wisdom that says social media better enables the mass mobilisation of politically active individuals, we can reasonably say that Saturday’s protests (both nasty and nice) were greatly helped by this technological wonder. However, we should also consider that the TUC rally (with its vast, largely offline network) could still have taken place, while the ‘anarchists’ campaign would’ve been far less likely to make up the numbers.

And let’s not underestimate the power of the echo chamber. Through social media like Facebook and Twitter, it’s now easier than ever to immerse yourself in opinions that support your world view while simultaneously dismissing anything you don’t want to hear. This will naturally distort people’s perception of reality and convince them their views are more widely accepted than they probably are.

The case of Start Up Britain portrays a different side of cyber-utopianism. Rather than being by-products of the internet revolution, these entrepreneurs are fully paid-up acolytes. In many cases, the ‘brains’ behind the ‘initiative’ owe their very success to the web 2.0 explosion. Their faith in the transformative power of the internet clearly lies at the very foundation of their idea. Crowdsourcing, blogs, social networks… seemingly, an expensive, expansive bureaucracy providing individual, personal advice to businesses to help them grow is no match for a single page website linking to a handful of online resources.

While all this social media jazz may be considered exciting (in some circumstances), when it comes to policy this approach has, yet again, been resoundingly rejected and ridiculed. The public obviously don’t share the cyber-utopians confidence that Britain can crowdsource its way to growth.

I suppose you could argue that this is only evidence of a lack of vision on behalf of the public. And, naturally, we should wait and see before making any final judgements regarding how effective this will be in the long run. However, the mistake the entrepreneurs made was assuming web 2.0 principles (iterative development, beta launches, internationalisation, crowdsourcing, etc.) would easily translate into public policy (or an extension thereof) and be widely accepted. How many times will people make the same mistakes before they learn?

"If you even think about spinning that bottle I'll cut your fucking balls off" (another aletheiaphotos.com pic)

Final thoughts

I hope everyone’s cheered by the thought that both anti-corporate thugs and free market-loving yuppies can be equally incompetent. Sadly, both sides of the political divide have to deal with the respective consequences.

A rare, passionate and awe-inspiring gathering of those much talked about ‘hard-working British families’ was pushed off the front pages; the message of a real alternative was lost amidst the din of shattered glass and the more media-friendly context behind the forthcoming strikes has been irrecoverably muddied. This only helps the Tories.

For the blue team, their first thunderous shot at a growth narrative has turned into yet another embarrassment. Within just a few hours of an enthusiastic launch starring the biggest players in the coalition, Start Up Britain was desperately trying to distance itself from the government. Dave and Gideon’s strategy for growth once again appears as shallow, vague and unwelcome as their Big Society.

So that leaves us still locked in a brutal programme of cuts, unemployment and inflation, but without even the pretence of an intelligent plan for growth. Thanks, wankers.

The sad thing is how easy it would’ve been to avoid such gross errors. If the rioters and the entrepreneurs had simply broadened their world view to include, y’know, normal humans in their plans, many of these mistakes could’ve been averted.

More importantly, if any one of them had genuinely cared about the cause they claim to exemplify, maybe they would’ve been motivated to look beyond their own ego and narrow self-interest.

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Alethiaphotos have some awesome shots of the anarchists. Well worth a look.

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The Tories twisted view of crime (or the only thing worth fearing is fear itself – and Tory policy)

So, yet another set of crime statistics are released showing crime has fallen since Labour came to power in 1997. Not just a little, but by a whopping 43%. And what has been the public reaction to this piece of reassuring news?

Let’s take a look at a fairly representative comment on the Daily Mail:

Of course, the statistics are wrong! After all, didn’t David Cameron stand up during Prime Minister’s Questions the other day and say with a straight face that violent crime had “nearly doubled” under Labour?

Is it possible that David Cameron, the Tories and the majority of Daily Mail readers are all deluded idiots, clinging on to a world view that is scarily out of touch with reality? Yes.

The fact is the British Crime Survey (BCS) does not base its results on police records. Its researchers speak directly to the public and so it covers both reported and unreported crime. The claim then that this decrease is only due to people “not bothering” to report crimes is absolutely absurd.

Furthermore, the statistics quoted by David Cameron are the police-recorded crime figures. These do indeed show an increase in certain crimes under Labour, but are considered a far less reliable measurement because methods in how police record crime vary over time. They’re also affected by factors such as government initiatives that lead to a higher number of people reporting crimes they otherwise wouldn’t have. That’s right. Despite the wailing of the Daily Mail masses, public experience of crime has dramatically fallen while reported crime has gone up. The exact opposite of what they believe to be true!

But back to Cameron, who really should know better. He’s deliberately cherry-picking a different set of measurements to pander to people’s fears and try to create the illusion of a crimewave – the “broken Britain” of his dreams.

Such casual cynicism is bad enough, but there is a distinctly sinister side to this story that goes beyond just another case of bullshitting politicians speaking bullshit.

According to the BCS, the only category that has shown an increase has been sexual offences. This particular offence is based on reported crime figures from the police and has seen a 6% rise compared to last year. This includes a 15% rise in rapes against women.

So, while the Tories aim to cut police numbers and roll back crime prevention measures, such as CCTV and speed cameras, the most significant piece of crime legislation suggested so far has been to grant anonymity to men accused of rape! Even Tory MPs (the female ones, at least) object to this on the grounds that it sends a negative message about women who accuse men of rape, and campaigning groups claim that such a move would deter victims of sexual abuse from identifying their attackers.

Why have the Tories chosen rape to introduce laws that will protect the accused? Let’s check in on another fairly representative comment from the Daily Mail:

We can mock the Daily Mail for its shoddy journalism and laugh at its readers for their ignorance, but when the government appears to echo such sick sentiments and actually believe it as well, you start to realise that the “nasty party” is even worse than you ever imagined…

Liberal sellouts need to STFU – now is not the right time for prison reform

Predictable reactions all round to Ken Clarke’s “surprising” and “radical” declaration that the government should revisit 20 year old Tory thinking and significantly lower the prison population. Right-wingers who bought into Cameron’s ridiculous “broken Britain” narrative can justifiably complain that they didn’t vote Conservative to be softer on crime than Labour. Meanwhile, lefties are practically salivating over the apparently progressive bone thrown by this, thus far, unsurprisingly regressive coalition. Amusingly, Lib Dem supporters are attempting to claim this as a further example of their laughably minimal impact on this unholy union of the damned (and damning). A theory that was expertly and succinctly countered by Sickboy47 in a comment on the Guardian:

Keeping up the trend of predictability, Jack Straw, writing (to his eternal shame) in the Daily Mail, continues Labour’s mission to alienate the progressive types they occasionally claim to represent, by aggressively defending the y-axis shaking increase in prison population under his watch.

It’s all a bit of a mess – and worth pointing out that Ken Clarke has yet to offer any specific policies. The problem is also predictable: a total lack of joined-up thinking.

The problem faced by the hoodie-hugging liberals is the clear evidence that crime has fallen hugely since Labour came to power. Whether massively or minimally responsible for this decrease, it does take the edge off the “prison doesn’t work” argument. Working around this, Sunny Hundal from Liberal Conspiracy writes that “rising prosperity cuts crime, not putting more people in prison”. As rising prosperity is relative, I’d be interested to see a historical comparison between personal wealth and crime to see if there’s real-life evidence to support this theory.

Still, I’m inclined to accept the essence of what Sunny’s saying: less poverty, better opportunities and greater equality keeps our streets safer – albeit with the caveat that while slowly creating this utopian society, putting more criminals into prison also helps.

Which brings me to my point, and the reason why I think the sanctimonious liberal lambs, with their shrill bleating of “evidence-baaaaased policy!”, are misguided, short-sighted and more ideological than analytical.

Thanks in no small part to the Liberal Democrats, we’re soon to be entering an awful and avoidable age of “austerity”, in which the poorest are likely to face the worst of it. Even assuming we avoid a double-dip recession, the rising prosperity Sunny Hundal posits as the cause of falling crime has ended. In fact, things may even get worse. The evidence does not say that fewer people going to prison is a solution in itself. The answer is a lot more complicated, involving education, rehabilitation and support. All of which costs money the coalition are either unable or unwilling to invest. I haven’t heard or read a single sensible debate on prison reform that doesn’t position the progressive argument in these terms. As Conor McGinn from the excellent Left Foot Forward also explains (although not in these terms), it’s pointless to attempt to reform the prison system in a half-arsed way.

Now, I know the buzzword of the year amongst Liberals is the need to “compromise”, which, in the glossary of the New Politics (TM), is defined as sacrificing all your long-cherished principles in exchange for over-exaggerated concessions that, in reality, have been so watered-down they are either ineffectual or achieve the opposite of what was originally envisioned (e.g. raising the income tax threshold and electoral reform). I hope in this case, they see that half-measures could weaken the case for effective prison reform in the future. Sadly, Clegg, friends and followers are so desperate for any perceived victories I fear they’ll be on it like a bunch of pricks on a pin cushion.

Prison reform is much needed, but will be a tough sell to the public. Executed intelligently, reform could transform our society and change the way we view criminality. Executed poorly, it could further entrench the “bang ’em up”, Daily Mail mentality.

Has Brown blown it with bigotgate?

As I’m not a right-wing tabloid, I can only speak for myself. Has the bigotgate debacle cost Labour my vote in this election?

No.

Let me tell you why.

It’s not because I think Gordon Brown didn’t do something exceptionally stupid (which he did).

It’s not because I think Gillian Duffy said some genuinely bigoted things (which she didn’t).

It’s not because I think Sky News displayed any of the typical Murdoch media bias and shouldn’t have broadcast the recording (who can blame them!?)

It’s because, despite being one of the minority who seems to respect Gordon Brown, I’ve never, ever considered him to be the BEST thing about Labour.

Alistair Darling, Jack Straw, Alan Johnson, Yvette Cooper, Douglas Alexander, Andrew Adonis, Ed Miliband, David Miliband… these are just some of the Labour ministers who’ve impressed me over the last couple of years with their intelligence, integrity and passion. All have their own flaws and (I’m sure) their own cringeworthy gaffes. Regardless, they’re a competent team who leave me with no doubt that they share a vision of Britain I want to be a part of.

On the other hand, despite being a slimy, Thatcherite, lightweight, superficial, excruciatingly wanky git, David Cameron is not the WORST thing about the Conservatives.

The Conservatives you don’t see on TV are (deep breath) ideologically anti-European, anti-BBC, anti-equality, anti-immigration, anti-homosexuality, anti-minimum wage, anti-unions, anti-human rights, anti-environment, anti-electoral reform, anti-NHS, anti-public service, anti-welfare, pro-jails, pro-big business, pro-free market, pro-war, pro-tax cuts for the stinking rich…

This is the party David Cameron keeps hidden. How long do you think it’ll stay hidden if he gets into power?

Here’s a reminder of what Gordon Brown (and team, of course) got up to when not creating a media shitstorm:

And this (in case you haven’t been paying any attention) is what Labour stands for:

Tory Europhobe wants to teabag you and your country

If you’re a huge fan of populist ignorance (as I am), you’ll love Daniel Hannan’s inauguration of the British Tea Party. This toothless vanity project is an attempt to replicate the so-called success of the American far right original. From what I’ve seen, the greatest achievement of the US Tea Party has been inspiring thousands of posts from liberal bloggers mocking their inferior conservative kin. Something to look forward to then.

Ignoring Hannan’s spurious motivation for the time being, what is he hoping for from this emulation of the “spontaneous” (Hannan’s generous description – The Smirking Chimp has an article revealing exactly how grass roots the US Tea Party movement is) American protest? I can show you…

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David Cameron’s campaign of bullshit statistics

Why, after 13 years of an increasingly unpopular government with very few friends in the British media, have the Tories got nothing more than spurious statistics, dodgy data and idealised ideas on which to base their election campaign?

I was pleased with Gordon Brown’s speech this morning as I thought it succinctly summed up some pretty damning fuck ups of the Opposition. My personal favourite has to be the claim earlier this week that a whopping 54% of girls in the most deprived areas of Britain get pregnant before they turned 18. Crikey. Britain, much like the big, flappy vaginas of those young ladies, must truly be broken.

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