Who guards the guards?

JG pointed out Boris Johnson's comments on Blair's speech about the modern media. It deserves a post of its own.

Boris wants to characterize Blair's comments as being mainly about the media's treatment of him. If you read Blair's speech, very little of it was about his treatment at the hands of the media. And he acknowledged his complicity.

Boris must be assuming that most people will not bother to read Blair's actual words, and will instead rely on what they hear about it through the media. Would that be the same "media-literate" public who he claims "can almost always see behind the hysteria and the hyperbole, and work out what is really going on", who "find it relatively easy to blow the froth off a story and get to the nub"? Would you like any cream with your disingenuity, Boris?

Misrepresenting Blair's argument is not enough. He must also recast the media as poor, set-upon creatures, deserving of our sympathy, as they struggle in the glare of the public spotlight against the harsh criticisms of the blogosphere. A mistake, that. It is so over-egged that most readers, however credulous, will smell a rat. A "new and terrifying threat"? "Hordes of lynx-eyed brainboxes out there in cyberspace"? Journalists "increasingly accountable, increasingly vulnerable to the pithy rejoinders of the man or woman on the net"?

I don't know if this counts to you as a pithy rejoinder, Boris. But let's see what difference it makes. Are you feeling threatened? Are you taking account? Do you think this post will make the slightest difference to your journalistic career? You, and most of your readers, probably won't even know it exists. You wrote your piece because you knew you could get away with it, not because you feared that you couldn't.



It looks like Boris really is afraid of the bloggers. I tried to post the following comment in response to Liberty's comments of 10:17 and 11:50pm. It got blocked for moderation. So far, it has not appeared on his site.


Re the compliant attitude of the Conservative Party to the Government's illiberalism, I have been provoked by a daft LibDem proposal (identified by Iain Dale) into picking up Hayek's Constitution of Liberty again. It contains his essay on "Why I Am Not a Conservative", which provides an explanation for that attitude:

"Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing. The tug of war between conservatives and progressives can only affect the speed, not the direction, of contemporary developments....What the liberal must ask, first of all, is not how fast or how far we should move, but where we should move. In fact, he differs much more from the collectivist radical of today than does the conservative. While the last generally holds merely a mild and moderate version of the prejudices of his time, the liberal today must more positively oppose some of the basic conceptions which most conservatives share with the socialists."

By "liberal", he meant, of course, classical liberal in the traditional European sense, not the social liberalism of modern "liberal" parties like the LibDems and the Democrats. His description of the conservative attitude fits David Cameron perfectly. It seems that, after a historically-brief classical-liberal interlude under Margaret Thatcher, the Conservative Party (or at least the majority of the parliamentary party) has returned to its conservative roots. The social-democrat and socialist perspectives are catered to by the other major parties, but that does indeed leave classical liberals without an electorally-significant home. I doubt it does conservatives or liberals any good to try to co-exist within the Conservative party. We need a realignment into classical-liberal, conservative, and socialist/social-democrat parties. I can't see how you get there without first creating a new classical-liberal movement, for the John Redwoods, David Laws, and Frank Fields of this world to coalesce around. Where that would leave Boris, I am not entirely clear.

Now we'll find out if he really thinks that cyberspace should be regulated by public scorn, or whether he actually favours a bit of censorship. To be fair, it hasn't been that long yet, and it may simply be waiting for someone to get round to checking. But if it doesn't show up today, we'll know how seriously to take his rhetoric.

The interesting question is what word or phrase triggered the automatic moderation? Normally, posts to Boris's site go straight in, so his site must be configured to alarm on certain key words. There's no abuse or invective (unless you count the word "daft"), so the options would seem to be:

  • illiberalism
  • LibDem
  • Iain Dale
  • Hayek
  • Not a Conservative
  • conservatism (with a small "c")
  • progressives
  • collectivist
  • socialist
  • classical liberal
  • European
  • social liberalism
  • Democrats
  • Margaret Thatcher
  • realignment
  • social-democrat
  • John Redwood
  • David Laws
  • Frank Field

One could see how that could be a dangerous list of words and phrases to a modern Conservative. But sufficiently threatening to require censorship?

19:00 and still no sign of it on Boris's site. Probably safe to say it's not going to show up.

Apparently, the comment may have been held for moderation because it contains two links. Fair enough. But it is now five days later, and it has still not been approved. Is it accidental or deliberate? That's the problem with Boris. You never know whether there is a cunning design beneath his veneer of incompetence.

Either way, in this case, it doesn't reflect well on him. And it confirms what I believed: that his article was the disingenuous self-justification of someone who has every interest in sucking up to the media.