Delayed-blogging 18 Doughty Street

by Stephen Tall on October 17, 2006

Well, I survived my first 18 Doughty Street experience. Quite enjoyed it, too. Whether viewers did, I’ve no idea. I’m typing this on the train back from Paddington to Oxford, and haven’t yet looked at the Vox Politix blog to see what the reaction’s been.

Iain Dale had been a gentleman and given us – me, Alex Hilton (aka Recess Monkey) and Phil Hendren (aka Dizzy Thinks, who was a bit disturbed to discover I’m also an Evertonian) – advance warning of the topics up for discussion. So I knew he was going to start with Michael Brown’s disputed £2.4m donation to the Lib Dems. My defence of the party – that the worst we were guilty of was stupidity/naivety, and that even that wasn’t proven – was probably a tad over-defensive.

But for me this is the crux of the issue. Cash-for-peerages – if it happened – is about corruption. Michael Brown is just embarrassing, with the (remote?) possibility that it might also be expensive.

The discussion wandered onto state funding of political parties – which all of us opposed, though I suggested there was a case for funding some specifics, such as the printing of manifestos and party political broadcasts. Ie, stuff which aims to inform the public, rather than (eg) the dire tribalism of advertising billboards.

Next up was the story in today’s/yesterday’s The Times suggesting Labour has skewed hospital closures towards seats represented by the Tories and Lib Dems. (Fortunately I’d nabbed a discarded copy of the demi-Thunderer on the train, so at least knew the paper’s version.)

Impossible to know the fairness or otherwise of the story – but I would be amazed if political pressure were absent from the decision-making process. If so, I don’t imagine Labour is uniquely guilty… Perhaps the only news about this particular story is that, for once, we’ve found out about it? There’s only one right response to this story, regardless of party: if there have to be hospital closures – and there will be from time to time as health-care advances and patients’ needs vary – it must always and everywhere be on the basis solely of clinical care.

We touched briefly upon Labour minister Phil Woolas’s intemperate comments, prematurely urging the sacking of teaching assistant Aishah Azmi before her employment tribunal has yet reported. All of us agreed he should have kept his nose firmly out. I didn’t quite succeed in making the point that liberals are always and everywhere about allowing people to be what they want, un-enslaved by conformity (or ignorance and poverty, for that matter). But I hope it was kinda implicit in what I said.

One point I did get to make – which I half-blogged yesterday, but didn’t post – was my fed-upness with Labour MPs saying they’re ‘starting a debate’, but then refusing to state their views – like naughty boys ringing a doorbell and running away. Step forward Peter Hain and Shahid Malik, who spent most of Sunday mouthing this empty platitude when defending Mr Woolas.

Finally, I had the mild embarrassment of my homage to Webcameron being broadcast as a prelude to talking about how the Internet is transforming politics. (It did at least give me the opportunity to deliver a live-on-air apology to my parents for my unclothedness.)

All too clearly, politicians are still feeling their way into the Internet age, unsure either of the limits or the extent of its reach. As a result, folk like Sion Simon – the Labour MP whose one-joke YouTube spoof of Webcameron, caused faux-outrage last week – have come a cropper. Yet in France, the likely Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal has embraced blogging via her ‘Future Wishes’ site, with huge success. The web has the power to stymie a political career, or to launch one. So small wonder risk-averse politicians are regarding it sceptically.

All done in an hour. Think/hope I avoided dropping a clanger or making too many sweeping generalisations with scant regard to fact. And I’m returning home with a dinky little video camera to enable me to become one of 18 Doughty Street’s citizen reporters. Only trouble is I have to be in work at 8 am tomorrow/today.

PS: I’m aiming to stitch together some of the video footage I scrabbled together while I was there to offer you, my loyal readers, some behind-the-scenes footage of what really takes place at Tim Montgomerie and Iain Dale’s house of ill repute.

However, as everyone was on their best behaviour the moment I switched my camera on you’re getting considered sound-bites, rather than any back-stage bitches or last minute hitches. And, though Guido Fawkes was there lurking, I didn’t even try to capture him on film. I know he has standards. Or something.