Having realised that the long weekend after New Year is a very boring time for much of its target audience, the Guardian has decided to liven things up. All news websites now use clickbait headlines and articles to drag in readers looking to be offended by something wilfully controversial, and the Guardian is no different. Sure, it likes to pretend to be above that, and it doesn’t employ any of the Jan Moirs, Richard Littlejohns or Jeremy Clarksons who are masters of the clickbait article, but this piece by Ian Birrell is clearly intended as pure clickbait. (And from the number of people I’ve seen linking to it, very successful clickbait it is too)

Like all clickbait it begins with a catchy headline that will already be getting many of its readers angry at the implications – proposing a Tory-Labour grand coalition is a sure way of angering members of both parties – and then spends a few hundred words trying to justify the headline, hopefully stoking the flames of outrage. People then discuss their outrage on social media – complete with links to the article to help others get outraged – and the website editors sit back and smile as they watch the clicks roll in.

And like so much clickbait, the ideas it’s putting forward don’t stand up to much scrutiny. Unity governments of the sort Birrell proposes aren’t just rare in British politics, they’re rare in almost all countries. Yes, Germany has had two recently, but Germany’s a special case where not only the electoral mathematics and party positions forced it, but there’s also a strong aversion to minority governments (from what I can tell, they’re incredibly uncommon even at the state level) and Angela Merkel remains strikingly popular.

In Britain, by contrast, there isn’t a prescription against minority government – one of the arguments for the coalition within the Liberal Democrats was the alternative was a Conservative minority government – and national governments have only arisen in response to crises, not election results. There’s no Merkel-esque figure in British politics for a national government to form around, and the costs to the parties of agreeing it would be immense.

The mathematics might make a Tory-Labour coalition possible (as they did in 2010) but that’s about the only thing that does. For it to come about, it would have to be the least worst of all the options available to both parties after the election and short of some unforeseen international crisis erupting before then, I don’t see the circumstances in which that could happen. If various combinations of nationalist parties hold enough seats to make a coalition with the Liberal Democrats unworkable for either party, I’m still sure that whichever is the larger would find running a minority government much more appealing than a grand coalition. Why collaborate with the enemy when you have a realistic prospect of working without them?

It also forgets the level of animosity that exists between Labour and the Conservatives. As far as I’m aware, there’s only been one case recently of the two forming a coalition in local government (in Stockton-on-Tees a few years ago) and that was in some rather odd circumstances. Birrell might believe that replacing Miliband with Chuka Umunna would solve all those problems, but I’m not aware that Umunna was educated at Hogwarts to have the magical powers needed to make the majority of the Labour Party think it’s OK. Similarly, the idea that the Tory Party are so desperate to remain in power that this wouldn’t be Nigel Farage’s greatest ever recruitment tool requires forgetting decades of political history.

I’m expecting the next election to create a very interesting result, and for there to be some interesting times after it, but in the absence of a major crisis, a Tory-Labour coalition will not be part of those interesting times.

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It’s easy to forget one of modern history’s most important figures

In the category of ‘small, but annoying, errors’ we have this from the Guardian:

Obama will make history in another way on Monday, becoming the first US president to be sworn in four separate times.

THat should be ‘the first since Franklin Roosevelt’, of course, who got his four inaugurations the old-fashioned way by being elected four times.

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2010 General Election Diary Day 26: Fear of a blue planet

Another quiet election day from me – had a few more deliveries to do this morning, but just as I was getting ready to take them out, I noticed that someone had forgotten to put the letters in the addressed envelopes, and while delivering empty envelopes to people might be a good electoral tactic for a surrealist/situationist election campaign, I decided to wait until I’d got some letters for them.

Elsewhere in the election today, aside from the shocking news that the Independent has decided that I’m a prominent political blog, the Guardian has announced that it’s backing the Liberal Democrats at this election. While this is a welcome development for the party, what’s even better is just how crazy it’s made some Labour supporters. You can read the comments on the Guardian editorial to see some of it, but if you want the pure concentrated crazy, I recommend this piece at Harry’s Place, right down to the Khrushchev-quoting end. It’s especially amusing when a blog that’s spent almost its entire existence arguing that the Guardian is antithesis of everything it stands for goes off the rails when it dares to disagree with them again.

And now the Observer has joined the Guardian in backing Clegg, I’m expecting a fantastically arsey piece from Nick Cohen.

Away from all that – literally, for the past few days – is Anton Vowl, who’s been fortunate enough to have both had a holiday and voted, so is almost completely divorced from the election-related shenanigans the rest of us have been going through. Lucky git.

And from yesterday, but I didn’t see it then, Marina Hyde’s growing fears of a Tory victory next week, but unlike her I’m not worried about David Cameron becoming Prime Minister.

I worry about George Osborne becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer, using the Treasury as a tool to cut taxes on the rich and services for the poor. I worry about William Hague, the barely acceptable face of Tory xenophobia, becoming Foreign Secretary and wrecking our relationship with all our foreign partners. I worry about Chris Grayling taking his brand of ill-informed populist nonsense into the Home Office, about Jeremy Hunt using DCMS to gleefully wreck the BBC and return whatever favours News Corporation demanded for their support. I worry about arch-neocons and Iraq War cheerleaders like Michael Gove and Liam Fox getting their feet around the Cabinet table.

In the face of that catalogue of potential disaster, I just don’t have any worry left for the overpromoted PR man they’ve chosen as the frontman for Operation Illusory Detoxification.

Five days to go…

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Our gossip columnist once spotted Alan Rusbridger reading a newspaper

Good to see the Guardian back to its old ways – a day after leading the front page with Trafigura, they run a front page story about how the media are obsessed with celebrity culture, with a nice big picture of Amy Winehouse. I’m sure they’re telling themselves it’s ironic.

The real irony comes in this part of the story, though:

One, a far-fetched account about a plan by anticapitalist protesters to dump a tonne of sugar outside the private residence of Lord Alan Sugar, the millionaire businessman and presenter of the BBC show The Apprentice, was never printed, despite calls to the Daily Mail, Mirror and Sun.

I mean, who would expect tabloids to print completely made-up stories about threats to Alan Sugar?

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Many of which may centre around whether they should get a version of the Streisand Effect named after them (the Trafigura Tactic, perhaps, or maybe the internet has a Trafigura Twitter Tendency?)

In short, though, to follow up on last night’s post, Carter-Ruck have now withdrawn their legal proceedings against the Guardian, which now allows the paper to report fully on such matters as Paul Farrelly’s Parliamentary Question on the subject. It’s also turned what might have been a story that was reported solely in the Guardian, Hansard and a few blogs into one that’s exploded across the entire media and has been the main subject of discussion on Twitter and political blogs for the last 18 hours, as well as possibly generating a charge of Contempt of Parliament for Carter-Ruck.

As a (relatively, in internet terms) old saying goes – the internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it. Trying to censor something in one place – and, in this case, going spectacularly over the top and asking for an injunction that blows a giant hole in the Bill of Rights as a side-effect – just means it sprouts up in a thousand others. This time yesterday, very few people had heard of Trafigura – and I still don’t know how to pronounce it – but now their name is attached to a little piece of internet and legal history. As lawyers, it seems Carter-Ruck make great PR agents.

And while you have a moment, please go and sign this petition on the 10 Downing Street website.

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If you haven’t read this or seen this, you might never have heard of the oil company Trafigura before. Indeed, they could have stayed nicely below many people’s radars, just they way they like to be, except for the fact they took their desire for secrecy a bit too far.

Apparently, it’s possible to use the law to stop a newspaper from reporting on proceedings in Parliament, which is the sort of revelation that should send chills down the spine of anyone with a commitment to democracy, debate and freedom of speech. Specifically, it would seem that the Guardian is not being allowed to report on a question being asked in Parliament, so if I was working for the Guardian I might not be able to do this (taking a question entirely at random, of course):

61 N Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of legislation to protect (a) whistleblowers and (b) press freedom following the injunctions obtained in the High Court by (i) Barclays and Freshfields solicitors on 19 March 2009 on the publication of internal Barclays reports documenting alleged tax avoidance schemes and (ii) Trafigura and Carter-Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura.

But, the science of internet communications is about to get some fascinating data points, as we discover just how many blog posts one injunction can generate, and just how quickly it takes from obtaining a court ruling to get your company’s name as a trending topic on Twitter.

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There’s no romance on the Megabus

Amongst the Guardian letters today, Godfrey Eland wonders:

Having carefully read about Greyhound buses coming to the UK (Report, 20 August), I am at a loss to understand how these buses will be any different from National Express, Megabus or any other of the existing services on our motorways. Can someone enlighten me as to what all the fuss is about?

The fuss, of course, is quite simple to explain. Whil your average travel journalist would never think of travelling anywhere by coach in Europe – after all, why slum it with the plebs for days on end when you can just hop on an EasyJet to your destination? – they’re quite likely to have taken at least one journey in the US on a Greyhound coach, possibly going between Los Angeles and Las Vegas whilst wearing a trucker-style baseball cap in an ironic fashion. They’ll have hundreds ofways of telling the story about the slightly strange man who sat near them at the bus station, but they’d probably look at you blankly if you asked them where you get a bus from in this country.

Meanwhile, of course, their American counterparts – who’d never take a Greyhound, especially when you can fly so cheaply with Southwest – are no doubt lamenting just why they can’t have those cool National Express coaches over there.

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