2017 General Election Diary Day 31: Death by nostalgia

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There’s an assumption politicians often make that they are perfectly in tune with the electorate. Elections are often a way of finding out whether or not this is true and seeing just who knows best bout what the electorate wants, but underlying this on all sides is an assumption that the political awareness of politicians and the electorate has the same cultural base. One of the more interesting side-effects of this was in the last election where the debates featured numerous politicians talking about austerity and its effects, and the resulting effect that one of Google’s most popular searches in the UK was ‘what is austerity?’ as a large amount of the viewing audience had no idea what they were talking about.

The same thing comes about with politicians (along political commentators and, to be fair, academics) assuming that everyone has the same detailed knowledge about the history of politics that they do, and so can easily remember the swing in their constituency in 2001, and the key slogans that were being used in that election, when a lot of people have trouble remembering what constituency they’re in (let alone council ward) and even when the last election took place. Nowhere is this level of political nostalgia revealed than in the field of billboard posters. So, when Labour released their new poster this morning, the commentariat were quick to go ‘ah-ha, it’s a homage to an old Tory poster’ because they remember this sort of thing. Meanwhile, any member of the public seeing it is more likely to wonder just how someone is wearing three boxing gloves at once, rather than having any memory of seeing something similar twenty-five years ago.

(Whether any member of the public ever sees 90% of posters that are ‘unveiled’ by parties is an interesting question, given that most of them only exist as images for press conferences and the occasional poster van that does a couple of circuits of Westminster before heading off to hawk something more profitable.)

There is continuing trend in political campaigns to launch advertising campaigns that are somehow a response to something that happened years or even decades ago (consider how many times people have referenced the ‘Labour isn’t working’ poster) and it’s definitely a new phenomenon. I can’t recall anyone’s 1992 election campaign featuring posters that referenced election campaigns from the mid-60s, for instance. There’s a feeling of it being part of a political re-enactment society, where everyone likes all the ritual and rigmarole of poster launches even though they know they don’t mean anything anymore, but who wants to go to report on the start of a new social media targeting strategy?

And while we’re talking of obscure and possibly outdated methods of election campaigning, let’s turn to Election Leaflet Of The Day, where my absence has finally opened the trickle gates and allowed a decent number of new leaflets to appear on the site. So, let’s turn our attention to Boston and Skegness, where as well as the usual array of candidates, there’ll be a small party with no MPs and little support standing. However, we don’t have any leaflets from Paul Nuttalls of the Ukips on the site yet, so we’ll have to look at another small party, calling itself ‘A Blue Revolution’, with the subheading of being ‘The Worker’s Party’. (I suspect the latter is what they really wanted to call themselves but were thwarted by there already being a well-established Irish party with the same name) Their manifesto appears to be a mix of populism and some form of socialism (cut bureaucracy and more workplace democracy, but only in the public sector) and they call for Britain to maintain strong links with ‘the real countries of Europe’ which appears to be an odd bit of rhetoric, rather than an assertion of there being some fake countries in Europe. Or perhaps they think all the bureaucracy is being used to maintain Ruritania’s EU membership? We shall have to await their appearance in Parliament to find out.

Twenty days to go, and the finish line is creeping ever closer…

UPDATE: Being an idiot, I forgot to put in a link to today’s leaflet of the day. It now has one.

Ten years of blogging: looking back

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It’s been ten years since I decided to add a blog to my website, and I don’t think then that I expected to still be blogging ten years later. Yet here I still am still plugging away and still with a loyal band of readers who hang on my every word can’t be bothered to go through with the faff of deleting me from their feeds.

However, while I’m still blogging, the look back I’ve taken over the last couple of weeks has shown me that what we mean by ‘blogging’ has changed a lot over that time. For those of you who don’t know, ‘blog’ originates from ‘web log’, and the original blogs were essentially lists of links the blogger had found, occasionally with some added commentary. By the time I started blogging that had already begun to shift in favour of blogs being much more about the content than the links, but you can still see in my early archives that longer posts were interspersed with lots of ‘here’s an interesting link’ posts.

It’s important to remember how different things were back then – there was no Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube and even MySpace didn’t start until a few months after I started blogging. Most people were going online via dial-up and most phones didn’t have cameras on them, let alone the ability to connect to the internet. And, of course, all this were fields, we had to get up two hours before we go to sleep and everyone respected each other in the morning.

The point I’m trying to make is that while I’ve had a blog throughout that time, the way I’ve used that blog has changed considerably. After all, if I just want to show people an interesting link or make a quick snarky comment about something, then I’ve got Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus to do that. A blog post now is something longer and (supposedly) more thought through. Indeed, I think the blog itself is much more fragmented than it was ten years ago. Back then, you tended to visit someone’s blog by going to the main page and looking through all their latest posts, now visits and links are much more to individual posts rather than the site as a whole.

The changing nature of the web has also broken down the sense of a community of blogs. Or ‘blogosphere’, which is a term that’s fallen out of favour. There’s a lot of my early posts which are on the lines of ‘in response to what X said, commenting on Y’s post about Z’s article in the Observer’ (and X and Y’s blogs have since disappeared from the web, of course) and in that sense, blogs were an early form of the public conversation that’s now moved to Twitter. In that period before the 2005 election, there was also a sense of blogs not being as partisan as they became afterwards. Sure, there were some people who seemed to be only interested in scoring party-political points, but they were in a minority with the more important division being whether you were for or against invading Iraq. I think some of that was down to the rarity of British political bloggers, though – because there were so few of us around, it was in most people’s interests to maintain good relations. As blogging grew, and little like-minded bubbles could support themselves, things became much more fragmented.

For those first couple of years, blogging was still very much a niche activity, and like a lot of internet niches then, it didn’t really interact with the wider world around it. Despite the initial idea of blogging being about finding interesting stuff and sharing it with people (the Netscape What’s New and What’s Cool lists were amongst the first blogs in form, if not in name) it became quite self-referential, with people sticking in their little bubbles and occasionally letting new people into them, but never taking more than a glance at the other bubbles they were floating alongside.

In some senses, of course, the blog won the internet. Twitter, Facebook and all the rest are, at their heart, ways of sharing content and making a log of things you’ve found on the web. However, the name of blogging remains attached to just one element of that, which has now almost entirely shed its original reason for existence. Who reads a blog for the links instead of the content nowadays?

On a personal level, it’s been very interesting to go back through these posts catching the little references to things I was doing, and remember where I was at certain points in time. It’s odd to think that I’ve had this blog in its various forms for about a quarter of my life, and it doesn’t show any signs of disappearing just yet.

So, to all those of you who’ve visited here over the last ten years, whether you’ve been coming here regularly since I started or you’re just here because Google sent you and this post has none of the information you wanted, thank you for reading, commenting, linking and sharing the things I’ve done over the last ten years. It’s been fun, it’s been interesting, it’s put me in touch with people I never would have met otherwise and information I’d never have known about, and has also justified a number of visits to various pubs, which have definitely been worthwhile.

And I promise to try and wait ten more years before doing another series of long retro posts.

Ten years of blogging: 2012

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This year featured my longest blogging dry spell in my ten years, and then my decision to come back to regular blogging. Having spent the time to go through all these posts, it’s fascinating to see how much blogging has changed over that time, but that’ll be for a post tomorrow.
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Ten years of blogging: 2011

And now we’re getting very close to the present, with blog posts that reference issues that are still going on and less ‘oh, I’d completely forgotten that’ moments for me as I go through the blog. But still, there are interesting things back there.
Continue reading Ten years of blogging: 2011

Ten years of blogging: 2010

This year followed the pattern set by 2009, with long periods of sparse blogging interrupted by frenzies of regular posting, in this case sparked off by the General Election. It was the year I joined Colchester Council’s Cabinet, and also the year I accidentally created a Twitter hashtag that spread around the world. It was not however, despite Hollywood’s promises, the year we made contact.
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Ten years of blogging: 2009

2009 continued the trend from 2008 of sporadic and irregular blogging, with some months entirely missed out, and others packed full of posts. This is the inconsistent blogging pattern I’d keep up for a few years, always happy to think of myself as having a blog, even if I rarely put any actual content on there.
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Ten years of blogging: 2008

2008 marked a milestone. Not that I’d spent five years blogging, but that it includes the first completely empty, devoid-of-posts month in my blogging career (earlier missing months did have stuff in them before server crashes took them out). There was blogging in all the other months, but fallow months will become more common in the retrospective from now on.
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Ten years of blogging: 2007

Despite the best efforts of some French protesters, 2007 happened. This was the year in which I first got elected to Colchester Council, but plenty of other things happened during that year, even if I didn’t blog about them. This was the time when I wasn’t blogging very often, and when it was, it tended to be just short posts.
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Ten years of blogging: 2006

2006, for me, will always be all about the walking. After my brother died, I decided it was time to do something different to mark his memory and raise money for charity – the Brain Research Trust – so I decided it was time to follow a long-held ambition and walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

Obviously, that consumed a lot of the blog for the year, but other things happened too…
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Ten years of blogging: 2005

If you look in this site’s archives for 2005, you’d think that I completely gave up blogging, save for writing review of Doctor Who episodes. This is because of the problems with my old hosting company that I mentioned at the end of the 2004 company, which led to me losing most of my posts from the end of 2004 to early 2006.

Luckily, the Wayback Machine was making regular crawls of my site, so most of the posts from that time have been retained for posterity in some form or other.

There’s always going to be one abiding memory of my life from 2005, as it’s the year my brother died, but I didn’t know that was coming as the year started out.
Continue reading Ten years of blogging: 2005