Alex Massie

If politics were more like the internet... that would be a good thing

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If it weren't such fun despising Derek Draper one might have to pity the poor man. James has already highlighted one part of his latest post, but here's another noteworthy, if sadly delusional, passage:

Maybe this affair will encourage the whole blogosphere, right and left, to commit to a new start, where offensiveness and personal attacks are avoided and debate is elevated not dragged down into the gutter? Maybe this can be a turning point at which we all redouble our efforts to tap into the internet´s positive potential rather than allowing its more peurile aspects to come to the fore? But that won´t happen without many many more people getting involved and taking blogging out of its ghetto.

That means that the price for "civic engagement" (whatever that means) or elevated" debate is the existence of fora in which the Green Ink Brigade can have their say. That is, for all the good things online there's also room for the "Bush=Hitler" mob and the "Obama wasn't born an American citizen" crazies. For that matter, the ability of politicians to "control" the "narrative" is undermined by the internet just as surely as the web has compromised newspapers' authority as the sole sources of information. There's a price for that, but on balance it's a good, not terrifying, development. Or rather, this terrifying, cacophonous aspect of the internet is a feature, not a bug.

This leads us into new and stormy waters. Occasionally - in my more anarchic moments, at least - I like to think that the open-source and sceptical nature of online politics might eventually lead to a looser, less regimented type of politics too. In such a scenario we'd enjoy a breakdown in party discipline and a slackening of the grip the Whips' office has on parliamentary politics. Back-bench rebellions would be common while the opposition might find it equally difficult to corral its troops as members might vote their conscience, not the party line. It would all be a glorious, unpredictable mess.

Clearly, we're drinking in the Flight of Fancy Saloon here, but while we're at it, let's imagine a politics in which it actually became difficult to pass legislation at all and parliament became a baying bear-pit which actually reflected the disputatious, bloody-minded, frequently absurd voters that elect the damn thing in the first place. A chaotic cacophony that stripped the executive of much of the power it has accrued would neither be a small nor a bad thing.

In other words, if parliament were more like the internet then we might be better off. At the very least it would be an interesting experiment and, for the remaining lobby journalists, a hoot to cover too...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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