The Spectator's tradition of honouring talent on all sides of the political divide in its annual awards is a long one: La Harman was our 24th Parliamentarian of the Year. While Harman was speaking, Boris and I were holding her trophy and looking at the names that hers would be engaved next to. That plate, doubtless being fitted to a downstairs loo in Peckham as I type, is not a Who's Who of the Conservative Party. Just as Time Magazine does its Man of the Year - hero or villain - The Spectator awards people who are effective no matter to what end. Our winners, for example, have included Blair and Brown. Had we had run a blog then, I imagine we'd have a huge list denouncing us for moral relativism and political cosiness. But since we first strated the awards (and this is the fourth year I've been on the judging panel), we have rewarded cross-party success.
If you believe that parliament is basically a place for crooks and that all politicians are evil, you will regard the very idea of parliamentary awards to be wicked. Or, as Bunnkins says, "sucking up to these treacherous parasites". This is fair enough. But I would simply submit to you all that the awards is very much in the traditions of The Spectator. Our magazine has, since 1828, thrown bouquets on to the political stage - as well as brickbats. And in all political directions.
The web is an oppositional medium: in cyberspace brickbats vastly outnumber bouquets. Any Coffee House barista writing in defence of anyone, for example, does so only after fitting body armour and a cricket box (but we do it anyway - it's a strange sadomasochistic streak).
When I blog in defence of special advisers or James Purnell, for example, I know I'll get a kicking in the comments. Also, I admire many people whom I hugely disagree with. Admiration is not the same as agreement. For example, I regard Polly Toynbee as a brilliant, eloquent columnist (she is always 180 degrees wrong, but every compass needle needs a butt-end). I am sad that Sadie Smith is stopping blogging, even though I disagreed with her (and she dumped on me, though always amusingly). I think Left Foot Forward is shaping up as a pretty interesting blog, too. Doesn't mean I sign up to their opinions.
The internet does tend to polarise political debate. Uncompromising pieces (and we run plenty of them) attract the biggest number of hits. Now, I'm into this as much as anyone. I'd pay to see George Galloway take on Christopher Hitchens (see it here). It is great box office. But the popularity of this does tend to skewer political debate to be what Mark Halperin calls the "freak show" - i.e. "Ann Coulter, meet Michael Moore". The danger is that political debate becomes the equivalent of WWF boxing. Again, I like that. I bet many of you read CoffeeHouse just to see what Verity or TGF UKIP is saying (I know I often do). The Spectator is a home for all of these types of pieces.
What The Spectator doesn't do is party political tribalism. Never has done. We're not a Tory fanzine, and would serve neither our readers nor the Tory party by becoming one. And why? Because good and bad ideas do not come attached with blue and red rosettes respectively. We have Martin Bright under our umbrella because we think he¹s an original, thoughtful and brilliant blogger - even if he's firmly from the left. This cross-party admiration isn¹t a novelty of Matt's editorship and certainly not my own: it's been The Spectator¹s style since we first came off the press. Our job is to entertain, delight and - yes - occasionally infuriate our readers. It's what we serve up at the magazine and in the Coffee House. And this is, I hope, why y'all stop by for a cuppa.
P.S. For the avoidance of doubt (Kevyn), hell will freeze over before I stand for Parliament.