What political and media elites have to fear from blogs….

My mischievous blogging buddy, Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, finally did what he has been working for for most of the last the four years: bust the political lobby system wide open… With the fingering of Damian McBride, out came a flood of embarrassing stories of how political spin doctors had pistol whipped, cajoled and boycotted their way to civil stories about the government… As our scooped letter from the First and Deputy First Minister and their clumsy attempt to put the clamp on what they saw as excessive negativism in the Belfast Telegraph… and, no doubt, there are innumerable stories of individual journalists being cut off from press conferences, and party press lists for writing stories that went too hard on one of their representatives… Now, if they are reading the tailspin Labour’s communication strategy correctly, it must be obvious to the local political incumbents that those darker, bullying tactics can turn into some very nasty blog blow back… Those closed doors you think you are operating behind are no longer quite as closed as you once thought they were…That’s not a threat by the way, it’s just a fact. Guido has blown away the Victorian, Industrial Age conceit that media and political elites can confide with confidence and between them manage the best compromise deal for either and both…

Of course, though there are many who suspect otherwise, Guido is an avowed partisan. He has made no secret of the fact he supports the Tory party. Much of his animosity towards the Daily Telegraph is because of its reluctance to wholeheartedly back the Cameron project. He can’t be stung for dirty tricks or cooking shitty personal stories about Labour, because, unlike McBride, he is an independent (and independently wealthy) player.

He’s also a former hedge fund specialist. It was these guys’ jobs to exploit weaknesses in the operation of the markets to destruction, and in the process make the system work better and stronger (unless it is already too scuzzed up, in which case the whole thing keels over anyway). They also made good money out of it.

Paul’s approach to blogging and mine are profoundly different (see this CIF piece from three years ago). He thinks personalities (and their utter destruction) is critical, and makes and breaks government(s). I think policy and the conduct of government is (or should be) paramount. The cross hairs graphic he uses to mark his ‘targets’ also gives away something important. Guido is a Tory sniper…

According to an old Scots soldier friend who fought at Monte Casino, during the last war those who volunteered for that job got a whole 6d extra a day…. For that they would have to spend days in no man’s land beyond the trenches slowly getting into place… Each move imperceptable to the enemy scouring the landscape… Then firing just twice (a third shot allows the enemy to triangulate and find where you are firing from) before spending days moving back…

But generally snipers were distrusted amongst the ranks, since it was one form of combat in which the ordinary soldier had no way of saving himself (except deserting the line)… Guido will be fated for each of his hits, but feared and loathed even by many on his own side for the way it exposes the political class as a whole to similarly unpredictable incoming fire…

So is this only a quick fizz in the pan? Well, no. Although what Guido (and we in our own more modest and certainly more civil way) has done is political, it would not have happened without the technological means for people to ‘tunnel’ information out of big institutions, be they political, media, public or private.

And the personal rather than the political is apparently to be the method of choice. In Brown’s camp of office juniors is McBride, Charlie Whelan and the hapless Derek Draper. Cameron has bought in as his chosen Head of PR, Andy Coulson, is the guy who resigned just over two years ago from the News of the World after one of his journalists, Clive Goodman, made more than 600 calls hacking into messages of members of the royal household. As John Lloyd notes in yesterday’s FT:

Mr Coulson was hired not for his political but for his media nous. He had, self-confessedly, little interest in politics, having reported on show business and celebrities before being elevated to the editorship – although, in an interview with Tony Blair before the 2001 election, he asked the then prime minister whether he and his wife Cherie had joined the “mile-high club” (had sex in an aircraft toilet). In appointing him to such a key post, Mr Cameron was signalling, both to the media and to his party, that he would mould the Conservatives’ presentation around tropes that a tabloid professional would judge had most impact.

This is trench warfare within representative democracy the like of which we rarely see in Northern Ireland. It ain’t pretty, but neither is it an illusion of t’Internet-land… Even if as my Telegraph colleague Janet Daley notes that:

It may have been the blogger Paul Staines who obtained the fatal information but bizarrely, he did not then put it on his website, as Matt Drudge did when he had the similarly dangerous Monica Lewinsky story. To have done that might have established beyond doubt the influence of the Web in the political game here just as Drudge did in the US. Instead Mr Staines chose to tout his story to the newspapers in the sweet old fashioned way. Must we assume that even he does not believe that a blog post would have as much influence as a newspaper splash?

She is right up to a point. But what we have witnessed is a blogger using an asymmetrical relationship with big media to get the story out there, and then riding the Augean wave it creates to pistol whip certain sections of that media into making a series of mea culpas… Not to mention comprehensively stealing the news agenda from the Government…

It may not be a trick Guido Fawkes can pull off too many times… But then again, having proved the point he no longer has to…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty