A brotherhood of bloggers...

A thin silver pencil

I was pleased to knock back some free plonk at the Orwell Prize debate on Wednesday, at which the shortlist for the inaugural blog award was announced.

The wonderful Alix Mortimer was first “dumbfounded, and a little shuffly,” in response to her shortlisting – and then irked by Nick Cohen's eccentric behavior during the subsequent debate. Ignoring the proposition (that political parties are bankrupt) he angrily rebuked the prize organisers for shortlisting right-wingers Peter Oborne and Peter Hitchens in the journalism category, describing their decision as a “fucking disgrace”. Mortimer regarded his outburst as “one of those lofty lefty assertions that, were I the left’s psychiatrist and the left ranting on my couch, I would write down thoughtfully with a thin, silver pencil”.

Also making the final cut was Iain Dale, whose old boss David Davies joined the debate. “Having convinced myself that I wouldn't be on the shortlist I found myself curiously eager to hear my name announced,” he wrote. But as he later noted, not everyone was so delighted. It seems that Chicken Yoghurt's Justin McKeating has pledged to give up blogging should Dale ultimately prevail. Which seems quite likely.

Thursday saw the much anticipated televised tussle between Derek Draper and Paul Staines ; an encounter from which more heat than light resulted. SNP supporter Jeffrey Breslin enjoyed Guido's cheeky sporting of a Berkley t-shirt, but thought it “a bit silly to mock the leader of Labour List for having Labour Ministers writing articles on their website,” while Jonathan Calder recalled that both men had previously had a rough ride from veteran journalists.

Whether the events of the week have enhanced or diminished the reputation of political blogging is debatable, but on the balance, I think the good outweighs the bad.

What have we learned this week?

Evan Harris' private members bill, which seeks to reform royal succession, attracted attention this week as it emerged that the prime minister is in discussions with the Queen over agreeing a new settlement on the hereditary principle, which will not be discriminatory towards women and Roman Catholics.

James Gray on the Republic blog welcomed the debate but felt that reform was essentially pointless, because: “when you start using the language of rights, equality and justice to talk about the monarchy, it begins to unravel”.

Damian Thompson of the Telegraph's Holy Smoke had previously boasted of slamming down the phone on Harris' office because he doesn't like his views on abortion. Thompson thinks Harris is “self-righteous” and “self-important”. Spend a few minutes reading Holy Smoke and make up your own mind which of the two that applies to.

Around the World

Iranian blogger Fariborz Shamshiri this week reported on the plight of bloggers in the Islamic Republic. “Blogging is the last resort for people to express themselves,” he wrote, noting the recent death in prison (officially suicide) of Omidreza Mirsayafi, the 28-year old blogger who had posted content considered critical of the mullahs. “Don’t you want to pray? Okay let's go prison,” he concluded.

Video of the Week

Take your pic between footage of Draper v Staines on the Daily Politics and Beau Bo D'Or's take on the battle royal.

Quote of the Week

“He may accuse Staines of being the sewer and his commenters the sewage, but Staines is right not to take morality lessons from Draper”.

Kerron Cross

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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Tom Watson rouses Labour's conference as he comes out fighting

The party's deputy leader exhilarated delegates with his paean to the Blair and Brown years. 

Tom Watson is down but not out. After Jeremy Corbyn's second landslide victory, and weeks of threats against his position, Labour's deputy leader could have played it safe. Instead, he came out fighting. 

With Corbyn seated directly behind him, he declared: "I don't know why we've been focusing on what was wrong with the Blair and Brown governments for the last six years. But trashing our record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won't win elections like that! And we need to win elections!" As Watson won a standing ovation from the hall and the platform, the Labour leader remained motionless. When a heckler interjected, Watson riposted: "Jeremy, I don't think she got the unity memo." Labour delegates, many of whom hail from the pre-Corbyn era, lapped it up.

Though he warned against another challenge to the leader ("we can't afford to keep doing this"), he offered a starkly different account of the party's past and its future. He reaffirmed Labour's commitment to Nato ("a socialist construct"), with Corbyn left isolated as the platform applauded. The only reference to the leader came when Watson recalled his recent PMQs victory over grammar schools. There were dissenting voices (Watson was heckled as he praised Sadiq Khan for winning an election: "Just like Jeremy Corbyn!"). But one would never have guessed that this was the party which had just re-elected Corbyn. 

There was much more to Watson's speech than this: a fine comic riff on "Saturday's result" (Ed Balls on Strictly), a spirited attack on Theresa May's "ducking and diving; humming and hahing" and a cerebral account of the automation revolution. But it was his paean to Labour history that roused the conference as no other speaker has. 

The party's deputy channelled the spirit of both Hugh Gaitskell ("fight, and fight, and fight again to save the party we love") and his mentor Gordon Brown (emulating his trademark rollcall of New Labour achivements). With his voice cracking, Watson recalled when "from the sunny uplands of increasing prosperity social democratic government started to feel normal to the people of Britain". For Labour, a party that has never been further from power in recent decades, that truly was another age. But for a brief moment, Watson's tubthumper allowed Corbyn's vanquished opponents to relive it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.