Harman in sense of humour shock

The verdict on the Labour deputy leadership candidates' Question Time performances - and bloggers un

As the Labour deputy leadership race gains pace, the display of aptitude by the contestants on Question Time, as on Newsnight the week before last, gripped the blogosphere.

Iain Dale thinks Harriet Harman has had her time in the spotlight during this contest and will be eating humble pie come June 27.

He said: “I do enjoy the sight of Harriet Harman dissing the very government she has been a fairly prominent member of for 10 years. She is, however, developing a long overdue sense of humour. I suspect it will disappear from whence it came after 27 June.”

Another deputy leader candidate, Peter Hain, has reversed his thinking behind a possible coalition with Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Assembly Government, as Alun Cairns AM said here. Mr Cairns said Mr Hain was at his poorest on Question Time on Thursday night.

But it was news of a 22-year-old graduate who “blogged to shock” which drew my attention most sharply this week, featured on the Laban Tall blog. According to this BBC report, the supermarket worker was told he could be jailed for his posts by a Falkirk court.

Once again we see bloggers come under fire from the legal system. But the last time I wrote about one of our blogosphere colleagues being scrutinised for their musings, was when an Egyptian blogger had been jailed. You can read it here. It is particularly poignant after a week when Newsnight again talked up the political repression of the Egyptian state.

Ed Husain’s book, The Islamist, was discussed over at Pickled Politics this week, as I found myself agreeing with Melanie Philips – a rare occasion. I too would suggest this book to be read as widely as possible by the ruling class.

She said: “‘The Islamist’ should be sent to every politician at Westminster, put on the desk of every counter-intelligence officer and thrust under the supercilious nose of every journalist who maunders on about ‘Islamophobia’.

And this I just loved. As a student in Birmingham I often wondered where the word Brummie came from. The Prague Tory has dug this one out, saying: “I'm pretty sure most Brummies don't mind being called Brummies by outsiders and even if some do they should lighten up.

“The word Brummie derives from Brummagem which according to this Wikipedia entry vied over Birmingham during the 18th century.” Fascinating indeed.

But I leave you with notes from one of the most prolific figures in 20th century broadcast journalism, Kate Adie of the BBC. At the Multimedia Meets Radio blog, Mike Mullane has an interesting dialogue with Kate in which she airs her views on blogging.

She said: “You are blogging to a peer group - that's all right - I can understand there is a demand for that. But journalists shouldn't have any time to blog - there are too many stories waiting to be told!”

Perhaps she’s right. But this was topped by a dig at her BBC management colleagues. She said their blogs were proof they have nothing better to do during their working day.

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
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Can the disciplined Democrats defeat Trump’s maelstrom of chaos?

The Democratic National Convention has been exquisitely stage-managed and disciplined. But is it enough to overcome Trump’s news-cycle grabbing interventions?

The Democratic National Convention did not begin auspiciously.

The DNC’s chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was unceremoniously launched as if by an ejector-seat from her job on the eve of the convention, after a Wikileaks dump of internal emails painted a picture of a party trying to keep the insurgent candidate, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, from blocking Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination.

One email, in which a staffer suggests using Sanders’ Jewish faith against him as a candidate in order to slow his insurgent campaign, was particularly damning in its optics and Schultz, who had tweeted with some hubris about her Republican opposite number Reince Priebus during last week’s Republican convention in Cleveland, had to fall on her sword.

Clinton’s pick of Tim Kaine as a running-mate – a solid, safe, and unexciting choice compared to a more vocal and radical campaigner like Elizabeth Warren – was also criticised, both by the media, with one commentator calling him “a mayonnaise sandwich on wholewheat bread”, and by the left of the party, who still held out hope that the Democratic ticket would have at least one name on it who shared the radical vision of America that Sanders had outlined.

On top of that, Kaine, who is a Catholic, also disappointed many as a vice-presidential pick because of his past personal history of opposition to abortion. Erin Matson, the co-director of the reproductive rights group ReproAction, tweeted that Kaine being added to the ticket was “tremendously disappointing”.

On the other side, Donald Trump had just received a poll bump following a terrifying speech which recalled Richard Nixon’s 1968 convention address. Both speeches appealed to fear, rather than hope; many are calling Trump’s keynote his “Midnight in America” speech. Just before the Democrats convened, analyst par excellence Nate Silver and his site, 538.com, forecast Trump’s chance of victory over Clinton in November at above 50 per cent for the first time.

On top of that, Bernie Sanders more vocal supporters arrived at the Democratic convention – in Philadelphia in the grip of a heatwave – in relative force. Protests have already been more intensive than they were at the RNC, despite all expectations to the contrary, and Sanders delegates disrupted proceedings on the first day by booing every mention of Hillary Clinton’s name.

But then, things appear to turn around.

The second day of the convention, which saw Hillary Clinton formally nominated as the first female presidential candidate in American history, was less marred by protest. Bernie Sanders addressed the convention and endorsed his erstwhile rival.

Trump’s inability to stop prodding the news cycle with bizarre non-sequiturs turned the focus of what would otherwise be a negative Democratic news cycle back onto him; an unforced error which led to widespread, if somewhat wild, speculation about his possible links with Putin in the wake of the news that Russia had been behind the email hack and lightened some of the pressure on the Democrats.

And then Michelle Obama took the stage, delivering an oration of astonishing power and grace (seriously, watch it – it’s a masterclass).

Compared with the RNC, the Democratic National Convention has so far been exquisitely stage-managed. Speakers were bookended with pithy, designed-for-virality videos. Speakers started on time; headliners played in primetime.

Both Trump and Clinton have now addressed their conventions before their headline speech remotely, via video link (Trump also engineered a bizarre early-convention pro-wrestling-style entrance), which put observers of both in mind of scenes from V for Vendetta.

But the imagery of Clinton’s face appearing on screen through a graphic of shattering glass (see what she did there?) will likely be one of the moments that sticks most in the memory of the electorate. It must kill the reality TV star to know this, but Clinton’s convention is getting better TV ratings so far than the RNC did.

Michelle Obama’s masterful speech in particular provided stark contrast with that of Melania Trump – an especially biting contrast considering that parts of the latter’s speech last week turned out to have been plagiarised from the former. 538’s forecast saw Clinton slide – barely – back into the lead.

A mayonnaise sandwich Tim Kaine might be, but he is nonetheless looking like a smart pick, too. A popular senator from a key swing state – Virginia – his role on the ticket is not to be a firebrand or an attack-dog, but to help the former secretary of state reach out to the moderate middle that Trump appears to be leaving entirely vacant, including moderate Republicans who may have voted for Mitt Romney but find Trump’s boorish bigotry and casual relationship with the truth offputting. And the electoral mathematics show that Trump’s journey to victory in the electoral college will be extremely difficult if Kaine swings Virginia for Clinton.

Ultimately, the comparison between the Democratic convention in Philadelphia so far and last week’s chaotic, slapdash and at times downright nutty effort in Cleveland provides a key insight into what this election campaign is going to be like: chaos and fear on one side, but tight discipline on the other.

We will find out in November if discipline is enough to stop the maelstrom.

Nicky Woolf is a writer for the Guardian based in the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.