How to argue on the internet

The foolproof guide to avoiding intelligent discussion online.

Fancy derailing a discussion but aren't sure how to go about it? Can't be bothered discussing things properly and would much rather chuck a spanner in the works? No worries. Simply use the Derailing for Dummies guide and you need never think too hard about complicated things again!

The "There's Something Much More Serious Going on Somewhere Else" interruption: "Excuse me, but I can't believe you're not talking about rape in the DRC. Why on earth aren't you talking about that in a blogpost entitled 'Kittens and Bunnies'?"

The "Über-Pernickety Pedant of the Week Award": "I can't help noticing that you mention 1,204 jobs are to be lost under these proposals. I think you're forgetting that one job has already been lost, meaning only 1,203 further jobs will be lost. This entirely undermines your argument."

The "Whataboutery Gambit": "But what about men? What about straight people? What about middle-class people? What about white people? What about white straight male people? What about white straight middle-class middle-aged men?"

Advanced "Whataboutery" (aka The Real Victims): "White straight middle-class middle-aged men are the Real Victims of discrimination. You can't get a job nowadays if you're a white straight middle-class middle-aged man. (Well, I did, but that's beside the point.)"

The "I See You Didn't Mention" Spanner/Works Interface: "I see you didn't mention the crimes of Pol Pot, or Mao Zedong, which were undoubtedly horrific. Funny how people like you never mention their atrocities in a discussion – but then again, I suppose you'd be in favour of that."

The "So Doing Something Unrelated Which You Haven't Mentioned Is All Right, Is it?" flourish: "You say that torturing people is bad. But I suppose shooting them in the face is all right, is it?"

The "You're Doing the Derailing" Derailment Device: "Arguments like yours derail any decent discussion and close it off for people like me, who never like derailing things. I wish you wouldn't derail things like that. Meanwhile, here's my opinion . . ."

Launching the "My One Anecdote Destroys Everything" Hand Grenade: "All very well you saying that about the NHS and how it compares to other health-care systems across Europe and the developed world, but I once spent a night in a hospital and someone was rude to me!"

"What's the point of talking about things?" finger-waggery: "I don't see the point of you writing this post at all. What do you hope you're going to achieve? Do you think the world will change at all because of what you've said? I don't think so. (Of course you could equally make the same point about this comment, but that would be wrong, because me making this comment really will change everything)."

The "Have a Look at My Take on Things" Shameless Plug Parachute: "I disagree with you. In fact, in my post 'But what about the thing I really want to talk about instead?' over at my blog, I think you'll find I've bested you on every single matter."

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.