Blogging is better than Fleet Street Fox's journal of branding

Are there any bloggers who write stuff because they want to write stuff?

So Fleet Street Fox was someone called Susie Boniface all along. Who knew? Oh, everyone.

Apparently it’s a big deal that the formerly anonymous (while not being tremendously anonymous) blogger has outed herself and is now herself, rather than not being herself, while still being very much herself. (There’s a book out. I see.)

The mysterious Fleet Street Faux, it turns out, wasn’t all that mysterious to people in the know, despite claims that she would have lost her job if she had been unmasked. (I didn’t know, but I’ve never been in the know.)  Still, it was a nice branding exercise I guess.

FSF has shown vulpine cunning when it comes to spotting a gap in the market, though: there hasn’t been a half-articulate figure defending the tabloid press for ages. Kelvin "The Truth" Mackenzie clung on for as long as he could as the bluff, disingenuous voice of the common White Van Geezer who likes tits, football and right-wing views. The spivvy hack Paul McMullen cut a rather unloveable figure as he gamely attempted to defend the redtops at the height of Leveson, lurking in the shadows in his battered cream suit like a rather forlorn Sidney Stratton. That only leaves Janet Street-Porter to be wheeled out whenever you need a quote from someone to present the “I say let em crash” counterpoint which news programmes deem it necessary to provide as equivalence to anything slightly rational.

Enter FSF The Brand, then, to fill that void and tell us that we’ve got it all wrong, and the tabs are all right. At least Mackenzie isn’t getting on telly as much, but this well-trodden path from "anonymous insider" to "person who pops up on Newsnight with apparently surprising and contradictory opinions" has happened so many times now that it’s become a bit of a cliché. You see people all over the blogosphere painstakingly setting themselves up as these brands ahead of the long-anticipated big reveal.

It seems a far cry from the days when blogging was supposed to change the world; when we were part of some kind of glorious revolution in which the masses would finally take over control of the Fourth Estate. (I’m pretending, here, that there was some kind of golden age of blogging where it wasn’t a cavalcade of oddballs and losers, and we all wrote things out of the goodness of our hearts. Run with that, if you can.)

Perceptive readers may have noticed that I was an anonymous blogger myself. This is true, although I never really had any endgame in mind; I certainly have no desire to cover my genitals in chum and dangle them into the sharky waters of a career as a media pundit. I can think of few worse fates for me, or the rest of the world, than that.  

So what’s my problem? Well, for one thing I think blogging is about more than trying to get your face on telly. If you want to write, write; if you want to be famous, do something worthwhile. There’s a whole world of wonderful blogs and exciting writers out there who’ve been completely ignored by the mainstream by dint of their lack of self-promotion. I think that’s such a huge shame, because some of the very best writers around are online, and not necessarily shouting from the rooftops about how great they are.

Come on, we’re better than this. Blogging is better than the Guidos or the Fleet Street Foxes of this world. Surely there are bloggers who write stuff because they want to write stuff, not because they’d rather fashion some kind of cobbled-together media whack-a-mole career out of it. Please? Someone prove me wrong. 

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.