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

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.