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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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser