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Guy Fawkes wasn't a freedom fighter. He was a religious terrorist, and not even one of the good ones

The Jacobean equivalent of one of the minor characters from Four Lions.

Over the last four centuries, a lot of traditions have become associated with the 5 November. Fireworks. Bonfires. Burning Catholics in effigy. As a child it was one of my favourite times of the year. Even today I much prefer it to the Americanised Halloween rubbish we get now, and not just because I'm an anti-papist who could never convincingly dress up as a sexy anything.

Over the last decade, though, another tradition has attached itself to this date. A certain right-wing political blogger was an early adopter, back when the British left was still in the ascendancy and he could convincingly pretend he wasn't a member of the establishment. Since then the Guy Fawkes mask has become the symbol of left-wing anti-government protests far and wide, including hacktivists Anonymous and the Occupy Movement. Today the internet is seemingly full of comments like this one (which dates, strangely, from August):

Right. No. This is utter bullshit, based not so much on a misreading of history as on a complete ignorance of it.

Guy Fawkes was many things, but one he emphatically wasn’t was a freedom fighter. Fawkes had actually voluntarily fought for the Spanish empire in its Eighty Years War against Dutch independence – hardly the action of someone who fights over-weening government power wherever they may find it.

The reason the Gunpowder Plotters decided to take down the government of King James I & VI was not because they were opposed to government oppression. The Plotters were kind of okay with a spot of government oppression, actually: they just thought that the oppressed Catholics should be the ones doing it.

To that end, they decided to blow up the House of Lords during the state opening of parliament. This would knock out the king and most of his ministers, and open the way for nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth to become puppet queen of a new Catholic regime, backed by the mighty Spanish Empire. (Incidentally, the fact they wanted to supplant the regime, not destroy it, makes Guido Fawkes a painfully good name for that libertarian blog.)

Fawkes wasn't even the plot's leader: that was Robert Catesby. The only reason Fawkes himself is the one who became most associated with the plot is because he was the poor mug who got lumbered with the job of guarding the barrels. When the plot was discovered, he was the one forced to explain how it was he came to be shiftily loitering next to 20 barrels of gunpowder, holding a packet of matches.

The Gunpowder Plotters weren’t freedom fighters at all. They wanted to replace an oppressive Protestant regime with an oppressive Catholic one, and were willing to commit mass slaughter to do it. In other words, Guy Fawkes was a religious terrorist, and not even one of the most important ones. He was the Jacobean equivalent of one of the minor characters from Four Lions

So how is it that he ended up as a symbol for those who think themselves freedom fighters? The Guy Fawkes mask is worn by a crusader against government oppression in Alan Moore's 1980s comic strip V for Vendetta, so it's tempting to blame him and his artist David Lloyd.

But that isn't very fair. In the comic, the character of V may be fighting the government; but he's also very clearly a terrorist, and his ideology is no less terrifying than that of the rather banal fascist regime he's fighting against. If anyone's to blame it's the people who filmed the graphic novel in 2006, completely missing Moore's point and turning V into a heroic martyr for freedom.

At any rate, the result of all this is that we've ended up with a world that celebrates a semi-competent religious fundamentalist as a freedom fighter, and where people give money to big corporations to buy copies of his face.

Well done, anarchists. Well done on never reading a fucking book.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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Why do politicians keep making podcasts?

Nick Clegg is the latest to take to the internet airwaves.

“Rage is the opposite of reason. Discuss!”, Nick Clegg declares jauntily at the start of the first episode of his new podcast, Anger Management. The former Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister can now be heard on the internet airwaves fortnightly, grilling guests about what he calls “the politics of anger”. Since his show is introduced by a montage of angry politicians shouting, it’s guaranteed to raise the listener’s blood pressure before the host even starts talking.

Clegg is just the latest in a long run of politicians to try their hand at podcasting. Perhaps the most notable example in the UK is the former Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose Reasons to be Cheerful show made in partnership with the former Absolute Radio DJ Geoff Lloyd hit number two in the iTunes podcast chart when it debuted in September 2017 and was recently nominated for a 2018 British Podcast Award. Jacob Rees-Mogg, too, has a fortnightly podcast called the Moggcast, which launched in January 2018 and is hosted by Conservative Home. Where once a politician might do a phone-in show on LBC or guest host The Jeremy Vine Show  on BBC Radio 2 to show how in touch and relatable they are (as in Call Clegg, which aired on LBC from 2013 to 2015, or Ed Milibands lunch time death metal scream), they can now go it alone.

In his column in the i newspaper introducing the podcast, Clegg puts his finger on exactly why it is that politicians find podcasting so attractive: it’s all about control. “I have grown to abhor the tired and tested confrontational interview format,” he writes. On his podcast, “there is no wish to pounce on a slip of the tongue or endure a soundbite being hammered home”. There’s a freedom to this kind of on-demand internet audio, which can be delivered directly to an audience without having to get past the traditional gatekeepers of broadcasting. There’s no need to put up with John Humphrys or work with the BBC’s requirement for political balance. The politician, usually on the receiving end of whatever the interviewer wants to throw at them, is in charge.

Given this, it’s unfortunate that in his first episode Nick Clegg falls foul of his own edicts. His first guest is former Ukip leader Nigel Farage (coincidentally also the host of a podcast called Farage Against the Machine). It’s a slightly odd choice of guest to launch the show — made, no doubt, to generate controversy and a higher iTunes chart position — and it doesn’t exactly show Clegg’s broadcasting skills in a good light.

In a recorded disclaimer that plays before the interview, the former Lib Dem leader and vocal Remainer tries to pre-empt criticism that he’s giving a platform to someone with pretty unpalatable views. He explains that the first half of the 47-minute episode is meant to be about Farage’s “life, not really me cross-questioning him”, and that to hear them “locking horns more on the issues of the day” listeners must wait until the latter part of the show.

This approach results in Clegg letting Farage get away with a number of fact-light statements early on, and then later adopting the Humphrys-style tactic of repeatedly interrupting Farage before he can finish a point. As an interview style, it’s the worst of both worlds — neither spacious enough to allow the guest to explain their thinking fully, nor robust enough to provide an effective rebuttal. Hosting a podcast is a deceptively hard thing to do. It would take someone substantially more skilled behind the microphone than Clegg to completely reinvent the one-on-one discussion format in a single episode.

The lure of podcasting for politicians is in the way listeners react to the medium. The entire burgeoning podcast advert market is founded on research that points to a strong sense of intimacy between podcast host and audience — it’s a level of loyalty and engagement that surpasses many other forms of media. In politics, that can be harnessed for electoral gain: for instance, Hillary Clinton had a podcast called With Her that ran during her 2016 presidential campaign.

The trouble is that politicians aren’t necessarily that good at making podcasts. They’re not journalists, and they don’t often have a good nose for what makes a strong show for the listener, or take the advice of those who do. For those still in office (or, like Clegg, still wanting to participate in politics despite losing his seat), there are other pressures that can prevent them being completely honest on air. As Amanda Hess pointed out in the New York Times in 2017, the best episodes of Clinton’s podcast were made after she lost the election, when she moved out of campaign mode and just tried to process what had happened like everyone else.

The rise of the podcasting politician is the result of a few different factors: an increased dominance of personality in politics; the tendency for us all to gravitate towards our own “filter bubbles” of reassuring content; and an ever-more polarised media climate. For my money, the best show to come out of this trend so far is Ed Miliband’s. He leans in to the “geeky” stereotype that haunted him for his entire career and, guided by veteran broadcaster Geoff Lloyd, is seeking to make something that looks beyond the political bubble.

Podcasts are at their best when they serve a particular niche interest group: there’s clearly a community of people who enjoy listening to Jacob Rees-Mogg intoning bleakly about obscure areas of policy, and best of luck to them. Politicians should realise that it is not a form that works when you try to appeal to everyone. Otherwise, like Nick Clegg, they will end up telling Nigel Farage that he’s “very good at the high horse stuff about how the EU is ghastly” in a strained tone of voice.

Caroline Crampton is head of podcasts at the New Statesman. She writes a newsletter about podcasts.