Wednesday, November 14, 2012


My Best Posts 2011-2012 – and A Pledge To Help Revive the Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards

What to do on not blogging much for a few months? Follow the practice of so many worn-out artists and put together a ‘greatest hits’ package! So, below, you can find links to my best six (ish) articles of the last year on politics, Doctor Who and several other subjects. You can scroll straight down to that – but if you’re interested in Liberal Democrat blogs, I’ve also followed Jonathan Calder in developing a few ideas on how to revive the Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards after this year’s moribund turn. I’ve even, perhaps unwisely, made a pledge…

Brighton and the BOTYs 2012

Cast your mind back, if you were there, to Lib Dem Conference in Brighton this September; if you weren’t, imagine a fluffy Liberal habitat suddenly turned into a big scary security theatre with all the unintended consequences of giving in to police accreditation. No, not all the civil liberties implications or the threat to trans people – we’d all expected those – but exactly what happened to the happy-go-lucky relaxed atmosphere and boosts to the town. Like drunken late-night walkers trying to go their usual way home encountering a wall of steel and machine-gun-wielding police officers barking at them to cross the road, pronto. Or the way that, as the main Conference Hotel was within the secure zone alongside the Conference Centre, suddenly none of the Lib Dem or media bigwigs could bring in their usual outside shags move to insert and renumber by building community relations and stimulating the local economy. For me, I found myself having to hold my tongue as Twitter joke trial-style comments ran through my head on seeing a Famous Media Git being held by armed police ahead of me. Then my shoes – with orthotic soles to help my malfunctioning feet – setting off the alarms and trying not to squeak, ‘I’m not Rosa Klebb!’

But there remained at least one little oasis of fluffitude. Bloggers and blog-readers were to be found attending this year’s Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year Awards, always a highlight of Conference. Well-deserved (if delayed) congratulations to Liberal Youth’s The Libertine and their Bears for Belarus campaign, to Lanson Boy Alex Folkes and to Mark Thompson (and commiserations, particularly, to Caron Lindsay). And a good evening was had by all that were there… It’s just that, in other aspects, this year’s evening felt rather diminished.

It wasn’t those excellent winners, nor the other excellent shortlistees, that gave me pause for thought. The element of disappointment was largely created in advance, and as a result turnout was very low by comparison to other years – not terrible, and worth having, sure, but it looked like less than half the size of previous crowds. The BOTYs have almost always been packed out before, and often in rather larger rooms, while this year the room was more empty than full. There were surely many reasons, but high among them must be the air of ill-preparedness: the late opening of nominations; the near-non-publication of shortlists; the speakers giving the awards giving the impression that they were being asked in the room itself. From the organisers out into the blogosphere and the wider Lib Dems, it was as if everyone was tired of the awards and had simply lost interest. This just isn’t sustainable. Fortunately, there are ways to get them going again.

Jonathan Calder’s Plan For Fresher BOTYs

Lib Dem blogfather Jonathan Calder, of course, beat me to writing about the problem with the BOTYs by a long stretch with his call Time to freshen up the Blog of the Year awards, although he was with the crowd in not being one of the very small crowd at this year’s BOTYs. I don’t agree with every single word – I’m not quite so worried by the declining number of active blogs as a metric, as it’s by a rather smaller share than the party’s membership – but his main thrust is persuasive.

Jonathan argues that there should be awards for Facebook and Twitter use, to reflect changing online activity. Perhaps perversely, I’m not on Facebook (being notoriously rubbish at keeping up with writing or messages, and finding my existing social networking quite enough to fall behind with) but strongly agree with him on a regular Lib Dem Facebook award category, whereas I am on Twitter (short flurries of high activity, long weeks of occasional glances) but suspect that’s not a good idea. Or, rather, that it’s a good idea but a bad practicality. In concept, Twitter use should be recognised, but in practice I don’t see how it could work, even if BOTY judges were involved for a much longer and more active period than they ever have been before.

For me, though, Jonathan’s crucial point is on the “Best Posting of the Year” Award, and what its absence this year meant for entrants. With most categories limited to particular types of blogger, as Jonathan pointed out, “then the Blog of the Year award itself is your only hope”. Like Jonathan, I’ve been nominated for that award a few times but never won it; like Jonathan, I much preferred the award for the best individual post (which I was also nominated for several times, and won last year). As far as I’m concerned, a blog should have to be bloody good to win the Blog of the Year, and it would be daunting to put yourself forward for it. In my own case, the only time I thought my blog worthy of a nomination I wasn’t shortlisted (and on one occasion that I was, I was simply embarrassed, having felt I’d had a weaker year and that much better blogs had been overlooked). But while my blog is inconsistent and often largely inactive for a month or two, I do feel proud of the odd post, and am very happy to put some of them up for consideration. And Jonathan is right that a lot of people feel the same way – not ‘Help! I have to have produced twelve months of reliable production and brilliance!’ but, ‘Phew, I may not always have kept it up, but this one was really good’. This isn’t just an award for ‘lazy’ bloggers – it’s the one everyone could have a shot at (or that critics might argue that’s most obviously about quality rather than ‘my mate’).

And it’s bizarre that, in the week that the Government announced the scrapping of GCSEs and putting every pupil’s eggs in one basket with single exams alone, the BOTYs shifted to nothing but continuous assessment with no room for one-offs. If nothing else, isn’t it easier for judges to read single nominated posts than to study a full year’s output?

I’ve also written this piece because Jonathan names and shames me:
“…the award for the best posting of the year has disappeared. This was, in many ways, this was the best category of all – in particular because every blogger had some hope of winning it. And also because, until a couple of years ago (which appears to be a developing theme in this post), Alex Wilcock encouraged members of an email [list] to which most prominent Lib Dem bloggers were subscribed to nominate their best posts of the year.

“I urge the Lib Dem Voice editors to bring this category back and use their site to encourage all of our bloggers to nominate their favourite posts. This would allow even the newest bloggers to have some involvement with the awards and make it closer to what it should be – a carnival of Liberal Democrat blogging.”
Jonathan does indeed have me bang to rights. I will, however, accept my share of the blame on condition that I can protest that some of the blame lies in the organisation. The Blog of the Year Awards are held in mid-September; in previous years, the shortlists were opened in mid-July. That’s crept later and later, until this summer the awards were thrown open on August 29th. That’s simply too late – and, for me, the biggest single reason why this year’s BOTYs were a comparative flop. Very little time for discussion amid the wider blogosphere; very short deadlines, and very little time for the judges to confer; and then no time at all for the shortlistees to have their moment in the sun.

In previous years, nominations closed at the end of August and shortlists were published in early September, giving weeks for many different blogs to get attention and celebration and, as the BOTYs are intended, to give “a fun way to celebrate the talent in the Lib Dem blogosphere, whilst introducing you to some blogs you might not have read before”. This year the shortlists were published on September 22nd – just two hours before the awards were given out. They may as well have skipped straight to the winners, for all the attention the shortlistees could get. No wonder so few people turned up. Then, after the awards, though this surely isn’t down to LDV, in previous years all the shortlistees for the main award – not just one “Blogger of the Year” – got to interview the Leader. Nick might be happier with a one-to-one, but that’s not the point; that was to engage more people, more styles, more perspectives.

My BOTYs Pledge: Start Early and I’ll Help

I’m not pointing my finger at anyone bar myself for any one particular failure this year. The whole thing looks more like a classic example of organisational inertia, probably coupled with individual exhaustion, in that I’m certain it wasn’t the fault of any one person – though some share of fault may lie with some of the LDV team leaving it to just one busy person to organise everything. Please, all of you at Lib Dem Voice, do a better, wider, earlier job next year. If none of you are going to be able to spare the time, don’t leave it ’til the last minute and produce another disappointment. What’s the point? If you need to, publish an appeal in June for people to help with the organisation and be allocated tasks come July (reader, please make a note in your diary and volunteer).

Another change I’d recommend to Lib Dem Voice is to use your extra time and extra organisers to make much better use of your BOTY judges. In his article, Jonathan explains that, having been a judge, in his year the judges were given no idea how the shortlisting process worked, agreed no criteria and, indeed, had no contact with each other, let alone discussion. Other former judges have told me that their contribution consisted only of firing numbers into the ether by way of voting, which seems to have been an uninvolving and unsatisfying experience. Surely there can be a happy medium between that and having to meet up for a banquet with wigs. If nominations go back to opening earlier, they can close earlier and give the judges at least, say, a week to have a few email exchanges on what they think of different nominations. Perhaps the Lib Dem Voice editors might each month also ask Ryan of Lib Dem Blogs Aggregated to give them a list of the latest people added to the Bloggregator so that a list of eligible “new blogs” can be published when nominations are opened, as that’s the award for which it’s most difficult to spot the potential nominees (and how about giving that category a thirteen-month span each year, from August to August, as people who start their blog while nominations are open tend to get missed out).

I’m notoriously disorganised and unable to meet deadlines, so you might think I’m calling for volunteers in the sure and certain hope that I shouldn’t be one of them. But I will make one pledge by way of help.

If Lib Dem Voice gets its act together and opens nominations at least a week before the end of July, and if they reinstate the award for the best individual post, then I will write a piece for them publicising it in the first week of August. I will pick at least a dozen articles from at least a dozen different blogs from across the year that I think are among the best and plug them in the style that I pick my own below. I will include an appeal for everyone else to come up with their own suggestions, both in the comments and by email to me. And a week before nominations are due to close, I will write another article for LDV, this time rounding up everyone else’s suggestions. Though obviously it would mean I’d be less likely to be shortlisted – gasp – it would be one way to celebrate the talent in the Lib Dem blogosphere and introduce people to more blogs.

In the last month so far, though several posts have stuck with me, the one that I’ll definitely put up for an award is, ironically, one that I’d recommend not in the best individual post category but The Andrew Reeves Award for Best use of social media/campaigning by a Liberal Democrat: Jennie Rigg’s outstanding effort in putting questions to over a hundred candidates for this year’s Liberal Democrat Federal elections. Even if LDV ignores everything I’ve written, I will be nominating Jennie.

Now on to my own choices for my own best posts from September 2011 to September 2012 – which the eagle-eyed reader will realise are all ineligible for next year’s BOTYs even if they take my advice and bring back the individual post award, so read them for fun, or for thought, but not for any awards…

Six of the Best 2011-12: Politics

Happy Birthday to the Libera-Tory Coalition?

Last week we hit the half-way point of this Parliament (fixing that was at least one piece of constitutional reform); back in May, I looked back at the first two years of the LiberaTory Coalition, and how even at its founding we expected to have a terrible time of it. I called it “the worst possible time to take power”; Vince said “It’s going to be bloody awful.” So it’s not been fun, but it’s not been a surprise.

“I am a Liberal and I am against this sort of thing” – Time To Remember What We Stand For

Rising up against Labour-style cyber-snooping powers from the Coalition – otherwise, what’s the point? There’s a big difference between having to choose painful cuts because Labour destroyed the economy, and choosing authoritarianism (which is more expensive, too). With some necessary reminders of our Liberal history.

Government Porn Filter Collapses In Security Nightmare

Few things make me more likely to despair of the Coalition than when they come up with authoritarian bollocks like Labour never lost. This summer they proved why they shouldn’t be trusted with controlling the internet: even the consultation was a disaster.

A New Purpose for Politics? Is It Bollocks

A revolt against Lib Dems who think our big idea should be Blairite micro-managing people’s lives for their own good. No, no, and no.

Never Mention “STV” Again

After the disaster of the AV referendum, to prepare for the fight on the real thing, why not champion “British Proportional Representation” and make a broad appeal beyond Lib Dem wonks?

Things To Remember About Labour

I remember so many things to dislike about the last Labour Government that it comes as a surprise how many people imagine it as some noble fantasy. Ever eager to help, I wrote five mostly short pieces on Things To Remember About Labour. I might even return to the series at some point… After all, I’ve not even written about their destroying the economy yet. Or their obeying every order from Rupert Murdoch. Or Iraq.
Since then: while Lib Dems are in Coalition with the more moderate part of the Conservative Party, Labour went into coalition with the frothing far right of the Tories to be anti-Europe, just as they did over Maastricht twenty years ago, just as they did over Hong Kong, just as they did over Lords reform, and so on, and so on, shameless opportunist knee-jerk authoritarians that they are; John Kampfner, too, has noticed how Labour is to the far right of the Coalition; and Mark Pack has pointed out the biggest difference between the Coalition and the Labour Party – when the USA asked the UK’s help in arming up for a potential war on another Middle Eastern country, this government said no.

Six of the Best 2011-12: Doctor Who

DVD Detail – Doctor Who: UNIT Files Box Set

I’ve not written many DVD reviews in the last year, but this one’s a doozy. Taking on Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen in two very flawed but strangely moreish stories, complete with the deepest political analysis they’ve ever been subjected to and my own exclusive, ambitious (and absurd) photos at the original locations. KKLAK!

DVD Detail: Doctor Who – The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet

Now that Colin Baker’s a TV star all over again, take another look at one of his finest performances as the Doctor. It may have seemed like a trial up against Michael Jayston, but it could have been worse – it could have been Nadine Dorries…

DVD Detail: Doctor Who – Paradise Towers

Traditional Doctor Who often includes fascistic guards, killer robots and ancient evil struggling to awaken, but the brilliance of this 1987 Sylvester McCoy tale was to combine these elements not on a shiny spaceship or in a stylised English village but within an insane sit-com run by Richard Briers, clashing youth gangs against Mary Whitehouse types and bureaucracy gone mad in a run-down tower block. Result!

DVD Detail: Doctor Who – Kamelion Tales

Peter Davison’s Doctor battles Anthony Ainley’s Master in this DVD box set of two Doctor Who stories set in the gorgeous locations of a medieval castle and the island of Lanzarote. Which of the Doctor’s companions will remove the most clothes? Which of them will announce that he’s not a naughty boy, but the messiah? And will Magna Carta die in vain?

Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons

Celebrating Doctor Who novelist supreme Terrance Dicks with one of his earliest and best-loved books, introducing the Master and bringing back the Autons. And deadly daffodils.

Doctor Who and the Dæmons and Barry Letts

More Master, more Pertwee better on the page, and this time looking at Terrance’s partner in crime, the late Barry Letts and his gorgeous novelisation of the Doctor versus the Devil (or is it?). Complete with an argument about science. No, religion. No, science!

Six of the Best 2011-12: Other Reviews

The Avengers – My Wildest Dream

Marking the passing of marvellous actor Philip Madoc and brilliant director Robert Fuest, I took a look at their work together in this outstanding Avengers episode of mind-bending murder for The Manchurian Capitalist (also featuring Peter Vaughan, Edward Fox and John Savident). Not the comic-strip, billion-dollar movie The Avengers, by the way, though my next two choices are – sort of – movie crossovers…

Judge Dredd – The Complete Case Files 01

Celebrating 2000AD’s thirty-fifth birthday by going back to the start with this chunky 300+ page reprint volume, taking in the whole first year of the grim future law officer who’s still their star, Judge Dredd. I thought the movie worked, too. If you feel like picking up one of these volumes, Judge Dredd The Complete Case Files 02 and 05 are probably the best, though biased towards ‘epic’ stories.

Wholly Unavailable On DVD Batman!

Batman going all fascist at the box office this year may be true to the character, but I prefer Adam West’s camp mid-’60s TV version. Shame you can’t get it on DVD, but I took a look at its high and low points in ITV4’s constant repeat rotation. Try it today!

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen

On the publication of Boneland, Alan Garner’s return half a century later to his writing on Alderley Edge, I looked back at what his first book meant to me. Since then, I’ve been inspired to read many more books touching on the legend of King Arthur, and might even write about some of them…

Sherlock Holmes – Murder By Decree

Who couldn’t love a Sherlock Holmes–Jack the Ripper conspiracy theory mash-up? Well, that would be me. Going into just why this still critically acclaimed movie doesn’t do it for me (give me the schlockier A Study In Terror any day).

Why The Avengers Matters

Celebrating fifty years of the most Sixties show of the Sixties, not just because it was fun but because, unexpectedly, it mattered – from the day it introduced viewers to Honor Blackman as an intelligent, independent woman who flung men over her shoulders. And proving that not all the best ones are big ones.

I hope you enjoyed all of those (or at least some of them). I’d also like to thank Stephen Tall for doing a better job plugging my writing than I did. Not only did he label my Happy Birthday to the Libera-Tory Coalition? a “must-read” post, but he turned one of my comments on Lib Dem Voice into a post of his own:

The Alex Wilcock Realpolitik argument for Nick Clegg staying as Lib Dem Leader

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Richard also follows on with a plea for well–thought-out blogging in Don't Dumb Down Our BOTYs!

NB Blogger, frustratingly, converted my line breaks past a certain point into simple spaces. If the formatting looks a bit dodgy, I edited the html by hand several times and it wasn’t having it. Even splitting the post in two didn’t help. Pasting in break commands everywhere, and multiples between sections, eventually stopped the last third being one giant splat of text – and though the gaps don’t look regular, though they should, now I don’t dare touch it again.

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Jonathan Calder has now returned to the subject with a roundup of comment pieces.

If you’re following this, reader, I thought I’d add it as a comment both so you’d notice something new and to avoid tinkering with the Jenga-like formatting above…

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