05 June, 2006

Full Marx

The insightful observations made by Roy Hattersley in today's Guardian on the nature of John Prescott's media mauling have been pretty much drowned by the tidal wave of tittle-tattle and abuse which has gushed forth from readers since publication.

There must be - at the time of writing - close to 100 emails on that page, the bulk of which rank no better than name-calling, shouting or downright abuse. As always happens when someone on the left of British politics poses an interesting question, they are met, not with a battery of individuals constructively sifting the argument and searching for common ground, but rather a bulwark of prejudice and/or resentment.

The tone of most of those emails is precisely the same that has rung throughout the Labour Party's history, tolling the passing of yet another consensus and the fall of another Government. It is the sound of dozens of axes being ground and hatchets being buried in other people's shouderblades.

I wonder why The Guardian bother with such an appallingly-moderated offshoot of their otherwise superlative website. It does nothing to raise the tenor of debate. It does precious little more to boost online participation, for surely any casual browser or internet novice would, upon seeing such an exhibition of petulance, log off and never come back.

I used to belong to a couple of political mailing lists nigh on ten years ago, which were characterised by precisely the same kind of bitching and backbiting evident in most of the comments on that Guardian page. Has the nature of online debate really progressed such a paltry distance in the space of a decade? Is the same narrowminded nitpicking and pedantry still as prevalent now as then?

As John Major once breathlessly informed to the country: "It is. It's still here. It's still here."


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