Apr 142010

So. After two years of slowly building itself in the wilderness, crafting press releases that media outlets file carefully in the bin, organising speeches, events, and awareness campaigns, and spreading the libertarian word to individuals bit by bit (from giving party cards to shopkeepers to chatting with taxi drivers and barmen), the LPUK has finally appeared on the national scene, doing two television appearances in one week. It never rains but it pours, eh?

Publicity bite number one came this past Sunday, when LPUK leader Chris Mounsey was invited to debate the question, ‘Should the drink-driving limit be dropped from 80mgs to 50?’ on The Big Questions.

As a matter of fact, he was not being asked to form part of the panel – a detail which the producers failed to mention until he actually walked onto the set for the live broadcast. In reality, he was to present a single point of view, in company with a doctor from the BMA, a grieving mother whose son was killed by a driver over the 80mgs limit, and a representative of an auto association. He also discovered when he walked on set that the question was not, ‘Should the drink-driving limit be dropped from 80mgs to 50?’ but rather ‘Should drivers drink?’

Now, it is not for a political actor to complain that the media do not play fair; when he realised his carefully researched data were going to be useless in context, Chris manned up and did his level best to demonstrate that there is no statistical benefit to prohibiting drivers from drinking at all. Unfortunately, he ran straight into:

Maxim 1 of Political ‘Debate': Your opponent will always lie.

The doctor from the BMA had come armed with her own ‘data’ to prove that, hey, a tiny bit of alcohol slows reaction times by 12.5%, and with 80mgs of drink in the blood reaction times are 10 times slower than with 50. Subsequent research has shown these claims to be rather dubious.

Furthermore, he encountered:

Maxim 2 of Political ‘Debate': The victim (or his mother) is always right.

Never mind that only a tiny proportion of people are killed in drink-driving accidents; never mind that only a tiny proportion of drink-driving journeys result in accidents at all. Anyone who does not utterly oppose the conjunction of alcohol and driving, however limited, is essentially an advocate of manslaughter – and, incidentally, a total monster for making a grieving mother cry.

That said, he did at least have the opportunity to say one or two things about libertarianism, and it was encouraging to find the audience applauding rather less enthusiastically for the bansturbators than they had done earlier for those guests who averred that priests abusing children was a disgrace. If banning drivers from all alcohol consumption was such an obvious no-brainer, surely the audience would have given it the same acclamation they gave to the many other no-brainer statements made on the programme that day.

Publicity bite number two occurred this very morning. Again, LPUK leader Chris Mounsey was invited to speak about the party, this time on The Daily Politics. The producers contacted him to say the interview would be part of a segment on the ‘small parties’ and their policies – as if to suggest that, alone of all media outlets, The Daily Politics was responsible and engaged enough to tell its viewers that there actually are more than three political parties in the United Kingdom. Again, Chris agreed to appear.

And again, he found himself wrong-footed. The ‘interview’ would turn out to be a two-and-a-half minute segment during which Andrew Neil actually did most of the talking. Outliers of all types have to be kept in the liminal spaces, of course, and with small parties, there is a distinct danger that if the media actually report their actual views in any kind of detail, those parties might cease to be quite so small.

Andrew Neil obviously entered the ‘interview’ with that in mind, and ensured that every one of his questions reinforced that marginalisation. He asked not one single question about the party’s policies, manifesto or activities during the course of its two-year existence; instead, he asked, ‘Why are you so small?’ and ‘Why are you standing only one candidate?’ These are not invalid questions, per se, but they have as much relevance to what the party advocates as why they chose blue and gold for the party colours, or a gryphon for its logo.

Maxim 3 of Political ‘Debate': If your position is generally perceived to be marginal, your opponent will focus solely on marginalising you.

During a general election when the media is prepared to demand ridiculous levels of detail about main-party policies, they are certainly not going to waste valuable time asking what is the general goal, outlook, or most prominent policy of any small party. It might suck up the time they’d rather spend reporting on Sarah Brown’s wonky toe.

But fair enough. Chris was there to answer Andrew’s questions, and he did a good job. He explained that the party is young and not well enough funded to pay deposits for many candidates, but that the membership is growing steadily.

Then, perhaps unsurprisingly, Andrew asked about Chris’s blog. And thereby made a colossal tactical error. First, Andrew named the blog, breaking:

Maxim 4 of Political ‘Debate': Never give your opponent free advertising.

Then, he repeated several times that he was not permitted to articulate the blog’s content on television! He made it forbidden fruit, thus also breaking:

Maxim 5 of Political ‘Debate': Never make your opponent’s position look attractive or intriguing.

Unfortunately, Chris was not prepared for a fuck-up of this magnitude on Andrew’s part, and found himself rather at a loss. Should he apologise for the unrepeatable content, or should he remain unrepentant (and thus raise his danger appeal even more)? In the end, because he is a gentleman, he plumped for an non-committal statement of regret. One wonders whether he regretted writing ‘inappropriate’ remarks about public figures, or whether it was simply that he regretted Andrew felt the blog was at all relevant to the LPUK manifesto.

The LPUK, and libertarians in general, have now learned some valuable lessons.

First, Chris was right to go and speak on these programmes. Most of the speaking engagements we libertarians do tend to be in front of other libertarians, which is great but is also preaching to the choir. Although these appearances will not have enlightened anybody about libertarian views, they have nevertheless made a lot of people aware of the existence of a libertarian party. We on the series of tubes lose sight of this sometimes (pace Boaty & D), but there are lots of libertarians out there who aren’t bloggers or blog readers, but who do watch television. Now some of them will know there is a substantial, organised community of libertarians out there that they can be part of.

Second, our assumptions about the media have all been true. They are not interested in reporting, nor are they in any way responsible holders-to-account of public actors. They are a business, and like all businesses they exist to sell their product. Consumers of news media enjoy both outrage and scandal, which unfortunately run-of-the-mill public figures do not provide in great supply. Liminal public actors, therefore, must take up the slack by submitting themselves not to questions designed to elucidate, but to statements designed to confront and incite. There is nothing necessarily wrong in this, but it does require the we liminal types adjust our own strategy accordingly. If the media want shocking interviews, we must shock unapologetically. If the media want to focus on what makes us marginal, we must learn to wear those marginal views with pride. After all, we have nothing to be ashamed of. Pity and guilt have no place among libertarians.

We often wish that public figures did more straight speaking during interviews – the constant diet of pabulum fed to us by the news outlets is so wearying. This criticism still applies to print news, of course, but I think we can all recognise now that live interviews are very different. Whether you’re a shady MP or a total nub, your interviewer’s goal is the same: to ask you only questions that put you on the back foot. I guess that’s why MPs have obfuscation techniques drummed into them from the second they join the party. We, at least, don’t have to obfuscate, so I suggest a different strategy. Instead of assuming that such questions are meant to draw us into a discussion, we should realise their purpose is to back-foot. And instead of stepping neatly into this trap, we should refuse to play – by answering the question, and nothing more.

So that when Andrew Neil says, ‘So you’re a five-man band?’ we don’t explain. We simply say ‘No’ and wait courteously for the next question. So that when he says ‘Do you think this kind of unrepeatable language is appropriate?’ we don’t qualify. We simply say ‘Yes.’ Because that’s the honest answer. And if Andrew Neil wants to call us unmitigated monsters, then the only appropriate response to such idiocy is an insolent shrug. That’s the only response it deserves.

Finally, we know that preparation is pointless. For a twenty-minute speech to other libertarians, we come armed with facts. In such company, we expect to be asked to justify our views with reference to reality. Well, plainly facts and reality are not wanted by media hosts and audiences – and even if they are wanted, the host will negate any you’ve gathered by changing the question at the last moment. So no more data, no more evidence, no more statistics. Why bother? Even when people do listen, they have no idea whether or not you’re telling the truth. If our integrity is such that we can’t permit ourselves to lie outright, then we simply emphasise over and over whichever single statistic most powerfully proves (or supports) our point. Otherwise, extemporise. Then we’ll be flexible enough to respond to the questions we actually end up facing.

After his appearance this morning, Chris offered his resignation to the party. The LPUK refused to accept it. Libertarians, we are who we are. Chris’s only mistake was assuming his hosts actually wanted a calm, logical defence of libertarianism. He was nevertheless magnificent. And the LPUK were right to refuse his resignation. What they need is a leader who is fearless, unapologetic, and completely certain of the rightness of his position. As we all know that’s exactly what the Devil’s Kitchen is, Chris Mounsey need only be himself to succeed.

And lest you think my point of view is biased, allow me to direct you to other apologia here and here and here and here.

UPDATE: And here. And here and here and here and here (sort of) and here and here.

UPDATE 2: And here and here and here and here.

On the other hand, if self-congratulatory I-told-you-sos are more to your taste, go here. With what horrific vocabulary is the Devil’s Kitchen accused of crimes against decency! Bad Conscience is tearing into first place in this contest of the vapours: ‘Highly offensive’ – ‘frequently deliberately outrageous’ – ‘heinously and wilfully offensive’ – ‘personalised, pornographic, narcissistic, grievously offensive invective and vitriol’ – ‘heinously offensive [again]’ – ‘disturbing’ – ‘nasty vitriolic crap.’

Please, dude. Don’t make yourself such a Victorian lady. I bet you’re the first to proclaim what a magnificent satire of the selfish Thatcher-and-Reagan era is Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. And the Devil’s Kitchen has nothing on him.

  23 Responses to “Libertarians on TV”

  1. Bella: I am so proud of you and DK. Been reading all the comments, saw the Daily Pol. vid but can’t access the Big ? You are right about ratings vs. logical debate, ambush vs. civility. I’ll bring my ball bat too. Cheers to you both.

  2. He has nothing to worry about except couldn’t he borrow a shirt with a non-crinkled collar and a plain tie?

    On the matter of the blog, he’s always known that one day it would come down to a straight choice between articulating informed anger – what he does as a public service under the blog mask DK – and what he wants to achive as himself. It looks like that day is rushing up so he’d better choose which purpose is to dominate.

    If he wants to lead the Libertarian Party then he’s going to have to change his style and explain to people like Neil how he is in the tradition of phampleteers, where previously published material may be incendiary but is of great historical value, If he wants to continue as DK in the DK style then probably he can’t effectively lead the party because that style, while it has its fans, just does not get the message across to a wider audience although it is an opinion-forming tool and very powerful, so long as he doesn’t mind not getting credit for it.

    The key question being is he going to stay operating as classic DK, or is he going to give it a whirl as himself.

  3. What I don’t understand is why Brillo thought the membership would want Chris to resign based on Brillo’s great revelation that Chris has an alter ego who is rather sweary and sometimes lays in to people who are idiots and authoritarians? Doesn’t Brillo realise that a not insignificant section of the membership is there because they found out they weren’t alone as libertarians by reading DK?

    As to the post in question, I remember it and thought that she (the Union member who was the target) got off quite lightly.

  4. For what it’s worth, I don’t think he was right to appear on the Big Question – it was a set-up and as soon as he saw the studio layout he should have walked. Some may say you can’t afford to be choosy, but you have to. I strongly agree with your last five paragraphs, with the exception of his having been brilliant – but he was nowhere near as bad as he could have been, and I dare say he’ll be a lot better next time. Reality bites.
    “What they need is a leader who is fearless, unapologetic, and completely certain of the rightness of his position” – yes, but also who can get that position across in a variety of ways depending on the situation, and doesn’t get drawn into minor, emotive issues. I would bet that he can become this.

  5. Truth is any real change in the political landscape isn’t going to come from low rent BBC crap like this, although getting the fact of the party’s existence out there has to be a good thing…. and like you say, telling people they shouldn’t look at Devil’s Kitchen is even better.

    I had my take on this here, http://charlottegore.com/2010/04/14/my-mate-wiggy.html, for what it’s worth. To be honest it’s made me angry enough to want to join LPUK for the sheer belligerent hell of it.

    … huh…. I think I suddenly understand your pseudonym!

    Had to add you to my blogroll btw, would have done it sooner but wasn’t much point while I wasn’t blogging :)

  6. I see DK’s blog is invitation only now. Has he been harassed? Hope note. Anyway, how does one get an invite, as a regular reader albeit very occasional poster.

  7. I second Elby – how to get invited to the DK? Or will it be unrestricted again soon?

    Keep up the fine Libertarian work (& ignore the B&D juveniles)!

  8. Fuck off, Ed. I’ve written two supportive articles of DK recently including this one of today


    Not exactly the sign of a mocking juvenile, is it? And as if DK’s worst problems would be because of anything we’d have to say? Grow the fuck up, Ed.

  9. Brillo’s lot didn’t do their research properly either. Two candidates, I understand. Too busy looking at the DK blog and not at the party’s one, it seems.

    Ta for the link, Bella. :-)

  10. “What I don’t understand is why Brillo thought the membership would want Chris to resign based on Brillo’s great revelation that Chris has an alter ego who is rather sweary and sometimes lays in to people who are idiots and authoritarians? “

    Because the man’s rampant ego couldn’t concieve of a situation whereby the party said: ‘Oh, Neil said what? Heh!’ and ignored it…

  11. A slightly sillier version of the above:
    Gandhi Speaks: On Dildos

  12. Should you care for more snideness, there’s a wholly predictable response from Sunny, simultaneously depicting his narrow-mindedness, ignorance and pomposity, here: http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/8320

  13. Yawn.

    Congratulations on failing to address any of my substantive points.

    Fact is, your leader made an arse of himself. Gutted for you. No amount of callin me a lady changes that. Cheers for the stats juice though.

    • In case you hadn’t noticed, this post isn’t about you or your points. Cheers right back at ya.

  14. What, apart from the bit where you link to my blog and call me a Victorian lady? Is that the best comeback you can think of? Or is it that sweary-nasty looks bad now and you’re thereby at a libertarian loss.

    • What, exactly, would you like me to say? That your points are well reasoned? I don’t say they’re not. But I do say your post reads like the thesaurus entry for ‘like, really offensive, man.’ And you know what? I’m not offended by DK’s sweary-nasty, heinous, vitriolic whatever. I love it. It’s what attracted me to him in the first place. I don’t even really care that it ‘looks bad.’ I’d rather he carried on being his heinously offensive self than give in to the ludicrous squeamishness of people like you, but I’m not the boss of him and I respect his decisions. *shrug*

  15. […] Gerens seems to be afflicted by both gender and historical confusions – comparing to a Victorian Lady no less – but I want to focus on something else she said […]

  16. The BBC is an entertainment organisation, not a news one. It presents news in an entertainment format because that’s what it knows. You watch that awful late night programme with Portillo and Abbott and they always have some journalist on in a “look, we’re trying to make news humourous” bit. They do that because they can’t do news properly. There’s a few bits of genuine news tucked away late at night on Radio 4.

    The coverage of Post Office closures was some of the worst. Weepy pensioners, post office counter staff and various luvvies were rolled out with their opinion on it. Yet on the rationalist side of things was Farage pointing out that it was down to EU law. Now, did a single member of the BBC journalism team ever put that to the Conservatives, about how they were going to do these things when the EU won’t allow it?

    No. Because it’s not about political debate as a way to explore a subject, or to reach conclusions. It’s coming from a dramatist’s perspective which is that you have to have conflict to make things interesting and they’d rather report irrelevant conflict than boring facts.

    The best thing to do is to make it boring. Get the questioner to qualify questions, slow it down, make it tedious. Or just ignore the BBC. They’re just not at the level of politics that the internet works at, nor are they interested in getting there.

  17. “but I’m not the boss of him and I respect his decisions.”

    Well i’m not the boss of him. And accordingly he can do whatever the hell he likes so long as he doesn’t hurt other people (some of his blog posts thereby coming into contention as to where to draw that infamously tricky distinction re harm vs. mere offence). However I don’t respect his decisions because they are manifestly very bad ones, and thereby not deserving of my respect.

    • I can vouch absolutely that DK has never harmed any of the subjects of his, er, pornographic libel. And I’m sure he’ll be completely gutted to hear you don’t respect him. I’ll just pass on the message, shall I, and break his little heart.

    • I don’t see how you can even say “tricky distinction re harm vs. mere offence”. It’s very simple: words cannot hurt anyone. He’s allowed to rage all he wants and it never hurts anyone.

  18. The LPUK manifesto contains the following point:

    Killing as a result of driving a vehicle while incapacitated—for whatever reason—should be manslaughter, and treated accordingly.

    …not a point that Chris Mouncey was able to make during his first appearance, and mores the pity too. The mother of the son killed by drunk driving was crying out for justice, and although it wasn’t mentioned I surmise that the drunk driver must have got off lightly being ‘only just over the limit’.

    The historic central tenet of libertarianism is ‘you shall not initiate force or fraud against another’, but as a soundbite I’ve started to wonder if this is enough. It really needs to include something along the lines of ‘and you shall bear the consequences of your own actions’. Consequences, good or bad is the key here. If I negligently kill someone while driving just under an arbitrary limit its pretty much as bad as killing someone while just over that limit. The consequence of an innocent death remains.

    On the other hand, if I choose to work a six day week building up a business, and as a consequence have a large disposable income, I should not have to suffer giving an increased portion of that away in progressive taxation by the same clause.

    The word ‘bear’ is not quite the right one and although I’d like to use ‘suffer’ in it’s old fashioned sense I’m still stuck with the first reading meaning negative consequences rather than negative and positive consequences.

    Is there any better way to express this ?

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