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All are subject to the people’s surveillance

A little over a week ago I came across a little “gotcha” story of political news, or rather gossip, which stuck in my mind, not because of the of the commonplace instance of political insincerity it revealed, but because of the way this story reached what we still call the newspapers.

Celebrity Corbyn cheerleader Paul Mason caught on video expressing his doubts about the LAB leader saying he should be replaced by Clive Lewis

One of the tireless advocates of Corbyn during the prolonged LAB leadership battle in the summer was the ex-Newsnight correspondent Paul Mason. As you’d expect he’s articulate and good on the telly and figured prominently in the coverage of the election.

But there’s one video of him which he’s probably less keen about. He was caught by someone sitting near him in a bar in Liverpool as he talked about Corbyn’s failings and lack of electoral appeal. This has now found its way into the hands of the Sun which is giving big coverage this morning.

This is one of the dangers about the modern world. Most people have smartphones with pretty sophisticated video facilities which they carry with them all the time.

The quote is from by Mike Smithson of politicalbetting.com. The emphasis was added by me. It is funny to see the “postcapitalist” journalist Paul Mason caught out, but disquieting to think that this is the future for everybody even slightly famous. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s famous meeting at the Granita restaurant in Islington in which Blair is said to have promised to pass the sceptre to Brown would not now be possible. Famous and powerful people must now remove themselves even further from normal people in order to have any hope of privacy. Is this on balance good? I don’t know.

However much I worry, the ability of every ordinary person to spy on the media-political elite (a category that most certainly includes the former Newsnight Business Correspondent and Channel 4 Economics Editor) is one of the few things that might temper their belief in their right to spy on and “expose” everybody else. It also reminds them that what constitutes “news” can be decided by people other than them.

Related: Perry de Havilland’s post from 2010: Why I Support Wikileaks

18 comments to All are subject to the people’s surveillance

  • Heh, my not very flattering views on Assange & many of his supporters (which remains irrelevant) and the very reluctant acceptance of the value of Wikileaks have not changed much since I wrote that earlier article.

  • Runcie Balspune

    This is one of the dangers about the modern world.

    You can tell a lot by what someone considers to be a “danger”.

  • Eric Tavenner

    Seems fair to me. If the worshippers of the Holy State want to stick their noses into our business they should get ours in theirs.
    Though I would prefer that everybody just minded their own business.

  • bobby b

    If you go into “public service” (what a misnomer for a class of people who somehow largely end up as millionaires on small public salaries), you ought to carry electronic bugs broadcasting your every word and thought to the public.

    A few weeks ago, I listened to a radio interview of a Democrat operative talking about the Dem National Committee e-mails that had been leaked, which showed that the DNC screwed Bernie Sanders, that the DNC and the press were working hand in hand, and that an awful lot of campaign money and influence was coming in from foreign sources.

    His, and his interviewer’s, and their call-in commenters’, take on the situation was that they should be more careful with their e-mail and comm security.

    Not a word of concern for the lies and deception that the e-mails made evident. Not a word about how our government is supposed to work versus the bastardization of a system they had created. Not a word about the felonies committed in allowing foreign money to affect our election.

    No, their take was, we have to lie more securely.

    So, tap the bastards’ mail. Listen to their phones. Video their private moments. Ask their kids what they say at home.

    And then share it all over the world.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    Yes, that 15 minutes of fame keeps on coming closer and closer- though I suspect, with so many people in the world, it’ll end up as 15 micro-seconds. Keep well-dressed- you never get a second chance to make a great first impression!

  • Laird

    What bobby b said.

  • Paul Marks

    I have no problem at all with a reporter having political opinions – as long as they are “up front” with them (do not pretend to be “unbiased”).

    What it is wrong is that the BBC (and other broadcasters) claim to present “unbiased news”, there is no such thing as “unbiased news” – what is reported (what one chooses to regard as important) and how it is is reported, is a matter of political judgment – which reflects one’s view of the world.

    The Progressive movement “objective, scientific journalism” (and “Schools of Journalism” and so on) is a massive lie.

    Television and radio stations (like newspapers) should openly reflect different political points of view in their news and current affairs coverage (and in their entertainment shows – entertainment also reflects one’s political view of the world) and there should be CHOICE between different radio and television stations of different political points of view.

    Obviously such things as the BBC tax (“License Fee”) are evil and should be abolished. As should the regulations demanding that private radio and television stations be “objective” and “unbiased” (i.e. that they must present the “left liberal” line as the truth).

  • Andrew Duffin

    Incidents like this, of course, are one of the drivers behind the increasing clamour from the elites to have power of censorship on social media.

    A clamour which, I might point out, is being actively supported and progressed by the big social media companies themselves.

  • Patrick

    It seems Steven Den Beste has died. That’s a real pity. I used to be a big USS Clueless fan. He gave up the serious blogging to focus on anime cartoons when the nitpicking got too much – a real shame. It was the disc of the sun what did it!

  • Erik

    It’s all very good to say that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, but I don’t think this can end well.

    Effective multiparty government, it seems to me, requires the ability to float and withdraw ideas, to change course, to express doubts, so that one can negotiate one’s way towords an uncertain deal. Mass surveillance makes such negotiations public; the present public hates seeing how sausage is made but loves seeing politicians “held responsible” (for which frequently read: humiliated).
    Potential outcome 1: the negotiations withdraw into deeper secrecy to be able to negotiate and speculate out of the eye of the mob, all government becomes overall less transparent as a corollary. Nothing gets written down, nothing said outside of tinfoil-lined rooms, Parliament becomes ever more a puppet theater.
    Potential outcome 2: Abolition of the “effective”. Very principled and consistent screaming at each other in public forever.
    Potential outcome 3: Abolition of the “multiparty”. The Queen orders that things shall be done, without negotiation or consideration with dissenters.
    Potential outcome 4: Some kind of ban on recording or transmitting the words of the Bureaucratic Class outside of their approved channels.
    Potential outcome 5: The electorate stops demanding spectacle. As if.

    Any good, non-trivially probable outcomes in sight?

  • CaptDMO

    Sheesh, I remember the good old days when traveling, dining, and well appointed accommodations, ALL on the taxpayers teat, ASSURED one could get away with it if it weren’t for “Those damned meddling kids!”
    But THESE days, you might jus be sitting next to a “Real Housewife of (somewhere), a Kardassian, or Unionized gub’mint labor “administrative assistant”.

  • Watchman


    Abolotion of the multiparty does not require a single party dictatorship, as it could lead to a situation where individual action and commitments are the important thing, rather than adherence to a whip (which is a useful metaphor for something…). So I would take your outcome 3 as desirable, in that the relationship between the representative and his or her constituents should be open, and their dealings with others should be also. If this kills the party as anything other than an open and loose association (wierdly, similiar to the nineteenth-century parties) perhaps only united by their manifestos (which would also be publically determined in effect), then so be it – I would not mourn a system for keeping groups of people in power at the expense of their electorate. After all, if parties were dead then it is possible the US might not be about to elect a total idiot (and I am not calling the result of a two-horse race there either…).

    Although the one invariable rule of British politics is that the Conservatives/Tories would somehow survive and remain broadly united anyway…

  • Erik


    if you break it down to individual representatives instead of political parties, I don’t see how this solves the issue of multi-party (party here in the sense of “actor”) coordination requiring flexible negotiation. You’d still have constituents getting angry that their particular representative wavered on something the constitutents didn’t want to see waffling on.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker!) Gray

    This is why I embrace Participism, not democracy. If an adult chooses to be a citizen, then eleven months of community service (fire-brigade, rescue, road patrols, etc.) would be followed by one month when you and 1/12th of the citizens get together to vote on old laws, or propose new ones- you would be part of the government for one month. Then back to the intermittent community service, etc. I would restrict this to local governments, and have conventions of local governments to replace State and Federal governments. No more political parties. Seniority would decide speaking order.

  • bobby b

    You’d still have constituents getting angry that their particular representative wavered on something the constitutents didn’t want to see waffling on.

    The current system yields an incorrect belief, inspired by dishonesty, that a particular representative is in complete concordance with each and every disparate view amongst the constituency. That’s the status quo that you’re protecting.

    No, we need complete disclosure, even though it might be uncomfortable. It might even be that, were we to learn all of what goes on amongst the politerati, we would accept that we’re never going to have representatives who completely mirror our individual desires, and begin electing people based more on character than spoils.

    The cost of a system based on hidden negotiations is the loss of trust in it that has to eventually win out. Human nature directs that a system in which our representatives can deal privately will eventually be subsumed by them dealing privately for their own personal gain. Having to negotiate in public is a small price to pay to keep government clean, trusted, and legitimate.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Paul Marks @ October 25, 2016 at 8:00 am:

    I have no problem at all with a reporter having political opinions – as long as they are “up front” with them (do not pretend to be “unbiased”).

    Back in high school, I had an American history textbook which illustrated some incident with a facsimile of the Chicago Times front page reporting it. I’ve totally forgotten what the incident was, but I remember the masthead of the Times, which read “Loyal to the Democratic Party in victory and defeat!”

    Many newspapers were founded as explicit political vehicles, their allegiance proclaimed in their names: the Richmond Whig, for instance.

    The danger of modern “non-partisan” “we are for whatever is right” journalism is that it conceals its practitioners’ partisanship, while investing their pronouncements with a spurious authority. Because if they’re for what is right, then what they’re for defines what is right.

  • Erik

    I don’t mean to protect the status quo. I’m being pessimistic about potential ways out of the status quo.