Thursday, March 13, 2008

Some excitement with 2.0?

There seems to have been a little excitement yesterday about who said what first in the big debate about "Government 2.0". This is because of quotes in the post noting the similarities between a Tom Watson speech and those given by Tory Opposition members some months ago. The actual excitement stems from the source of the quote because, guess what, they came from a Tory staffer to George Osborne.

Apparently, my failure to state the source clearly was the first problem it seems. Apparently this meant that it was just 'propaganda' and was 'biased', and 'well the Tories nicked it to anyway'. The thing is, the source of the quotes is actually inconsequential to the points that I was making, which is why I just acknowledge it having come from email. Some may scream about how it is of consequence though, so let's just deal with that for a moment.

The reason that the source in my post is not of consequence is because it is only considered to be so as a bolster to the arguments about propaganda and bias. It is, what is known in logical philosophy as an "argument against the man" (or in this case more rightly a group). Many people will know it as an ad hominen argument, although the ones using it in this case probably think it applies purely to abuse rather than circumstance as well.

Putting it simply the source of the argument being made does not make the argument being made wrong. What was the argument being made though? That Tom Watson was making a speech that appears very much to be using concepts and ideas argued by the Opposition over some time. An Opposition might I add that is - because such is the nature of politics - constantly attacked by Tom and others on the Labour benches for anything it says. I don't begrudge Tom or any of the others doing that you understand, it's part of their job after all.

The other argument that has been put forward at length if you follow the external links from the Telegraph is the classic tu quoque or "you too". This is one of those positions that makes the claim that a proponent is wrong - and their words should be dismissed - upon the grounds that they are not acting consistently in accordance with the position that they are taking. This is a very common, and also weak argument, in politics and online discourse. In the context of the Osborne staffer it goes like this.

You're accusing someone of lifting your arguments, but your arguments were not yours originally; therefore your argument that notes the similarities is invalid simply because you stole them in the first place. It's logical nonsense but it's very easy because it's lazy. It's a bit like a thief stealing a stolen item from another thief and claiming that he did not steal it because it was already stolen. I mean, it might sound rather clever but it really doesn't make any sense. The actions of the proponent of an argument prior to making their argument, do not, by necessity, invalidate the argument that they make.

The thing is, putting the rather dodgy reasonings aside what were the two points in my post that the critics have tried to dismiss? First that the Government is being led by the Opposition on this specific matter, which continues into the second that the Government is running out of ideas and steam. In the case of the former there is, I'm afraid to say, a small matter of temporal reality. The Tory Opposition have been making these arguments for some time, and, if memory serves correctly, have been ridiculed for making them in the political ping-pong fight. Again that is to be expected of course, this is politics.

However, when a Government minister, (one who is famed for his by-election negative anti-Tory campaigning brilliance might I add (that was a compliment Tom)) stands up and starts to parrot things that the Opposition have been arguing for some time, it follows, that the Opposition will rightly question if the Government is leading the country or they are by proxy on the specific matter in hand. That is not to say that words and ideas have been directly lifted, stolen, or whatever. It is the action of embracing ideas which is being mimicked.

Even more importantly though, and in specific relation to all of the speeches contents about open source and collaboration, as Mick Fealty points out in the link at the top, "it may have been embarrassing, but a hat tip to the Opposition would have been a radical move for a blogging politician and, perhaps, put Tom in the driving seat of this debate." If the desire for open source type solutions is genuine, Mick points would have been so, wouldn't it? But then again, this is politics.

On the second point I made about the Government running out of ideas you have to come back to the ridicule faced by Tory politicians such as Cameron and Osborne when they have made these fluffy marketing webspeak speeches. You can guarantee their instant dismissal as the response from the Government. Understandable again, because this is politics, and the Government doesn't want to be seen to be being led by the Opposition on anything. However, when some months later such ideas and concepts are embraced it places the Governments in a questionable position in terms of what they might want to achieve and how.

During the last decade of politics in this country the Government has, with startling regularity, dismissed and rubbished ideas presented by the two main opposition parties only to quietly introduce or start embracing the ideas at a later date. We thus have a Government that is all about positioning and triangulation as a result. Pointing out when they do it, irrespective of the source, is neither wrong, nor an act of propaganda.
Note: I should add that the content of any of the speeches are not what I am attacking either.


Barnacle Bill said...

Quite right young Dizzy.
As you say a polite hattip would have been a matter of good manners.
Intelligent debate in politics since NuLabor arrived on the scene has evaporated till we are now left with the tribal politicing we now see every where.

wonderfulforhisage said...

Jesus wept.
(Hat tip Dizzy - his comment on the first comment on his next post.)

tory boys never grow up said...

Perhaps this cuts both ways - haven't the Tories adopted Labour policies on such things as the minimum wage, devolution, the level of education and health spending, social inclusion etc.etc. And here is a prediction - they'll probably adopt the Government policy of not having a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.

In fact - I think that you will find an awful lot of policies come from ideas which were already out there in the general community (and that is even before the think tanks get their hands on them)- and this would appear to be the case with all the IT ideas being raised by Watson/Cameron/Osborn.

The reality is that most people don't give a damm where good ideas come from - and if the major political parties agree on them they would probably see it as a positive. Such an agreement would then allow those responsible for implementation to spend their time and efforts on just that - and the history of implementing policy by all political parties in this country has been pretty awful.

Perhaps a more constructive line from someone who is an IT professional would have been to think about what the hurdles would be to implementing a policy which is agreed upon by the major political parties.

PS if in future you want to regurgitate Tory press releases then perhaps you should acknowledge your sources more openly - I know all the dead tree press do the same (in fact does the Daily Mail do anything else) but they are not good examples to follow.

dizzy said...

I don;t give a crap about the past when I was ten. As to offering solutions, most of the stuff they are talking is meanigless gobbledegook conjured up by marketing people

dreamingspire said...

Did you read my comment on Tom's blog when he asked for advice? Nothing to do with politics, but about rebuilding a competent public sector no matter who is in power. If Tom is trying to take that forward, all power to him.