Monday, 9 March 2009

RIP Politicalbetting.com

Every website or forum has its time in the sun, when it's the place to be. Politicalbetting.Com (or pb.com to its friends) has enjoyed such a period of pre-eminence in the political blogsphere. I would argue that since 2004 it has been the place to go for political and betting news and debate.

For a number of years, I posted there regularly and enjoyed considered, good-natured debates with a number of the other contributors from other parties and the unaffiliated. There was a genuine atmosphere of debate and dialogue free of personal invective and abuse where constructive comments were possible and ideas exchanged.

That place has gone.

Pb.com's founder, Mike Smithson, is a decent and honourable chap and has done his best to evolve the site into something useful. His guiding principle has been the free exchange of comment - unlike other forums, there is no registration and moderation is kept to a minimum. It used to work well on that basis because contributors respected other opinions and kept abuse to a minimum.

That also has gone.

Whether it is symptomatic of the times or symptomatic of the pervading political atmosphere I don't know but in the last six months, pb.com has become an increasingly unpleasant almost toxic place. Back in 2004-5, there was a healthy balance of contributors across the political spectrum but more recently the majority of contributors including a cadre who seem to post almost all day every day has become increasingly aggressive and intolerant. This new breed of poster is almost universally anti-Labour and anti-Liberal Democrat. Some are presumably Conservative supporters and activists and it bodes ill for the future if the lack of respect for other people's opinions visible now on pb.com becomes the lingua franca of the Cameron era.

The daily vitriol against Gordon Brown and the Government and against Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats has damaged the credibility of pb.com. Anyone who either tries to post opinions supporting Labour or Lib Dem viewpoints or who in any way dares to criticise David Cameron is rounded on by a feral pack of odious individuals and subjected to a tirade of abuse and invective.

These individuals, who are of course wholly unable to fashion anything approaching an argument, use abuse for no other reason. Last Saturday evening, I tried to make some points defending the attacks made on the economic culture of the 1980s by Nick Clegg to be rounded on by a pack of deeply unpleasant individuals whose single-sentence comments weren't counter-arguments but personal abuse.

Now, I've got better things to do with my life than put up with that kind of invective and I shouldn't have responded in kind but the fact remains that if pb.com is going to devolve into a bearpit then I want no part of it.

Thus, I won't post on pb.com for the foreseeable future or until Mike Smithson takes some definite action aimed at restoring some standard of respect.

There are those who will argue that the recession has poisoned the political atmosphere and we urgently need a change of Government or even change of political culture and they may well have a point. However, the attempt by Conservative activists to prevent by force majeure any critique of their party's policy suggests an unhealthy fragility and lack of self-belief.

This fragility is also hidden by their inate cockiness - a belief that winning the next election and inflicting as heavy a defeat as possible on Labour and the Liberal Democrats is all that matters. Restoring the economy doesn't matter, providing good governance is unimportant, they can't be bothered by the problems facing individuals, families and communities. All they want is the buzz of victory, the opportunity to gloat and the chance to stick their snouts in the political trough from which they have been excluded for so long.

It may well be that pb.com will be restored once we have a change in Government - I suspect many of those who enjoy being offensive now won't enjoy being defensive in 2012-13 and we will see a big change in those posting. There needs to be a constructive forum where political thoughts and ideas can be exchanged without descending into the noxious bearpit of activism that pb.com has now become.

9 comments:

J said...

Seeya.

Patrick said...

This post sounds like an open invite to all of the old PB hands to come and pee in your swimming pool Stodge. I give it a week before Sean T is here. I may come and mouthe of from time to time myself.

Patrick said...

..that should be 'mouthe off'...

Anonymous said...

...or "mouth off"...?

Innocent Abroad said...

A conclusion I had come to some time ago.

The anonymity of the Internet is of course a cowards' charter anyway: the pb.com parties I've been to were full of perfectly courteous people.

Part of the problem may be that Smithson wants to make money from the site. That means he wants the highest possible numbers - the business model prefers a hundred ranting obsessives to a handful of people who have something intelligent to say.

Anonymous said...

Stodge,

I am disappointed that you feel this has become such a problem that you have no alternative but to withdraw from the sight, not least because I have always enjoyed your thoughtful and good natured contributions. You will be missed.

However, it is difficult to see what you hope to achieve by withdrawing (have I missed a mystical place on the internet where the political discussion is first class and the editors take a liberal stance to censorship but only towards interesting people?), nor do I believe your prescription will work. More active censorship is a disaster for any site. Already PB.com is cluttered with whiny requests for individual posts to be deleted or posters banned, as well as volumes of mock offence. Censorship invariably leads to a point where only "acceptable" views can be aired, which in turn restricts and narrows the debate.

I wish you all the best and hope you will reconsider.

Come back and do what I do - read the excellent headline posts, scroll through the comments and pick out the best by the best, and think about whether or not you want to respond. If the idiots (who are, by the way, not as exclusively Tory as you suggest) have a go, ignore them and reply only to people who engage with you sensibly.

Flockers

Anonymous said...

Stodge,

Sorry you won't be posting -- but to be fair there are ranting posters of all persuasions (including LibDems) on pb.com.

I happen to think that your posts were some of the sanest, so please reconsider.

Gwynfa

Richard Tyndall said...

This is a classic case of shooting the messenger becasue you don't like the message.

PB.com has not changed in any perceptible way since it started. What has changed is that the way in which the parties are viewed. Those who supported Labour have found it more and more difficult to justify their position whilst those who opposed have found more and more reasons to criticise. That is simply an inevitable part of the political cycle.

Personally I agree that people shouldn't post anonymously but I do understand why Mike fears that such a policy would drive away some of the more prominant figures who fear revealing their true identities would undermine their position in real life. Interestingly the one person of note who was driven away by unacceptable vitriol was Conservative not Labour.

I am afraid that in the end what Stodge objects to is the fact that the Conservatives are in the ascendency at the moment. Blaming PB.com for that is a rather futile position to take.

MBoy said...

I repeat again the need for a poster rating system like that used on Slashdot. It is not “censorship” or moderation in any way, but a way for the community to rate posters and then set their own threshold for viewing.

Poor posters will not get off the ground and so will simply be filtered out by the vast majority. It then becomes a waste of time posting one-line insults all the time, or silly little comments, as noone will read them. People like Martin Day would have to quickly reform or just be ignored. Other anonymous posters would never get off the ground.