Saturday, May 1, 2010

Thankyou to the Guardian for scratching my three-year itch

The Guardian's decision this evening to endorse the Liberal Democrats (albeit with certain caveats) may well have considerable ramifications, but I must admit my own first reaction to the news was rather petty. I've previously documented here some of the epic online scraps I've had over the last couple of years with (for the most part) right-wingers, but as far as I can remember my very first one was on the discussion page for a Wikipedia article, back in the early months of 2007. It all started with a contribution I made to Alex Salmond's WP biography which, without wanting to blow my own trumpet (*cough*) was deemed good enough by the Sunday Times to be worth nicking in slightly altered form for part of a profile of the soon-to-be First Minister. So I was somewhat miffed to spot that my handiwork had been butchered by a contributor called 'Longlivefolkmusic' on the grounds of "bad writing", and sarcastic suggestions that the whole article had been a "campaign page" rather than a bio. Upon further investigation, however, it transpired (as is so often the case on Wikipedia) that the said contributor had something of a bee in his bonnet that was distorting his concept of 'neutrality'. He was a right-wing American who saw 'liberal bias' in every corner - hardly untypical, but for some reason his own personal fixation was correcting this problem primarily in UK political articles, which he set about doing with an affected air of teacherly condescension and utter exasperation. In particular, the word 'sheesh' seemed to feature a great deal in his edit summaries.

The problem for him, unfortunately, was that he clearly wasn't half as familiar with his subject-matter as he imagined himself to be, and in 'correcting' text he had taken one look at and assumed to be biased he frequently ended up inventing startling new facts. (A particular favourite of mine was that the Liberal Democrats had "merged" with the Pro-Euro Conservative Party.) So, as he'd left such an inviting open goal, I couldn't resist getting my own back by correcting some of these factual errors, and I naturally attached some condescending "in-the-style-of-Longlivefolkmusic" edit summaries to my revisions for good measure. It wasn't long before I provoked a reaction - but to my surprise the one that really got his goat was my rather innocuous replacement of his description of the Guardian as a "pro-Labour" newspaper with the words "left-leaning". Now, the Guardian is undoubtedly a progressive and anti-Conservative newspaper, and I could see how an American used to a closed two-party system would assume that this automatically made it a Labour publication, but it seemed to me its measure of support over the years for the Liberals, SDP-Liberal Alliance and the Liberal Democrats made the unqualified term "pro-Labour" far too simplistic, especially for an encyclopedia. 'Left-leaning' seemed to me to be a much more accurate and uncontroversial description - but to my bemusement I was informed by an incandescent Longlivefolkmusic that it was far too "affectionate"! I naturally set about defending my corner robustly, but little did I realise that the argument I was embarking upon would -

* Take up 10,000 words.

* Last for two months.

And this was a discussion about the appropriateness of two words. Only at Wikipedia.

At one point he convinced himself I was a woman (I've absolutely no idea why he would jump to that conclusion about someone calling themselves 'Sofia') - but that was one factual error I didn't bother correcting. Anyway, I now at last feel thoroughly vindicated, but I'll try to resist the temptation to pop back and say 'I told you so'.

As for the Guardian's recommendation of tactical voting where necessary to keep the Conservatives out, their logic would seem to clearly suggest a vote for the SNP in at least four constituencies - although I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that point didn't occur to this most brazenly Anglo-centric of newspapers. It doesn't end there, though - a large part of the rationale for a Lib Dem endorsement is that party's commitment to genuine electoral reform. As the SNP share that commitment, surely a vote for the Nationalists in seats where they are the only alternative to Labour would also be consistent with the approach the Guardian have set out?

1 comment:

  1. I'll try to resist the temptation to pop back and say 'I told you so'.

    Oh go on, you know you want to smack it in his face.