Tuesday, December 11, 2007

How Little Politics Change

There's a fascinating article in yesterday's Guardian by Mather d'Ancona entitled 'Rallying Opinion Online'. It's subtitled, 'Bloggers are transforming the way opposition politics works - soon the web may create and put forward its own election candidates.' A friend emailed me to ask, "Does anyone else see parallels between the rise and rise of the blog and the widespread distribution of the political pamphlet, which seventeenth century governments tried impotently to control?"

Of course the short answer is yes, but it got me searching through my library to read whatever I could about political pamphlets and to see what other parallels could be drawn. I soon came across something Mr Johnson said back in 1760 or so. "Most schemes of political improvement are very laughable things." Some things it seems never change. Elsewhere I found some interesting comments about how people in the 1760s 'knew the ruling society was inevitably corrupt in some of its dealings." In particular 'the buying and selling of votes and seats was commonly practiced.'

In 1763 John Wilkes wrote in his North Briton newspaper that ministers were 'the tools of despotism and corruption.' Six years later Wilkes won election against a government opponent at a by-election. The government declared the it null and void after bonfires were set light in London in celebration; Wilkes was arrested. While he was in prison his losing opponent was declared the winner. Of course this is where the comparisons end as something like that would never happen. Would it?

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