share


Comment is Fraught: A Polemic

When not listening to the phone messages of recently deceased children or smearing those killed in stadium disasters, journalists at Britain’s largest-selling newspaper, the Sun, may find time to pen light-hearted satires of modern life. One such piece was published in January 2003, depicting a new cast of ‘Mr Men’ characters that best reflect twenty-first century Britain. After a handful of readers went to the Press Complaints Commission, failing to see the funny side to ‘Mr Asylum Seeker’, ‘Mr Yardie’, and ‘Mr Albanian Gangster’, a new figure was created just for them, ‘Mr Guardianista’:

 

He suffers bouts of guilt about the poor and homeless but tries not to let it spoil his holiday at a gîte in Provence. Dare support the toppling of Saddam Hussein and he’ll choke on his organic vegetarian lunch (washed down with a subtle Chilean chardonnay). Mr Guardianista is also likely to be a student well after an age when he should be working for a living and contributing to a society he thinks owes him one.

 

Guardian readers like myself expect, and embrace, such attacks – we are amazed that our dwindling band of Guardianistas continues to occupy such a prominent place in the national mindset. Only 200,000 of us are willing to pay £1.40 (£2.30 on Saturday) for the paper, a drop of 11 per cent from last year. Guardian.co.uk may attract over four million unique hits a day (second only to Mail Online in the UK), but the Guardian’s print readership is just over a tenth of the Daily Mail’s and half that of The Times. More Britons buy the Scottish Daily Record, yet (as far as I am aware) no pejorative term exists for its patrons.

 

Guardian staff members have enough self-awareness to understand that their work is not to everyone’s taste. Last year Michael White, the paper’s assistant editor, listed the charge sheet as follows: ‘Naive, subversive, priggish, lentil-eating, sandal- wearing, feminist, humourless.’ Outside of the fold, cartoonish reactionaries tend to project their personal anxieties onto the paper, failing to step back and acknowledge their own ridiculousness. Richard Littlejohn, author of Littlejohns Britain and former presenter of Sky News’s Littlejohn, finds Guardianistas ‘self-regarding’. Seemingly still fighting the Cold War, the former Conservative Defence Minister Sir Gerald Howarth believes it to be a ‘communist newspaper’.

 

Calmer criticism of the paper tends to point to two areas of dispute. Firstly, that it is a loss-making enterprise (last year Guardian Media Group reported an annual loss of £76 million) with plummeting circulation – surely an issue afflicting every major news publisher to varying degrees as the British press continues to haemorrhage readers. Secondly, that it is hypocritical for publishing editorial commentary damning big business, while accepting corporate advertising revenue and relying on private equity to survive. The owners, Scott Trust Limited, clearly believe that to function as an influential ‘mainstream’ publication, they must take the corporate shilling whilst ensuring that ‘the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the Guardian’ are safe-guarded. Their paper is up against nine other national dailies, none noticeably ‘moral’ in this regard, and only one (the Independent) could claim to hold a similar ‘liberal’ outlook.

 

***

 

The Guardian’s perspective is shaped by its history. Emerging from the aftermath of the Peterloo massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Manchester, the first issue was printed from an office under a cutler’s shop on 5 May 1821. Under the stewardship of a politically active local cotton merchant, John Edward Taylor, the weekly Manchester Guardian demonstrated an Enlightenment inheritance, seeking to ‘zealously enforce the principles of civil and religious Liberty’. The paper would eschew provinciality and embrace political culture beyond Britain’s borders, enchanted by the ‘magnificent experiments’ taking place across nineteenth-century Europe and Latin America ‘to replace antiquated and despotic Governments’.

 

Published daily from 1855, the broadsheet grew in influence during the renowned 57-year editorship of Charles Prestwich Scott (1872-1929). Scott believed that the values of ‘honesty, cleanness, courage, fairness, a sense of duty to the reader and the community’ informed the character of his newspaper. Moving print operations to London in the early 1960s, the paper managed to keep a foot in the civil society movement as one of the few established outlets acknowledging human rights activism – a rare national voice in solidarity with women, disabled people, ethnic minorities, gay people (not to mention trade unionists and public sector workers) across Britain. Occasionally supportive of an emerging ‘counterculture’, the Guardian was better able than its rivals to establish a young readership base – over half of readers in 1981 were under 35.

 

To this day, the Guardian portrays itself as youthful and radical compared to its competitors, laying siege to traditional institutions and slaying sacred cows. Indeed, the paper’s most celebrated interventions have often agitated establishment figures – from its public reservations around military action in Suez, the Falklands and Iraq, to exposing Tory ‘sleaze’ during the Major years, up to the recent publication of US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and challenging Rupert Murdoch over the phone-hacking scandal.

 

Of course, the Guardian has never been ‘anti-establishment’. Its editors have cultivated warm friendships with prime ministers – C. P. Scott with the Liberal Party’s David Lloyd George, Alastair Hetherington (editor from 1956-75) with Labour’s Harold Wilson. Conservative PM Ted Heath, accompanied by Federal German Chancellor Willy Brandt, was guest of honour at the black-tie dinner celebrating the Guardian’s 150th anniversary. The nineties saw disgruntled former contributor make their frustrations known about the paper’s devotion to New Labour. Mark Steel wrote that when his contract expired he was told the paper would ‘realign towards Tony Blair’. Will Self continued the theme, saying that when he left the stable, it was ‘little more than the lickspittle house journal of New Labour. The Guardian is now a tabloid-broadsheet, a Daily Mail for the dumbed-down and deracinated.’

 

Insights into this relationship between progressive government and progressive newspaper appear throughout the ‘off-the-record’ notes meticulously kept by Hugo Young, the Guardian’s senior political commentator until his death in 2003. One such recollection from 2001 features then-Chancellor Gordon Brown extending a breakfast invitation to Young and senior members of the Guardian team (including editor Alan Rusbridger, Polly Toynbee, Larry Elliott, Martin Kettle and Michael White – all remain at the paper). ‘Mainly a virtuoso performance from GB to persuade us of the need to join in the great campaign to argue more for public investment,’ Young writes. ‘We, the Guardian, had written big pieces about this for some time … and now we needed to get behind the government (he implied) in proposing much more spending.’ Aware of the intimacy, Young further notes that some had taken to terming his employer ‘the Gordian’.

 

This attachment, however, did not jeopardise the paper’s relations with the political Right. Prime Minister David Cameron – who as a lowly parliamentary candidate began a fortnightly diary column for the Guardian until 2004 – has enjoyed occasional meetings with the current editor, and even appointed a former Guardian columnist and leader writer, Julian Glover, as his chief speechwriter in 2011. Past editors at leading Conservative newspapers – Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Sir Simon Jenkins and Sir Max Hastings – found a new lease of life in the new century after being handed their own weekly columns. ‘I write for the Guardian,’ Hastings commented in 2005, ‘because it is read by the new establishment.’

 

***

 

Central to the Guardian’s ethos are its editorial columns. The paper has long been admired for its opinion pages. As Scott declared, ‘The voice of opponents no less than that of friends has a right to be heard.’ Brendan Bracken, Winston Churchill’s wartime Minister of Information, praised the Guardian to a group of newspaper editors, saying: ‘Some people call it the greatest newspaper in the world. I have always called it the greatest viewspaper in the world.’

 

Columnist Seumas Milne, who was comment editor from 2001 to 2007, argues that the breadth of commentary in his pages was unrivalled in global media during the immediate aftermath of 9/11. ‘(The Guardian’s) comment pages hosted the full range of views the bulk of the media blanked; in other words, the paper gave rein to the pluralism that most media gatekeepers claim to favour in principle, but struggle to put into practice.’ His paper certainly goes further than its rivals to promote diversity of political opinion. A spirit of inclusivity sees politicians of every stripe, ‘experts’, activists, public figures and thinkers from Left to Right offered the opportunity to remark upon the news agenda. The comment pages have opened up and the Guardian reader is now able to read occasional political opinions from radical Marxists or right-wing outliers. Commentary from abroad, notably through the expansion of its online Comment is Free section, includes anti-imperialists and senior Bush-era apparatchiks, and encourages perspectives from non-Anglophone commentators – a rare assortment among the British media.

 

But it is the regular stall of heavily-promoted writers, the unrelenting mainstays whose weekly contributions are fixtures within the comment pages, who are inseparable from Brand Guardian. An ‘editorial line’ is almost impossible to define accurately: as long-time political columnist Jackie Ashley noted in 2008, the Guardian ‘isn’t a single file of believers marching in step’, though she adds that ‘it is clearly left-of-centre and vaguely progressive’. Its columnists and their counterparts at rival national dailies have cultivated an informed political consensus – they derive their authority not from any expertise or unique insight into political affairs, rather from their willingness to consistently comment on them. They remain unfazed by events – always eager to express their opinions.

 

The Guardian certainly prides its prize political pundits – most have been working for the paper for at least a decade and show little sign of moving on. Not only do they perform the valuable function of contributing regular content at a time when resources for gathering news are scarce. They act as its representatives on earth, missionaries visiting broadcast studios across the world, extending its reach by preaching the Guardian’s gospel to unconverted audiences.

 

Is the paper’s pride misplaced?

 

***

 

Newspaper columnists in the ‘prestige press’ do not provide a public service. They are not balanced, neutral or objective. They do not seek to break stories, uncover misdeeds or unravel conspiracy. They are given weekly slots to impart instant judgments on matters deemed ‘newsworthy’ at any given time. The same ‘Big Issues’ have been raked over for decades now: Britain in Europe, the public/ state school divide, privatising the public sector, support for American foreign policy objectives, voting reform, criminal justice: to punish or rehabilitate? These topics have been discussed for so long that a sense of ennui has set in – the ‘agenda-setting’ commentator has nothing new to say.

 

Take Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford Professor, advisor and friend to world statesmen, who has been writing a weekly Guardian column since 2004. A change at the Elysée Palace will prompt him to call for an ‘Entente Cordiale’ between Britain and France. Reacting to events, he may challenge the prime minister to bolster Britain’s relationship with the EU, or declare that Scotland should not leave the United Kingdom. He might warn of external threats – from Russia, China, the Middle East. Occasionally, he goes out on a limb, encouraging Europeans to sing the same anthem, or speak a common language.

 

Using hackneyed metaphors (Europe is a car with ‘Germany in the driving seat’ and France in ‘the front passenger seat’) and inelegant attempts at humour (Sarkozy shouting, ‘Non, non, ma chérie! Tout droit, tout droit!’ in the aforementioned ‘vehicle’), Garton Ash’s column depicts a world far removed from reality. ‘Come on, India!’ he hollers, ensuring that he has made the obligatory references to Bollywood and cricket before addressing the country of 1.2 billion people, ‘start beating China at politics.’ Writing as if complexity would frighten his readers, he has individuals exemplifying diverse nations, and nations embodying ideals: ‘Britain has become more Swiss, but most of Europe’s gone German.’

 

In the world of Timothy Garton Ash and his colleagues, politics must be simplified for the audience, and the subjects given prominent editorial space are disparate and highly selective. The regular Guardian columnist is on a perpetual cycle, always at hand to provide the continuation of on-going ‘stories’. They are afflicted by schizophrenic short-term moralism – the reader is given the impression that an issue is of urgent concern, only to be forgotten soon after. We are goaded into feeling guilty for a week, about poor kids, the Eurozone, the forest sell-off, sexual violence, farm-workers’ wages. Then we are ushered along, the unsolved dilemmas building up behind us.

 

Rarely exceeding readers’ expectations, the commentariat barks out its opinions against any particular backdrop. The London Olympics gifted Polly Toynbee four pieces in four weeks to illustrate her political positions on disability benefits, growing inequality levels, school sport and postwar British history. Jackie Ashley uses the Olympics more sparingly: Beijing 2008 had something to say about obesity; London 2012 represented ‘hard work’, ‘sacrifice’ and a ‘sense of belonging’.

 

Concerns come into view only to disappear. Events elicit the same predictable reactions. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, for example, allowed Sir Simon Jenkins to exhibit his monarchist credentials (‘Sit back, relax and enjoy it’), which were similarly on display for the Royal Wedding the previous year (‘Just relax and enjoy the fun’). This purely reactive commentary, addressing issues fleetingly and in isolation, does little to contribute to a growing understanding of the public sphere, leaving real and rhetorical shifts undetected, and readers uninformed.

 

***

 

The late historian Tony Judt believed that certain liberal intellectuals were ‘familiar – and comfortable – with a binary division of the world along ideological lines’, confident in asserting their ‘monopoly of insight into world affairs’. The impression their audiences are left with is that a grand struggle is taking place which is to be won or lost.

 

This worldview encourages the Guardian columnist to brandish their tribal loyalty at every opportunity and rally against the enemies of progress. The opposition is varied and ill-defined – it could be the ‘ConDem’ government; malicious corporations; the American hegemon. This binary division is a throwback to an era of mass parties, when there were two distinct positions in British political life, aligned with popular movements. It is tempting to seek a return to simpler political times, by drawing out clear dividing lines, lauding your side while reviling the other.

 

Readers are offered the chance to delegate responsibility onto these partisan writers. Audiences are armed with handy cut-out-and-keep arguments explaining why we should all jump aboard the bandwagon, lest we are left behind. Hopes and ambitions are pinned onto parties, factions, individuals; fears and anxieties are projected onto their rivals. We are encouraged to put any deep analysis on hold: as long as we pick the right side, we are told, we will be alright.

 

‘If there is one thing we still do really well in the media,’ declared Jackie Ashley in a moment of self-acknowledgement, ‘it’s losing our heads.’ A Guardian columnist for over a decade now, Ashley lives and breathes Labour politics. Her father was an MP for the party for twenty-six years and a peer for twenty more, whilst she cut her teeth in print journalism as the political editor of the Labour-backed New Statesman. Yet she understands the party in terms of personality rather than policy – in awe of reputations, only to have her head turned by the next big thing. Having spent years arguing that Gordon Brown was ‘needed in No 10’ and publishing frequent ‘Blair must go’ columns, Ashley eventually grew weary. ‘Tony Blair should not quit. And things are actually going rather well for Labour,’ she insisted in February 2007.

 

When he stepped down just a few months later and Brown assumed office, Ashley proclaimed that ‘we are in a new phase, far more energetic and interesting than the doldrums of recent months’. Gordon was ‘fast, agile, ruthless’ – his tenure would be ‘a Tory nightmare’. This feeling was short-lived: by Christmas, the party had ‘lost its way’ and in August 2008 she believed that the ‘best thing would be for him to stand aside’, (for David Miliband as it happens), ‘with a rueful smile and a few blunt words of regret’. The next month she changed her mind, following a conference speech that she felt was ‘good enough for those who have written off the prime minister’. Ashley ended up voting Liberal Democrat in 2010 after doing a ‘vote-swap’ with a friend from Streatham.

 

For the commentariat, politics is reduced to taking sides. Who do you ‘support’? Whose ‘team’ are you on? Are you with us or against us? Yet what does pledging your support mean if it does nothing to effect positive change on the ground? It simply makes the ‘supporter’ feel better. Ignorant about consequences, at least they are happy in the knowledge that they backed the right side.

 

***

 

Is the power of the press over society exaggerated? The Guardian’s media guru Roy Greenslade believes that it certainly plays a role in shaping public opinion. He writes: ‘The newspapers’ daily drip-drip-drip of stories and commentaries – whether positive or negative – do influence the electorate, including those people who never read the papers. The repetition, and the influence over other media, are the key to creating a broad consensus.’

 

Influencing opinion is one thing – instigating action is another. The Guardian’s occasional direct interventions have been somewhat ill-fated. In 2004, with the US presidential election looming, the paper believed that it could apply pressure on President George W. Bush from across the pond. Members of the editorial team initiated a letter-writing campaign to undecided voters in a marginal county within the crucial swing state of Ohio. Armed with advice such as ‘handwrite your letter, for additional impact’, and tempted by the promise of free flights for the best-written letters, 14,000 readers signed up to correspond with the residents of Clark County.

 

The strategy provoked an unexpected reaction. Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and Republican net warriors used the campaign to rabble-rouse for Bush against Democratic challenger John Kerry, leading to an ‘unprecedented email bombardment’ of the Guardian’s newsdesk. The largely negative responses ranged from abusive (‘Each email someone gets from some arrogant Brit telling us why to NOT vote for George Bush is going to backfire, you stupid, yellow-toothed pansies’); to disappointed (‘Nothing will do more to undermine the Democratic cause in Ohio’); and sarcastic (‘I am barely literate, so please don’t use big, fancy words. Set me straight, folks!’).

 

Operation Clark County was soon aborted. But the paper had been prescient in its decision to target Ohio – after a closely fought campaign, the state’s electors may have decided the presidency. As the US magazine Slate noted after the election, of the sixteen districts Al Gore won in 2000, Kerry won them all except Clark County. ‘In 2000, Al Gore won Clark County by 324 votes … On Tuesday George Bush won Clark County by 1,620 votes.’ The magazine quoted the Guardian’s Ian Katz (then editor of the paper’s weekday supplement, G2) as saying that it would be ‘self-aggrandising’ to claim that the paper’s operation affected the election result. ‘Don’t be so modest, Ian,’ came the retort.

 

Whether it is launching bewildering initiatives in order to affect overseas elections, or at home encouraging readers to vote Liberal Democrat in 2010 ‘to prevent a Conservative win’, the Guardian has often displayed an inability to critically scrutinise complex events and their after-effects. The paper demonstrates a passion for political affairs, yet its editors do not have a special insight into consequences.

 

Forecasting is prone to simplification. The sprawling, multi-faceted nature of politics cannot be reduced to a series of tick-boxes – ‘Five ways to solve the Eurozone crisis’; ‘Eight steps to make Britain a fair society’; ‘Five ways Labour can fight back’. Just as reactionaries need an imagined past to orientate themselves, Guardian liberals have faith in an idealised future. But they fail to offer a coherent, pluralistic vision of a just society – we are simply assured that things will be better if only we would heed their sage advice.

 

Vagueness masks ignorance. We cannot end child poverty at the snap of our fingers, or CLICK HERE to stop sexual violence. Columnists covering these subjects may hint at a problem, but are only fractionally more incisive than those cartoons in the Observer of a loosely-shackled, slobbering bear with ‘Financial Markets’ emblazoned across its chest, or a Fat Cat (literally a ‘fat cat’) smoking a cigar whilst a bare-buttocked George Osborne smirks inanely in the background. This hollowed-out critical thinking ensures a personal compliance with an increasingly lost and profoundly confused political landscape. It is difficult to come to terms with the fact that there may not be easy-to-digest, practical ‘solutions’ to political problems.

 

***

 

For the Guardian writer, events don’t really happen unless they are ‘evaluated’. The reader is brusquely told of an event’s significance rather than offered time to formulate his or her own opinions. And rather than adequately reflecting common experience, the writer’s column may become a refuge from reality.

 

2 October, 2012: The leader of the opposition delivers a co-written, pre-planned mid-term conference speech to party supporters on a Tuesday afternoon in a hall in Manchester. Key sections are trailed beforehand in the day’s newspapers and it is finally streamed to a television audience smaller than that afternoon’s edition of the quiz show Countdown.

 

The following morning, Polly Toynbee was on hand to tell us the meaning of this particular ‘event’. Taking to the Guardian’s front page, she proclaimed ‘the day Ed Miliband wiped the smile off Conservative faces’ as ‘breathtaking’, noting the ‘warmth of spontaneous affection’ that his rapt audience displayed. Adopting the role of interpreter, she declared: ‘This was the day Miliband took full command of his party and turned his private qualities at last into public strengths.’ If readers were in any doubt about the importance of this performance, we were assured that ‘by osmosis voters do absorb political turning points such as this’.

 

Who is this ‘expert on the present’ trying to persuade? And why is she mystifying her audience by taking control of the narrative? Is her audience of potential ‘voters’ not capable of deciding what counts as a ‘turning point’ or what can be considered a public strength?

 

Polly Toynbee, the Guardian made flesh to many observers, has her detractors throughout the conservative commentariat. Mayor of London Boris Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph that she ‘incarnates all the nannying, high-taxing, high-spending schoolmarminess of Blair’s Britain’. Daily Mail writers have described ‘the Guardian’s high-priestess’ as ‘snooty’ and ‘hectoring’. But must Guardian readers rally to her defence in the face of hostility? Behind the invective sadly lies a kernel of truth. Toynbee adopts a prescriptive tone not only alienating to the right-wing press, but more importantly to the people she believes she is supporting.

 

At the end of last year, she used her column to invoke the plight of disadvantaged people across the UK, yet could only view their situations through the lens of party politics. Lazy proclamations such as ‘Labour would certainly rebalance the burden of hardship as best it could’, or about ‘key voters who feel the cut painfully and who take offence at Tory stigmatisation’ make it seem like the deprived have been recruited to back her party political positions.

 

Newspaper columnists often believe they are entitled to use the spectre of ‘the public’ to support their arguments whilst simultaneously denying them a direct voice. That poor people are poor is of interest to the commentator, but she remains averse to their active participation in media discourse. The views of ordinary people are delegitimised – their perspectives rejected through spatial constraints, unless reduced to a (very occasional) trite soundbite: ‘There’s just no work for the young,’ a Hackney headmaster was briefly quoted as saying by Toynbee, fumbling for an explanation for the 2011 summer riots.

 

But surely we need visible progressive champions fighting for the marginalised while the forces of reaction dominate the media landscape? Writers like Toynbee, who have ‘an instinctive defence of the underdog against the over-privileged, rooting for the have-nots against the power of the have-yachts’, must play a key role in balancing out the shrill voices demonising the dispossessed?

 

Those who take this view understand political commentary as both adversarial and elitist – the writers on either side privilege themselves, certain of their own centrality to debates. They see a split between ‘Bad’ people calling for a continuation of suffering and misery, and the ‘Good’ defenders of decency. But both ‘Bad’ and ‘Good’ share the view that it is they that know best – it is naturally up to them to decide what must be done.

 

Invariably, this plays a role in silencing the public who, it seems, exist only to be talked about or analysed by media folk, according to what comes into view. Those who are talked about are denied direct access to the media, their voices excluded from the debate. Disconnected, we get to hear about gender inequality because some female journalists have garnered misogynistic comments on Twitter; discuss race because a black player has been verbally abused at a football match; mention disablism because the Paralympics is on.

 

Real life human experiences are only to be seen through the extraordinarily narrow prism of media interest. As Polly predicts for 2013, ‘Expect shocking stories of families losing children’s disability living allowance. Picture disabled people chaining themselves to mobility scooters about to be repossessed.’ That’s one less illustrated opinion page to plan for the coming year.

 

***

 

The Guardian has a proud history of being underestimated by its rivals when taking an independent line. It has provoked premature obituaries, as it did in the early 1960s when the paper questioned the press’s conduct in hounding a junior minister, Thomas Galbraith, following a ‘scurrilous’ campaign to link him with a Russian spy. ‘The Guardian was a magnificent newspaper, vibrant in ideas and originality, swift and sure-footed in leadership,’ an editorial in the Mirror read, after Galbraith’s resignation. ‘It has swapped its majestic virtues for vacillation and timidity … Worse a smugness has settled around it thicker than a London (or Manchester) fog.’

 

Half a century later, and many of the Guardian’s opponents disparaged the paper in the wake of the hacking scandal. The Sun published frequent commentary arguing that claims were baseless; Boris Johnson believed them to be ‘codswallop’, ‘politically motivated’. Yet the paper helped to cease the publication of the 168-year old News of the World – forced to say farewell to its ‘7.5 million loyal readers’ – and precipitate the departure of several senior executives at Rupert Murdoch’s multinational News Corporation.

 

According to editor Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian has ‘always been an outsider. It’s never been in the club.’ Well, if he’s not in the club, must he still play by club rules? Do the ‘culture, practices and ethics of the press’ (the Leveson Inquiry’s remit) even matter now that the era of ‘the press’ is over? Rusbridger seeks a foothold in the future, an innovative, ‘digital-first’ future beyond print. And as his paper takes its leap into the unknown, its brand is strong – far stronger than its larger UK print rivals dwarfing his paper’s circulation.

 

Editorially, the Guardian is almost alone in commissioning world leaders, Nobel Prize-winning economists, radical academics and human rights activists who can offer up their knowledge and expertise to anyone with an internet connection, free of charge. Many are still forced to self-censor, whipping up narrow articles devoid of context, meticulously sticking to word-counts and wildly acknowledging passing fads: ‘What “Gangnam Style” says about Asian identity’;‘Zero Dark Thirty and the normalisation of torture’; ‘Mayan Apocalypse, meet Fiscal Cliff’. There is little room for the myriad experiences of those historically excluded from the media arena.

 

There is no need for spatial or thematic constraints in the digital future. The Guardian is in a position to decide whether it wants to emerge as an influential educative force, an honest voice for its growing, diverse readership, intelligent enough to come to its own conclusions if presented with reliable information. Or does it want to operate as the ‘better’ part of an industry indifferent to positive world change?

 

The Guardian can survive without its canon of consistent commentators. They are an anachronism – talking about everything yet saying nothing. Cancel their contracts and help break their tedious cycle of responses. Broaden the comment base to enrich the discourse. Move beyond a reactive, adversarial approach and offer up space to help readers connect with the political world in all its complexity and contradictions. Or, failing that, stick ‘The Talent’ behind a paywall and let them sing for their supper. They can do their shouting in the dark, at those with more money than sense.

 

We won’t miss them.