Why Does Anyone Care About Renew? (Part 3)

The travails of the centrist remoaners at Renew continued at the recent local elections, with a defecting councillor James Cousins, formerly of the Tories, losing his seat in Shaftesbury, Wandsworth. The party retains two other defectors at seats in Barnard Castle and Portsmouth that were not contested earlier this month.

Cousins tried to put a gloss on it, saying in a press release: ‘Though squeezed by the two main parties in this major battleground [Wandsworth], we showed we can take votes away from them and be competitive against the Liberal Democrats, Greens and UKIP. For example, Chris Coghlan won 10% of the vote in Balham.’

In fact in the Shaftesbury ward the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems all gained votes, with one Labour candidate only 36 votes off nicking a seat from the Tories. The only caveat was that turnout, both in relative and absolute terms, was higher. See the 2014 results here, and the 2018 results here. A similar story also emerged in the Balham ward between 2014 and 2018.

Snark aside, clocking up a few hundred votes in a few local councillors only a few months after setting up is not bad. But it is still rather bemusing that Renew continues to merit media attention, most recently a long read in the New Statesman.

Anoosh Chakelian, a staff hack at the leftish magazine, asks most of the right questions of the new party. Most compelling is why it needs to exist when its policy positions – anti-Brexit, centre right economics, centre left society – are shared by the Liberal Democrats.

‘The Lib Dems have got their own baggage which limits the way they can make an impact,’ says Renew volunteer Alan Victor. ‘If you’re new and fresh, you can start again from first principles.’

Perhaps so, but the Lib Dems did rather well at the locals, gaining 75 seats. The party also has a history of local campaigning, with at least some of the institutional memory, connections and infrastructure that goes with that.

As time goes on fewer are likely to care about the coalition years, that broken pledge on student tuition fees and former leader Tim Farron’s, er, conflicted stance on homosexuality. And if the Liberals claws back their outsider status, just what will the point of Renew be?

Podcast Ep. 111: Intellectual Dark Web Spinners Reconsider Branding

Right Dishonourable intellectual dark web

Our belated response to the local elections in early May, the ‘intellectual dark web’ confronting taboo political subjects, and a ‘gay-baiting’ Eurovision performance (which one? – Ed) are the three topics this week.

Joining us is our reluctant loyalty to the Lib Dems.

Image based on Tarantula, September 2016 by Judy Dean

The Intellectual Dark Web Is The Open Internet

It’s ironic that an appearance in The New York Times still feels like a win for a group based on outsiders retreating to the Internet to broadcast themselves. But it shows you that reputation and respectability still matter, even when anybody can publish.

Bari Weiss, the New York-based hack behind the account, calls the intellectual dark web ‘an alliance of heretics […] making an end run around the mainstream – and finding enormous new audiences thirsty to discuss subjects that have become taboo.’

I have listened to some of these heretics for years, including the new atheist Sam Harris, comedian Joe Rogan, and the journalist Douglas Murray. Before it was cool, I even read The Righteous Mind by psychologist Jonathan Haidt – a book on how our moral instincts separate us – shortly after it was published in hardback in 2012.

Weiss’s piece has a slight ‘explorer unearths foreign culture’ tone to it, and suggests more cohesion and cooperation within the intellectual dark web than exists. But at the centre it captures the story that the Internet has opened an escape door to many trapped by institutional bias.

Though political correctness has made certain facts and opinions unwelcome in certain places, the Internet has made gatekeepers increasingly irrelevant. Far from resorting to a ‘dark web’, intellectuals can easily express their ideas without navigating the closed systems of formal education or the mainstream media.

Thus the wonderful thing about the ‘intellectual dark web’ is not that it endorses unorthodox views, a fact that can be deduced simply from the variety of a label that contains both Harris and the author Jordan Peterson, who cannot even agree a definition of ‘truth’. It is that a lack of gatekeepers allows you to read a genuine diversity of views, and agree or disagree.

Almost as if the Internet was designed for it.