Tuesday, July 25, 2006


For as many years as I have been reading the Morley Observer & Advertiser (and its previous manifestation as two supposedly independent papers) I have been both amused and vexed by the tactic of shilling, where supporters of political parties write in to praise their own and rubbish the opposition. Indeed, I once wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that letters to the editor include a disclosure statement so that the partisanship was out in the open rather than implied.

This ongoing campaign has had its comic moments, including the time when the Morley Borough Independents decided that some of the MBI bashing was from fictitious names and addresses. Other chuckles come in the form of lucid letters from individuals who struggle to string a sentence together in the flesh, let alone write coherently and cogently with well-phrased arguments.

In recent weeks, however, it has risen to new heights. There has been a long stream of letters in support of newly elected BNP Councillor Chris Beverley and the great things he is apparently achieving in the Ward. This has, of course, got the MBIs in a bit of a tizzy and an attempt by Robert Finnegan to suggest this was all down to shilling spectacularly backfired when it came across as arrogant and sarcastic with the subsequent postbag pointing it out.

Indeed, the BNP are proving to be rather good at this PR business. For a long time, the received wisdom mantra has been that when the BNP get elected they don’t actually get their finger out and do anything. Chris Beverley recently challenged Leeds Councillors to help him out on a clean-up campaign. For the others, this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario; if they decline, they will be accused of hypocrisy, if they join in they will be accused of consorting with extremists.

I can’t say that I like the BNP but I do believe in freedom of speech, opinion and assembly. The more they express their views, the more apparent how odious some of them are which is a much better approach than simply proscribing views and thoughts. Their website is actually quite interesting and their news items, whilst inevitably partial, expose lots of things that the Government would rather we didn’t know about how they deal with opinions not in the mainstream. For example, did you know that a BNP activist is currently banged up on a trumped up charge after an argument with an Iraqi in a pub? They are positioning it that he is a political prisoner so are making mileage out of it but there is probably more to the story than meets the eye.

I recently read of the term Astroturfing, which is shilling carried to the next level- passing off something inferior as having wide public support by people in the pay of the beneficiaries. It is particularly in use for the battle for the Internet in America but applies just as well to our own Morley letters page.

(Disclosure: Independent Town Councillor, Moderate Libertarian, Heterosexual, Agnostic)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I too loved the "Clean Up" ploy. You've gotta hand it to him, great idea.
When the elecorate and elected actually realise it's Leeds CC that need to do the job rather than the BNP or general public we're onto a winner.
Perhaps Mr Finnegan and Mr Beverley should be lobbying to get what we're already paying for rather than doing it themselves.