Friday, 12 February 2016

Google is not everything

In the Commons yesterday in a debate on government cuts to the assistance given to opposition parties for research and policy development, UKIP MP Douglas Carswell, said:

I am delighted that the Government are cutting Short money; few things this Administration have announced have pleased me more. Does the Minister agree that this is public money and that the public will deeply resent it being spent on politicians to do more politics? Does he agree that the rules on Short money need to reflect the fact that the cost of doing politics—of doing policy, research and communication—have come down? We live in a world where Google is at our fingertips, so we do not need researchers. We also have Twitter and blogs so we do not need a whole department of press officers. Does he agree that the public will resent using public money to pay for Spads and shadow special advisers, who have watched too much of “The West Wing”, to sit in Portcullis House at public expense?

His remarks about providing party political propaganda at public expense will strike a chord with many, though I would point out that parties which do not have financial support from the City or from trade unions are at a disadvantage. I have also criticised the use of Short money purely for PR purposes as well as the proliferation of Special Advisers.

However, I do take issue with his implication that Google provides a complete research facility. For a start, most of the links that Google or any search engine provide are to information that is partisan and/or misleading, especially on contentious issues. It is difficult to know what one can trust, outwith the traditional US papers which are fact-checked.

Links are increasingly skewed towards the interests of those advertisers which provide income for Google and the like. Moreover, there is an increasing tendency to promote links only to web pages put up in the last three or four years. It was already virtually impossible to find material from before 1997 when the World Wide Web really took off, as most sources had no incentive to put historical material online. For all these reasons, a diligent researcher and access to a decent physical library are worth their weight in gold.

1 comment:

Frank H Little said...

As to the cuts, Margaret Beckett made a telling point in that same session: "Is the Minister aware that I was fortunate enough to be the Leader of the House who put through the settlement on Short money to which my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has referred? At the time, we had a massive majority and every opportunity to use office to disadvantage our opponents, had we wished. The Conservative party was politically on its knees, and financially as close to it as it had ever been. We had experienced one of the features of the proposal that is being considered, namely the freezing of the grant after it has been cut. We experienced inflation of 10% to 15% under the triumphant preceding Conservative Government. Consequently, not only did we treble the money and make special provision for the special needs of the Leader of the Opposition, but we inflation-proofed it. That is why the money has gone up for the past five years: it is his party’s own record on inflation that the Minister is criticising."

I felt at the time that the Conservative party should have been treated like any other bankrupt organisation because of its own financial mismanagement and was sorry that the Labour government turned a blind eye. As the saying has it, "no good deed goes unpunished".