And so to London for the Orwell Prize dinner, and an evening of anthropological study among the chattering classes . I feel a positive tourist there these days.
Fortunately, the Humph was three tables away and my victim for the evening was Iain Dale’s Blackberry featuring Iain Dale as Himself. Double good fortune, by the time Iain had shimmied off to do 5Live and I had drunk enough to kill a small horse and begun to reason that it might be a joll’ good idea to into- intu- introduce mysel’ to Mssstr Humphreys and maybe Mssstr Porter and Mssstr Sparrow too, they were all in the process of wisely departing.
Still, the person I’m really sorry I didn’t meet is the one I was never going to – the pseudonymous NightJack, English detective, secret policeman and richly deserving winner of the big prize itself. NightJack is mesmerisingly written, with not a word out of place. I defy you to read this, in particular, and not find yourself as changed as if you had read a gripping novel afterwards. And there is of course a lovely symmetry in an award with Orwell’s name on it going to an anonymous policeman, one which ol’ Eric would surely have appreciated.
But more than that, reading NightJack was something of a wake-up call for me, one of a number of startlingly great blogs I ran across on the longlist. It reinforced my sneaking suspicion of being trapped in the bubble of the “political” blogosphere, unblissfully unaware of the important treasures in other blogospheres. There’s no good reason at all for avowedly political blogs to exist in a different universe to blogs by police officers, NHS doctors, social workers, call girls, knitting hobbyists, whoever. What a depressing reflection of reality that separation is. Some political bloggers do very well at linking outwards, and reading NightJack made me realise how important that is.
It will take more than one prize to melt down the barriers between blogospheres, of course, but I wonder if the thaw is slowly setting in? I was struck last year by the sudden head-on collision between the civil liberties political blogosphere and the techie blogosphere, as Labour’s thought police turned its sights on the internet and the two sets of bloggers suddenly had an enormous amount in common. Insofar as political blogging has a strength as a tool for campaigning and talking back to the ruling classes (and I’m not always sure about these strengths, though it’s a nice thought), its proponents need the expertise and wider world view of bloggers like NightJack.
And this is the traditional point at which to say “Long may he flourish” but he has, sadly, packed it in. So I’ll have to instead say that I hope others continue to follow in his blogsteps (and here’s a heartening example).
This is particularly important because, by unlovely coincidence, and apart from a last-and-positively-final appearance to accept the Orwell award, this happened a few days after the G20 protests. Police relations in this country are, notoriously, at something of a crossroads. I used to work a little bit alongside Met officers in my professional life and can’t reconcile the reality of the friendly, thoughtful and dedicated people I met with what NightJack aptly calls the “imperial stormtrooper” face of the police, tooled up with shields and tasers.
And it strikes me that this is the political and legislative reality of our day: the police have been set up, they’ve been smothered in equipment, given tasers and powers that Thatcher’s bullyboys only dreamed of, and they have a choice now between becoming the protector, and becoming the next great enemy, whether that is fair on the current generation of officers or not. It’s just a bigger version of the same kind of choice individual officers face on the meaner streets every day – it’s not fair to be called upon to be a social worker and substitute parent as well as a law enforcer. Society has set them up with a bum deal there. But some of them manage it very well anyway, against the odds, which is how an awful lot of great things are managed.
Blogging might – it might – be one of the lesser tools that pushes us towards that better outcome. The more human voices coming out of those black visored helmets, even anonymously, the better for all concerned.