The media and openDemocracy: the garage tapes

David Hayes
11 May 2006

Ali G, comedian

Ali G: Now, I's here in ditzy Clerkenwell, da home of lost causes, and I is speaking today to a group of five people who are the staff of the joint. They living in a drop-in centre where many people come and go, drinking a lot of tea and chattering about dis and dat. They call themselves a "team" and first off I want to ask me main man here, Anthony Barnett, who you be fightin against?

Anthony Barnett: Well, it's a very good question, Ali. But actually we prefer to be for people rather than against them -

Ali G: Cool, cool. Dat is a tough one to get me head round – a gang with no enemies?

Bola Gibson: Look, if people want to make enemies of us, that's their affair. We're saying that we're not small-minded, we want to raise our sights to the larger issues -

Ali G: Who is you?

Bola Gibson: I's Bola Gibson.

Ali G: Respect. So let me get this straight. You be thinkin that all these things that are going off would be calmed down if people instead of fightin all the time just chilled out?

Susan Richards: Well … it's maybe not so simple as that. You see Ali, we think that so many young people today are lacking basic information about their own world, and that is why we at openDemocracy want to reach out to people like you –

Ali G: For real. I's waiting, Susan. But isn't the problem with you guys that you talkin a language alien to the geezer in the hood? You have to get out in the streets an say: look, whether you be Crips or Angels or da Staines Massive, start hangin out together, learn each other's dance steps, lay down your blades! Share your problems and what you're feelin! If Ice-T and Puff Daddy could maybe get together across this nice blue sofa and rap:

"bureaucracy, plutocracy
autocracy, theocracy
oppress the majority
take my hand, make a stand
for openDemocracy!"

Maybe even edit a debate together…

All: Respect!!!!!

* * *

John Humphrys, BBC Radio 4

John Humphrys: Now you claim you are democrats yet you say you want to hold the media to account. So you're really just a cuckoo in the nest, aren't you?

Susan Richards: No, because –

John Humphrys: Don't talk while I'm interrupting! You camouflage your real intentions with all this pompous language but it will look to many people as if you're just in it for the money like everyone else –

Anthony Barnett: We have created openDemocracy precisely to get away from –

John Humphrys: You see, this is what gets up so many people's noses, the kind of moralistic sentimentalising therapeutic claptrap of this sort. People increasingly feel that all politicians are the same, yet you come along to tell them they're wrong! It's pure elitism, isn't it?

* * *

Clive Anderson, TV presenter

Clive Anderson: Hello hello! Tonight we interview a group of people from the wild and wacky world of Clerkenwell start-ups. They are five in number, bags of talent, and are intent on world domination within five years. But that's enough of Popstars, please put your hands together for openDemocracy!

Now, Anthony Barnett, someone not a million miles from where I'm sitting told me that in the last thirty years you've left – and I quote here – "a trail of destruction through British intellectual life." Doesn't seem very collegiate to me, but –

Anthony Barnett: That's outrageous -

David Hayes: Look, that was a private conversation, you've no right –

Susan Richards: Can I just say that we're here to talk about a pilot –

Clive Anderson: Which one is that? You are a versatile lot – all you need now is a plane! – but pardon me for saying, you're journalists and yet you talk about privacy, isn't that a bit oxymoronic – in fact you can leave the oxo out of it! But obviously, my researcher's work has not been in vain – thank you Fiona! – but seriously, what's all this about world domination? Are you funded by the CIA? That would explain the numbers – one to operate the bugging device, one to listen, one to take notes, and two to keep an eye on the intellectuals! Now, Bola Gibson –

Bola Gibson: I've had enough of this –

Clive Anderson: A walkout! Eat your heart out Bee Gees! A big round of applause for openDemocracy! There is no beginning to their talents!

* * *

David Frost, TV presenter

David Frost: Hullo, good evening, and welcome! Lovely to see you, especially the ladies among you! May I start by asking – my good friend Henry Kissinger used to say – "democracy, David, it's all very well in theory, but…" – now, you sincere people say that you want to change the world, and a lot of us are right behind you on that – you should see my tax bill – but, realistically, when all is said and done, why do we need a new England when we've got America – you know, I once did a sketch with Peter Cook, and I've always remembered what he told me about democracy – it's the best system in the world, he said, except for all the others! – my goodness me – now we're moving towards the break here, so can I just ask you all – what is openDemocrats' position on the House of Lords?

* * *

Graham Norton, TV presenter

Graham Norton: Oooooh! openDemocracy! It sounds a bit Channel Five-ish and I understand David Elstein is indeed involved? Now does he perform a very big part? Ooooohhhh yeeeeessss!

* * *

Richard Littlejohn, newspaper columnist

Richard Littlejohn: No matter how great a country this is, there are always people ready to try to bring it down. Snotty-nosed liberals, bleeding-heart do-gooders, north London trendies, rent-a-mouth protestors, champagne socialists, knee-jerk anti-establishment types who think they know it all because they've done a course in media studies and attended a few demos. They're all over the place and now they're starting to infest the internet as well. Here with me are the ringleaders of the latest regiment of anti-British obsessives, the founders of so-called openDemocracy. Now, what I want to ask is: why are you people so biased?

* * *

Gary Lineker, TV presenter

Gary Lineker: Now, as I understand it, this new site is going to be immensely attractive to football fans?

Anthony Barnett: That's right, Gary. To be honest with you I'm over the moon about it. What we want to do is explore how the passion of the fans is an expression of social and cultural identity, even a reformulation of nationalism in conditions where -

Gary Lineker: Hold on, Anthony. Is there a fire in the studio? Where is all that steam coming from?

* * *

Claire Rayner, agony aunt

Claire Rayner: So how long my darlings have you been cooped up together in this tiny garage with only this heavenly ginger cat for company? It must have been awful for you to be confined in this – well not a prison exactly, but you must often have wondered when if ever you would be able to return to normal society – believe me my dears I understand what you've been through especially when I remember my childhood – but Anthony my love, tell me how you've managed to cope with all this stress –

Anthony Barnett: Claire, £2,000 will get you on the associates list. Please remember this is not a bung it's an investment –

* * *

Fergal Keane, BBC

Fergal Keane: In the dank recesses of a Clerkenwell slum I encountered a sight that was scarcely believable in a rich 21st-century city. Where one could easily imagine these walls once resonating to the dappled laughter and lilting harmonies of contented children, here instead was a sad, forlorn band of hollow-eyed, blank-faced, disorientated waifs clearly in the advanced stages of delusive fantasy. As they murmured unintelligibly the words of half-forgotten Cockney mantras – "roll out the barrel" and "eel pilot and mash" – I felt that this was the scene of a hidden atrocity of persecution and neglect. As the pitiful urchins clutched at my sleeve pleading for money, my mind travelled back in time to the family of an alcoholic father in Limerick. What sinister compulsion had reduced this presumably once happy band to such decrepitude? I determined to track down the author of their misfortune.

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