Bold predictions in the internet age, by Siôn Simon

Dan Hodges announced this morning that David Miliband has won the Labour leadership. Which is not literally true; it is a bold prediction, presented in the form of what Frank Johnson used to call a conceit.

My father – perhaps anticipating a theme – used to warn me that “there is a thin line between brave and stupid”. Dan Hodges is not stupid. Far from it. This is a brave piece.

Frank Johnson, when teaching me how to write newspaper columns, used to enjoin: “Make bold predictions. If you are wrong, nobody will remember. But if you are right you can always remind them.”

I passed this reassurance on to Dan Hodges yesterday.

James Macintyre employs the technique in the New Statesman today. I take the opportunity to do it myself here: on 2 August, before the bookies’ odds had narrowed, I said in Uncut that Ed Miliband was an evens bet:

“Ed Miliband, like his brother, has succeeded in converting his patronage-momentum into real political capital which should have made him an evens bet to be the next leader. It hasn’t – the bookies put David well in front – but Ed is the better value brother, because evens is the political reality.”

I still think this is accurate. It’s close. Lots of people have written how close it is. Not many, especially of those who are paid to call these kind of things, have been brave enough to make the call.

Frank Johnson was the great newspaper prose stylist of his generation and an underestimated editor of the Spectator. He was a deep mine of wise and idiosyncratic advice about writing. “Be counter-intuitive” was at the centre. The word “albeit” and the phrase “the fact that” were banned at the periphery. As they are on Uncut.

And he was right, in his time, about making predictions. But he is wrong in the age, which he largely pre-dated, of the internet.

Rather than test the benevolence of the blogosphere, in which case, I also offer this prediction of mine, written at the 2007 Labour conference.

It turned out to be wrong. As I have often been reminded.

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2 Responses to “Bold predictions in the internet age, by Siôn Simon”

  1. Emma Burnell says:

    “Make bold predictions. If you are wrong, nobody will remember. But if you are right you can always remind them.”

    Hmm – might want to ask Neil Kinnock if he thinks that idea is “alright”.

  2. Martyn says:

    Michael Fish probably has an opinion on this too…

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