Saturday, January 09, 2016

The Way It Is


It's an old cliche that you shouldn't wrestle a pig, because you'll both get dirty and the pig will enjoy it.

It's an old cliche because it's correct.

It applies in spades to Labour's pissy squabble with the BBC.  There was never, ever any possibility that this could end without Jeremy Corbyn's arse in the mud and a chorus of piggy oinks and grunts ringing in his ears.

The second that complaint went in, the outcome was inevitable - the entirety of British political punditry pointing and laughing and the MP in question shoving his big, jowly ballsack face into cameras to squeal that he was sacked because by God, he just opposes terrorism so very fucking much.  Which is a mildly humorous stance to take, if you're intentionally suicide-bombing your own party headquarters.  

Still, there are a few lessons to be drawn here, and it's absolutely true that The press generally just don't like the current Labour leadership and are, for now, instinctively sympathetic to MPs on the party's right is one of them.

By far the most important lesson, however, is this - Choose your battles more wisely.  Whatever your take on mud-wrestling with the BBC is, I think we can all agree that this one hasn't ended well.

Because it's worth asking here what would've changed, if the Beeb had issued a statement apologising to Labour, rather than jabbing a two-fingered salute at Jez and telling him stick his objections.  The only answer that rings true to me is "nothing at all would be different".

Almost all political journalism in every first world country amounts to breathless repetition of press releases and briefings, conveyed as if they were events of tremendous import.  While it's true that some media organisations have overt political agendas, they all share in common a gargantuan appetite for endless content with precious little discernment over quality.

The major pressure on the hacks is the need to fill space with something that will attract attention.  If the only available material is a series of anonymous briefings from some jumped-up little tit pulling the old Scrappy-Doo routine, then they'll report that, no matter how vacuous or trivial it is.

This might seem odd to the public, but it doesn't strike the hacks as strange in the slightest.  Their job is to report what's happening in the world of politics.  If the easiest stories to report are pish and drivel, then they will report pish and drivel and sleep soundly in their beds at night.  If their stories result in controversy, they'll take that as a sign that they're doing their jobs well. 

In this sense, politics is no different to celebrity tittle-tattle.  Until the public stops taking an interest in photos of a party leader showing off his cellulite at the beach or which MP said that this minister had a chubby arse, it will continue in this vein.

This is a terrible situation and the most horrible irony of it is that any attempt to complain about it will immediately rebound on the plaintiff.  Complaining only gives the hacks an excuse to keep the story going for another day, because he-said-she-said is their meat and potatoes. 

Conmen and shysters thrive and proliferate in such an atmosphere, and it's absolutely true that the demand for 24-hour news is making political journalism - a medium that has always been crass, stupid and deeply unfair, like most other forms of journalism - even worse and more offensive.

Nonetheless!  This is the situation and it is not going to change any time soon. 

That being the case, here is the full list of options available to anyone in politics who ends up on the wrong side of the political press:

1) Fight on the most important points and otherwise, just rise above it.

And that's it.  Bleating about how unfair it all is keeps the story going indefinitely, and keeping the story going indefinitely is exactly what your foes want to happen.

That will strike you as unfair and it is, it is unfair, but it is the way it is.  The other option is to get down into the mud with the swine, and the Labour/BBC rammy has demonstrated neatly how well that works.

Rising above it may be unsatisfactory, but you will at least retain a shred of dignity.  You may even bank a little bit of credibility to expend on future battles that you can fight on terrain that's more favourable to your strengths.

40 comments:

Phil said...

To be fair, Corbyn & co have done a lot of time-biding and rising-above in the last few months; they've had to. I think having the BBC's Big Boss of Politics openly coming out against them was a new level of crap and did deserve to be marked in some way. Agreed
on the basic futility of trying to combat professional noisemakers by making a noise.

gastro george said...

Absolutely. About the only worthy thing revealed by the Blair governments was the truth that the media will report something, so you might as well give them something to report that conforms to your agenda. If you're lucky/skilful, that might get the lead. But whatever happens, at least it's there, and the media can start to rely on something always being there. But ignoring the merry-go-round definitely doesn't make it go away. It just means that your agenda will never be heard.

The descent of political journalism into reporting about what Serious People are talking about, rather than what is happening, is of course because it's cheap and available. But, as you say, that's the way it is, at least for now. Feeding the talking machine is pointless.

But Corbyn is doing pretty well with the rising above IMHO - and it does seem to be being noticed. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

What his supporters could do is a actually more of that - but combining it with some replies that pointedly show the ridiculousness of some of the arguments. An example on this morning's radio news. They had an almost interesting discussion between a Corbynite and somebody from LabourList. It got around to a discussion about new membership of the party, and people leaving it - which at times made it sound as though there was some kind of purge going on. But the point could easily have been made that nobody had this discussion when Blair was in charge, when he gloried in macho posturing against the membership, and it responded by leaving in droves. That, and the parachuting of acolytes into safe seats, was much more of a coup than anything Corbyn has done.

organic cheeseboard said...

This is sort of off topic, and I'd usually post such things in the most recent thread on here but the Bowie one seems too far off topic even for me, yet I felt it needed to be mentioned - our old mate Aaro being interviewed in the Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/10/david-aaronovitch-communist-memoir-party-animals-the-times-interview

Includes these gems:

“At 18, I was a Corbynite,” he says.

So 'Corbyinte' now literally means, for Aaro, 'Communist'? Is he serious? But he continues:

“At 39, I wasn’t.” What changed him? “It was being in the National Union of Students and having to deal with real stuff. At 22, I was vice-president of services, and a month later NUS Travel collapsed, and I was having to deal with redundancies. It was a hard lot of pragmatism. The world was not like I thought it was. Then, just before I became president, Thatcher was elected. Operating assumptions about the world were completely shattered. Two years later, not one ideological brick was left standing.” He finally left the CP in 1987, when he began working as a journalist at the BBC.

So he left the Communist Party at the age of - yes - 33? born 1954, right. So he remained a communist, in fact, for 11 years after his supposed conversion away from 'Corbyinsim' (or as it's usually termed, not-especially-unpalatable Socialism, but Aaro was still a Commie). Does the interviewer pick him up on this? Of course not.

More annoying, though, is this:

he’s depressed about what has happened to Labour since the election – and he feels guilty about it. “I feel guilty that there seemed to be no exciting or realistic thing on offer to the people who voted for Corbyn. It was our generation’s job to provide that. Why wasn’t it possible for people like me to help elucidate a prospectus that would have been attractive?”

Well, for a start, because you write for the fucking Times Aaro, which openly supports the tories and is behind a paywall, so your influence on 'the Lefy' is miniscule, reserved, more or less, to other Decent journos whose papers pay for a sub. But there's also some serious revisionism going on here. Aaro and his Blairite chums blithely assumed that the election would 'bring Labour members to their senses' and would make them choose a candidate for leader who'd offer absolutely nothing left-wing at all, preferring to copy the 'centrist Tories' instead - it was 'Aaro's generation' that brought us the ingenious wheeze, 'too hard for members to understand', to agree with the Tory spending cuts that even the Tories didn't agree with. That is the 'attractive prospectus' that Aaro and all his mates thought would win over traditional left-wingers. And now we're left with him, Dan Jarvis etc, wistfully saying 'if only things could have been different'. You had a chance to do this stuff and you fucked it up royally, preferring to make loltastic jokes about dogs on strings. And now what do you do? Spend all your time (and it really is that) whining about how awful the only candidate who bothered to oppose the Tories, and thus won in a landslide, is. And the thing is, he is pretty rubbish, but the others were much, much worse.

This is what truly infuriates me about journalism at the moment - there are either ultra-hostile interviews or ultra-kind ones which ask no serious questions.

Anonymous said...

A couple of weeks ago there was a review of Aaro's book, in the Guardian, by Alexi Sayle. It was an inspired choice for a reviewer because both Aaro and the reviewer had a Marxist childhood, and Sayle picks up on the parallels between how his CP parents lived and how Aaro's CP parents lived, and the weird aspects of their lifestyles. Sayle's main point is that Aaro appears not to have noticed how odd his upbringing was until much later in life (in his 30s, if he didn't leave the CP until the 1980s). Sayle claims that he was aware of the weirdness even as a child and developed a sardonic approach to it, which later became part of his act. Sayle says "From a very early age I assumed an attitude of detached wry amusement to the often insane world my mum and dad inhabited and the frequently mad things that they believed".

So there's a great deal wrong with saying "At 18, I was a Corbynite”. At 18, Aaro had lived in a bubble created by CP parents who appear not to have come to terms with the Hungarian and Czech invasions and who were constantly rearranging facts to fit into their strange world view. As far as we know that never happened to Corbyn, even less to those who voted for him.

As for the statement - “I feel guilty that there seemed to be no exciting or realistic thing on offer to the people who voted for Corbyn." Aaro was part of a group of people who did little to support Ed Miliband and then said, after the GE, that the Labour Party had to move even further to the right. And the members voted "No" to this in the only way they could. People like Aaro appear to have exchanged the certainties of the CP for the certainties of neo-liberalism without noting that other people see other choices.

Guano

Anonymous said...

If involvement in the leadership of the National Union of Students in the mid 1970s represented a harsh engagement with reality for Aaro, one can really only wonder about what kind of fantasy world he was inhabiting prior to that.

organic cheeseboard said...

I'm vaguely interested in reading Aaro's book to learn more about the kind of weirdness of this CP bubble which you allude to Guano. I remember that kids from families with similarly zealous beliefs, usually religious ones, tended to get ribbed mercilessly about them at school, often leading to near-rejection of these beliefs, if occasionally temporarily, but leading at the very least to a sort of acceptance of their strangeness, like the Alexi Sayle review you mention pointed out. To continue on into middle age without leaving the CP just seems weird, and also totally unexplained in this interview.

I think there's a lot less wrong with saying 'at 18, I was a Communist' (I refuse to accept that Corbynite = Communist as Aaro seems to be suggesting), when Aaro was presumably a first year undergrad, than there is with saying 'at 35, and with full knowledge and conviction of the absurdity of the belief system which I'd realised at the age of 22, I was still a Communist, and I only quit the party when I was 39' - but that's the situation Aaro claims to have been in. You can't boast about how you were mugged by reality at 22 but still wandered round waving your Rolex at everyone you saw for the next 17 years.

flyingrodent said...

So he left the Communist Party at the age of - yes - 33? born 1954, right. So he remained a communist, in fact, for 11 years after his supposed conversion away from 'Corbyinsim' (or as it's usually termed, not-especially-unpalatable Socialism, but Aaro was still a Commie).

I don't think I can improve upon anything that you've said in those comments, but I will add this. One of the more bizarre things about Aaro is the odd tone that he takes with people who believe things that he himself believed quite fervently until only fairly recently.

To credit Dave, he is a bit slower to dole out the really boiling denunciations than e.g. Nick, but I would've thought that if you have decided that you used to hold very daft opinions, and that you now hold very sensible ones, you'd at least show a bit of good-natured indulgence towards people who still hold the very same daft opinions that you used to espouse.

After all, nobody would know better than you how difficult it can be to change your mind about really major issues. But that's not really how it seems to work. Instead, it seems to be - since you are all brainwashed zombies who would gladly march us all into a rice-paddy at gunpoint, there is no point even in trying to reason with you.

Justin has made quite a lot of points here in the past about people who have grand epiphanies of this nature, and the mental habits that it seems to provoke. I'll just note again though that it's a bit odd to be derisively addressed as "Comrade", when only one of the two people conversing is familiar with the works of Marx, and it isn't you.

(The point about Dave's mystification about his failure to influence the left from the opinion pages of the Times is well-made and quite hilarious. He genuinely seems to think that his paper is an exemplar of rationality. I'll skip a long ramble by just noting that it isn't one).

ejh said...

He genuinely seems to think that his paper is an exemplar of rationality.

It's possible that he may think that because he considers himself representative. In fact the Times have a fair few really wacky columnists- Melanie Phillips isn't the only person who fits that description. (And that's before you get on to, say, Roger Boyes writing about how grateful we need to be to Saudi Aabia and how there's no moral equivalence between that country and Iran. You've made a few observations about the-Times-as-outlet-for-govrnment-thinking and I suspect that of being an example.)

organic cheeseboard said...

Just realised I messed up the numbers in my second comment, and notwithstanding its unintelligibility generally, it should have said:

I think there's a lot less wrong with saying 'at 18, I was a Communist' (I refuse to accept that Corbynite = Communist as Aaro seems to be suggesting), when Aaro was presumably a first year undergrad, than there is with saying 'at 31, and with full knowledge and conviction of the absurdity of the belief system which I'd realised at the age of 22, I was still a Communist, and I only quit the party when I was 33' - but that's the situation Aaro claims to have been in. You can't boast about how you were mugged by reality at 22 but still wandered round waving your Rolex at everyone you saw for the next 17 years.

moving on...

since you are all brainwashed zombies who would gladly march us all into a rice-paddy at gunpoint, there is no point even in trying to reason with you

Aaro managed, while a brainwashed Commie zombie, to hold down some fairly mainstream jobs that would have seen his politics conflicting with his duties - he even says so himself, even while he rewrites his own history in that interview. Thus, to continue your point, in a sense I'd expect more charity from him than others (and to be fair at times he at least pretends to give this), because he has personal experience of conflict between his ideals and the 'real world'.

I'll just note again though that it's a bit odd to be derisively addressed as "Comrade", when only one of the two people conversing is familiar with the works of Marx, and it isn't you.

well yeah, and not only that, but only one of the two people has ever actually addressed people as 'comrade' unironically, and again it's not you. (Am making an assumption about you here FR but I think I'm probably right).

He genuinely seems to think that his paper is an exemplar of rationality.

Whenever I read the Times, and it's not often, I'm always massively irritated by the way they present their main columnists as a bunch of chums, who percolate into sections far outside their comfort zones - the most obvious one being Finkelstein who for some reason is given space in the sport section, but there are others. I think Aaro has definitely bought into this whole 'bunch of pleasant, rational chums, who are so nice that nobody could possibly disagree with us' thing, despite it being a fairly clear marketing pitch. And that's before we get to the obviously planted government stories/op-eds, and the horrific 'reporting' in the run-up to the election. I think that like Nick, Aaro probably believes that by writing in right-wing locations, he's 'telling truth to power', yet both of them so often end up promoting the Tory line in what they do.

Just as an aside, but am I the only one who can't work out exactly why everyone has decided that Corbyn's Labour can't offer 'genuine opposition'? I know that their management seems a bit suspect, but they've already, in conjunction with the non-Tory Lords, managed to completely trash George Osborne's 'long-term economic plan' (McDonnell's rubbish speech notwithstanding) for reasons that 'moderate voters' support, they've offered proper opposition to plans for war, despite the bombing fans on their own benches, and they've been trying pretty hard to focus on the effect of Govt cuts on flood defences. So many of the Blairite ABC's have been saying 'ooh, we need proper anti-Tory opposition', but there's still no sign of what it might look like - other than from the Summer where opposition looked suspiciously like agreeing with everything the Tories did. I am no Corbyn fan and his weaknesses are very clear, but whining endlessly about how he's not a credible opposition just doesn't seem borne out by actions.

Anonymous said...

"One of the more bizarre things about Aaro is the odd tone that he takes with people who believe things that he himself believed quite fervently until only fairly recently."

Aaro associates those beliefs with the mad world of his parents and the way in which they had to close themselves off from outside influences in order to maintain them. When he lost faith in them, he threw them overboard lock, stock and barrel (and probably took on board another set of rigid beliefs). He doesn't realise (or doesn't want to acknowledge) that other people may have similar beliefs because of their own analysis of the world around them, rather than through brainwashing, and may be willing to debate them or modify them on the basis of further evidence.

Martin Kettle, who had a similar upbringing to that of Aaro and Sayle, about 10 years ago said that opponents of the invasion of Iraq they had failed to learnt the lessons of 1956. It's a very odd thing to say. The Kettle Family, and their dog called Pollitt, had to learn the lessons of 1956 but most other people didn't.

Aaro's tone probably comes from the deep personal feelings that some of these beliefs evoke. It would seem that Aaro spent many years doing psychoanalysis. This doesn't surprise me; I knew adults in the 1960s who were a bit loopy because they had left the CPGB. It must be very difficult to disassociate a set of beliefs from the obsessive, closed world you associate them with.

Guano

dsquared said...

The ur-text here, of course, is the one where Andrew Anthony reminisces on his teenage years as a left-liberal, doing normal liberal things like going to Nicaragua to help the Sandinistas.

Phil said...

“At 18, I was a Corbynite,” he says. “At 39, I wasn’t.” What changed him?

Pass the talking stick, Dave! At 18, I was a long-haired student who'd never held down a job or a long-term relationship and had no plans for the future other than rock stardom. At 39, I wasn't. What changed me? Ooh, it's a mystery.

"At 18, I seriously believed the things my parents had brought me up to believe," he says. "At 32 I didn't believe those things any longer, and at 33 I left the Party. Although really I'd left long before - inside, you know." I nod in sympathy.
[NB not an actual quote]

Really, "I was a childhood Communist but I grew out of it" is one of the least interesting stories you can tell. Of course you grew out of it - of course you learnt to question your parents' authority, and ask the kind of questions they were telling you not to ask. If anything it disqualifies him as any kind of authority on the Left - he was damaged goods right from the start (or at least right from the age of 33.

flyingrodent said...

I think that like Nick, Aaro probably believes that by writing in right-wing locations, he's 'telling truth to power', yet both of them so often end up promoting the Tory line in what they do.

Yes, I wonder why the Times was moved to hire Dave, what with his habit of regularly extending almost infinite understanding to whoever is in government at the time.

am I the only one who can't work out exactly why everyone has decided that Corbyn's Labour can't offer 'genuine opposition'?

I suspect that, much like "Corbyn supports Russia" is true just because Nick said it was, it's just one of those things that is true, because it just is, alright?

Phil said...

I think it goes something like this.

We're protesting! Look at this petition!
That's not effective opposition - you haven't even had to put your shoes on.
We're protesting! Look at our demonstration!
A few people waving placards, big deal. Ooh, Not In My Name, get you. That's not opposition, that's just virtue signalling.
We're protesting! Look at the size of our demonstration, blocking the traffic and everything!
Oh, come on, look at all the disruption you're causing. That's just irresponsible!
We're protesting, and we're not going to go away until they listen to us!
Yeah, yeah. You have your fun. That's not real politics.
We're protesting, and we've got MPs on our side, they're making our case in the House of Commons, they're stopping the government in its tracks!
Huh - typical self-indulgent ineffective opposition, taking its cues from a bunch of hippies waving placards.
We've got MPs on our side, they're stopping the government in its tracks, and they're taking advice from academics and people who've written books!
That's all very well, but what's your alternative? How can you be effective if you're not putting forward alternative proposals?
We've taken advice from people who've written books, we've talked to our MPs and they're putting forward a fully worked-out alternative programme!
Utopian nonsense. What are you going to do here and now? What are your effective proposals?

For Nick, Corbyn will never offer effective opposition - he'll always be going too far or not far enough, too disruptive or too passive, too detailed or too sloganeering - and there's a simple reason for that: Nick's opposed to Corbyn. Some day I'm going to write a user's guide to understanding political commentary, and rule 1 will be Everyone Attacks The People They Oppose And Defends The People They Support. If you keep that in mind, a lot of commentators become much easier to understand.

Anonymous said...

"Am I the only one who can't work out exactly why everyone has decided that Corbyn's Labour can't offer 'genuine opposition'?"

If you have decided that "effective opposition" requires a great deal of triangulation, then anything that doesn't involve a great deal of triangulation isn't effective.

Guano

ejh said...

One way to look at epiphanists, and columnist-epiphanists in particular, is to ask: if you contacted the Times and said "I've realised I've been wrong about absolutely everything concerning horse racing for the last twenty years", do you think they'd think they'd offer you the job of horse racing correspondent?

flyingrodent said...

if you contacted the Times and said "I've realised I've been wrong about absolutely everything concerning horse racing for the last twenty years", do you think they'd think they'd offer you the job of horse racing correspondent?

Good point, and I like that comparison so much that I'll probably steal it for future use.

In the interests of fairness, I have to note that Dave's column today on the mass sexual assaults in Germany was probably the best that I've seen - reasonable, fair-minded, non-hysterical.

It also included the usual gags about how we could've totally sorted Syria out with our massive invisible army, and yet another dig at the daft things that unnamed persons probably say about it, but nobody's perfect.

ejh said...

Course they might also tell me that if I wrote English like "do you think they'd think they'd offer" then I'd have no business writing anything anywhere.

organic cheeseboard said...

if you contacted the Times and said "I've realised I've been wrong about absolutely everything concerning horse racing for the last twenty years", do you think they'd think they'd offer you the job of horse racing correspondent?

To be fair to Aaro, he has been quite consistent since becoming a print journalist in his views etc.

Some day I'm going to write a user's guide to understanding political commentary, and rule 1 will be Everyone Attacks The People They Oppose And Defends The People They Support. If you keep that in mind, a lot of commentators become much easier to understand.

Agreed, though it is so depressing. Nick Cohen for instance has based pretty much his entire career since 2008 on two things: a personal dislike of a single person, Charlie Whelan, and a personal dislike of anyone who opposed the Iraq war.

I suspect that, much like "Corbyn supports Russia" is true just because Nick said it was, it's just one of those things that is true, because it just is, alright?

This seems to pretty much be it. I was a bit depressed to see Alan 'the former minister' Johnson in the press yesterday saying 'Corbyn shouldn't focus on Trident at all, since the vote on it is one that he can't win in Parliament'. And ok, fair enough, and despite my anti-nuclear beliefs it does seem like the wrong battle to be picking, largely because the party is so disunited over it (a bit like e.g. David Cameron beginning his leadership by trying to force his party to be pro-EU), but at the same time, if this is genuinely what people like Alan TFM believe opposition should be - only discussing issues on which you're likely to win parliamentary votes - then there's surely no such thing as opposition when the other party has a majority, no? But allied to that, if only there was a recently-newsworthy issue that there was a good deal of Tory dissent over and where a lot of them were prepared to vote against the whip eh. If only Labour had shown real opposition on that one... oh wait. BOO TO FASCISM etc.

organic cheeseboard said...

Sort of on topic, since we've ended up on the 'pundits support who they support and hate who they hate', a couple of Rentoul-related things. The first is to note that he, and others, were desperate to read Margaret Beckett's report on the reasons why Labour lost. Except now he's not interested, because it turns out that lots of things in it are things he disagrees with. Instead he wants to read some other report that he's not really mentioned before, because it contains anecdotal stuff with which he agrees. Great work there.

Also - an actually interesting article by him here: http://www.politico.eu/article/labour-party-tony-blair-rage-corbyn-prime-minister/

Here we find him again trying to pretend that Blair's 'charitable work' since leaving Parliament is somehow admirable, but ignoring lal the non-charitable stuff that's obviously not. But hey ho...

Therein he outlines his own 'prejudices':

an aversion to Marxism-Leninism and a reverence for the views of the median voter are just as irrationally central to my own political identity

The problem with Rentoul is that he actually doesn't think these are irrational at all, surely. But equally, I really don't understand someone whose 'political identity' is shaped by 'a reverence for the views of the median voter'. This surely ignores the fact that the 'median voter' does not have fixed views - they are shaped by the world around him/her, and as such it's surely impossible to actually make this your political identity. And coming from a devotee of Tony Blair - whose government was obsessed with spin, i.e. manipulation of the media - this is even less convincing, surely? Coupled with that, and to return to a point we often make on here, this also demonstrates that once again Blairites have no conception of their own impact on the 'Corbyn phenomenon' - that Blair, by doing what Rentoul suggests and fixating on supposedly 'median voters', ignored his own party's actual members and hardcore supporters, leading to their total alienation? He goes on and on about how Labour membership was higher in 1997 than today, but doesn't look at the 'real reasons' why people left. It wasn't all a weird middle-class psychological response as he suggests.

ejh said...

To be fair to Aaro, he has been quite consistent since becoming a print journalist in his view

That's half a fair point, I think, but the other half is that it's not just his views that he's about, it's his rejected background, something that he himself, as per his book that I won't be reading, makes great play of. That's his selling point - it's not "I am Tony Blair's mate", it's "I was a communist".

Now I don't doubt that Aaro's a more substantial figure than Rentoul, Bloodworth, Kettle and any of the rest of the crowd, and for all I know he's written a good book - and if he has, somebody can tell me so. I also don't doubt that ex-revolutionists can, if they go about it the right way (which isn't "spending the rest of their life making war on their ex-comrades") have all sorts of interesting things to say about revolutionists. But I really would like them to grapple rather more with questions like this:

- are you not, but your own account, something of an idiot, in so far as you spent many years believing things you think are ludicrous and trusting people you think are wicked?
- have you actually changed your way of thinking, or just the side you're taking?
- shouldn't you (as suggested above) be rather more generous than you are to other people who still think today what you thought only yesterday?
- do you think your change of views is at all linked to the fact that you're now doing rather well for yourself?
- are your new friends actually any better and any better-motivated than your old ones?
- how interesting is it, normally, to hear an ex-alcoholic drone on about the evils of alcohol?
- if you've been wildly wrong about things, shouldn't you in future be much more cautious about expressing your views, rather than being just as strident only in a different cause?

Most of all, what I'd like people who are experiencing sudden, drastic changes of opinion to do is to shut up for a bit. It'd do them and everybody else some good.

organic cheeseboard said...

Can't really argue with any of that, all excellent points.

for all I know he's written a good book - and if he has, somebody can tell me so

The reviews so far have been pretty underwhelming really - the more entertaining (Sayle) and the less (Alan TFM) have both tended towards the 'don't tell us much about the obok but instead talk about yourself' form.

Not withstanding the fact that Aaro's life story is relatively interesting, it does rather follow a pattern of Decents and Decent allies towards producing fairly fluffy, navel-gazing monographs, right (re: the aforementioned Clothes for Chaps book, Aaro's recent book and even 'Voodoo Histories', Dan Hodges deciding to 'novelize' the election, Kamm and Rentoul writing weak-ass sticking filler books about language)? I mean the fact that Bloodworth and Alan NTM are still having to refer back to 'What's Left', and that Nick himself is stuck constantly referring back to a single Pascal Bruckner book, is evidence of the stasis and I'd argue lack of ambition inherent in Decency when it comes to writing books.

flyingrodent said...

The problem with Rentoul is that he actually doesn't think these are irrational at all, surely.

I'm starting to suspect that the two main problems with Rentoul and his ilk are

- That they've convinced themselves that they're battling valiantly towards uncomfortable truths, rather than just filling space with content for money. Note how pissed off Nick gets, when anyone points out to him that he gets paid by the Spectator to write smack about its political opponents - he gets incredible offended, despite the fact that this is obviously true. Back when I worked in bars, I wasn't taking the fight to the islamists with alcohol - I was pouring pints in return for a wage. There certainly are journalists who do difficult and unrewarding work that enhances our understanding of the world around us, but very little of that appears the editorial section.

- That many columnists - not just Decent ones - confuse their jaded old man opinions with wisdom born of experience. I can't count the number of opinion pieces weekly that can be reduced to "Look at all this new-fangled nonsense, it's just rubbish, it were all fields round here when I were a lad".

Unfair as it is, I blame Hitchens for much of this grumpy old-fartery masquerading as a brave crusade stuff. I may put up a post expanding on this, at some point.

...that Nick himself is stuck constantly referring back to a single Pascal Bruckner book, is evidence of the stasis and I'd argue lack of ambition inherent in Decency when it comes to writing books.

I've claimed in the past that there's a powerful Alden Pyle tendency in Decent thought, and this kind of thing certainly fits in. Because once you've read York Harding, why would you need to read anything else?

ejh said...

It's probably not unfair to add that a notable characteristic of columnists of this sort is ego. All right, it's not unusual among columnists of any sort, but in the group we are particularly discussing here, there's a very strong strain of

(a) I Have Something Important To Tell The World ;
(b) I Know That What You Are Saying Is Wrong.

And the thing is, that's very much the opposite of the approach one should take, if confessing that one has been so very badly wrong about so many things that matter. No?

gastro george said...

A tad late, but the Obs has, of course, got Nick to review Aaro's book.

It continues the bromance as expected, but contains the notable:

"Like my grandfather’s second wife, like many on the far left today, she was from the upper middle class."

Yeh, right. And:

"On the party’s instructions, James Klugmann and Derek Kartun produced screamingly mendacious indictments of eastern European communists, who had often been their friends when Stalin decided to kill them."

Unlike Nick and Aaro, who would never dream of making screaming indictments of their "former friends".

organic cheeseboard said...

Depressing that as per aro's own comments, the Observer billed that book as being 'at home with the hard left', thus again conflating the 'hard left' types like Corbyn with, er, Communism.

I love this from Cohen's review:

Children brought up in religious and political cults are not so different from everyone else. We are all defined by what we accept and reject from our childhoods. In Aaronovitch’s case, his rejection of Marxism turned him into an effervescent and essential writer, the enemy of every species of conspiracy theory from right or left.

I'm sorry, but no. Not good enough.

Kudos to Nick this week for suggesting that Iraq ia a fialed state and that the Kurds deserve to have their own state. I agree, but given that nick is paid to research his columns, it's pretty embarrassing that he gives more space to Hillary fucking Benn than to the main problem the Kurds face - and this is not in fact Isis as he suggests, but Turkey, which continues to bomb them and is our ally in NATO. Nick doesn't even fucking mention them other than in passing - ridiculous.

But just on his reference to Benn:

Hilary Benn’s defence of the Kurds’ determination to fight the slave masters of Islamic State

He didn't actually do much of this 'defending' in his speech though. In fact he did pretty much nothing like that. He used the word 'Kurd' 4 times, and one of these was when he quoted the Kurdish regional government high representative in London, but only to justify bombing Syria as well as Iraq.

I'm starting to think that Decents didn't even listen to the Benn speech, so little do they seem to remember its contents or the policy it was supporting - the fact that it existed was presumably enough for them.

gastro george said...

Cohen's Kurdish article was also notable for its condemnation of the drawing of borders in the Middle East according to the arbitrary interests of the West, while proposing to ... redraw borders in the Middle East.

Phil said...

He rejected his 'childhood' Marxism, on his own account, at the age of 33. What is he, a hobbit?

flyingrodent said...

Kudos to Nick this week for suggesting that Iraq ia a fialed state and that the Kurds deserve to have their own state. I agree, but given that nick is paid to research his columns, it's pretty embarrassing that he gives more space to Hillary fucking Benn than to the main problem the Kurds face - and this is not in fact Isis as he suggests, but Turkey, which continues to bomb them and is our ally in NATO. Nick doesn't even fucking mention them other than in passing - ridiculous.

Given that e.g. the US could've effortlessly dropped more than enough guns 'n' ammo to Kurdish fighters to kill every IS militiaman dead a hundred times over, and they haven't done it, not even when it looked like Kobane was going to fall, despite ample opportunity...

...I'd say that the question of Hillary Benn or Jeremy Corbyn's opinion on the matter is pretty well fucking moot.

Any half-serious proposal for the UK to arm the Kurds has to start by acknowledging that doing so would mortally offend the Turks for all time and would also enrage the Yanks. I'd be fine with the argument being made on that basis, but that's where the argument starts.

Everything else is drivel and pish. Which, non-coincidentally,is where Nick comes in.

Anonymous said...

Gastro George: - "Cohen's Kurdish article was also notable for its condemnation of the drawing of borders in the Middle East according to the arbitrary interests of the West, while proposing to ... redraw borders in the Middle East."

Yes, indeed. I fear, though, that there are people at FCO who are thinking along those lines for Syria. I hear chatter from FCO-types about "failed states" and "Syria no longer exists" and "the border between Iraq and Syria is meaningless". Then there was William Hague thinking out loud about an Allawite city state. The big winner from this wouldn't be the Kurds (who would get the two salients of Kurdish lands on the Turkish border) but Saudi Arabia (who would get a large, largely empty, Sunni-dominated buffer state across most of Syria).

FR:- "Any half-serious proposal for the UK to arm the Kurds has to start by acknowledging that doing so would mortally offend the Turks for all time and would also enrage the Yanks. I'd be fine with the argument being made on that basis, but that's where the argument starts."

Yes indeed, again. The UK and the USA have allowed the Gulf States and Turkey to arm some real nutters whose objective has been to overthrow Assad even if it destroys the Syrian state. Cohen's argument would have carried more weight if he had contrasted this with their treatment of the Kurds. All this context is missing from Cohen's article.

Who has he been listening to?


Guano

gastro george said...

One thing of the many things that I don't know enough about is - why has the US not armed the Kurds to the hilt? I mean, historically they haven't exactly been backward in coming forward. Why the reluctance here?

flyingrodent said...

why has the US not armed the Kurds to the hilt?

Because the Turkish government would regard the US arming the Kurds as little short of an act of war against Turkey, and because the US regards the Turks as far more important allies than the Kurds.

The US stands to gain little by arming the Kurds, beyond just supporting decent people who are trying to defend themselves against appalling enemies (and it usually does the opposite, where the Kurds are concerned). The US stands to lose big time if it offends one of its main regional allies, and boy, would those allies be offended.

Note here that while I'm very sympathetic to the idea of arming the Kurds and of a Kurdish state generally, far more than I am to Turkey's feelings on the matter, both Turkey and the US have a point that needs to be considered.

organic cheeseboard said...

I'd imagine it's because it would really piss off Turkey, but FR or others might have a better answer.

I'd also imagine the main source Cohen is getting stuff from on Syria is, as it used to be, Michael Weiss. The stance Cohen is taking on Syria is the same on he admitted to getting directly from Weiss in 2013 (I think), just with added pro-Kurdish stuff on top. The War Nerd had a spectacular diatribe about just how awful a journalist Weiss is recently, but Cohen has clearly decided that Weiss is One of the Good Guys (in part, I'm guessing, because he was a 'friend'* of the late-period Hitchens) so trusts his every word, despite everything about Weiss being pretty dubious, not least his union, for a while, with one Elizabeth O'Bagy, who managed to pass herself off as a Syria expert by, er, lying about having a PhD. Of course such obvious fakery is anathema to Nick 'I hate Johann Hari and I love Jeremy Duns' Cohen.

I'd say that the question of Hillary Benn or Jeremy Corbyn's opinion on the matter is pretty well fucking moot.

Bear in mind that the paragraph on 'Why this means Corbyn is a cunt' is the new Decent column-space-filler, especially beloved of Cohen but beloved of them all really, which has the added bonus of being slightly more relevant, at times but not always, than the oldey-timey 'What would Galloway do' column-space-filler. Of course it's also the topic of the column they all want to write every single week, just like in the olden days it was 'Why the left hate everything good', but thank fuck their editors stop them doing it. In this instance the bit about Corbyn could have been replaced by actual discussion of why we're not arming the Kurds, but clearly Jezza, who clearly can't offer United and Genuine Opposition on military affairs at the moment, is more important.

On that topic, I was interested to see the newly-backbenched Kevan Jones providing the afore-discussed Genuine Opposition in the Commons yesterday by, er, asking the Tories to agree with him that Jeremy Corbyn is an idiot.

*Which I think in this instance means 'sycophant who hates on the left and loves wars'

Anonymous said...

"Why has the US not armed the Kurds to the hilt?"

The Kurds have self-defence units and these want to keep ISIS (and many other armed groups) out of Kurdish areas. In the long-term, this will help them gain independence or more autonomy. As far as we know the Kurds aren't that keen on moving out of their own historic areas. The USA respects this because it could have other repercussions in the Kurds attached ISIS outside Kurdish areas (clashes with Sunni civilians for example). So there is a tactical alliance for the USAF and Kurdish ground forces to push ISIS out of Kurdish areas. If the USA provided large amounts of arms to Kurdish forces, or encourage them to move out of their own areas, or start making promises now about a Kurdish state, that would start upsetting many other players in this game.

Taking on ISIS elsewhere means political processes in Iraq and Syria so that there are some real ground forces willing to do it and capable of doing it.

The two Kurdish areas in Syria are salients of a much larger Kurdish area in Turkey. If they were to be independent they would need to be joined up by a chunk of land in Turkey. I leave it to your imagination how Turkey would react if the USA suggested that.

Guano

Anonymous said...

Can anyone link me to the Review of of Voodoo History by a philosophy professor that pointed out that every explanation given was in fact a conspiracy theory itself? I can't seem to find it. (It also proved that the definition of conspiracy theory used, was illogical and useless)

Also, more on point, there is a plausible theory about why someone might pretend to hold onto his former political views, while being a member of a party that was probably full of more spies than genuine members in the same time frame.

Anonymous said...

Is it this review of Voodoo Histories?

https://cockburndj.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/book-review-voodoo-histories-by-david-aaronovitch/

Or this one?


http://www.ctka.net/2010/voodoo.html



Guano

Phil said...

I don't think the CP's membership was ever that low - well, not *never*, but not till much later, after the split between the Euros of Marxism Today[1] and the tankies of Morning Star.

When I was one of the 30-strong Steering Committee of a group with a paper membership of about 500 - which is to say, when I was one of the 15-20 active members of the said group - I did sometimes amuse myself playing Spot The Spy. Probably a dreadful calumny on the various dedicated comrades; certainly nobody's been outed yet.

[1] Shock trainspotting news: the Euros are still going! There we were thinking they'd dissolved into Charter 88 or something, but apparently not. "There are about six of them and they meet in a pub in Manchester," according to my informant - who'd just told me she liked them (or at least liked them a lot better than the SWP and anyone who'd ever had anything to do with the SWP, we hates the nassty Trotses we do) & so is presumably fairly trustworthy on this point.

Anonymous said...

they are not it Guano, but thanks for looking, it's really long, I remember it was in pdf form.

If i find it, i'll post a link, I'm sure many officiandos would enjoy it

gastro george said...

Even later to the party, Kettle joins in. But he only succeeds in boring everybody to death before the inevitable Corbyn=religion=Communism.

Anonymous said...

This the third review of Aaro's book in the Guardian/Observer. Who will be next?


Guano