Friday, September 23, 2016

In My World Of Liberal Journalism

One of the most tiresome trends in opinion journalism goes like this:

I have found some people with wacky opinions, therefore

Everyone must support my utterly deranged policy proposal.

As regular readers will know, one of the serial offenders for this rhetorical style is the Spectator's Nick Cohen, who is very fond of announcing that because Person (x) is bad and wrong, we must immediately do something tremendously stupid and counter-productive.  Previous examples include: 

George Galloway is a bad man who proposes bad ideas, so 
Let's invade and occupy other countries.

Islamism is a horrible, vicious political movement with totalitarian aims, and thus
We must drop lots of high explosives on heavily-populated urban areas.

Lots of people now hold views that many people think are racist, but
I have decided those views aren't racist, so let's espouse these totally-not-racist views and win votes.

Given our mutual interests, I'm fond of using Nick as a weathervane for the trends of UK politics, so the following line from his latest column on the Labour Party poked out rudely, like a turd in a teacup: 

"...The sleaziness of (Jeremy Corbyn's) behaviour has allowed his opponents to avoid a question that the rise of the SNP should have made unavoidable: Can they create a progressive English patriotism?"

Now, the main thrust of Nick's piece is that the Labour leader and his supporters are bad and evil and wrong but again, it's worth noting that Nick is saying:

Corbyn and his fans are bad and evil and wrong, and so 
We must create a progressive English patriotism.

This idea - imitating the SNP's progressive nationalism - is exactly the kind of thing that strongly appeals to English people who are utterly clueless about Scotland, England and nationalism, and quite possibly about politics as well.  

Here's why: 

1)  Plus ca change, plus c'est le meme chose 

Which is French for, "Every few years some fucking berk wanders in and announces that we need to create, like, 'a progressive English patriotism', as if he's the first person ever to think of it".

Perhaps there is a way to harness this theoretical progressive patriotism - it has certainly been tried, by smarter people than Nick.  On the other hand, it's worth noting that whenever you haul English patriotism to the polling station, it tends to vote for the meanest, ugliest, nastiest right-wing lunatic on the ballot.

Does this mean that English patriotism will forever be a weapon wielded only by angry Tories and country-dwelling, wannabe Mussolinis?  Well, maybe not!  It is, however, a strong indicator of the general flow of patriotic politics in that country.

This is before we address the likely ability of the available candidates to achieve success.  Do Yvette or Hilary have the mettle to forge this new progressive alliance?  Is Chukka going to win over the north with his fiery rhetoric?  

Christ, no. 

2)  The SNP will absolutely love it.

The SNP in its modern form is basically the Labour Party's rhetoric and policies, delivered with barely-restrained anti-Westminster hysteria, to the extent that the only major difference between the two parties' manifestos in 2015 was over Trident, IIRC.

The SNP exists and thrives not because it has a big smiley, happy-happy attitude to patriotism, but because it has something clearly defined to push back against.  All it says, week in and week out, is that we could have awesome hospitals and more jobs and better education, if it weren't for the BASTARD SWINE at Westminster.

It's only a small exaggeration to reduce the entire movement to "English people are all like, Rah-Rah, Faw-Faw-Faw, Let's smash the oiks, but Scottish people are just like, Aye, whatever pal, nae bother".

Consider - is it likely that the solution for this is to create an equal and opposite form of the same thing?  Can anyone see why this might create more problems than it solves?

This makes as much sense as trying to eradicate lions by feeding them steaks and steroids.

3)   Nationalism = Nationalism.

One of the SNP's celebrity supporters asked recently why the First Minister was on TV talking about holding another independence referendum, when a survey had just illustrated the terrible extent of poverty in Scotland.  

This is a bit like asking why The Cookie Monster is on TV talking about how he wants to eat lots of cookies, while ignoring Scottish poverty.  

Scottish nationalism is all about securing independence, by fair means or foul.  Whatever your damnable progressive agenda is, there's little point in trying to bolt it onto the SNP.  Anything that you try to stick to the side of the nationalist program will be immediately consumed by the single priority of independence, either now or further down the line. 

And that's our happy-clappy, God-we-hate-the-English-but-welcome, foreign-friends! version of the phenomenon.  You can probably imagine the types of thing that this theoretical English progressive patriotism would consume.  

4)  It's so nakedly disingenuous. 

Nick has spent much of the last few years chiding us all for failing to heed the Very Real Concerns of the electorate about immigration.  The EU Referendum has just taught us a very real lesson about the very high levels of racism in the Very Real Concerns of the electorate.  The Labour right are still, this week, demanding that we all heed the Very Real Concerns of the electorate and act upon their wishes, despite knowing full-well what that entails, and which instincts they are fluffing.

Exactly how do you intend to square your "progressive English patriotism" with your simultaneous desire to win the votes of people who are willing to immiserate the country, economically and personally, because they don't like all the foreigners? 

The answer, of course, is that this "progressive English patriotism" will not be very "progressive" at all, particularly not in relation to immigrants and immigration.  Unless there's something I'm missing, an anti-immigration left-wing party would be little more than a touchier-and-feelier Ukip.  

And finally, it should go without saying that the idea of a touchy-feely, left-wing Ukip is 

5)  Utter electoral insanity.

It's basically saying: "We have lost much of rural Britain, so what we need to do now is to tell all of our city-dwelling supporters to fuck off as well, and then we will win".

Why, in the name of sanity, would anyone who wants to see a political party succeed demand that it force such an obviously destructive policy down the necks of its few remaining supporters? 

Well, perhaps this is the final answer to that question. 

Bonus silliness:  I like how Nick berates "commentators" who "throw around the 'far left' label without stopping to ask what it means", before Nick throws around the far-left label without informing us of what it means.  

I also like "Utopias are always banal", which is a cracking point to hear from one of the country's most enthusiastic supporters of extreme transformative violence as a means to creating democracy and stability.

And I imagine everyone chuckled at Nick's pronouncements upon what is and isn't good writing.  

And that line, "In my world of liberal journalism".  Polemicist, damn thyself. 


Phil said...

It seems to me, though, that national feeling can be neither denied nor reduced to its reactionary uses - that the nation is not simply a hangover from the past, but one of the arenas in which history continues to be made. The building of a new culture rooted in the experience of the people is integral to the socialist project - and that culture would inevitably develop in national forms. It follows that socialist internationalism is not an indivisible class's loyalty to itself, but a pooling of national class loyalties; and support for national struggles which does not spring from a nationalistic solidarity is either philanthropy or dogma.
We cannot be content to submit our politics to the geography of the British ruling class. Our socialism must be developed in England, because that's where we are; and it must be developed outside London, because that's where England is.

That would be, er, me, although in my defence it was quite a long time ago (1988 or thereabouts) - 'national struggles' back then meant supporting the Nicaraguan revolution and the guerrillas in El Salvador, not anything dodgy like post-1989 Solidarnosc, let alone nationalism à la Serb (or Croat).

It's bollocks, of course. (People did tell me it was bollocks at the time, but would I listen?) Your point about the actual political bearing of just about everyone and everything that has ever publicly claimed the identity of English nationalism is hard to get past.

Gary Othic said...

It's kind of galling that we don't seem to have a single Orwell devotee pundit who can actually write well.

Excellent points on what is a futile project. Evidently, given the way the week has gone, it would appear that the 'centrists' are positioning themselves for another leap to the right.

organic cheeseboard said...

I might write more on this later but just on what this 'English nationalism' might look like. I wanked on about it on here a while back but Tristram Hunt gave a fairly clear idea of it earlier in the year, pre-Brexit. It seemed then to involve the following:

1) Siding with the Tories on immigration and agreeing that it's 'too high' [and we know what this means post-Brexit, of course]

2) Tweeting ostentatious and not entirely convincing photos of yourself celebrating England goals in unimportant football matches (see Sunder Katwala's feed for this)

3) Suggesting a national bank holiday on St George's Day (thus three bank hols in a month and a half)

and that's literally it.

Nick must know it, but if you google his name and "English nationalism" you get some, er, off-message stuff. just last year he repeatedly claimed that appeals to English Nationalism were actively endangering the Union, and clearly a Bad Thing:

and now...? Methinks he's had his ear bent by Jamie 'the way for Labour to win in Scotland is to become a specifically English Nationalist Party' Reed and all those other people who are ABSOLUTELY NOT BLAIRITES according to our Nick, they'll just tack right wherever possible and pander to Mail reader bigotry.

ejh said...

Evidently, given the way the week has gone, it would appear that the 'centrists' are positioning themselves for another leap to the right.

Well I think it's not so much a leap to the right, as occupation of some rightwing ground as a good position from which to attack Jeremy Corbyn. I imagine this will be effective, too, with daily bulletins about how Corbyn risks losing the white working-class and the metropolitan supporters streaming to the Lib Dems and the Greens. What it won't do is assist either the Labour Party, or any attempt to tun back the tide of anti-foreigner sentiment, both causes which its adherents purport to believe in.

Ken Eadie, the prince of strikers said...

Nick's predicting the end of the Labour Party again this morning. As I was marking off my Cohen Labour article bingo card- 'antisemitism'- check- 'the faithful'- check- 'utopia'- suddenly occurred to me that at no point have I ever read Cohen actually critiquing Corbyn's 10 point plan manifesto except for rubbishing it as utopian and the work of anti-semitic dreamers.

I have yet to see Cohen present an alternative to austerity, a socio-economic way forward for the left or a coherent response to the continuing and never ending malaise. Corbyn has set out his agenda and the majority of Labour members have gone for it. At some stage he, Hodges and the rest of the Decent claque are going to have to realise that scweaming and scweaming and scweaming about the islamofascist, anti-semitic, misogynist left is utterly useless unless they themselves can formulate a coherent alternative other than patriotism.

However as their entire raison d'etre is to sell copy to right wing shitrags such as the Spectator and the Mail on Sunday as' common sense left wing policy free disaffecteds', setting out their own Leftist response would be the equivalent of them squatting and shitting on their own Rothermere/Barclay Brothers paychecks. It is never going to happen.

gastro george said...

I quite liked: "Many in the Labour movement, including several I contacted for this article, are frightened of speaking out against Corbyn."

Well it didn't seem to stop many.

I don't see this ending any time soon. Last week we saw Kinnock (a newly-elected parachutee, but apparently now labelled as a "leading backbencher") expressing Very Real Concerns. Umunna can't even be bothered to go to conference.

Gary Othic said...

"Well I think it's not so much a leap to the right, as occupation of some rightwing ground as a good position from which to attack Jeremy Corbyn"

Sounds about right. Once again important policy and strategic decisions are being subsumed under a need to attack the leader - which worked so well in the EU.

Incidentally, Nick's piece for the Observer has him denouncing nationalism as an evil, mere days after this call for pushing forward English nationalism. He's either lacking self awareness, or playing to galleries for commercial reasons.

Anonymous said...

Nick is just giving the "decent LP chappie for whom Corbyn is just too much" schtick to a Tory audience. A man's gotta eat.

"willing to immiserate the country, economically and personally, because they don't like all the foreigners"

Median UK male wages in 2015 are lower in real terms than they were in 1997 (as far back as the figures go). How's that for immiseration? (Take the Table 1 figures and use the BoE inflation calculator)

(In the US they're lower than they were in 1973 - )

Anonymous said...

So farewell then Oliver Kamm (from the Labour Party). It was when I heard Ollie speaking at a meeting about 12 years ago, and gathered that he thought he was speaking on behalf of the Labour Party, that I felt that there was something very wrong with the world. It wasn't just that I disagreed with him, but his intolerance of other people's views.


organic cheeseboard said...

I've been amused by all these people ostentatiously tweeting photos of their cut-up membership cards. There's a definite correlation between the people doing this and the people who were advising us, after May 2015, that Twitter and Facebook aren't the real world, we should get out of this bubble, etc etc. Now it turns out that in fact most Labour members aren't actually on Twitter or part of 'my world of Liberal journalism' and so those who are in the Twitterbubble are getting VERY NOT MAD about Corbyn and in no way preaching to the choir of their mates on Twitter.

I wrote a longer thing on this yesterday but forgot, which is probably for the best. But four things:

1) It's very clear that the activity of the PLP rebels (those who have self-identified as such from the beginning, and those who refused to serve in the Shadow Cabinet) is pretty much the main reason why Corbyn retained such popularity. To be openly and publicly undermined from the very beginning by so many of the people whose job it is to work with you (and whatever they say about constituents, it's still their job to work with the party leader) means that you have a ready excuse for any perceived failure. From Jamie Reed resigning during Corbs's acceptance speech, through people texting journos stuff that had always previously been behind scenes, to a cleatl coordinated mass resignation and a lack of any support in the Commons - this looks to members not just like you're calling them idiots but also that you are not serious about doing your job. The chicken coup coming eight fucking months into Corbyn's reign cemented this, surely.

2) Corbyn is badly at fault for appointing such a divisive figure as press liaison, as I've said on here a few times, and he needs to replace Mine as soon as possible. But, again, the media pile-on, given ammo by the PLP and others, looks from the outside like nakedly unfair bias (re: 'depth of the bow at the Cenotaph'). That means that a lot of the usual ways of getting at a leader have been disarmed - by the very people trying hardest to arm them. They can whine about The Canary (which I've never looked at) all they want, but you don't have to be a Canary reader to spot that Corbyn is not getting a fair hearing, and that this isn't entirely down to him.

3) Maybe - just maybe - journos will now realise that calling people Nazi idiots, 'fucking fools', and yelling 'PRESS TV! RUSSIA TODAY! The IRA!' over and over and over again is not a good way to win anybody over. When you resort, as Nick Cohen, did, to calling Corbyn 'wicked' in an article prior to detailing any actual arguments, you surely should not expect to really win anybody over. Yet these idiots seem to think they can. Nothing is going to change.

4) The charge of 'Corbyn enabling misogyny' looks a lot shakier when the anti-Corbyn candidate is literally a misogynist.

gastro george said...

I'd add that the sheer volume of "what Corbyn should do" articles compared with the near-complete silence over "what the rebels should do" transparently shows the dishonesty of the rebels and their supporters, and their unwillingness to compromise.

Anonymous said...

Dan Davies is writing some advice to the PLP on his Twitfeed, and there are some others around offering advice. I would encourage everyone to take up this pastime, then we can bundle them up and send them to the PLP, the Guardian, New Statesman etc etc.

No more cargo cult Blairism!


gastro george said...

Being antediluvian non-Twitterite, that prompted me to read DDs recent posts. VG re Reeves, what a piece of work.

gastro george said...

Re Reeves, how on earth did the member for PwC decide that channelling Enoch Powell was a good thing?

organic cheeseboard said...

Well, Reeves has had a fairly appreciative audience In My World Of Liberal Journalism, e.g.:

It is of course totally incoherent, from Reeves's speech to Cohen's preposterous whitewashing of it. Reeves says she couldn't be bothered to go onto council estates to make the case for remain, because to do so would just encourage people to vote leave, yet her and her mates staged a coup against Corbyn for, um, not being sufficiently pro-Remain? Huh?

Nick's ridiculous indulgence of Reeves:

Mass immigration had changed her Leeds constituency, she said.

How does she know? She was born in 1979 in South London. She moved to Leeds in 2006 and instantly sought the seat of a retiring MP, and having got the nom (via the penance of standing in safe seats near her home in London) she promptly lost 13% of the vote (she made up 5% in 2015 mind you). She has had first-hand knowledge of Leeds since 2006, maximum. I wonder if, on her return to Lewisham, she'd also conclude that 'mass immigration had changed' it. i'm guessing not. And I can also guess why.

As a good MP, she has listened to her voters and decided that, if the EU will not allow us to control immigration if we remain in the single market, then we will have to leave the single market. Other prominent Labour moderates think the same, and have said so on and off the record. They had tried to convince their people during the referendum campaign, and failed. They had to accept the result.

Wait, so she and others were for leave? Huh? Or they were silently for Remain but losing free movement, because some of their constituents are racists? huh?

Jeremy Corbyn did all he could to sabotage the pro-EU campaign because he does not believe in the single market. Outside the EU, the far left dreams it will be possible to build socialism in one country. The Scottish nationalists will doubtless attack, but they cannot speak for England. The Liberal Democrats are too small; George Osborne and Nick Clegg too isolated.

first off, Corbyn didn't do 'all he could'. He COULD have e.g. campaigned for leave, ffs. his team apparently watered a few statements down, but he still campaigned prominently for remain, and was just as credible on it as David 'The EU is awful, oh no wait it's amazing, have you noticed our Long-Term Economic Plan?' Cameron. Secondly, surely Clegg and the Lib Dems are in some way related...? But back to Corbz - so he should have been more pro-Remain, and should have campaigned for remain on an anti-immigration ticket, or something. But George Osborne, now THERE'S a popular politician with principles who people might listen to! It wasn't HIS fault we had a fucking referendum on 'are you racist or not' was it, nor was it his fault that the Remain campaign focused on how great George Osborne is, and it's not his fault that Bo-Jo had been visibly ostracised by the Cameron circle, nor did Osborne have ANY sway in the largely pro-leave Tory party, no. It's all Corbyn's fault, because it always is. Well done Nick. I guess this IS a piece in the Spectator.

And he goes on:

what about those workers in Leeds? What if they turn out to have been more dependent on the single market than they knew? Rachel Reeves won’t be able to tell them that Farage and Boris Johnson lost them their jobs, because she will now be supporting a hard Brexit. I can hardly see politicians as unscrupulous as these gentlemen admitting they have misled millions of voters.

I'd say the most unscrupulous politician under discussion here is Reeves, who cannot stand up for basic decency and is so wedded to Blairite pandering that she can't even bring herself to be anti-racist, and that is what leaves her in this preposterous 'dilemma'.

Anonymous said...

Reading some of the stuff in the press about the referendum campaign on the Tory side, I am let with the impression that not only were the Tories split on the substantial issue of the EU, many of them (such as May, Gove, Johnson) were trying to leverage the issue to their own advantage. As a result, Csmeron couldn't rely on his own Party to campaign for "Remain". Thus the prominence of Csmeron himself in the campaign (in marked contrast to Wilson in 1975), and also the dependence on the opposition parties to campaign for "Remain". Apparently Cameron did get angry, when he realised that he had lost the referendum, because he thought Corbyn hadn't done enough to save Cameron's bacon.

I do wonder whether any of them know where the country could be heading because of their petty squabbles.


organic cheeseboard said...

It's both funny and depressing that the stories from Cameron's inner circle are about him feeling 'betrayed' by e.g. May not campaigning harder. He gambled everything - including the future of the country - on his own innate charisma and likeability, both within his party and Westminster and in the country at large, and lost. What could he offer e.g. May in exchange for vociferous Remain support? He'd already kept her in the same job for ages despite pretty shit results; he had already announced that he wasn't sticking around for a full term. Ditto the rest, really, and he'd ostentatiously binned Gove already.

Apparently Cameron did get angry, when he realised that he had lost the referendum, because he thought Corbyn hadn't done enough to save Cameron's bacon.

I'll reiterate that Corbyn, like a stopped clock, called this one pretty much right from the off - seeming so cool on Europe weakened Cameron massively early on in JC's leadership and Cameron in fact never really recovered - the appalling 'deal' he got in Brussels is testament to that. The Labour voter support for remain was never likely to be 100%, but what Scotland showed was that campaigning with the Tories = suicide (this is of course what the 'Rebels' wanted for some reason). Cameron himself was playing 'let's fuck Labour' politics with this referendum and, again, he lost, though I should add that Labour are still fucked.

gastro george said...

"... he had already announced that he wasn't sticking around for a full term."

Surely it's a Westminster cliche that, as soon as you announce your departure, a PM loses power over their ministers. So the referendum, created as a response to internal Tory party politics, became riven with internal Tory party leadership manoeuvrings. And yet Corbyn is obviously to blame.

organic cheeseboard said...

you mentioned this on Twitter yesterday but it's worth returning to Nick's latest NOT MAD AT ALL piece on 'the Corbyn gun club'. It's one of the most obviously planted pieces I've seen for a while. He says:

when Labour activists talk of the men most likely to be deselected the list narrows to three: Neil Coyle, Wes Streeting and Peter Kyle.

I've never heard of Coyle or Kyle. But surely John Mann or Jamie Reed, who never, ever stop briefing vs Corbz, are more likely names? Which implies that someone fed him this stuff.

Then again, his 'famous' research skills are in evidence here:

Admirers of George Galloway and Islamist movements have overrun Creasy’s local party. They call her a “girl guide” and treat her with a condescension they would never afford to a male politician. Naturally, Corbyn prefers them to a Labour MP

If 'girl guide' is the worst abuse he can find then I'm not sure why he included this. It seems to come from a tweet she was sent in - yes - 2013 by a men's rights activist whose location is not at all clear. The fact that it took me 10 seconds to work this out demonstrates a lot about our Nick. Either someone fed him this and he took it at face value (probably the case) or he had to actively misrepresent the situation.

Even worse though is that Nick uses the supposedly terrible 'Girl Guide' as an insult himself, and is so proud of doing so that he retweets the insult to promote his work:

Yet more evidence that this bloke is not really an ally in anti-misogyny.

organic cheeseboard said...

bit of a broken record thing from me but still. The bloke who wrote this is undoubtedly a chump but it's worth reading:

the membership had a point; in their view Corbyn has been treated unfairly by the PLP. The PLP will tell you that they were forced into a corner and they did what they did after protracted discussions with Jeremy and his team, which is true. They will also describe in detail how incompetent the Corbyn-led operation has been, and they are right to call that out. However, none of those protestations mitigated the members’ views about Corbyn’s treatment, which was the determining factor in influencing how members voted. This was particularly the case for the older members, too many of whom agreed with Smith but not with the treatment of Corbyn. They needed more time.

The problem with how this bloke interprets it all is that he's obviously anti-Corbyn, and still can't actually see the issues from the other side. The above applies to some of the PLP, yes, and like I've said I'm sympathetic to them; but other members of the PLP a) refused to work with Corbyn at all, b) resigned while he was giving his acceptance speech, c) briefed against him in a way never before seen in this party, d) tried to shout him down while he was delivering the Labour party's response to the Iraq inquiry, e) resigned live on air having pre-arranged this with the BBC, f) not actually challenged Corbyn for at least a week after all those resignations, because they assumed he'd just go, despite all the above, g) livetweeted meetings that are meant to be private, h) universally and intentionally misread the rules on leadership challenges, and supported court action to force their leader off the ballot i) labelled fellow party members as Nazi-appeasers while literally being applauded by the Tories, etc etc.

If this bloke, and Nick 'these resignations which happened hourly were not coordinated' Cohen and others, continue to ignore what the PLP have actually done in the last year, there's no hope for them.

gastro george said...

Did you listen to Owen Smith on the this morning's radio news? I know Corbyn or a member of the shadow cabinet should have been doing it, but it pretty much summed up for me how useless many of the PLP are. Confronted by Humphrys usual saloon bar rant - Tories are taking the centre ground, Labour are consigned to the loony fringes - after May's adoption of Labour Party economic policy, Smith could only muster a half-hearted "yes, well let's see if she delivers what she's saying".

Any sensible politician would have welcomed the fact that May had seen the error of the Cameron/Osbourne/austerity way, welcomed the fact that she had recognised that Labour had a series of sensible policies (which Humphrys had previously poo-pooed as "not credible") and had joined them on the centre ground, expressed hope that she would start adopting other Labour policies, and stated that Labour would be holding her to account to make sure that she delivered on her promises.

But no.