Cor! And other stories…

This little Republic on for the Orwell Prize? We are dumbfounded, and a bit shuffly. We are still in our very early history compared to some of these established states, and our peasants are continuously revolting. Sometimes we even make up our own words, and we are a little too fond of the passive. This is indeed an honour.

I’m surprised in particular (as others have said) that Tom Harris, Hopi Sen and the fabulous Heresiarch didn’t make the cut, which I think rather goes to show how cruel and beset by arbitrariness such a short shortlist is going to be – even leaving aside the fact that bookmarkloads of excellent blogs didn’t even put themselves in the running.

I see what they’ve done, though. Two party political bloggers (Iain and I), two wider-current-affairs political bloggers (Chekhov and Night Jack) and two journo-political bloggers (Andrew Sparrow and Paul Mason). No offence to the last two, who are among my regular must-reads, but I think I might have preferred a real bloggers’ bloggers shortlist, seeing as how the journalists have their own shiny toy.

It is our honest opinion that we have gone far enough. This is not false modesty. Rest assured, we are extremely arrogant. But we are also a young state without established roots in the business of political communication. If the winner were to be a political blogger we would tip Mr Dale, if a wider-politics blogger, Night Jack (but narrowly, and had Heresy Corner made it through I’d really have problems). The journalist bloggers, we suspect, will not proceed precisely because they are journalists, and that would cause the full range of prizes to look a bit unbalanced.

Now, the truly interesting part of all this is the part I did not see;  the overwhelming tittishness of Nick Cohen at the shortlist debate last night. You can read about this at El Dale’s gaff, and I have heard similar reports from elsewhere. Cohen’s suggestion that the Orwell Prize is “demeaned” by having the likes of Peter Oborne and Peter Hitchens on the shortlist is one of those lofty lefty assertions that, were I the Left’s psychiatrist and the Left ranting on my couch, I would write down thoughtfully with a thin, silver pencil.

Fashion in politics used to fascinate me even as an apathetic outsider, how a trail made up of gifted individuals, visionaries, climbers, entryists and spivs alike would scramble first to the left, then to the right, with no apparent power over their career course, like the crew in the TV version of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea when the ship was under attack from yet another alien-monster-thing. Look at some of the desperadoes in the Labour Stars in their Eyes video I filleted the other day – is this really the best they can offer?

It’s sad, but it’s simple. Wherever they go instead, very, very few of the most capable people want to be associated with the left at the moment. Of course, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was made in the sixties, or some such legendary time, and the actors weren’t really being thrown from side to side in their sea-bound tin can; the camera was tilting and the actors were rushing from one side of the set to another in a reasonably co-ordinated manner. And the monster-alien-thing supposedly causing the tilting was really just a stuntman swathed in green rubber. None of  it was real.

The current tide away from the Left is not “real” either – I don’t even have complete faith that the Tories are going to scrap ID cards, never mind make any real progress towards decentralisation. They’ve hardly got a name for the latter, and only a very recent name, perpetuated largely by party rebels, for the former. I think it’s quite true to say that people aren’t voting for the Tories. They’re voting against Labour.

And I wonder if there is ever a time when it’s not true. An eventual swing against any prevailing ideology is as sure as spring, and it shows a truly repellant arrogance in the proponents of that ideology when they suggest that their ideology should have prevailed forever, that somehow they were different. The Tories of the early 1990s were exactly the same. It’s surprising how many educated political people believe exclusively in the evidence of their own lifespans (this is what studying PPE instead of history does for you) and don’t realise that the motion of the universe really doesn’t care what their experience is or what they think the illimitable truths are.

A good example: on Lib Dem Voice, I and others  regularly get told off for being “Thatcherite” because, among other things, we like the idea of tax cuts and free enterprise. All the patient explanations  in the world about how Thatcher perpetuated monopolies at the expense of truly free markets, and strengthened the fiscal structures that funnelled wealth from poor to rich, do us no good. If Thatcher did it, no matter how and in no matter what context, it must be poisonous. If we continue to object, we are generally told that we haven’t seen what they, our wise elders, have seen.

This seems to me to be as much a statement of fact as saying that we have not spent our youth wearing bri-nylon flares. It doesn’t mean anything. I spent my formative political years under a Labour government which has turned me from a vague lefty sympathiser into a furious opponent. The left, or rather the things done in its name, have made me angry in exactly the same way that the right made an older generation of liberals angry. I can’t un-know all that bone deep knowledge I’ve acquired over the last decade and attempt to “know” the 1980s instead. And I dearly hope I’d have the sense not to make the next political generation down attempt the corresponding feat.

Nick Cohen’s apparent belief that the  left have some higher claim to be associated exclusively with George Orwell is exactly the kind of thing that invites my highest scorn. It just looks profoundly unintelligent, an assertion based on a nostalgic and craven view of what left and right mean. Orwell’s explanation of what he meant by writing 1984 is clearly lost on Cohen:

My recent novel is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter) but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralised economy is liable and which have already been partly realised in Communism and Fascism. I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe (allowing of course for the fact that the book is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequneces. The scene of the book is laid in Britain in order to emphasise that the English-speaking races are not innately better than anyone else and that totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere.

My emphasis. “And in any party”, he could have added. And – oh look! – that’s just what’s happening at the hands of the Labour party, who invoke the name of the Left for what they do. The Left are now mostly woken up to this, and the brighter ones are steering well clear of the doomed Labour ship. Still, it’s hard to get rid of that sort of history of co-operation and abetment. If I were The Left, I would bow out for thirty years. Seriously. Not back off, have a little think, and come back in a few months with a New Statesman/Demos sponsored drinks reception and conference panel called “The Future of the Left”.

Just go away, for a long time, and think about what you’ve done.

By way of a postscript – this really isn’t meant as a party puff piece – it is a recognition of the Voyage-to-the-Bottom-of-the-Sea effect that makes one understand, with the near-as-dammit certainty of good historical training, that one day it will be our, the liberals’, turn. Whether the opposition of today like the sound of that or, or think it likely based on their experience or not. Absolutely all things pass. This is the law that both prevents us from making a decent fist of any political ideology, and that saves us from it when it goes rotten.


  1. Shuffly, eh? Well, you’ll find that the velvet glove is on the other foot now and that the chattering classes and their running dogs have become stakeholders in your SME going forward.

  2. Isn’t Nick Cohen at odds with most of the “left”? I was under the impression that they dislike him & he dislikes them. You can surely be left-wing (a broad, general term if ever there was one) without holding every one of the attitudes your generic participant in a Liberal Conspiracy comment thread holds.

    I describe myself as of the left, but do not feel beholden to agree with unlimited immigration, or various forms of statist economy, or whatever it is.

    I dislike the attitude of those such as Harris, Sen, Sadie Smith & the rest of that stable, as it seems to me they are far too close to being Labour apologists. Maybe they really do agree with virtually everything Brown comes up with, or maybe they’re ringlickers, & in both cases they should be censured.

    It results, not only in poor quality of thought, but also in a sneering attitude such as was put on display over the Convention on Modern Liberty, when mockery was the only retort they could give to those worried about state intrusion into our lives.

    I actually give up trying to comment further. There were all sorts of things I was trying to say, but language has defeated me🙂

  3. In fairness, anything named for Orwell is demeaned by having Peter Hitchens associated with it (did they send it to the wrong one by mistake?). His standard reaction of ill-thought-out, myopic kneejerk blimping at anything that doesn’t confirm his deeply held views stands in diametric opposition to the values that good old Eric held dear.

    But no, that doesn’t make Cohen right, or if it does it’s for the wrong reason.

  4. I’m naturally gutted – but thrilled to see both you and Night Jack on the list, which more than makes up for it. My heartiest congratulations. My biggest regret is that I won’t get to meet you at the party.

    Good luck!

  5. Sockpuppet, a perusal of the links that got Hitchens onto the list will show what he’s capable of.

    I won’t pretend he’s on my Christmas card list, & I find basically incomprehensible his views as set forth in “The Abolition of Britain” etc. But “The Abolition of Liberty” is one of my favourite books. I think the difference is the former was written when New Labour were popular, the latter was written when they had lost support & left-liberals were turning against them, so he made an effort to reach out to us.

    Yes, he does simply talk gutter-esque sometimes & you have to ask why he degrades himself. But those articles are worthy & the man is an honourable man.

    His basic argument is that social liberalism & permissiveness (& Thatcherism, which he opposes) have corroded the ties of community & families, which is directly responsible for the cancerous growth of state power. This is a respectable view which I personally do not share, for the most part, because I am much more sceptical about the old ways & shit.

    I part ways with paleoconservatives (whose thought I study with interest in America) & Red Tories because they reject liberalism, individualism & secularism. Accordingly I do not drink from the same wells as them. But their support is valuable on a number of issues such as civil liberties.

    I understand that you will reject Peter Hitchens & he can hardly complain given the utter shite he sometimes talks. But when he is in the mood he is on fire. I prefer him to the overwhelming majority of right-whingers.

    Not quite sure why I went on at such great length. But I feel there is a section of the roast beef of old England right that I can engage with. It is why I did not berate David Davis as others did.

  6. It is indeed amusing, considering how far Cohen has strayed from the left to then be complaining about the likes of Hitchens and Oborne. If anything Oborne may be to the left of Cohen on some matters; he certainly is on Islam, for example.

    Can’t say I’m entirely convinced by your quote from Orwell though. He, like all those who wrote on such a voluminous scale, tended to contradict himself, and of course his views also changed over time. He did though on a number of occasions make quite clear that what he was “for”, was democratic socialism. Of course, if he’d lived longer than his 50 years he too might well have shifted further to the right.

  7. one of those lofty lefty assertions that

    Yo! Can we please stop assuming Nick Cohen is on the left?
    congrats on the award – I’m rooting for you!

  8. Asquith; a brave defence, and I daresay Voltaire would be proud. But

    His basic argument is that social liberalism & permissiveness (& Thatcherism, which he opposes) have corroded the ties of community & families, which is directly responsible for the cancerous growth of state power. This is a respectable view which I personally do not share,

    Fairy nuff. I don’t share it either, as I think that people moving towns is the main thing that has destroyed local community cohesion, and simply don’t recognise the mythical halcyon age when families all contained 2.4 children, a stern but wise father, a caring matronly mother and impish children with rosy cheeks who doffed their caps to the village beadle and had a faithful indian friend they called Pongo.

    My point though – which I accept that I can’t ever prove – is that Hitchens Minor doesn’t start from the evidence and proceed to a theory, but accepts things that support his view and rejects those that don’t. Or, to put it another way, he doesn’t speak out against – say – the gayers because he thinks that acceptance of homosexuality has lead to the rise of state power, he doesn’t like them anyway,* and bolts on a pretty f—ing tenuous argument to support it afterwards.

    Why do I think this? Because his aunt sallies are too pat, like they’ve come off some puritan-approved list of acceptable targets.

    *and for someone who claims to have no problem with gays (and not to be interested in them) he has devoted a hell of a lot of thought and newsprint to his views on homosexuals, how he’s not interested in what they get up to, how he wishes people would stop writing about them etc.

  9. Sunny, Septic, fair dos. Though he still seems to think he’s on the left (which I guess is part of the problem). The clip’s on youtube now, in case you haven’t seen it. Car crash tv almost on a par with Eric Pickles on QT!

  10. Well spotted Alix I am indeed banished and I would just (in a petty way) like to make the point that expressed my view in a perfectly civilised way unitl Sunny Hundal allowed the worst sort of language to be directed at me .
    I copied it , to make the point that it was unacceptable, and then he banned me from the site for “spamming ”
    That tells you all you need to know about the authoritarian left in the UK …anyway I `m not that bad honest. I think they dont want Conservatives there basically .


  11. “sure as spring…”
    “absolutely all things pass…”

    This is almost mournful – are you afraid of winning and that this will weaken the independence of your republic?

    No flower blooms in the shade of obscurity, so don’t pretend that your corner of teh interwebs doesn’t deserve any of the attention it gets.

    If it’s criticism you want I’m happy to accuse you of being a homer prone to a bit of intellectual self-flattery: if History really is better than PPE, Gordon Brown wouldn’t be as spectacularly bad as he is, or maybe that’s why Labour were too afraid of getting rid of him when they had the opportunity – surely every subject needs to be taken on it’s own terms before one looks at how it shapes the individual.

    Anyhoo, all good contrarians need a rollicking argument to get them fired up, but I’m just a bit worried about breaking the etiquette of the republic for fear of inciting a counter-revolutionary trend.

    So maybe this post isn’t mourning for a lost past never to be regained as much as it it heralding a dynamic new age… rather than a pastoral prose which is all rather too fluid and florid, maybe we can hope for some expeditions into the more adventurous realms of the world of words, like poetryland or polemica.

  12. Dear Alex
    I work with a film company and we’ve just found some extremely ironic footage of Jack Straw on the cutting room floor. It’s currently being edited but I think it would be perfect for your readers. Is there an email address that I can use to send it to you?
    Thank you!
    Best wishes,

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