Friday, 24 December 2010

Tommy Sheridan Around the Blogs

Yesterday's guilty verdict was always going to result in vicious rounds of denunciation on the left. And the various blogs that make up part of its online infrastructure would be first port of call for comrades hungry for analysis and with a spleen to vent.

In the pro-Tommy corner,
Lenin's Tomb makes a number of stinging criticisms of the SSP leadership's conduct from the moment the allegations surfaced to the role they played in providing the perjury trial key evidence. Andy makes a similar argument on Socialist Unity. Andy's position is one well-travelled since 2006, when he backed the SSP against the Tommy faction. I can see where both comrades are coming from and their arguments are much more credible than the transparently self-serving explanations put out by interested parties (see here). They are right to criticise the SSP and like them I believe it will be a long time before the organisation regains a modicum of the reputation it once had. But in Andy's and Lenny's rush to put the boot into the SSP, Tommy is let completely off the hook. It's as if expecting comrades to lie in court (risking late perjury charges and imprisonment), for no reason other than the protection of Tommy's personage is of zero consequence. I'm sorry, I just don't buy it. In attacking the SSP's unprincipled behaviour they obscure the fact that ultimate responsibility for the mess rests on the shoulders of one man and those who egged him on.

Elsewhere, Journeyman asks
which side are you on? in a post more nuanced and thoughtful than the title suggests. In his 'Solidarity with the Sheridans' Riversider claims "a whole host of blogs are literally salivating with glee ..." at the prospect of Tommy getting sent down. Apart from the Scottish Socialist Youth blog, just who these unnamed others are is a mystery. Unfortunately Riversider sticks rigidly to the "class battle" frame in discussion of the issues, a frame I've argued massively distorts what really happened and what the issues were.

On the other side of the debate,
Dave Osler cuts to the quick. Likewise Jim argues that Tommy's arrogance and lies are rooted in a far left culture of personality cultism and deference. Louise in Gender, Class, Sexism and Tommy Sheridan reiterates all these points while exposing the attacks on the SSP's feminism as a rather poor attempt to dress Tommy's court case up as a principled struggle. However, even though he liked my analysis of the trial, Ian Bone's contribution comes across as bitter and vindictive.

Away from the hot house atmos of the far left, how has Tommy's conviction been received by others outside our tiny circle? As we never tire of hearing Tommy's standing in Scotland, what do Scottish political blogs have to say? Lallands Peat Worrier
subjects the case to a legal analysis and throws up some uncomfortable questions Tommy's supporters have yet to answer. The Firm (magazine for Scotland's legal establishment) offers an alternate legalistic view and suggests the Lord Advocate was leaned on by Murdoch's minions to give the perjury investigation the go ahead. Will Patterson locates Tommy's hubris in his ego and foresees a Scottish left cleared and ready for the return of the Gorgeous One. Similarly Bella Caledonia isn't looking forward to Galloway's imminent return, and argues a new leadership is needed in Scotland to rally its progressive forces.

Strangely the chief props of mainstream blogging have little to say. Harry's Place has posted nothing. Paul Staines, the
enfant terrible of establishment politics is similarly silent. Legal blogger David Allen Green is presumably too busy handling the mince pies to write anything. In fact, south of the border you'd be hard pressed to find anyone outside of the sunlit uphills of far left blogging giving much of a toss at all. So much for Tommy's case being a vitally important political event. However, Dave was cross-posted to Liberal Conspiracy. In the subsequent thread questions are raised about the public interest/money spent on the prosecution and Tommy's judgement. But most unnerving of all is reading a discussion of the case free from rancour and entrenched positions. Political Scrapbook mischievously runs with a parallel first suggested by Tommy at the outcome of his 2006 defamation action. But as one of the commenters notes, "I take exception to any argument that challenging Goliath justifies lying ... Tommy Sheridan has actually done News International a big favour because now any time someone accuses them of dishonesty they can legitimately argue "well, that's what Sheridan said and he was a liar too!""

The recriminations and the arguments will see the left nicely into the new year. But hopefully people will soon start looking beyond the case. As Bella Caledonia notes, "The time for raking over one individuals life is thankfully over and the new task is to work out how the future looks for the left in Scotland – where energy can go and where alliances can be made. 2011 should be the year when the agenda is reclaimed by those more interested in the opening future than the inglorious past."


raincoatoptimism said...

Being a left wing blogger from the South I feel slightly persecuted by this blog post - but nonetheless thank you for it. It's quite obvious to me that the best has been written up and you've already chronicled it.

This shouldn't harm far left politics in general - and I've been surprised to see that this argument has emerged in relation to Sheridan - but it will do his party, who relied so much on him, no favours at all and I'd be surprised if they recover from this at all, which is a comment on spin, tabloid churnalism and the terrible state of present-day politics more than a comment on socialist politics (which I will reserve comment on for another time).

Anonymous said...

wouldn't say the SSY article is salivating with glee - it makes clear that there's no desire for vengeance, as did the SSP statement.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the new trend to criticise the SSP in hindsight has a lot to do with the dire state of the English left in the wake of the unity debacles these past 10 years. The message is that both Sheridan and the SSP's response to him are products of a fool hardy attempt to promote organisational left unity.

So the SSP is put on trial and found lacking in true socialist principles (just as it was found similarly guilty of wanting to break up the British union).

Akin to the end of a Shakespearean tragedy the Panglosian universe returns and the left is now back to 'normal' albeit with a few protagonists shifting residence and joining the Labour Party because the far let is thought genetically incapable of regrouping itself.

Thus the narrative unfolds under guise of a Sheridan epilogue and the SSP is ruled incapable of recovery. That it survived the past 6 years despite the front page trauma and continued to go about its day to day political business is thought irrelevant to its prospects.

Sotto voce, what is meant is that the bourgeois British Labour Party or the SWP or the SP, etc are healthier milieux to do political business than what's on offer -- or was ever attempted -- in Scotland.

Sarah said...

"He won’t be sentenced until the New Year, but we have no desire to see him punished by prison. We support restorative justice where offenders are helped to make amends to the people they have wronged. To do that, the first step is admitting what they have done wrong, and it’s time now for Tommy to apologise to the people he has wronged, particularly the women who he slept with and then publicly humiliated in court."
-SSY blog

Sorry, in what way is that remotely "salivating with glee at the prospect of tommy getting sent down"?
Oh, that's right, it's not, you're just putting your own agenda into your interpretation of our clear words.

M said...

Far from speaking with hindsight, I've always argued against 'democratic centralism', because this is the very thing that allowed a small clique running the SSP to help NOTW stitch up Tommy Sheridan, for whatever self-serving motives, and destroy the party's reputation and credibility in the process.

Sheridan may have been an idiot for not letting the matter drop, but the clique actively chose to f*ck over their comrade and drag the rest of the party through the dirt.

The majority of us on the left believe Sheridan was being fitted up, and will be standing by him.

Nick Fredman said...

"The majority of us on the left believe Sheridan was being fitted up"

So you've conducted a poll? What's probably more to the point was the majority of the SSP rejected his actions. And that much of the minority who did not were the members of the SWP and SP. Which is why it's strange that you complain about "democratic centralism", as the SWP and SP members were bound to vote in issues within the SSP not on their merits, but on the decisions of their "real" organisations which allegedly existed on a higher plane. And look, how coincidental, Solidarity turned out to be much more like their conception of a broader front than the SSP was.

That's not to excuse some of the actions of some SSP leaders, made *after* Sheridan began his destructive course (I've seen no evidence, as Andy Newman among others claim, of a hardened anti-Sheridan faction existing before Sheridan began the affair). But part of the story is the hostility of some tendencies to the whole SSP project.

Phil said...

Anonymous, my criticisms of the SSP aren't motivated by what I think is best for the left. As far as I'm concerned the people concerned did cross a line. But unlike Tommy, at least that can be mitigated by the violence his recklessness inflicted on a promising left project.

I'll also add I don't buy this stuff about factional animus toward Tommy before the allegations came out. Debates in the SSP were relatively out in the open on the internet thanks to the SSP's internal discussion list and the UKLN. If there was petty spite and jealousy anywhere along the line it would have leaked out somewhere. But it never did. So you can either take the view Tommy's "persecutors" were very good at hiding their true feelings, or that no persecution existed.

Phil said...

Sarah, my agenda is?

Phil said...

M, the majority of people on the left - admittedly in my own partial, narrow experience - believed the NOTW story was substantially true and that he subsequently lied in court. The problem is most of the left (in the shape of the SP and SWP) have absolutely no issue with Tommy expecting comrades to lie for him.

There's a name for that: moral bankruptcy.

Mark P said...


I am genuinely glad that you are no longer a member of the Socialist Party. The Labour Party is welcome to you.

Phil said...

Instead of hiding behind flacid barbs, Mark, how about dealing with the issues as they are as opposed to how you'd like them to be?

Lobby Ludd said...

Mark P, quite what was it that Sheridan got right in this wholly unnecessary debacle?

Do you reckon some special kudos attaches to him?

What's his slogan at the next election going to be?

"I may be a sleazebag, but at least I have the good taste to try to deny it."

M said...

I don't expect anyone to lie for Sheridan, and certainly believe it's morally wrong to do so.
But there's a massive difference between that and making an active choice to grass on a comrade for £200,000 in the knowledge he'd go to jail for it.

Nick Fredman said...

Phil: "If there was petty spite and jealousy anywhere along the line it would have leaked out somewhere."

Yes and claims after the fact by current factional opponents of a pre-existing "poisonous atmosphere" or whatever prove nothing. Like Phil's general line here this makes a lot of sense to me, based on my discussions with a couple of younger SSP members who were close to the party centre in the years leading up to the dispute, and my own experiences.

Re the latter: at various times for the first 15 years of my involvement in the Australian DSP over the last 20 years political opponents have made dark insinuations (or straight out claims) of intrigues, vicious conference brawls and bloody purges about to break out. Some such claims were made by one or two embittered ex-members. There was never any real evidence of such, as the reality was a few reasonable and probably to the outsider quite boring debates. When a bitter fight did break out in 2005, details indeed got around quickly, despite the tight nature of the DSP. When the minority left in 2008 and the need for disciplined public silence removed, the floodgates of animus were opened.

Phil said...

I can't disagree with that, M. The taping was reprehensible.

No one emerges from this saga as the unblemished bearers of the light of truth. Such a criminal, criminal waste.

Jack of Kent said...

Hi there

I am following the Sheridan case with interest, through a number of excellent Scots law blogger sites.

As I am not a Scots lawyer, I am not sure I can add anything useful. It would simply be presumptuous to do a legal blog about an area which requires technical Scots law knowledge.

Indeed, I can imagine the (deserved) criticism if I did so. Sometimes one simply cannot win.

And so back to those mince pies...

David Allen Green

Phil said...

Damned if you do ...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I think this piece by Galloway sums up the pro Tommy case after six years of generating spin on the part of a shrill left collective."He has been brought low by the most grotesque alliance of mutually loathing elements ever seen in British political history.A downmarket, foreign-owned newspaper known for its hatred of socialism, a bizarre Scottish Trotskyite sect in the grip of a Wee-Free brand of feminism and a Lothians police force under pressure to get results." That the sorry saga began because another politician got caught with his pants down seems to be lost amongst all the rhetoric.

But step back for a moment and consider that this is the issue that has been chosen -- consciously chosen by leading players --to savagely divide the left -- one man's sexual proclivities, credibily or not. Then come back to me and try telling me that this is mature discourse -- that the English left is not infantile and verging on being basket case.

The whole thing has been a beat up from Day One -- initially by the man himself under the banner of the class line . Historically the left has been divided by wars and revolution, the purging of millions, criminal sellouts at the level of nations, genocidal slaughter and massive struggles . But the English left has this wonderful capacity to seek division where ever it can be found-- if only dividing for its own sake.

We can talk about the struggles of the masses until the cows come home (and what we should do about it) but who really gives a shit when what really matters to the English left is the class alignment of one man's penis.

John Mullen said...

Well that's a lot of comments. But who can imagine that selling internal documents to the News of the World will not go down as treachery ten years from now?
As for the writers and enjoyers of the Scottish socialist youht piece, these are really people who need to have a rest and take up DIY instead of politics. I think their bathrooms will be worth looking at.