Sunday 17 September 2017

How Not to Write about Corbynism

Nick Cohen's latest article for The Observer is idiotic. In fact, it is triply so.

There are the demonstrable untruths, the nonsense about Stalinism and personality cults, that Corbynism is not just about the "left behind" middle class but is now, apparently, the expression of "a significant slice of the British bourgeoisie". Ridiculous.

Then there is the undermining of his own argument. On the left, even among the husks for whom the spark of social conscience was extinguished long ago, there is a long tradition of using 'the middle class' as an insult. By labelling something middle class, you are inviting the reader to dismiss whatever is under discussion. This classic ploy is initially so fielded by Cohen to question the legitimacy of Corbynism. Then he does a 180 and starts exploring the grievances and concerns powering the movement. He even comes close to acknowledging that Corbynism may have a point. But then he remembers he's supposed to be attacking and witters "less understandable or forgivable is the nature of today’s middle-class backlash against a status quo that is rigged against them." Eh? Is voting against an anti-austerity party somehow an "unforgivable" activity?

Last of all is the bewilderment that has marked his "journalism" since Jeremy Corbyn was catapulted from backbench obscurity to the top of the Labour Party. If you want to understand how the well remunerated professional and the precarious care worker, along with a large majority of the under-40s populate the activist and voter vase of Corbynism you've got to get a handle on the changes to Britain's political economy, on how it is shifting from material to immaterial production. I can understand why some people don't want to understand, because it calls into question everything they know about politics as well as their assumptions about the social world (and, indeed, their position as privileged interpreters of it). But as I'm fond of saying, understanding and explaining isn't the same as excusing. Studiously avoiding thinking about change, the likes of Cohen and his mates in the dead centre embrace their bewilderment and cling to the illusions hanging over from the recent past. That's why we see a cavalier disregard for the facts, zombie arguments from the last couple of years and, of course ritual abuse.

When your name in journalism is made and, presumably, have dinner partied with the great and the good of Fleet Street, we see "stars" getting paid handsomely for turning out of the most egregious rubbish. Cohen is by no means the worst offender, though he's increasingly in competition with Dan Hodges for being the wrongest about everything. Yet where is the quality control? Where are the editors? Don't they care about the reputation of their own rags any more? Whatever the case, Cohen has given us yet another example of how not to write about Corbynism. Though, to be truthful, I hope he and his ilk keep on keeping on. Every sentence and paragraph advertises their estrangement from the world, which is guaranteed to ensure those growing numbers trying to make sense of it are going to give them a pass.


alanbyrne said...

A while ago I thought Cohen often wrote columns which were perceptive and made sense but this one was contrived and nonsensical.

JGiftmacher said...

Was hoping you comment on Nick's latest.

I've got to say it's one hell of a cosseted existence that lets Nick talk about the failed middle class... These days I'm an incredibly successful upper middle class myself. I remain resolutely left wing however so I like to think I can smell Nick's shit a mine off.

Things that help me in this are: being one generation away from an outside toilet in the slums of Liverpool's Scotland road.

Recognising that my incredible social mobility is not, in fact, a product of my sole hard work. It was my parents, and their generation's uncharacteristic social mobility gave me my current status.

And last of all, I've the wit so see there's approximately fuck all chance of the next generation getting where I am unless their parents have the means already. (And possibly due to deliver it.)

Jeremy is only worth supporting in as much as he is a counter to the situation described above. Nick needs to get over this and his other screechingly bad analyses.

JGiftmacher said...

And apologies for typos, late night phone ranting ;)

Nick has a terrible tin ear, and talks hateful bollocks sums it up.

Speedy said...

I see a lot of thrashing about from both sides - that chap you linked to at the top started off by discrediting the ABCD segmentation, then used it to prop up his argument.

I think Cohen's points about a "left behind middle class" aren't all bad, and he doesn't need to talk about the immaterial v the material because that is more or less unsaid.

Where Cohen's article falls down is by failing to take this "new" Labour seriously, and accepting it presents a real alternative to the neoliberal consensus and one based on the socialism he professes to endorse.

Personally, I doubt Corbyn's Labour will win the next election - like Brexit, the near Labour victory was a confluence of historical circumstance. The irony is, however, that the manifesto would appeal to the elctorate, even if the leadership would not yet the manifesto would not have come about but for the leadership. Corbyn rightly does not trust his parliamentary party enough to step down (and who is there to take the reins? Only Khan IMHO, who is not an MP) yet I am pretty sure Labout will be knocked back under his leadership at the next election.

Random said...

Thank you for writing this, so I don't have to read this article. Nick Cohen is so far 'out of the loop' that he's going to join Cassini and plummet onto the surface of Pluto any time soon. Sad to see the Guardian so unaware of the wrong direction in which it is headed.

Dialectician1 said...

Yes, I read the Cohen article in the Observer, too. It's the first time I've bought a hard copy of this newspaper for a couple of years and I realised why I stopped buying it. I don't think Nick Cohen's article was the worst. He has become their 'Melanie Phillip'; not to be taken seriously, full of spite and snearing bile. You ask about journalistic pride and the role of the editor. With a few exceptions, most of the comment pieces were predictable liberal handwringing, especially Andrew Rawnsley's daft piece on Vince Cable. Also, they seem to think that having a go at Trump's bombastic traits is radical critique. However, there was an interesting piece by Malik about the dangers of the liberal/left's obsession with identity politics. Something the editors of this weedy newspaper should digest.

Roger Hardy said...

Your comments are spot-on. I'm not sureat point Nick Cohen is trying to make but I think that, at best, it completely misses the point that Jeremy Corbyn's message resonates with a growing number of socio-economic groups that formerly would not have been considered socialist and, at worst, it likens Jeremy Corbyn to Stalin, which is deeply offensive to anyone who listens and understands what he is saying. JC is a man of principle who sticks by his principles and has never told a lie. He is an unashamed socalist. He espouses socialist values. There is a new electorate that is discovering that the way things are working out isn't working out for them, that current society can be better and that 'better' is to espouse more socialist values. This is not unique or unusual; just look at any Scandinavian country or Canada and you can see it's not rocket science. It seems to me that Nick Cohen is what is left of the rump of the Blairites at the Guardian. I wonder whether Owen Jones talks to him any more...

David Timoney said...

Your final paragraph implies that the purpose of columnists should be to strive for the truth and thereby burnish the reputation of their newspapers. But Cohen, like all columnists, is simply a "turn". Winding you up, or reinforcing the prejudices of the hard-of-thinking, is part of the act.

In this sense, Cohen is exemplary of the "shift from material to immaterial production" (i.e. from facts to opinions), and one could argue that he has been a pioneer of the process, with his moralistic take on politics, having thereby helped provide a grammar that has now been thoroughly dissemniated to social media.

Daniel said...

As someone who is part of this middle class that is dropping back down to a some class beneath middle I'm voting for Corbyn's Labour because they are the only ones actually talking about the problems I face. Where does Nick think I should go? The Third Way Labour types have been useless since the financial crisis and I am sure as hell not going to vote for the Tories or the Lib Dems who I just see as Tory enablers since they screwed over my generation getting into bed with the Tories in 2010.

What's stupid is that Cohen actually acknowledges that this "middle class" Corbyn support base can't really be considered middle class anymore as these people can't get on the property ladder lol. There is a word for people who have to sell their labour to survive and do not/can not own any private property and it aint middle class.

Anyway I thought the left were unelectable because they can't appeal to the middle class. That was the whole raison d'ĂȘtre for Blairism. People like Cohen chastise the left for being electorally useless and unable to appeal to the centre ground. Yet when they do start appealing to the bourgeoisie it's the worse thing ever.

Shai Masot said...

Anyway, what's wrong with reciting poems to Jeremy ahead of a CLP meeting? I do it all the tome at home when I'm on my own. Doesn't everyone?