Wednesday 4 December 2019

The New Statesman's Miserable Editorial

One of the benefits of holding centrist journalism in contempt is the hacks can never disappoint you. And so it came to pass the New Statesman editorial carried the line according to Jason Cowley: that faced with Boris Johnson's Tory party and all it entails, from hard Brexit to hard misery for millions of people, versus Labour with its transformative programme for the better, we get some mealy-mouthed whingeing about Jeremy Corbyn being bad mmmkay, so bad in fact he's indistinguishable from the Prime Minister.

In the grand scheme of things it shouldn't matter. NS is a relatively low circulation magazine for people who prefer reading about over doing politics, but is a cornerstone of opinion formation for liberal establishment punditry. What it features does matter to a degree because it can catalyse talking points and headlines. And what do you know, 15 seconds with the search engine of your choice reveals how the right wing press have gleefully picked up on the story. The likes of the Express and Mail are all splashing on how this "left wing magazine" thinks Corbyn is unfit for office. And so, unfortunately, for as long as the dying networks of centrist hacks have reach, their rubbish must be rebutted.

What then is the substance of the editorial's charges against Labour? The first is our old friend, anti-semitism. Like the rest of the bourgeois press, the New Statesman has proven itself curiously incurious when it comes to the depths of its so-called institutionalism in the Labour Party. Have there been failings in dealing with it? Certainly. Has it been blown out of all proportion? Absolutely. From day one of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership his opponents have hunted for angles from which to attack Corbyn and, by extension, the left's dominance in the party. Alleged sexism had its trial run. Corbynism as a middle class phenomenon enjoyed some time in the spotlight. And we've had the nonsense of Corbyn as an agent of the Czechoslovak intelligence services. The only thing that has stuck is, because of his anti-imperialist take on foreign policy matters and efforts at promoting dialogue and peace, are past associations with sundry terrorist outfits and especially those wishing to see the destruction of Israel. This is enough to damn Corbyn as an anti-semite, despite possessing a record of solidarity with Jewish people long before the issue became a political football.

The accusations against Corbyn on this score are nonsensical and motivated by concerns other than racism. If the latter was the case, why do we not see our champions for political hygiene going after the Tories with equal vigour? Why do rightwingers get a pass when it comes to anti-semitism? For instance did we not see a word of criticism let alone condemnation of those party workers who purposely sat on anti-semitism complaints for factional reasons. Why? And if the party is guilty of institutional failure when it comes to dealing with anti-Jewish racism, then why has it only become an issue of process and procedure since Jennie Formby took over as general secretary, and when she made moves to expedite the expulsion of Jackie Walker this too was condemned as anti-semitism. The likes of Jason Cowley and his ilk do not peer closely into these matters because smearing Corbyn and the Labour Party is a collective effort. They are not interested in combatting racism, let alone anti-semitism. All that matters is enough muck is flung in the hope it sticks, the wellbeing of British Jews be damned.

The second gripe the New Statesman has concerns Brexit and Labour's positioning on the second referendum. The idea Jeremy Corbyn might go to Brussels to negotiate a new deal, and then sit out on a public vote between it and remaining in the EU is not to the magazine's liking. Now, I don't have the NS archive in front of me but if they didn't criticise Harold Wilson for his "reluctance" to take a position on the 1975 European referendum then one might accuse them of editorial inconsistency. Unfortunately, because of the way politics has moved these last two years it was unsustainable for Labour to ignore calls for a second referendum. Itself partly thanks to the works of Labour's opponents, the way Brexit has turned out and its grand reveal as an unmistakable project of the hard right, the party had no choice but to reposition itself or lose millions of voters to the Liberal Democrats. As managing a political project is more difficult than running a specialist interest magazine, Labour has nevertheless had to calibrate its Brexit position just enough so it can appeal to Labour leavers as well. As we know, Johnson's banking on Labour leavers leaving Labour, and so you can't criticise Corbyn for refusing to make his job easier by coming out for hard remain. After all, as some people need constantly reminding, there was a vote. Apart from that, is anyone really bothered about which way Corbyn would lean in a putative referendum? You'll remember he was lambasted by centrists and the right for not saving remain's bacon in 2016. And is simultaneously attacked for not having any leadership pull whatsoever. So which is it? Whether Corbyn matters or not depends on the dishonest exigency of whatever copy a melt columnist has to turn in, and that applies here. If Cowley was interested in mounting an honest criticism of Corbyn's positioning, it's not too much to ask for a consideration of the strategic dilemmas facing the party.

What truly damns this miserable screed is its bad faith. The New Statesman had no problem endorsing Tony Blair after Iraq, after detention without trial, and the stoking up of Islamophobia. Crimes, yes, crimes that led to the suffering and deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. One cannot simply compare the records of Blair and Corbyn and come to the conclusion the former is infinitely preferable to the latter. Unless your priority is upholding the status quo. And so when we see their anti-endorsement caveated with warm words for Labour's "transformative" programme, and the resurgence of the party under Corbyn's leadership, they're exercises in obfuscation. From the outset the editorial line has been opposed to what is happening in the Labour Party, and now it's crunch election time its antipathy to the left and loyalty to their media mates and our rotten state of affairs trump the climate emergency, the housing emergency, the cost of living emergency. I would at least have a modicum of respect for Cowley if he was up front about his not-giving-a-shittery, but like all hypocrites he has to hide behind principles that show up when they're convenient. Pathetic.


Blissex said...

«centrist journalism in contempt [...] the line according to Jason Cowley»

He was also attacking Ed Miliband's far-leftism:

«Miliband has a deterministic, quasi-Marxist analysis of our present ills. [...] Miliband is very much an old-style Hampstead socialist. He doesn’t really understand the lower middle class or material aspiration. He doesn’t understand Essex Man or Woman.»

and he also concludes, like every good LibDem, that social-democratic parties are no longer needed:

«And he might have to accept before long – or the electorate will force him to – that Europe’s social-democratic moment, if it ever existed, is fading into the past.»

Speedy said...

Claims that Corbyn is anti-semitic are false. However fears that anti-semitism is deeply embedded in certain sections of the Left, less so - a sort of modern Left-wing 'lizards' tendency like the right's climate denial.

But Corbyn is accused of antisemitism in the same spirit as Israel is targeted as the exemplar of nastiness. Both are false flags. The former as indicated above, the latter as a symbol for America, truly everything that the Left despises but too big to do anything about - it is easier to boycott olives than Apples.

This is why the latter bleeds into the former, because of course when you obsess about Israel it has unhealthy associations with unhealthier obsessions. Corbyn, as a leader from the Left, is simply tainted by this, no matter how nice a man he may be.

For Labour supporters with Jewish friends, regardless of the evidence, it does make it uncomfortable - ordinary Jewish people feel genuinely threatened far more regularly, globally, violently than Islamaphobic violence (unless you account for Muslim-on-Muslim attacks). They are certainly at more threat and have been attacked and killed across Europe more frequently and consistently than any other minority. Have you noticed? The right-winger or Islamist terrorist does not make a distinction between Israel and Jews when they attack synagogues? Left-wing critics of Israel should therefore be mindful before conflating the two with the modern anti-Israeli pejorative 'Zionist'. For good reason, almost all Jews are Zionists.

So it is fine for me to be relaxed about Labour, but I am not faced with voting for a party controlled by a faction that feeds into a constellation of beliefs that endangers my safety. It is naive to discount this reality, as it is disingenuous to justify obsessing about Israel when there are so many other hideous regimes and the reality is it is all about America, as it has ever been.

Speedy said...

For example, I turn to your blog and read

Anonymous said...

Good post. If you got tarred, feathered, and kicked out of the party by some sort of kangaroo court because of it, I would support the campaign to get you back in. Think I'll set up the crowdfunder now.

Blissex said...

«Left-wing critics of Israel should therefore be mindful before conflating the two with the modern anti-Israeli pejorative 'Zionist'.»

I often point out to many people that Corbyn is a committed, lifelong zionist and a big supporter of Israel, and they should never attack "Israel", a country with people of all sorts of political opinions, but the far-right fascist parties like Likud who are the real culprits of the many awful policies they are disgusted by. But somehow they keep using the same tired old slogans using the same stupid and misleading words.
“The Jewish community is a vibrant and much valued part of our diverse UK society, and I will continue to defend the right to religious freedom and practice, including specifically shechitah and the brit milah, Jewish faith schools, and culturally sensitive youth and social care services. I have a long interest in campaigning for peace and justice in the Middle East, and reiterated my commitment to a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israelis and Palestinians both have the right to a state, and to live in peace and security.”

My impression is what the self-styled "mainstream jewish community" which seems largely made of supporters of Likud object to is "and Palestinians both have right to a state", which they consider antisemitic (Likud's charter commits members to fight against a two-state solution "west of the Jordan").

«For good reason, almost all Jews are Zionists.»

That is almost like the old antisemitic smear, often spread by Likud supporters, that jews in other countries are or should be more loyal to Israel than to their "temporary host state". Quite contrary to that, many if not most jews feel rooted in their native or adoptive country, and anyhow, many gentiles are zionists too, not just Corbyn: the whole Labour party is zionist supposedly, and even after years and years of trying to find fault with Labour only rather less than 1% of members have been accused of antisemitism, and often in ridiculous ways.

Speedy said...

"That is almost like the old antisemitic smear". Really? You yourself have just trumpeted JC as a 'life-long Zionist' so why not most Jews - certainly I have never come across a Jew who has not supported the existence of Israel, and on the (few) occasions the subject has come up they have stated it is reassuring to have somewhere to go if things 'take a turn for the worse' (the starting point of Zionism, after all). It is disingenuous to decouple Zionism from modern Jewish identity, just as it is disingenuous to deny the blurred line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. You may wish it weren't so, but there it is.

You say Likud supporters claim to represent mainstream Jewish opinion, but then quote the Jewish Chronicle, a voice of the Jewish mainstream, to provide evidence JC is a Zionist. Hm. Personally, I think it's a bit of a stretch - appearing on anti-semitic Press TV and calling the BBC biased for supporting the existence of Israel is 'naive' to say the least, but I would give him the benefit of the doubt that he is so focused on Palestinian rights he sometimes gets a bit carried away. I simply don't think he has it in him to be anti-anyone.

In any case, as someone who has visited I/P a number of times (and believes much the same of JC - I'd like to see a shared capital in Jerusalem, etc) I return to my original thesis that this is all balls - it's actually about the US/ Capitalism. The Arabs are at least as much to blame for the plight of the Palestinians (although note - not the existence of Israel) as the Israelis. I have a Hamas-supporting acquaintance who was born Jordanian and blames them more than the Israelis for his non-person status. The Arabs have used Israel as an excuse not to get their own houses in order, as much as some Western Leftists use it as a political football. If it didn't exist, surely it would have to be invented.

Jim Denham said...

I completely agree about the wretched stance of the New Statesman, but antisemitism within Labour and Corbyn's apparent incomprehension regarding it is a real problem and not something that can be written off as a concoction of the right.

For instance, in his interview interview with Andrew Neil where he first refused to apologise, Corbyn was asked repeatedly whether the phrase “Rothschild Zionists run Israel and world governments”, tweeted by a Labour council candidate in Liverpool, is antisemitic. (Apparently the tweeter remains a candidate, for now, after his branch unanimously backed him.)

AN: Let me ask you this. Is it antisemitic to say Rothschild’s Zionists run Israel and world governments?

JC: In the Chakrabarti report we asked that people did not use comparisons about conspiracies, not use…

AN: Is that antisemitic?

JC: …because in the belief of Shami [Chakrabarti], and I support her on this in that report, that can be constructed as being an antisemitic statement and therefore – and therefore should not be...

AN: Right, but let’s just get it clear. I asked you – I gave you a specific quote. Are the words “Rothschild’s Zionists run Israel and world government”. Is that antisemitic?

JC: It should not be used and it is.

AN: But you can’t say it’s antisemitic?

JC: Look, I just said that it should not be used.

Eventually Corbyn said the quoted words were an “antisemitic trope”. Whatever we may think of Times columnist David Aaronovitch, he was 100% correct about this:

“The Zionist world conspiracy is not an ‘antisemitic trope’… It’s the full Monty. Until pretty recently it was the more or less undisputed province of neo-Nazi groups, and would generally appear amidst links to Holocaust denial literature and admiring biographies of the Fuhrer. These same sites would also feature material on the biological inferiority of non-whites and the dangers of miscegenation.”

It is a sign of regression that we have such things in the labour movement; and that sections of the left, including evidently the Labour Party’s left leadership, signal such perplexity about it.

Andrew Curry said...

I imagine-without reading the NS—that Cowley hasn’t bothered the Verso e-book on this subject. It’s downloadable and free so there’s no excuse for not doing your research properly. .

There’s a nasty media ‘equivalence’ thing going on with Johnson and Corbyn (I see it in the Independent and the FT as well) as if there’s something comparable about persistently lying about everything and seeking sometime to avoid difficult questions, between making wide-eyed claims about nursing numbers to cover a deep-seated trust issue on the NHS and having (probably) expensive policies that are actually designed to deal with some of the deep structural issues of the UK.

Deviation From The Mean said...

“but antisemitism within Labour and Corbyn's apparent incomprehension regarding it is a real problem “

It isn’t a real problem it is a fake problem and is the result of a coordinated and planned campaign to defame the Palestinian supporters in the West.

Jim Denham and his ilk invent such a legalised definition of anti Semitism that you need a lawywer, a logician and a philosopher to work out if the statement is anti Semitic or not. Like the complexity of the tax laws this is by design and not by accident. By creating this legalised definition those with the power can basically label anyone they want an anti Semite, and this creates a situation where anti racists are called racist and racists are called anti racists.

Now while Jim Denham is probably not directly paid by the Israeli state (though who knows) he is a self appointed agent of said state. At home the IDF takes care of the Palestinian resistance and abroad people like Jim Denham take care of the Palestinian resistance.

Let us be under no illusions about what Jim Denham and his ilk want, he wants every genuine Palestinian supporter (those that actually give blood sweat and tears to the cause) to be purged from public life and civil society.

Jim Denham is an arch Palestinian hater and baiter.

Meanwhile the real racists are about to be elected and with the full endorsement of the main Jewish organisations!

bourgeois dissident said...

Call it centrist, sure, or, as I'd prefer, liberal. Understanding, that is, where there is a ideological choice between supporting left policies in opposing at root the interests of capitalism, political liberals invariably, throughout modern history, prefer 'things as they are'. Finding the prospect of transforming the liberal-capitalist basis of the economy and society too much to bear, but rather than admit that their natural allegiance is to the right in politics and economics, they displace their denial of potential 'progressive' alliance, citing the bad moral character of individual socialists as 'beyond the pale' of normal politics, thus justifying their betrayal of mooted anti-capitalist coalition on purportedly ethical grounds. My response to the hypocrisy of the NS editorial was probably similar to most of the respondents here – disappointment, but not surprise. And then I chided myself for imagining that the smug bastards might just once do the right thing. But no, to be clear, the liberal preference is to enable right-wing parties while ruling out, as absolute anathema, socialist challenge that would deny the forces of ethnic nationalism and market fundamentalism continued monopoly of state power. At the end of the day, one suspects, too, liberal commentators like the editor of the NS know well enough that their bourgeois livelihoods and networks of opportunity and privilege will not be disturbed too much by more of the same. Liberalism is the intellectual logic of capitalism. Their greatest fear, above all others, is democratic socialist transforamtion of economy in commitment to shifting the asymmetries of capitalist common sense. The latter reality also explains, the constancy and ferocity of anti-Corbyn propaganda and the readiness of liberals to buy into the 'not fit to be PM' mantra.

Old School Liberal said...

Liberals ain't what they used to be though.

It used to mean support for free speech, sympathy for criminals, outspoken against totalitarianism etc, anti war.

But we have entered totalitarianism (mass spying, surveillance, shadow banning etc etc) and the so called liberals are not bleating, other than throwing criminals on the fire in the name of identity politics.

Today's liberals look very much like old conservatives to my mind.

bourgeois dissident said...

In historical perspective and etymologically I tend to prefer the older term Tory. In Ireland we know the tories to be robbers and blackguards, by their abiding disposition. The social liberalism to which you refer is surely a twentieth century phenomenon of the Butsklelist, postwar consensus – new conservativism, that is. The ideological basis of which, social one-nation toryism, is the very thing that neoliberalism undermined and which the revanchist return of ethnic nationalism in the party and country killed-off completely. Toryism and liberalism, in history and political practice, are to borrow a phrase popularised by the reprobate Galloway,'two cheeks of the same arse'. NO finer illustration of which was the 2010-15 coalition government in which the LibDems served as the intellectual wing of austerian, that is, traditional, pre/anti-keynesian toryism.