Thursday 20 April 2023

Should Novara Interview Matthew Goodwin?

Should left media provide its opponents a platform? This has been a feature of the discourse lately as Novara Media prepares to interview the always-awful (innumerate) Matthew Goodwin about his latest book. You've probably heard about it. In his Values, Voice and Virtue, he makes the dubious case that a new left wing elite control Britain's cultural institutions. Never mind how the right control the government, the press, the means of production, and casts a domineering relationship over all else - including the "liberal elite"- it's them damned lefties we need to be worrying about. If only. As with right wing reflections on society generally, there's a rational kernel wrapped in layers of bullshit-reeking crud, and it dovetails with other conspiratorial rantings about shadowy elites brainwashing the susceptible. There's nothing original in Goodwin's argument. A very adjacent take got an airing in a little-read book by Ed West a few years ago, and is a watered down version of the antisemitic "Cultural Marxism" conspiracy theory. One favoured these days by the Telegraph and Suella "I can't be antisemitic - I'm married to a Jewish guy!" Braverman.

Unfortunately, as is customary for rightwingers, by claiming his arguments were cancelled by the liberal media Goodwin's book has got the sort of heavy promotion by the press that money can't buy. A lot of people are going to read it. A lot of people have read it. But how should the left respond? Novara's decision to interview him has provoked criticisms and denunciations from some comrades. There's the reasoned - if you must cover this work, why not get left commentators/experts on to pull the thesis to shreds? And there's the intemperate - Aaron Bastani et al are grifters and are undoing the work of no platform campaigns of recent years. The argument goes that by platforming someone like Goodwin, he's somehow being "normalised" as a commentator, and Novara are slipping into the neoliberal market place of ideas format that does nothing to aid understanding and, effectively, promotes Goodwin's ideas as something worthwhile to engage with. However, this does not stop with Goodwin. In recent years Novara have copped it in the neck for having on John McTernan and Paul Mason, so the debate is not just about providing arch reactionaries a platform, but the kinds of people the left should or should not extend its space to.

I understand where this comes from. Living in a society where, contra Goodwin, the right wing gatekeeps, the liberal media - whether press or broadcast - is subordinate and largely supine, and left voices, let alone left media, are few and far between, it's reasonable to argue our bandwith is too narrow to carry the politics of people who spew their rubbish from every broadcast mast, satellite, and fibre optic connection. But it depends what one's left media is project is about. When we say 'left media', we're implying a plurality. Different bits of different media do different things. This place, for example, is as basic as you can get. It's simply an outlet for my commentary on politics and, very occasionally, other ephemera. When I'm too tired/can't be arsed or I've spotted enough new initiatives, the blog features work from other left media projects to give them a (very modest) boost. This is something I've always done and will continue doing. And that's fine, that's this blog's niche. Similarly, consider the evergreen Politics Theory Other. What Alex offers is a platform for discussing key issues with left wing experts on certain topics, and/or a showcasing of their recent work. No one else does this, and Alex has done an excellent job bringing out interesting and radical work that might otherwise have got stuck in the seminar room or in a seldom-read book. Lastly, consider a paper from one of the 57 varieties. For Trots and Tankies alike, the paper (or website) is a scaffold for their party-building projects. Everything is subordinate to that aim, and because often the papers are thin and their circulation thinner everything is given over to pushing their politics and pretending they're a squillion times more significant than they really are. Again, that's absolutely fine. Propaganda groups are going to produce propaganda if that's what you want to do.

This is not Novara's aim. From day one, its ambition has been to provide an alternative, left wing news media organisation. And, unlike the best traditions of the British left, it's proving quite successful. Audience for its content, and we're talking relatively long form video here, not TikToks and sassy memes, often tops over 100,000 views. In podcasting, Novara is battling and besting the centrist and conservative big boys in all the charts that matter. And its programming has grown to a nightly offering, suggesting more than just left wing activists and demobilised Corbynites are tuning in. Chances are Novara will carry on expanding. I look forward to the day where it can go toe-to-toe with BBC and ITV news and current affairs programming, and its written output circulates as well as the broadsheets' own very important columnists. That is to say Novara is in sight of becoming what it was always meant to be: a counterweight to the unserious, childish, and manipulative rubbish that has long positioned and poisoned this country's politics.

Whereas most left outlets reach out to the converted and usually catches the curious by chance, building an alternative to the establishment's press and broadcast institutions means thinking about how to reach beyond the small and perfectly formed audiences the left are accustomed to. Which brings us back to the upcoming Goodwin episode. If, say, Michael Walker had a panel of Novara regulars on or left wing authorities on anti-fascism, class, and racism, his position would get utterly eviscerated in front of an audience of 10,000 viewers. Challenging Goodwin's bollocks to his face, pulling out the non-sequiturs, dishonesties, and similarities to Cultural Marxism would get many more because, obviously, it would be entertaining to see him get handed his arse. The point is not to convince Goodwin of the errors of his ways, but to demonstrate the absurdity of his argument to those interested in but not fully aware of how false it is, where it could lead, and who wouldn't bother tuning in to earnest but obscure lefties chewing through Goodwin's book. Some of the audience attracted to the Goodwin spectacle will inevitably stick around for other Novara programming, and find their views challenged and become regular consumers of left media. By expanding its audience, all left media projects might get a lift. Just as how, many years ago, right wing papers realised they could make money from working up a left-liberal outrage machine.

But what about the normalising argument? I'm sorry to say the idea the left rule this country undemocratically and from the shadows is already normalised. It has currency in DailyMailTelegraphTimesExpressSun land with its racist overtones and, sadly, among the red and blackpilled misogynists who follow the crock of Andrew Tate and other horrors. Taking on the ideas current in this disaffected layer can, over time and repeated exposure, deprogramme and persuade. As ContraPoints has ably demonstrated in her work.

Ultimately, it comes down to what you think left media should be about. If you want to build an alternative to the mainstream with news bureaus, specialist correspondents, and mass audiences to match, then it does mean meeting the audience you want to reach and shape as you find them now. More often than not, it means going out on a limb and breaking with propagandist traditions of pushing a narrow range of views and concerns. Having sold many a deadly dull Trotskyist newspaper to reluctant punters, people are only ever going to be attracted to left media if it offers something attractive. This is the only way to building the counterweight to the mainstream we all want to see. And if you don't agree with Novara's efforts or strategy at winning over new viewers, then don't support them and try building something else. Eventually, the audience might come to you. But that 'eventually' is going to be a very, very long time.


Anonymous said...

They won't challenge him though. Just like they didn't in recent Hutchins and fukuyama interviews. Very glad I stopped listening to them.

Old Trot said...

Yes indeed, Anonymous, the tiresome trendy (Liberal) Leftie lovvies of Novara Media are always awful , lazy and poorly researched,particularly when interviewing clever Right wingers. I well remember that ghastly Ex RCPer and now radical 'libertarian' neoliberal ideologist, Claire Fox, giving the boys the run around (to no push back at all) when interviewed on Novara during the BREXIT period. Cunning old Claire cynically presented herself to Bastani and Walker as a fellow Leftie - and they just lapped it up sycophantically ! Seriously, had they done any research at all on Fox and her Spiked Online /Ideas Academy , Koch Brothers funded chums since they diverged from the ultraleft madness of the RCP to shilling for Big Business ?

Similar failures abound with other Rightists given platforms on Novara. Paul Mason being a really grevious example. Basically the Novara crew are know-little, politics-lite, trendy Left Liberals, just going with whatever current ideological schtick is popular with da kids . Their many ludicrous articles on the 'trans' issue being another case in point. The very recent article by that very rich scion of an icecream empire, Bastani, parroting all that Daily Mail and Guardian's Polly Toynbee, generationally divisive, drivel demonising the pensioner generation as being universally comfortable and well off, and therefore always reactionary, took the biscuit. Particularly as Bastani as a rich boy himself is an example of the reality that most pensioners in the UK are actually dirt poor, because wealth is actually owned by a very few very rich old people - and they pass it down to their scions - like you , Bastani !

Goodwin will make mincemeat of Walker and Bastani , because he will have his dodgy stats and arguments off pat, and they will be ill-informed and clueless, and bedazzled by his 'star appeal' - as they were with Claire Fox et al.

Anonymous said...


Aaron Bastani was born as Aaron Peters in Bournemouth to a single mother, who died in 2015. She was employed in cleaning, the service industry and social care, and voted for the Conservative Party. His Iranian father Mammad Bastani was made a British refugee during the Iranian Revolution.

This is on wiki. Are u too thick to research or just enjoy lying?

Phil said...

For info, have just edited the end of the second paragraph. There was some confusion around the original sentence that implied the left *should* provide platforms for right wingers and opponents. No - that depends on the nature of the project.

Dialectician1 said...

I think the most unattractive part of Novara Media is the finger-wagging, preachy style of presentation. I quite enjoy it when they mock the crass pronouncements or the blatant hypocrisy of this current batch of politicians but its too easy to turn off when they start the faux-interview sessions with each other. I would prefer a more Socratic and open-ended style of presentation and less of the didactic, earnest, post-grad trying to impress their sociology prof.

Old Trot said...

Oops, my bad on that admittedly bogus claim Anonymous, you are quite right on Bastani's actually poor background - I was misinformed by a previous, obviously deliberately mischievous, article I read elsewhere recently , and should indeed have checked on Wikipedia. Apologies to Aaron Bastani on that bit- but the rest of my comment on the Novara media crew still stands 100%. His very recent attack on the supposed mass of reactionary 'wealthy pensioners' was straight out of the guardian/Polly Toynbee, 'split the young from the old', recipe book. And Bastani and co are still always crap incompetent interviewers of clever right wingers. Got any useful comments to make on that , Anonymous, as a presumed fan of Bastani and his trendy Left Liberal lovvies ?

Zoltan Jorovic said...

Somewhat to my discomfort I find myself agreeing with Old Trot's point that Novara will probably be badly prepared and not score the points they (and Phil) seem to anticipate. Journos are rarely clued up on any topic that requires reading more than a press release.

I'd like to distance myself very strongly from almost every other opinion OT offers. Such negativity and projection can't be healthy.

Kimbo said...

Clever right wingers? 🤔🤣