Taking the measure of Tom Clark’s December 16, 2022 essay @TLS, that ‘reviews’ and or mentions various books …

Political Observer & Almost Marx

Headline: Labour’s long road to power

Sub-headline: The opposition’s struggle to create a radical programme

This is a Times publication, steeped in a tradition of Anti-Left hysteria, so the notion of a radical programme is unsurprising, given the smears printed in the Times Newspaper, against Jeremy Corbyn, the dependable Times hack Dominic Sandbrook reviews a ‘biography’ of Corbyn.

Headline: Review: Dangerous Hero: Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot for Power by Tom Bower — portrait of a monomaniac

Sub-headline: If Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister, he would easily be the most dangerous, most indolent and least intelligent holder of the office in history

This is one of the most depressing books I have ever read. It is a forensically detailed portrait of a man with no inner life, a monomaniac suffused with an overwhelming sense of his own righteousness, a private schoolboy who failed one A-level and got two Es in the others, a polytechnic dropout whose first wife never knew him to read a book.

It is the story of a man who does not appear to have gone to the cinema or listened to music, takes no interest in art or fashion and refused to visit Vienna’s magnificent Schönbrunn Palace because it was “royal”. It tells how he bitterly opposed the Anglo-Irish Agreement, deeply regretted the fall of the Berlin Wall and praised the men who attacked New York on September 11, 2001, for showing an “enormous amount of skill”. In some parallel universe, this man would currently be living in well-deserved obscurity. In reality, Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition and the bookmakers’ favourite to become our next prime minister.

For the veteran biographer Tom Bower, whose previous subjects include Mohamed al-Fayed, Richard Branson, Simon Cowell, Tony Blair and Prince Charles, Corbyn is the easiest target imaginable. The details of his life are well known. Born in 1949, the son of a skilled engineer and a maths teacher, he was brought up in a large 17th-century farmhouse in Shropshire called Yew Tree Manor. At school he was a loner and an underachiever, so lazy that his headmaster told him: “You’ll never make anything of your life.”

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/review-dangerous-hero-corbyns-ruthless-plot-for-power-by-tom-bower-portrait-of-a-monomaniac-8x0spp3d8

Mr. Clark is a Contributing Editor at Prospect magazine, its self-description:

Since its outset, Prospect has been politically independent, with no party-political affiliation or agenda. It is a not-for-profit organisation, supported by a trust as well as by advertisers and subscribers.

Its current editor is Alan Rusbridger :

For most of my working life I have been a journalist – mainly on the Guardian, which I edited for 20 years from 1995-2015.  I was Principal of Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford for six years. Now I’m back editing again – Prospect Magazine, the UK’s leading political monthly.

https://www.arusbridger.com/

Call Mr. Clark and Mr. Rusbridger ‘Liberals’ for want of a better term.

The ‘as if’ of Mr. Clark’s essay composed , eventually, of books mentioned, and some reviewed, after a long introductory political reportage: within very carefully observed political parameters. That, a marriage of opportunism and journalistic survival mechanism. Reminiscent of cobbled together clichés, from a reporters notebook, some garnished , some just quoted from that rough draft. This opening fragment is beyond cliché: All politics is relative…

All politics is relative, which is why, when I arrived at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool back in September, I found the mood comparatively harmonious. Four days earlier the then prime minister, Liz Truss, had blown up the Tories’ reputation by putting large handouts to the rich on the never-never. The markets took fright, mortgage rates spiked and – very suddenly – the sort of single-digit lead that Labour has often mislaid between the midterm and polling day was blossoming into a twenty- or even thirty-point advantage, presaging a sea change.

The factional vitriol that usually pulses through conference was hard to find. Ambitious young suits at a marketopian think tank’s event were not laying into militants, but asking detailed questions about tech entrepreneurship. At a Morning Star rally there was some grumbling, but the self-declared “lifelong socialist” MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy caught the mood with her plea: “Rule 1: stay in Labour”.

That afternoon the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, hitherto little loved by his party’s right and loathed by a left whom he had courted on his ascent, only to abandon at the top, produced a unifying speech. It included some eulogizing for the late Queen, some recycling of Tony Blair (describing Labour as “the political wing of the British people”), but also – at last – a few distinct, and distinctly progressive, policies, including the idea of a new nationalized green power firm, “Great British Energy”.

The latest trove of books on Labour’s irreconcilable schisms, pumped out over the summer and autumn, seemed almost to have been overtaken. But as I was quietly departing, almost ready to believe that peace had broken out, there came a reminder of the strife seared into the party’s past – which still looms over its future. To the tune of “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain”, two dozen local dockers were serenading comers and goers with “If you don’t stand with the pickets, you’re a scab”. Their burly shop steward was bellowing through his megaphone, all too plausibly given the economic scene: “We’re striking to put food on our families’ table”. He mellowed when I approached to ask what political reaction they’d had at the docks: “We’ve had fourteen MPs down there, the socialist MPs are coming down, John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn and a few others. It’s just the frontbench that aren’t coming”.

Mr. Clark acts not like the American Theodore H. White, and his long career of following American presidential elections. At least to the Year of 1972, when Watergate revelations, demanded a re-write of his published book, on that election, he did so. Mr. Clark needn’t bother with what might be named an act of political integrity, in another context, and or maintenance on his reliability as a ‘reporter’ ? That seems unlikely since he is writing for The Times, one of the conspirators against Corbyn.

What might The Reader make of this ?

Headline: Al Jazeera’s Labour Files has blown a hole in the British media’s Corbyn narrative

Sub-headline: Shocking allegations in the documentary series have been largely ignored by the mainstream UK media

Peter Osborne

https://www.middleeasteye.net/opinion/uk-labour-files-al-jazeera-revelations-blown-hole-media-corbyn-narrative

In the years leading up to the 2019 general election, the British media ran a powerful and unremitting campaign that questioned the fitness for office and motivation of Jeremy Corbyn. The most damaging claim was that he turned a blind eye or tolerated antisemitism inside the Labour Party

This narrative often dominated front pages for days on end, and occasionally led coverage on the BBC and other news channels. There is little doubt that these charges inflicted real and lasting damage on the Labour leader, and played an important role in his crushing defeat in the last general election. 

Over the past week, the Qatar-based media network Al Jazeera has challenged conventional wisdom about the Corbyn years by broadcasting a three-part documentary series alleging that many of the claims made against Corbyn’s Labour Party were either false, fabricated or twisted against him. At the same time, it vindicates those around Corbyn against claims that they were lax in dealing with antisemitism.

Surprisingly, the mainstream media has scarcely reported on the series at all. When I checked on Tuesday night, I found only a handful of articles, mostly in regional media. The papers that banged on day after day, and month after month, on allegations that Corbyn was a racist have all but ignored the Al Jazeera reports. The same applies to the BBC, which played a major role in framing the understanding of Corbyn and antisemitism in the run-up to the 2019 election. 

The BBC Panorama report of July that year played a particularly important role, because it provided what appeared to be shocking evidence that people close to Corbyn intervened in the disciplinary process. Those watching the Panorama programme, after the newspaper reporting that preceded it, might have concluded that it was not just reckless, but actually immoral to vote Labour in the general election.

Al Jazeera also alleges that Panorama reflected only one side of the divided Jewish community, failing to speak with supporters of the pro-Corbyn Jewish Voice for Labour group. 

The second episode of the Al Jazeera series examines that Panorama programme in detail. It alleges that in its reporting of allegations made by various former Labour Party staffers, Panorama, the BBC’s premier investigative current affairs programme misrepresented certain facts and made claims that cannot be substantiated. 

Mr. Clarks bloated 3,506 word propaganda never mentions the revelations of the Al Jazeera documentaries, like the good hireling, who follows the script, that is not just flawed. Yet the question for the critic of Mr. Clarke’s propaganda, that combines the journalists note book sketches, his careful revisions of that raw material. A collection of comments on books, succeeded by partial reviews of books by Labour Party Members, and other political actors: demands both lengthy quotation of Mr. Clarks observations, wedded to a critical evaluation.

Let me bein with this representative paragraph, that demonstrates Mr. Clark’s ‘methodology’:

The Labour right is allergic to the very idea of a “neoliberal age” building from the late 1970s until the financial unravelling of 2008, because it lumps together the Thatcher and Blair years into a single chapter of history. Yet, however inconvenient it may be, that is the way the recent past is coming to be understood – across the intellectual spectrum. In the past year alone we have had the Cambridge professor The Labour right is allergic to the very idea of a “neoliberal age” building from the late 1970s until the financial unravelling of 2008, because it lumps together the Thatcher and Blair years into a single chapter of history. Yet, however inconvenient it may be, that is the way the recent past is coming to be understood – across the intellectual spectrum. In the past year alone we have had the Cambridge professor Helen Thompson, something like a British Gaullist, decrying in Disorder (TLS, April 29, 2022) the “finance-centred economies” that have “from the 1970s terminated economic nationhood”; the liberals’ liberal, Francis Fukuyama, warning in Liberalism and its Discontents (TLS, September 2, 2022) that the grotesque inequalities produced by the neoliberal turn have been threatening the institutions of freedom; and, now from the stoutly social-democratic Graeme Garrard, a political theorist at Cardiff, an impassioned case for The Return of the State (Yale University Press, £16.99) to “its proper role as the principal champion of the public good and general welfare” in a “post neoliberal world”. We have also had Gary Gerstle’s The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order (Oxford University Press, £21.99) and Phil Tinline’s The Death of Consensus (Hurst, £20), a study of “turning points” in Britain’s political economy, which argues that a profound reset is due, now that the dominant popular 1970s “nightmare” of “domineering pickets” has been displaced by fears of “parents having to choose between heating and eating”. Next year, a book by the Financial Times’s revered commentator Martin Wolf (The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism; to be reviewed in a future issue), will argue that the rentier capitalism of the past few decades is undermining the foundations of democratic life. decrying in Disorder (TLS, April 29, 2022) the “finance-centred economies” that have “from the 1970s terminated economic nationhood”; the liberals’ liberal, Francis Fukuyama, warning in Liberalism and its Discontents (TLS, September 2, 2022) that the grotesque inequalities produced by the neoliberal turn have been threatening the institutions of freedom; and, now from the stoutly social-democratic Graeme Garrard, a political theorist at Cardiff, an impassioned case for The Return of the State (Yale University Press, £16.99) to “its proper role as the principal champion of the public good and general welfare” in a “post neoliberal world”. We have also had Gary Gerstle’s The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order (Oxford University Press, £21.99) and Phil Tinline’s The Death of Consensus (Hurst, £20), a study of “turning points” in Britain’s political economy, which argues that a profound reset is due, now that the dominant popular 1970s “nightmare” of “domineering pickets” has been displaced by fears of “parents having to choose between heating and eating”. Next year, a book by the Financial Times’s revered commentator Martin Wolf (The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism; to be reviewed in a future issue), will argue that the rentier capitalism of the past few decades is undermining the foundations of democratic life.

Note the cast of characters, and their political books/pronouncements that foretells that elusive ‘Clark Methodology’

Helen Thompson, something like a British Gaullist, decrying in Disorder, Francis Fukuyama, warning in Liberalism and its Discontents, Graeme Garrard, a political theorist at Cardiff, an impassioned case for The Return of the State, Gary Gerstle’s The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order, Phil Tinline’s The Death of Consensus, the Financial Times’s revered commentator Martin Wolf (The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism.

In the next paragraph is ‘prescriptive’ of a very particular kind?

In short, an old order is visibly shaking. But the question remains: can the Labour Party see it? And, if so, can it be creative enough to come up with meaningful answers, then united and effective enough to see them through in government? Insiders involved with Jeremy Corbyn’s “project” during his Labour leadership certainly felt big change was needed, but to read three of their books in rapid succession is to be convinced that they were never going to get it done. One by one, they pretty well admit it.

What follows are quick sketches about books, germane to where the Labour Party may, might, possibly, be headed. Mr. Clark expresses not just doubt, but cynicism about that ‘where’, for the Labour Party is not. The delivery methodology of Mr. Clark’s is the ‘review’ in miniature, that by definition is the practice of propaganda.

In This Is Only the Beginning (Bloomsbury, £20) Michael Chessum, a one-time anti-fees student leader who was later a speechwriter for Corbyn and Momentum’s treasurer, is eloquent on protest (the book is dedicated to the “misfits, troublemakers and idealists, who smashed the plate glass of the Conservative party headquarters and the consensus that enveloped the world”) and the dangers of machine politics. He highlights “the movements and strikes”, including Occupy and UK Uncut, that powered the Corbyn insurgency and caught an unforgivably incurious Fleet Street off guard. It is timely stuff given the drift of Starmer – who once represented environmental activists like those in the McLibel case – towards acquiescence in the “spy cops” bill (making provision for undercover officers to commit crimes while undertaking their duties) and plans to lock up disruptive climate protesters.

The Momentum co-founder and former Corbyn spokesman James Schneider’s Our Bloc: How we win (Verso, paperback, £8.99) shows more interest in the bloc than in the “winning”, at least as that is usually understood. The author’s main practical scheme is an “alliance of social movements, trade unions, the Labour grassroots and socialists in Parliament”, of the sort that mobilized the People’s Assembly protests against George Osborne’s cuts from 2013. Given that those cuts proceeded, and were consolidated by David Cameron’s 2015 election win, I’d have expected a bigger twist than Schneider offers – federalizing the links between the organizations involved.

So I was surprised to find Is Socialism Possible in Britain? (Verso, paperback, £14.99) to be the best of the Corbyn camp’s books. Murray’s disdain for parliament, political personalities, even Labourism itself, creates some detachment and room for disinterested judgement. The huge ten-point advance Corbyn achieved against expectations in the election of 2017 is justly underlined, but so too were the “cracks … immediately apparent in the electoral edifice” back then. Underlying the subsequent fall of the “red wall” was, Murray suggests with Olympian loftiness, “Not Brexit. Not Corbyn. Not even New Labour”, but rather the crumbling of industrial society.

Lane Kenworthy’s Would Democratic Socialism Be Better? (Oxford University Press, paperback, £18.99) offers a compendium of new evidence on how vastly better social democratic capitalist economies perform than all others on poverty, insecurity and life satisfaction, yoked together by the argument that their established advantages are bigger than any plausible gains to be had from socializing the means of production.) In dismissing the Clement Attlee administration that wove the welfare safety net, enshrined the national parks and quit India as a “normal capitalist government”, Murray sounds less interested in real-world politics than in measuring its shortfall against a mystical future in which the “flowering of real human history” begins. He salutes Corbynism for “straining in that direction” and does not judge it for bequeathing a country sliding the other way.

The perils of leftist impossibilism run through Labour’s Civil Wars (Haus, £16.99), a pacy 100-year history by the veteran politician Giles Radice, who recently died aged eighty-five, and Patrick Diamond, a former New Labour policy advisor. Diamond worked on both sides of the Blair-Brown divide, and the book is meticulously fair when it comes to squabbles within the moderate camp.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow cabinet’s punchiest communicator, wants to root public policy in communities, the theme of her new book All In (HarperNorth, £16.99). The more ordinary citizens actively engage with something, she says, the better the outcomes that will emerge, a claim backed with folksy accounts of her constituents’ efforts to save Wigan Athletic FC. There’s some repetition and, as quotes from Karl Marx, JFK, Eric Hobsbawm and the Tory MP Jesse Norman cascade in eclectic succession, it can get dizzying, but at least the mixture suggests an open mind for uncharted times.

After the two biggest fiscal shocks of modern times – the financial crisis and Covid – Britain’s cumulative public debt burden is still lower than it has been for most of the past 250 years, and it remains (behind Germany) the second lowest in the G7. Long-term discipline is needed: the deficit is high and will need reining in. But buy uncritically into the precise and arbitrary parameters of Jeremy Hunt’s figurative black hole and Labour could sink itself from the start. The dreams of a different tomorrow won’t be built by a party, warring or not, that can’t find a way to pay for today.

Political Observer and Almost Marx

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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