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From the left to where…. May 18, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Crazed nonsense..., The Left.
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An interesting and not unsympathetic review of Melanie Phillips new memoir. Philips is a strange one. Strange, I remember her output in her ‘left’ phase in the Guardian and it was pretty good. And I saw the shift first hand through its pages, as it were, a shift that was remarkable for its distance. It’s not, to me at least, that she moved from left to right, that’s an old old story and played out all around us. It’s more that the positions she has adopted in that move have been so far right.

Difficult not to feel that her career has been one subsequently of deliberate provocation shot through with utter strangeness. The rhetoric she has adopted, and one need only consult her wiki page to see some good examples of same is deeply dispiriting for its sheer unnecessary belligerence.

But also depressing is the boilerplate nature of her discourse – the alarm bells always start ringing for me when I read the phrase ‘cultural Marxism’ in relation to… well, just about anything to be honest. The last straws? Perhaps what Stonewall and many of us consider to be utterly bigoted behaviour in relation to mentions of LGBT people in various lessons and the absurd cookie cutter rhetoric of her thoughts on Barack Obama.

In a way the above encapsulates her move from reasonable and proper questioning to something entirely different indeed.

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1. Ciaran - May 18, 2013

Interesting review, though not enough to make me actually want to buy the book, thankfully.

Phillips seems like yet another right-wing figure who likes to justify their reactionary views by referring to an imagined mis-spent youth when they held altruistic views, conflating their then political beliefs with their own personal misadventures. It also helps them justify their weariness when it comes to caring for people, when being vicious and blaming the weak is so much more fun and profitable. Peter Hitchens and Kevin Myers have similar ‘God That Failed’ stories to share when embarking on their usual shock-jocking.

I think the best analogy I read for this phenomenon, was a comparison between these people’s anger at ‘the left’, with that of a jilted lover.

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Michael Carley - May 18, 2013

Just like a jilted lover, except that Phillips wasn’t jilted, and, as the review points out, was promoted at the Guardian. Indeed:

When she decides global warming is bunkum, they give her an environment supplement to edit.

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WorldbyStorm - May 18, 2013

Is it the opposite dynamic to a jilted lover, that of the jilting ex-lover who has to find fault in literally everything the person they previously loved does? Though functionally they use the ‘God that failed’ line as an excuse in much the same way as Ciaran suggests.

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Michael Carley - May 18, 2013

It’s a kind of Zhdanovism: not only must we demonstrate that the writer who has fallen from favour is no good, but we must demonstrate that they were never any good. Phillips, for whatever reason, has moved to the right: it is not enough for her to say that the left is no good. She has to prove, probably for her own sake, that it was always rubbish, even though it seems to have treated her well.

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2. Ceannaire - May 18, 2013

I’m always glad when I come across another right-wing thinker who denies climate change: it means they are so far out in their denial of reality I do not even need to take their views seriously.

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WorldbyStorm - May 18, 2013

Yeah, that’s true Ceannaire. I’m not one for litmus tests but that works reasonably well.

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CMK - May 18, 2013

I don’t know much about the science of climate change (or the science of anything else, for that matter) but what I heard and read this week about the breaching of the 400 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere was genuinely scary. The earth hasn’t been this hot since about three million years ago, long before humanity evolved. ‘Gaia’ may well find that the extinction of humanity is in the best long term interests of the system. It’s clearer to me than ever that socialism must be combined with environmentalism. It’s a pity, a real shame, that so many of the so-called ‘Green’ parties have made their peace with capitalism: the system that has, without a doubt, brought about this development. It was interesting, too, to hear on BBC Radio 4 an interview with a climate change scientist who confirmed that nearly 20 years of efforts to reduce carbon emissions have had zero nett effect and that, moreover, coal usage by 2035 will be three times what it currently is as coal is the ultimate ‘low cost’ fuel, indispensable to industrialisation.

And, sticking to the topic at hand, Philips is a particularly unedifying example of the ‘right turn’. I bet, however, that is probably richer than she ever imagined. If there is one thing to be said for formerly ‘Left’ high profile journalists who turn right, for them personally, it’s probably a wise career move and would be endorsed by their accountants.

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WorldbyStorm - May 18, 2013

Yes, that is very very scary. And I think you’re spot on re red-green approaches. It genuinely is the only way forward given the challenges ahead.

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yourcousin - May 19, 2013

Here in the states coal is being supplanted by natural gas due to how cheap it is right now.

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Cl - May 19, 2013

‘We will watch the rise in greenhouse gases until it is too late to do anything about it ‘-Martin Wolf

http://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/world/market-blinds-us-to-dangers-of-climate-change-1.1393405?page=2

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3. Pete - May 18, 2013

Don’t know or wish to know much about this repulsive yoke. But is her shift to do with a loyalty to Isreal? A sad journey taken by all to many (but still a minority) of the Jewish left.

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WorldbyStorm - May 18, 2013

I think that came later. And it’s fair to add that her position isn’t simple loyalty to Israel which in some respects is understandable as much as a credulous (or wilful) identification with the very worst approaches politically and militarily by Israel.

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eamonncork - May 20, 2013

Personally I think bringing up the Jewishness of people who’ve switched from right to left has an anti-semitic tinge to it. Perhaps more than a tinge in fact. But everyone seems pretty cool with this line of argument so I feel like a cad for mentioning it. Phillips is nuts but so are other reprobates who’ve decided that right wing stuff is what pays these days. But not being Jews they’re not caricatured as fifth columnists working in the interests of another state. The lad doing the Connolly Lecture for the CPOI actually calls Obama ‘the first Jewish President’ because apparently he’s beholden to the sinister Zionist manipulators who run the media behind the scenes. On one level he’s the complete opposite to Phillips but on another they’re extremist bedfellows.

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Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - May 20, 2013

I think that’s a fair point Eamonn, but right-wing Zionists who happen to be Jewish do often make use of that fact themselves- Philips certainly claims that it gives her a unique perspective- mind you she labelled Jews for Justice for Palestinians ‘Jews for Genocide’ and calls anyone Jewish who disagrees with her a ‘self-hater.’
But your point on the CPI speaker is interesting- where did he say that?

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4. doctorfive - May 18, 2013

“Don’t be fooled by the love-in between the Hugh Grant and Colin Firth of politics – this is a Left-wing coup”

Cameron & Clegg take office

“America goes into the darkness”

Obama takes office

“sulky narcissist with an unbroken history of involvement in thuggish, corrupt, far-left, black power, Jew-bashing, west-hating politics.

Obama re-elected

and so on

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Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - May 19, 2013

That’s quite a sympathetic review and you can see why she began this journey to the outer-reaches of right-wing lunacy. What explains Ian O’ Doherty being a right-wing bastard though?

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eamonncork - May 20, 2013

Reading Richard Littlejohn columns in the pub and slumping in front of Top Gear on the couch.

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5. richotto - May 19, 2013

I don’t think people on the left should lose too much sleep on what after all are merely columnists and commentators. You pay your money and take your choice. There should be no net effect in one or other of a well heeled and elite group of journalists like Melanie Philips or Christopher Hitchens shifting positions. When they move from one side of the argument to another all that will happen is a different set of people with their minds made up will find their highly articulate ways of putting things most agreeable and reinforcing what they already believed.
So, forget about losing people like Melanie Philips. What really should be discussed in my opinion is many ordinary politically motivated people shift rightwards during the decades. Surely that has to be examined more carefully by those on the left to see what can be done to make its case fit closer to the reality. After all surely the old are the ones who have heard it all before? Its long established in the UK that pensioners tend to vote Conservative more so than their younger peers on the social scale. Why is that? Is the understanding of human nature on the left a bit shallow and possibly putting the idealogy first and the facts made to fit in accordingly? There is in my view an authoritarian disposition among many on the left and its all too easy to engineer conclusions that then fail to strike a cord with the wider population. The older people get the more they see through the arguments as propoganda.

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WorldbyStorm - May 19, 2013

I wouldn’t overstate the issue of authoritarianism – even the most hardline M-L inflected parties (at least in this state) are considerably less so than they used to be (and realistically as voluntary organisations perhaps too much is made of it in the first place in that people can walk if they want to – and definitely should if the demands are oppressive). But there is an interesting point you make there about how the left and further left sheds numbers by the new time across lifetimes. It’s oftensaid, one of the biggest left ‘parties’ is ex-WP (or associated groups) members. Same with others. Interesting to see whether that has a significant effect too on general perceptions.

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richotto - May 19, 2013

“I wouldn’t overstate the issue of authoritarianism – even the most hardline M-L inflected parties (at least in this state) are considerably less so than they used to be (and realistically as voluntary organisations perhaps too much is made of it in the first place in that people can walk if they want to”
I think thats the deal for members in all left parties to the left of Labour and Greens at the moment. If you don’t like the leadership handing down
the policy and analysis you know where the door is.

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WorldbyStorm - May 19, 2013

Knowing quite a few of them I tend to see it differently, my interpretation is that – for better and worse – almost overwhelmingly they buy into the general positions. Of course where ruptures occur people do leave.

I’m not entirely convinced the LP and GP’s are quite as innocent of those tendencies as you suggest, but there I suspect we differ.

But a lot is down to the nature of the ideological positions taken. I tend to view some, not all, of those latter in certain parties as quite reductionist and therefore one knows precisely what one is signing up to from the off and any divergence in views is a developmental thing that occurs later in the membership of an individual if it occurs at all.

Whereas in larger parties there’s a fair few more people, they tend not to be of an entirely like mind, or more usually they group into tendencies of a more similar mind that can exist in the organisation. And in order to maintain organisation coherency there’s more latitude given to non-leadership views because they don’t want to lose people. SF’s recent approach over abortion is perhaps a good example of same and as that party moves away from its past configuration you can see more and more latitude.

So even where latitude exists it’s not necessarily due to intrinsic ethical superiority or a greater belief in pluralism but equally, or more so, due to the need to keep the organisation on the road.

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6. Branno's ultra-left t-shirt - May 19, 2013

‘I don’t think people on the left should lose too much sleep on what after all are merely columnists and commentators. You pay your money and take your choice.’
On the other side then it doesn’t matter what Gene Kerrigan says on the back page of the SINDO, or what Fintan O’Toole says in Tuesday’s Irish Times. People have already made their minds up. Or does it at least keep a broadly left message out there in a media dominated by the TINA right (with a sprinkling of the Fossett’s circus right- Myers, Waghorne etc).

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WorldbyStorm - May 19, 2013

That’s true too. Commentators do have some influence. All that said I think there’s sometimes a bit of a fallacy amongst some on the left that if only people heard the message they’d come over in droves. I’m dubious at this stage that that is true. But I’d tend to think – and perhaps implicitly that this is what you’re saying – that the more commentators from left positions in the media etc the more the dial can be pushed leftwards, though in this state that might only be to mild social democracy.

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Tomboktu - May 19, 2013

On the other side then it doesn’t matter what Gene Kerrigan says on the back page of the SINDO, or what Fintan O’Toole says in Tuesday’s Irish Times.

What they say in those slots doesn’t matter precisely because it is them in those slots (and similarly for John Waters in his slot). What does matter is that it is only Dan O’Brien in the business section of a Friday and never, say, Michael Taft or Tom Healy.

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WorldbyStorm - May 19, 2013

Great point. And that’s it. The rest is sort of superfluous commentary. Useful in its way but not as significant as a different economic approach articulated in the context of business and economics.

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Tomboktu - May 19, 2013

And also key is the news coverage. When a reporter witll use the phrase “the need to cut the deficit” as if that were true or the only truth. And that in the RTÉ flagship Morning Ireland there are fixed slots for business news, as if it were the weather forecast, ‘what it says in the papers’, or the traffic news, but different economic perspectives and social justice issues have to compete for airtime in the spaces between those fixed points in the programme.

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richotto - May 19, 2013

Economics commentators have to have a greater respect for the figures primarily and less on rhetoric. Dan O’Brien has professed himself to be a social democrat on a few occasions to my memory and I wouldn’t be so convinced by those who want to put on a right wing label because they happen to disagree with his reporting. I would think that if Larry Elliot from the Guardian for example was writing in the IT his concrete prescriptions would not be a million miles away from Dan O’ Briens. I’m not sure about Tom Healy, is he Fr Healy, the man in charge of Cori? If so that is a genuinely independent voice. Michael Taft is in my view compromised by being paid by a vested interest. The most credible alternative prescription from the left I would be looking out for is the TASC institute.

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WorldbyStorm - May 19, 2013

It’s not just Dan O’Brien’s reporting richotto. It’s his analysis which doesn’t strike me as being at all social democrat, unless one stretches the term beyond breaking point. And I think you’re incorrect if you think that Elliott proscriptions would be at all like O’Briens.

That’s a very very odd statement to make about Taft and ‘vested’ interest. He’s been entirely open about his politics which are as far as I can see left social democrat across many years in Irish politics. To suggest even implicitly that he twists his message due to his job is well out of order. I think you should take that back immediately.

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Cl - May 19, 2013

An interesting discussion of what richotto calls the ‘social democracy’ of Dan O’Brien can be found here.

http://dublinopinion.com/2009/05/19/dan-obrien-cut-minimum-wage-fuck-yeah/

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richotto - May 19, 2013

I believe Larry Elliotts point of view is pretty much in accordance with Labour Party policy in the Uk, which is deficit reduction and spending cuts but at a slower pace than the Tories. That would qualify as “austerity” over here.
Don’t see the point of indignation on the Michael Taft point. Its not personal at all. An economic commentator employed by a Union is in the same position as one employed by a business or employer entity. A supportive line is to be expected.

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WorldbyStorm - May 19, 2013

I think CL’s point neatly demonstrates the absurdity of an Elliot/O’Brien comparison. As to his thoughts on deficit reduction and spending cuts, have you read what he has written on austerity recently?

As to Michael Taft your point is equally absurd. If you think Michael sings to the tune of his employer there’s simply no talking to you at all. It’s quite pointless. You either don’t or are unable to understand his political position.

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doctorfive - May 19, 2013

+1

Columnists are often fig leaves on the actually direction of the paper write in.

Here’s Mel in 1976

she warns of the dangers of an increasingly repressive West German state in what she regards as its overreaction to Baader-Meinhof

http://www.newstatesman.com/society/2007/01/police-germany-prison-law

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CL - May 19, 2013

‘a natural Keynesian’. There is no such thing.

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7. richotto - May 19, 2013

I don’t know Michael Taft or any other economist except through the media. I have never yet heard any Union or employer/business body employed economist contradict their employers economic policy. I can’t imagine that their position would be tenable if they did. thats not to say that they don’t sincerely hold those views, just that the public would be well advised to take them with a pinch of salt.
Elliot opposes the Tory cuts and is a natural Keynesian but as I said its not a choice of Tory cuts or no cuts. Labour Party policy in the Uk supported by Elliot would be labelled as “austerity” just as quickly here by left of Labour people. Its a handy shorthand phrase which unfortunately is subject to abuse.

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8. crocodile - May 19, 2013

Interesting how often the fault line, when young lefties turn into old reactionaries, lies somewhere in the middle east. Melanie Phillips, Nick Cohen, C. Hitchens – it’s about Israel, at the end of the day. In all their minds, they can say what they like about anything, so long as they’re right on that issue. And everybody else is wrong about everything, if they’re wrong about that.

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