Labour needs a takeover by real left-wing radicals

To say that the Labour party is in crisis because it is ‘too left-wing’ is to miss the point spectacularly. With eyes wide open, and all democratic procedures punctiliously observed, its members have chosen in their tens of thousands to endorse not ‘the left’, but an ugly simulacrum of left-wing politics.

They have gone along with the type of left-winger who flourished in the long boom between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the great recession. The hypocrite who damns oppression, but only if it is committed by western countries. The pseudo-egalitarian who will condemn sexism and homophobia, but not the prejudices of favoured regimes and minorities. The fake anti-racist who will attack the ‘far right’ while echoing the fascist conspiracy theory.

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Timothy Garton Ash: A regressive leftist’s redemption

From the Observer 30 May 2016

Freedom is worthless if it is not lived. However important rights are in a constitutional democracy, they will wither unless you use them. From John Milton’s polemics against the Presbyterian attempts to enforce Calvinist censorship on the England of the 1640s, via John Stuart Mill’s rebellion against the conformism of the Victorians, to Salman Rushdie’s argument with the Islamists, the urge to defend and expand freedom of speech has been created by the threats of its enemies

What applies to great writers applies to everyone else. No one thinks hard about freedom of speech until they are forced to. In Timothy Garton Ash’s case, the pressure came from within. Continue reading

Radical tourists have been deluded pimps for Venezuela

A woman wears a sign reading ‘There is no food’ at a protest against new emergency powers decreed by President Nicolás Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, on Wednesday.

The Observer 22 May 2016

Radical tourism is no different from sex tourism. In both the political and the coital, the inhabitants of the rich world go to the poor to find the thrills no one will give them at home.

Western men and women with nothing to recommend them except their wealth escape their sexless lives and buy prostitutes, who are not like those indifferent boys and girls who pass them in the street. They will play their part and pretend for a few hours or days to find the westerners sexually desirable. Sex tourist guides, in print and online, feed visitors’ illusions. In the Caribbean, readers are told that prostitutes aren’t prostitutes, just “nice” girls looking for a good time. In Thailand, bar girls aren’t exploited but engaged in a “fair trade”. Continue reading


The Observer 7 May 2016

Today’s populist movements attribute limitless malice and almost supernatural power to their opponents. They can rig markets, manipulate the media, fix foreign governments and call on unlimited resources as they plot to deceive “us”, “the people”.

The “people”, on this reading, are sweet and decent. Everything populists do, they do on our behalf. But the people are also rather thick. If it were not for the tireless efforts of populist parties, the elite would take us for the trusting fools we are, and herd us sheep-like into its pens. Continue reading

Boris Johnson: Liar, conman and your next prime minister


From the Observer 25 March 2016

t is easy to see how Boris Johnson could be prime minister by the autumn. “Leave” wins, and David Cameron resigns. We already know that a majority of the 140,000 or so Conservative party members, who will decide the government of a country of 64 million, back him. Give them the chance, and they will put him in Downing Street.

If countries get the politicians they deserve, the possibility of a Johnson premiership suggests that the British are now a nation of charlatans. Continue reading

Anti-Semites made me a Jew


From the Observer 19 March 2016


It took me 40 years to become a Jew. When I was a child, I wasn’t a Jew and not only because I never went to a synagogue. My father’s family had abandoned their religion so he wasn’t Jewish. More to the point, my mother and my grandmother weren’t Jewish either, so according to orthodox Judaism’s principles of matrilineal descent, it was impossible for me to be a Jew.

All I had was the “Cohen” name. I once asked my parents why they had not changed it. After saying, quite rightly, that you should never seek to appease racists, they confessed to thinking that antisemitism was over by the 1960s. After Hitler, humanity would surely see where the world’s most insane hatred led and resolve to put it to one side.

Bertolt Brecht said: “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

My parents did not believe Brecht, at least not in the 1960s. Nor did I for a while. I Continue reading