I have written before that the period after 9/11 has been a strange and neurotic time in Europe and North America. On the one hand, everyone knew that a murderously reactionary ideology mandated vast slaughter. On the other, actual Islamist slaughters were rare. Until the two assaults on Paris this year, there were just two large attacks since 9/11 on the rich world: in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005. Fear of violence without the experience of violence produces the ideal conditions for appeasement. You can imagine your own deaths and the deaths of those you love. But death never comes. You are not provoked into retaliation, but instead are overwhelmed by the desire to avoid danger by excusing and indulging. No one in Pakistan or Nigeria could engage in the wishful thinking of John Kerry. Only the nervous peace of a phoney war could produce the thought that we could have it all ways. We could carry on being good liberals respecting the rights of women and homosexuals, believing in freedom of speech and of religion, while conceding miles of ground to men who were against every liberal and democratic principle we avowed. As much as the admirable and essential desire to prevent our fellow citizens suffering anti-Muslim bigotry, as much as the narcissistic desire to indulge in Western guilt, the basic desire to save our skins and calm our fears has shaped contemporary culture.
I first saw Ed Miliband at the launch of a new book by Will Hutton. It was the autumn of 2010, and he had just become Labour’s leader. The party was full of leftish writers, who might be expected to help and support Miliband. But he didn’t want to charm them, or work the room and meet and greet. He just stood there awkward and alone. “Whatever his other qualities,” I thought, “this man isn’t a politician.”
From Standpoint April 2015
If you want to see the future of online news and entertainment, look at the Mail and see a future neither the Mail nor its enemies want.
If Labour is not in power after the general election, you will hear many leftists blaming the Mail for their defeat. For more than a century, they say, it has pumped out thuggish attacks against every prominent liberal and leftist, and injected its particular venom—a paranoid poison—into wider debate. To its conservative readers, by contrast, the Mail is their shield against a world that would ignore their wishes, take their money and laugh at their convictions.
But it won’t be either a thug or a shield for much longer.
Standpoint January 2015
The state intervenes when the principles of a liberal society collapse. Usually it blunders in. Invariably it destroys basic freedoms. No one except the most blinkered supporters of authoritarian government can predict with confidence that its “crackdowns” and “emergency measures” will make our lives better or safer. But there you are. When supposedly good and responsible people fail to police themselves, the government will summon the real police to do the job for them.
For years, a dizzying gulf has stretched between the principles most good and responsible liberals say they hold — beliefs in reasoned argument, democracy, and equal rights for women, gays and people of all colours and creeds — and their practical failure to oppose radical Islam. A few of us tried to persuade them to mean what they say and behave accordingly. Some of us have stayed on the Left. Others have given up on what looks an irredeemably compromised movement and attacked liberal-left orthodoxy from the right. I will not pretend that any of us have had a great deal of success.
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light,” said Max Planck, “but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
I thought that liberal values would only creep forward at the Planckian pace of “one funeral at a time”, and we would have to wait for the current generation of liberal-leftists to die out before we saw progress. I forgot that outsiders can impose changes insiders refuse to contemplate.
Standpoint December 2014
“Are you turning into neo-conservatives?” a friend asked after I and other leftish critics had hammered Russell Brand’s new book, Revolution. With evident relish, he went on, you have laid into a celebrity who for all his garrulous follies is against plutocrats, media corporations and the degradation of the environment. You say you are left-wing, but like the original neo-cons or the type of “leftist” Rupert Murdoch is so fond of employing, you only ever offer comfort to the Right.
He asked a fair question to which the simple answer is that a bad book is a bad book whatever the politics of its author, and the honest reviewer must say so. Revolution (Century, £20) is an exceptionally bad book, one of the worst I have ever read. I doubt anyone who is not paid to review it can reach the end without skimming large sections, and many will throw it away. Brand is a raging narcissist, who treated as brilliant whatever thoughts entered his cloudy mind while he underwent a recovery programme from drink and drug addiction. His egomania is such he thinks he can transform the world because he transformed himself when he kicked heroin.
Standpoint September 2014
From Standpoint October 2104
A scene in Pride sent me back 30 years. A gay activist, Mark Ashton (played with intense conviction by Ben Schnetzer), decides to set up “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” from a Bloomsbury bookshop. “Who hates the miners?” he asks. “Thatcher, the police and the tabloid press — does that sound familiar?”
Hardly anyone supports him. A working-class gay from Durham wonders if those would be the same miners who beat him up every day for being queer. Ashton goes on to the streets, nevertheless, and shakes a bucket for donations. Passers-by insult him. He does not answer back in kind but shouts “Merry Christmas.”
I stood collecting on the streets for the miners in the winter of 1984, not on the streets of Bloomsbury but of Altrincham, which as one of the most conservative towns in the north of England, was not, on reflection, the best venue for a fraternal whip-round. To be fair, most shoppers politely ignored me or gave despairing looks. But a few turned nasty