The Knives: the first realist political novel in years

5616The Observer 9 August 2016

As late as the 1970s, it was possible to tell stories about politics that were vaguely realistic. Now there are two approved narratives. Each started as radical in its way, but coagulated into cliche long ago, as radical fashions always do. Both have become barriers, not just to understanding, but also to worthwhile drama.

In the stultifying groupthink that grips the arts, a politician must either be a vacuous pawn of one of Armando Iannucci’s foul-mouthed spin doctors in The Thick of It – a satire so Swiftian in its savagery, so devastating to its targets, that the establishment took its revenge by forcing poor Iannucci to accept an OBE as punishment. Alternatively, the politician is a criminal conspirator in league with paedophile rings, arms manufacturers, big oil or whoever else will pay him to work against the public good. Continue reading

The Web makes us angry and dumb


The Observer 27 August 2016

It is easy to suspect that the web makes us stupid. I could fill the rest of this newspaper with anecdotes of British leftists using Facebook to reinforce each other’s belief that Corbyn’s leadership is a triumph; of cybernats turning to Twitter to bury the nagging feeling that an enormous deficit would have left an independent Scotland close to bankruptcy; or of American conservatives finding incontrovertible proof on white supremacist sites that President Obama is a Muslim.

As I only have this space, I will give you the story of Charlie Sykes. Continue reading

The PC censor Shakespeare

Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing circa 1786 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by Alfred A. de Pass in memory of his wife Ethel 1910
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing circa 1786 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by Alfred A. de Pass in memory of his wife Ethel 1910
Standpoint July 2016

Tens of millions have watched, read or performed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Until the 21st century, not one imagined that Helena’s line to Demetrius,

I’ll follow thee and make a heaven of hell,
To die upon the hand I love so well

was an incitement to suicide. They did not because A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy. (Forgive me for spelling out the obvious but we live in literal-minded times.) Continue reading

The BBC in a post-truth world

Standpoint June 2016

Nothing revives memories of Marxism so much as Communism’s former opponents on the Right. Their denunciations of uncomfortable facts as the lies of malicious men, and their determination to control heretical thought, reek of the cultural commissar.

Accept, or at least entertain, the comparison and the Right’s rage against broadcasters is no longer mysterious. Continue reading

The Tories played with fire and you can hear the flames crackling round you


The Observer 3 July, 2016

Writing of the British intellectuals who fell for Stalin, George Orwell came up with a sentence that applies as well to today’s conservatives as to the socialists of the 1930s. “So much of leftwing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.” I was repeating it almost hourly as I watched the frivolous, dishonest, over-privileged and over-grown adolescents who presumed to govern us skip away from the consequences of their folly.
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Brexit and the opportunities for the far right


Spectator 27 June 2016

The Tory leaders of Vote Leave, those supposedly civilised and intelligent men, are creating the conditions for a mass far-right movement in England. They have lined up the ingredients like a poisoner mixing a potion, and I can almost feel the convulsion that will follow.

They have treated the electorate like children. They pretended that they could cut or even stop immigration from the EU and have a growing economy too. No hard choices, they said. No costs or trade-offs.

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Brexit could leave Britain with the worst of both worlds

Norwegian daily VG 6 June, 2016

Never since the German attack on Norway in 1940 destroyed Neville Chamberlain’s premiership and brought Winston Churchill to power, has your country been so discussed in Britain. Supporters of Britain staying in the EU warn of Norway’s ‘fax democracy’. The ‘leave’ campaign denounce Norwegian politicians who tell us about the dangers of following the Norwegian example, as liars bought with EU gold.

There has been propaganda from both sides, of course, but the sheer lack of substance behind the ‘leave’ campaign is stunning. The right-wing politicians, who dominate the anti-European cause, want the British to take an extraordinarily important decision. Yet they offer us no coherent plan about what we should do if we leave the EU.
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