A man with a score to settle. Christopher Hitchens: review of What’s Left

Sunday Times
Published: 21 January 2007

WHAT’S LEFT? How the Liberals Lost Their Way
by Nick Cohen
Fourth Estate £12.99 pp296

It is not until quite near the end of this mordant and instructive polemic that Nick Cohen comes right out with his own confession: “My instant reaction to the 9/11 attacks was that they were a nuisance that got in the way of more pressing concerns. Throughout the 1990s, I had been writing about the overweening power of big business and how it could corrupt democratic governments. I had lambasted new Labour for its love of conservative crime policies and attacks on civil liberties for years. Attacking Tony Blair was what I liked doing — what got me out of bed in the morning. Accepting that fascism is worse than western democracy, even western democracies governed by George W Bush and Tony Blair, sounds very easy in theory, but it is very difficult to do in practice when you are a habitual enemy of the status quo in your own country.”

He might have left it at this. After all, there are thousands and thousands of middle-aged lefties for whom their once-revolutionary “credentials” are all they have left to show for a lifetime of “activism”, and who could not face their friends — or, perhaps, their students — if they found themselves endorsing a war fought by British or American soldiers. (I myself remember repressing a twinge of annoyance at the idea that the assault on civilisation represented by the 9/11 attacks would drive my anti-Kissinger book from the front page where I still believe it belonged.) But Cohen goes further: “I wanted anything associated with Tony Blair to fail, because that would allow me to return to the easy life of attacking him.” Continue reading


How London Globalised Censorship

Extract from You Can’t Read This Book in the Observer

“In Britain, money buys silence. The cost of libel actions in England and Wales is 140 times higher than the European average. If you lose a case, lawyers operating on a no-win, no-fee contract force you to pay damages, your costs, your assailant’s costs, a “success fee” for the victorious lawyers– which doubles their real costs – and a payment to cover insurance bills. In 2010, Lord Justice Jackson added these together and estimated that the costs of civil litigation in England could amount to 10 times the damages the court awarded.

A chill descended on English writing as publishers realised that punitive costs could cripple them. Libel law became the strangest branch of English jurisprudence. It was a law that lawyers hardly ever tested in court. Libel judges had to find other work for much of the year. The overwhelming majority of libel actions never ended in a hearing to determine if a work was true or its opinions fair, but remained hidden from public view. Publishers quietly settled, coughed up and withdrew offending material rather than run the risk of facing extortionate bills.

Beyond these cases of censorship lay the unknowable number of writers and publishers who self-censored. As when you contemplate religious censorship, you must always think of the books that were never written, and the investigations that were never begun, because of the overweening power of money.”

Read the whole thing