Why is The Left so self-obsessed

Matthew Turner has provided us with a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to the Decent Left, i.e. that disparate bunch of leftish bloggers who have embraced neo-conservativism.

Three major new initiatives in less than a year. What is notable is that, despite their obsession with their old comrades, they are using all their old techniques of setting up dummy fronts and using them as a platform to denounce their opponents. And, like the Old Left, their opponents are invariably fellow lefties who, as they see it, have drifted from the True Path. Similarly again, their enemies are their enemies’ enemies (while of course denouncing their opponents for doing the same thing).

This is a strange parlour game to anyone who has never been a member of one of the myriad sects of post-Marxian politics. On the one hand, things like Harry’s Place provide for us a useful function, keeping an eye on many members of the hard left who are generally given quite an easy ride by the left-leaning media such as the Guardian and Indy. On the other hand, it appears to have gone beyond an interest and into the realm of real obsession. Outside this charmed circle, the rest of the world carries on quite happily.

Those of us who got involved in the anti-war movement in the run up to the second Iraq War knew perfectly well what we were getting into when we declared a temporary truce with the hard left. We knew it was full of nutters, some of whom were dangerous, at least in part because we’d been to university and seen quite what a pernicious lot they were up close. We don’t need the Henry Jackson Society to teach us that George Galloway is a moron or that John Pilger is a highly unreliable and partisan correspondent because we have critical faculties of our own. This cottage industry has got out of hand; launching something as pretentious as a manifesto is to assume a level of importance that just isn’t the case, as this Guardian story makes clear. It is not merely rehearsing an argument from three years ago; it’s rehearsing a student union bar row 30 years ago.

Which brings us nicely to Charles Clarke. Back in the 70s, the Safety Elephant was a commie student hack and had a beard that Marx himself would have been proud of; whole generations of woodland creatures made their homes in it. You do sometimes get the sense that he too is simply fighting the Trots of his past.

The latest proposals to withdraw compensation to the victims of miscarriages of justice would appear to be a case in point. It is hard to see how this is really doing much to help the victims of crime; after all, it is victims themselves who are being attacked here and the amount of money is paltry. It seems to have less to do with achieving anything substantial policy-wise, and more to do with deliberately picking a fight with the civil liberties movement. Clarke surely knew that people would be lining up to denounce it; surely at the back of his mind must have been that an insubstantial policy measure would be blown up in the press, with him managing to present himself as the “tough” opponent of woolly liberal handouts to dodgy crim-types (never mind if they happened to be technically innocent).

It is a short hop from the student union bar to the saloon bar, and New Labour has made the leap effortlessly. But their tactics betray their origins.


  1. Charles Clarke was never a “commie”, he was a member of the Labour Party throughout his career in student politics. Yes, the Broad Left was dominated by a tiny CP clique, but Clarke was not part of it (even though he allowed them to pull his strings).

    The reason victims of crime get such paltry handouts from the state is that it is criminals, not the state, who cause their injuries.

    Victims of miscarriages of justice, on the other hand, have incurred public disgrace, imprisonment and financial ruin as direct and reasonably foreseeable consequence of the state’s negligence and/or misfeasance. They are therefore entitled to the full tortious measure of damages (or should be).

    Nicholas Van Hoogstraten would no doubt have his damages reduced for contributory negligence, if he had the cheek to sue in the first place.

  2. I stand corrected, although in the early 70s it seems clear to me that membership of a certain political youth wing didn’t seem to have much to do with political ideology. A lot of Young Liberals at the time appeared to be crypto-communists, and a lot of Communists were relatively right wing.

    It doesn’t undermine my basic argument though: that leftwing student politicians in the 70s are still replaying the battles they had in NUS politics.

  3. Basically correct, James.

    The Young Liberals actually walked out of the Broad Left around 1970 because they considered it too right-wing! These were the days when many Young Liberals called themselves “libertarian socialists”, and some were basically anarchists – or what Sue Slipman famously termed “anarcho-syndicalists”.

    The Communists who pulled the strings in Broad Left were from the Euro-Communist wing of the CP (the sons and daughters of Jewish immigrants who had joined to fight Mosley). They were at daggers drawn with the more trade union based Stalinist old guard and uncomfortable with the anti-Semitism of the Soviet elite.

    In reality, the CP element in Broad Left was well to the right of NOLS (National Organisation of Labour Students), leading to the eventual NOLS breakaway (of course, NOLS realised that without Militant getting in the way it was powerful enough to control the NUS on its own).

    Some of those “libertarian socialists” are still in the Liberal Democrats, a few of them running councils. The craziness that was the 1970s Young Liberals is history.

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