Let me explain. Fortnight is really a magazine of two halves. The arty-farty Pseuds Corner half, full of poetry and reviews of Belfast’s architecture, caters to Norn Iron’s thin layer of luvvies, who use the magazine to backslap each other. Nobody actually reads that half apart from the luvvies themselves. What the punters read is the political half.
Now, the thing about the political half of Fortnight is that in days of yore, when I started reading it, the mag used to be the voice of liberal unionism and was worth a look for that reason. These days, under the stewardship of Malachi O’Doherty, it’s a very strange creature indeed, the nearest thing Ireland has to a neoconservative journal. And this is despite Fortnight having grand pretensions to being pluralistic and tolerant and letting a thousand flowers bloom. This is perhaps best illustrated by looking at a few of the charmed circle who write for Fortnight regularly and set its tone.
First we have Malachi himself. Malachi has a well-worn argument for how the North can be saved from the apocalyptic forces of Provodom, and the rather less apocalyptic forces of Paisleyism. That is, the unionist middle class should get up off their arse and wrest back political leadership from the plebs. In essence, we should go back to 1966 and have a Captain Terence O’Neill figure in charge, somebody with a bit of class who can lead the great unwashed by the nose, and accept the South Down and Londonderry Party as a respectable junior partner. And Malachi is supposed to be a great progressive thinker.
Then we have the odious Henry McDonald, a man best known for his splenetic attacks on the anti-war movement and the “Provo fascists”. Henry is a signatory to the neocon Euston Manifesto, which he endorsed with the statement “I signed because I know there is a rational, tolerant left out there in Britain and hopefully also Ireland. A left beyond the 21st century version of the Hitler/Stalin pact, the alliance of the silly and the sinister, the toxic fusion of medieval reactionary bigots and totalitarian epigones. And I signed it because I saw this before – in the opportunistic alliance between ultra leftists in Britain and terrorists in Ireland whose armed campaign almost pushed my country to the edge of sectarian civil war.” I quote this in full simply to point out that Henry cut his political teeth in the Workers Party of Ireland, an ultra-Stalinist organisation which maintained an active armed wing for the whole time he was in it, and moreover an outfit that thought Saddam Hussein was the bee’s knees.
Another exemplar of progressive thought often to be found in Fortnight is Dr Anthony McIntyre, proprietor of the Blanket gossip site. Tony, for those who don’t know him, resigned from the Provos when they signed the Good Friday Agreement, and has spent much of his time since demanding that the Provos should declare their formal surrender rather than keep on pretending they have achieved anything. Tony is also an inveterate red-baiter, who never misses an opportunity to shoehorn a denunciation of the “Trots” into the most incongruous articles, and has laboured mightily over the past year to promote the anti-Muslim Danish cartoons and Irshad Manji’s dopey manifesto declaring the defence of the yuppie racists in Denmark to be the Greatest Intellectual Struggle of Our Times. Tony has also of late struck up a cosy relationship with the neoconservative Henry “Scoop” Jackson Society, where he finds himself in the company of well-known radicals like the vainglorious Chomsky-hating derivatives trader Oliver Kamm and the frothing Croat nationalist Marko Attila Hoare.
These neocon farmhands are of only morbid interest in themselves. But they do demonstrate that the main qualification for being a Fortnight bigwig is to be an ex-socialist or ex-republican willing to pen scurrilous attacks on those who still are republicans or socialists. What is, in fact, a pretty nasty neocon rag still manages, amazingly, to pass itself off as a forum for Norn Iron’s leading forward-thinking intellectuals. Personally, I find the Phoenix magazine, which has no political line and no intellectual pretensions, to be a much more stimulating read. I guess Fortnight’s continued existence is proof that nobody ever went broke underestimating the gullibility of the chattering classes.