What’s Left? A note on sources

On returning from my short break, it is a matter of extreme pleasure to your humble scribe to get a nice plug from the estimable Mick Fealty over on Slugger. This has meant my site traffic going through the roof over the last day or so, so I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome new readers. I hope you enjoy the commentary here and decide to stick around.

The obvious story to go with is the restoration of the Executive, but this is going to run and run, and the major theme of this blog – the GUBU nature of Northern politics – will I’m sure get ample fuel from the new devolved dispensation. So I’m going to fulfil a long-standing promise to regular readers, and begin looking at Nick Cohen’s What’s Left? Nick’s book being the disjointed ramble it is, and owing to the fact that it’s difficult to read more than three pages at a go, this will be a serialised review.

The most obvious place to start is on Nick’s sources. A good deal of Nick’s authority comes from his reputation as an investigative journalist, which leads the casual reader to assume that Nick is basing his polemic on reliable information. Of course, a journo is only as good as his sources – as the late Paul Foot used to say, while the journalist may get the byline he is pretty much reliant on his network of informants. Nick, as someone identified with the left, tended to get a lot of his stories from lefty informants. For example, his exposés on education owed not a little to information provided by SWP teachers. Apart from Nick’s gifts as a stylist, this is one of the major reasons for the bite that his early demolitions of Blairism possessed.

A major aspect of Nick’s evolution since 2002 is that he no longer talks to the sort of people who fed him his stories. He has relied ever more heavily on a relatively small circle of friends and colleagues who all think alike, who are preoccupied with foreign policy (always Nick’s weak point) and who, whatever their feelings about the man himself, have done rather well under the Blair regime. It is no surprise, then, that What’s Left? relies to an unconscionable extent on the writings of Nick’s pals, as well as on cutting and pasting from congenial blogs and websites.

Nick is pretty open about this in his rogues’ gallery of acknowledgements, but this is something you notice throughout the book. One of the least attractive features of the Decent Left is their incestuous tendency to cite each other as authorities, and this gives What’s Left? something of the quality of a Normblog post stretched out to enormous length. This wouldn’t be quite so bad if Nick was relying on genuinely distinguished authorities, but…

Nick’s writing on the Balkans derives almost entirely from Marko Attila Hoare, the Nigel Irritable of the Decent Left and a swivel-eyed Serbophobe. The sections on postmodernism (which Nick clearly doesn’t understand) and Chomsky (ditto) are lifted almost verbatim from the relevant chapters of Francis Wheen’s Mumbo-Jumbo. Nick’s authority on Trotskyism is veteran icepick-wielder Paul Anderson. Nick’s big mate Oliver Kampf not only contributes the stuff on George Lansbury but also, as a full-spectrum idiot, seems to have chipped in with dubious factoids on virtually every subject Nick covers.

A critique of Nick will therefore enable, nay require, an examination of his dodgy sources, which he has regurgitated and embellished with scant regard for any independent research or checking of facts. Nick has a breathless style that may carry you along with his logical leaps, if you assume that the premises those leaps are based on are fairly sound. But they aren’t.

Update 5.4.07: Eagle-eyed readers will note that the image on this post has been changed. The original image was the result of my enthusiasm for a rather puerile punchline running away with me. I have reconsidered on receiving representations from readers who felt my humour was in poor taste, could be construed as misogynistic, and anyway I should have known better than to try and get away with boob jokes on a socialist blog.


  1. ejh said,

    April 5, 2007 at 7:45 am

    Not really, she looks artificially inflated and unlikely to be backed up with any genuine intelligence.

    I know who Nigel Irritable is, but will your readers?

  2. Renegade Eye said,

    April 5, 2007 at 7:45 am

    I posted Keira Knightly’s picture once. Thank you for sparring us from Nick’s picture.

  3. AN said,

    April 5, 2007 at 11:34 am

    And now we have Bela Lugosi, a much more politically inspiring figure,

    not only an active supporter of the Hungarian Soviet republic of Bela Kun, but later I understand a key figure in unionising screen actors.

  4. eggandchips said,

    April 5, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    what happened to M. Marsh? Have you been beaten back by the PC brigade

  5. Paul Anderson said,

    April 13, 2007 at 7:28 am

    Oi, I’ve only just noticed this, but “veteran icepick wielder” suggests I’m a Stalinist. For the record, I’m not: I’m a boring ex-Trot, ex-anarchist/council-communist Labourite libertarian socialist. No icepicks here, matey: all Leninism sucks.

  6. splinteredsunrise said,

    April 13, 2007 at 7:32 am

    OK Paul, I’m glad to clarify that you’re not a Stalinist. I may have been misled by your record of sticking the boot into an amazing variety of people who seem to fall under the rubric of “Leninism”.

    Not that the SWP et al don’t deserve the occasional kicking of course…

  7. ejh said,

    April 14, 2007 at 10:43 am

    It does tend to show that Niock’s sources are people with a visceral, unbalanced loathing of those to the left of them: obsessive types.

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