There’s something I always find a little frustrating about Eamonn McCann. Articulate as he may be, he does have a tendency to play up to his audience. I’ve always suspected on that basis that he had a strong streak of the ham actor in him. If you see him at a meeting sponsored by the SWP, or on a strike platform, he’s always dead militant, often entering what Jeff Dudgeon calls his “I have a scream” mode. But when he’s on the likes of BBCNI’s Let’s Talk, he gets terribly wishy-washy, goes into “on the one hand, on the other hand” quite a lot… this is why everybody think Eamonn is their friend. You saw this at water charges meetings, where Bob McCartney would loudly proclaim his agreement with Eamo.
It was therefore nice to see Eamo showing a bit of spark on last night’s Hearts and Minds. The discussion was on the legacy of Che Guevara, which is the sort of nostalgia trip Eamo loves, and his antagonist, mirabile dictu, was Oliver Kampf. Kamm, of course, was billed as an author (of a book nobody’s read) and Times columnist (he’s actually a blogger who, due to some unaccountable weakness on Danny Finkelstein’s part, gets the occasional op-ed piece in the Thunderer) and, although Kamm knows less about the Cuban Revolution than I know about the mating habits of the millipede, dancing on Che’s grave was right up his street. If he could do it to poor old Monty Johnstone on his blog, how could he resist doing it to the iconic Che on telly?
On watching this, I am reminded of why Kamm doesn’t get more TV work. There is that curious diction, modelled I assume on his uncle the Man in the White Suit, but while Martin is fairly fluent, and actually writes quite well, Kamm gives the impression that English isn’t his first language. This impression is reinforced by his written English, which is more stilted even than my Gaelic. (Probably less so, since my Gaelic leans towards the “drink, feck, arse” end of the spectrum.) In any case, he didn’t say anything interesting. What you got was “Che was a Stalinist thug”, and with inordinate prolixity. Plus, Kampf seemed to feel that Che’s role in the summary execution of prisoners pretty much damned the entire Cuban Revolution.
Eamonn was rather good on that, pointing out that Umkhonto weSizwe had also been involved in some rather dodgy things but that didn’t invalidate the struggle against apartheid. Nice point, given that Kamm’s baffling insistence that he, a Tory-voting hedge fund manager, is a “man of the left” depends on him paying obeisance to certain metrosexual shibboleths, of which the South African struggle, now safely in the past, is one. But I was again frustrated at Eamonn’s politeness. He really should have gone to town on the smug little fuckwit. Kamm is in no position to moralise about the treatment of prisoners at the Bay of Pigs when you consider his fulsome support for whatever the Yanks are doing in Iraq. In general, and Eamo should have made this point, Kamm’s real problem with Che is that he didn’t kill nearly enough people. Or, to put it another way, that he was against the Empire rather than for it.
So Eamonn acquitted himself pretty well and put up a reasonable defence of Che. But he was far too nicey-nicey about it, and I dread to think what kind of performance he would have put up had he been up against someone more substantial than the ludicrous Kamm. Eamonn is an affable bloke, but there are times when you can safely dispense with the affability and call a mendacious warmongering prick by his right name.