I find myself cheering on Eamonn McCann

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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.

13 Comments

  1. Garibaldy said,

    October 12, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    Of course, McCann probably agrees with Kamm that the Cuban regime is a Stalinist dictatorship, and that it would be a good thing if it was overthrown. Might have inhibited him a bit.

  2. WorldbyStorm said,

    October 13, 2007 at 8:56 am

    That’s a fair point G. Personally I find Che a much trickier figure to deal with than Fidel. Classism is never great, but I can’t help feeling some of the glibness and dismissiveness of power elites rubbed off on him and framed a lot of his subsequent actions when he joined a different power elite. I think one gets a tinge of that with Fidel, but much less. On the other hand, odd that Kamm wouldn’t note one intervention which in fairness to Che he trailblazed, which was the Cuban assistance in Africa, particularly in Mozambique, Angola and Namibia. I think that was pretty heroic, but it might not fit into Kamm’s manichaean worldview.

    But I have to say Kamm trots out the old ‘man of the left’ line far far too often for it to be credible. From his own pronouncements he seems to be nothing so much as a sort of Heath conservative (without Heaths aversion to war, an aversion learned in Europe in 39-45). I always thinks he uses it as an attempt to disarm critics.

  3. WorldbyStorm said,

    October 13, 2007 at 9:03 am

    That’s a fair point G. Personally I find Che a much trickier figure to deal with than Fidel. Classism is never great, but I can’t help feeling some of the glibness and dismissiveness of power elites rubbed off on him and framed a lot of his subsequent actions when he joined a different power elite. I think one gets a tinge of that with Fidel, but much less. On the other hand, odd that Kamm wouldn’t note one intervention which in fairness to Che he trailblazed, which was the Cuban assistance in Africa, particularly in Mozambique, Angola and Namibia. I think that was pretty heroic, but it might not fit into Kamm’s manichaean worldview.

    But I have to say Kamm trots out the old ‘man of the left’ line far far too often for it to be credible. From his own pronouncements he seems to be nothing so much as a sort of Heath conservative (without Heaths aversion to war, an aversion learned in Europe in 39-45). I always thinks he uses it as an attempt to disarm critics.

    (Had to post this twice, apologies)

  4. Garibaldy said,

    October 13, 2007 at 9:17 am

    Interesting point about the carelessness of the elites. I think that Che clearly had an addiction to the lifestyle of the guerilla, and a touch of the maoist about him, that meant he failed to settle down. So a great man, but a deeply flawed one.

  5. WorldbyStorm said,

    October 13, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    That’s kind of my view of him too.

  6. D.B. said,

    October 14, 2007 at 12:34 am

    Spot on with your observations on Kamm. “What a tw@t” is about all I can bring myself to think about the man. He does seem to struggle with everyday English, doesn’t he? He was in a Newsnight debate on Iraq a few weeks ago, and in summing up came out with a line that I’m sure was intended to sound intellectual but which actually just sounded weird: “Those who welcome the departure of Tony Blair from Prime Ministerial office are naturally those who desire a private life or a quiet life…” Eh? Cue baffled looks from Paxman and the other panel members. WTF are you talking about, Oliver?

    Great blog, and cheers for the link in the sidebar. Keep up the good work!

  7. Cian said,

    October 14, 2007 at 10:04 pm

    While he says he’s on the left, he’s never (to my knowledge) expressed an opinion that is actually left wing.

    Incidentally, the Tory he voted for seemed to be a classic Thatcherite, though I suspect Kamm voted for him as they’re fellow members of the Henry Jackson society.

  8. ejh said,

    October 15, 2007 at 9:02 am

    I’m pleased to see there’s somebody else besides myself who says mirabile dictu. Is it a Catholic thing, do you think?

  9. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 15, 2007 at 9:07 am

    Possibly, but I really enjoyed Latin anyway. All that Cicero and Juvenal.

  10. ejh said,

    October 15, 2007 at 9:15 am

    Don’t suppose you know the nominative plural of gens? I need it for an article…

  11. splinteredsunrise said,

    October 15, 2007 at 9:30 am

    Off the top of my head, I think it’s gentes.

  12. ejh said,

    October 15, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Yeah, ta, that seems not improbable. I’ll double-check.

  13. ejh said,

    October 15, 2007 at 10:36 am

    I have a confirmation! Well done. Go to the top of the class and take a sweet from the jar.


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