100 years ago

The late John Sullivan used to say that it was part of the human condition to want a life bigger, more colourful, more marvellous and more coherent than our own. That, John quipped, was why the Christians invented Jesus and the Trots invented Gerry Healy.

Now I don’t in the normal run of things spend a lot of time thinking about Gerry. He’s been dead almost twenty years, and even when he was alive he was never more than a marginal political figure. But he’s just been brought to mind by a perusal of the latest Private Eye, evidently in one of its “Democratiya with jokes” weeks and combining a ferocious Decency with the Eye’s famous penchant for fighting the battles of yesteryear.

So we come to the Eye’s continuing coverage of the London mayoral election, and this fortnight the line of attack against Ken Livingstone is, er, his relationship with Healy in the 1980s. This provides the opportunity to mention Gerry’s rather outré personal life, but there is more concentration on the “Libyan gold” story and, via the Labour Herald affair, implicating Ken in dealing with Gaddafi, at least by association.

Thing is, this stuff has all been in the public domain since at least 1985. Our Eye scribe might like to consult Nick Cohen, who for reasons that escape me devoted a full 16 pages of What’s Left? to the history of the WRP. (In fact, Nick was certainly aware of Ken’s connection to Healy back in 2004, when he endorsed Ken for mayor.) I’m also taken aback to learn that News Line ceased publication in late 1985. This will, I fear, come as a terrible blow to the affable old codger who sold me a News Line just a few months ago.

Skipping lightly over a dig at al-Jazeera for allegedly being not critical enough of Bob Mugabe, we arrive at a consideration of the Olympics and China, by a writer who evidently thinks the Olympics should be about the promotion of human rights. This leads into an attack on long-time Olympic supremo Juan Antonio Samaranch and his supposed fondness for the Beijing regime. This is explained by the reproduction of a photograph of Samaranch giving a fascist salute in his native Barcelona. The effect is only slightly dulled by the photo dating from 1974, when Franco was still in power. Anyway, were the Falange really that keen on Maoist China? I’m not sure.

It’s also nice to see occasional columnist ‘Ratbiter’, who brings to our attention the doings of that famous PR man of the Thatcher years, Lord Tim Bell. Bell, apparently, has been engaged to burnish the image of the government of Belarus. (Belarus being, as RB helpfully informs us, “Europe’s last dictatorship”, although Serbia might soon join it in that category should the voters not back the EU-approved candidates in the May election.) This comes as a profound shock to me. I had never dreamt that PR men burnished the public images of shady characters. Tut, tut. By the way, RB manages to bring in an attack on an even more contemporary villain than Tim Bell – er, the late VI Lenin. Gadzooks!

I suppose we should at least be grateful that the boys seem to have eased off on their tireless campaign to remove Douglas Hurd from the Foreign Office…

Meanwhile, on the books review pages, I am struck by the following:

There must be something in the water at the Observer, because its journalists seem unable to stop themselves producing copycat versions of each other’s books.

Last year columnist Nick Cohen published his What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way, followed seven months later by Andrew Anthony’s stunningly similar tome, The Fallout: How A Guilty Liberal Lost His Innocence.

Given the Eye’s commendable enthusiasm for recycling, isn’t this a little harsh on poor old Clothes For Chaps?


  1. Snowball said,

    April 19, 2008 at 11:31 am

    I bought a copy of the latest edition of Private Eye and in my five minutes browsing through it on the bus home found nothing amusing whatsoever. I might have a proper look later on, but some weeks it really is dire, isn’t it?

  2. splinteredsunrise said,

    April 19, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    It does have its ups and downs. I keep being tempted to cancel my subscription, but then they’ll do something good enough to keep me going for another few months. But yeah, when it’s bad it’s really bad.

  3. mastershake said,

    April 20, 2008 at 7:49 am

    I think this week was a bad one in general (the Rushdie review in particular), but the standard of investigation and writing in general does seem to have dropped recently. It was quite revealing, i thought, that the piece on Boris Johnson which sat side-by-side with the Ken one was not only the first instance of the Eye paying any kind of serious attention to Bo-Jo’s campaign, but was also an example of what the Eye has traditionally been very strong at – cutting through apparently important policies with a chainsaw and exposing politicians for what they are. The ‘new routemasters’ idea is not only Boris’ sole policy, it’s also going to be a spectacular waste of money (if it ever sees the light of day).

    The Ken stuff, on the other hand, was an inconsequential plug for what sounds like a book-length version of Nick Cohen’s hisy fit column on Ken a while back, full of lefty-bashing but light on any actual revelations. But that’s fine and dandy for the Eye at the moment. The way the press is treating Ken reminds me of the way it treated Sven-Goran Eriksson. They both have solid if unspectacular records in the position they occupy, and don’t actually provide the press with very much to write about, hence the hysteria about the hard to follow and not especially interesting Lee Jasper ‘revelations’. Imagine how many headlines a Boris mayorship would generate…

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