Democracy in the west is groaning under the weight of greed, inequality and political self-interest. Unfortunately Tariq Ali doesn’t have the answers
The Extreme Centre: A Warning
If Tariq Ali is a leading figure on the British left, as the Guardian describes him, then the prospects for socialism are bleaker than is commonly supposed. One of the first things which strikes the reader about The Extreme Centre is the staleness of the prose and the way in which the same turns of phrase – ‘stifling neo-liberal consensus’, ‘imperial wars’ and ‘Thatcherism’ – are deployed on page after page until they lose their meaning.
Ali isn’t alone in this respect; however the arguments in the book lack freshness too, and this is probably reflected in the prose. The tone veers between that of a cantankerous uncle who bores the family at Christmas with dreary speeches on the ‘state of the world’, and a man grasping desperately at ‘alternatives’ like a dog chasing a piece of tin foil in the wind.
The Extreme Centre need not have turned out this way. There is something nauseating about the way our truncated western democracy often means little more than a choice between “Tweedledee and Tweedledum”, as Ali puts it. For all the glib and simplistic pronunciations of the Economist and City AM, capitalism is able to function perfectly well without democracy, and in those parts of the world where the ballot box has threatened the powerful the former has been quickly cauterised in the name of ‘the markets’ (see: the bankers). Continue reading “The Extreme Centre and its enemies”
For all the talk of the ‘Osborne supremacy’ a few short years ago, liberal conservative hegemony was never as embedded as many pundits liked to think. That much has become self-evident recently.
Now that Theresa May is the prime minister and David Cameron feels like a long-lost uncle from a PG Wodehouse novel, it is easy to forget that very recently triumphalist screeds were being penned to mark the passing of Tory social conservatism into the wastepaper basket of history along with similarly redundant creeds like Butskellism.
Yet while the ‘nasty party’ might have been buried, the coffin stayed decidedly empty. Cameron may have been issuing liberal platitudes from Number 10 not long ago, but judging by the zeal with which the party has subsequently embraced Brexit it was evidently Nigel Farage who was calling the shots on the Tory backbenches. Continue reading “George Osborne kicked the poor and accelerated Britain’s decline — he was never a moderate”
A petition calling for the BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg to be fired is currently doing the rounds. It boldly states that “should the independent review find Laura Kuenssberg to have been less than impartial and/or find her to take a partisan position we would ask that she is moved to a role that is more suitable.”
Petitions demanding that political journalists be sacked for reporting the ‘wrong’ version of the news are becoming increasingly common. Kuenssberg has been the target of hostile petitions in the past, as has the former BBC political editor Nick Robinson, the BBC News presenter Ben Brown, and for a variety of alleged sins, the corporation itself.
The anti-Kuenssberg petition is all the more tiresome because it is being assiduously promoted by the Canary, a website which represents the very worst of so-called citizen journalism. Like many ‘alternative’ news websites that have sprung up in recent years, the Canary purports to be ‘fearlessly independent’ but in practice exchanges one lot of loathsome propaganda for another.
The editor of the Canary has accused the BBC of ‘pure propaganda’, yet is a regular guest on RT (formerly Russia Today), the fake Kremlin news channel which promotes Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theories about Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons in Syria. Unlike the BBC, which is governed by an at least nominally independent Royal Charter, RT exists because, as Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson has himself put it, Russia needs ‘more propaganda’.
This should give some idea as to the sort of ‘impartiality’ those pushing the anti-BBC petitions are seeking. They don’t want editorial independence so much as a mouthpiece that reflects and pushes their own faddish obsessions.
There are many things wrong with the media in Britain. The newspapers are often the playthings of rich men and there is a paucity of news and comment that is not dependent on some corporate interest. Yet while the BBC may be stuffily conformist at times, there is no solid evidence that it is overtly politically biased. If the penumbra around the BBC is culturally and economically liberal – enraging Ukip supporters and Corbynistas alike – then this is probably a subtle reflection of the backgrounds of its middle-class, London-based journalists. ‘Liberal elitism’ is usually no more than majority opinion among educated people. Continue reading “Beware those who prefer Putin’s propaganda to the BBC”
Public trust in the media has collapsed in recent times, just as trust in politics has imploded. People have “had enough of experts”, as Michael Gove phrased it last year, but many seem also to have had enough of anything and everything which gives off even the faintest whiff of ‘the establishment’, a euphemism for those in authority.
This is not entirely unhealthy. There is something to be said for treating centrist, common sense ‘expertise’ with caution. It is all too easy to forget who exactly the ‘experts’ of the past few decades have been: the deregulators and privatisers. Those who bloviated about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. The politicians who promised a ‘bonfire of red tape’ and gave us a burning tower block.
But there comes a point where scepticism slides over into mass conspiracism. The increasingly out of control vitriol directed at the BBC falls comfortably under this heading.
It would be unfair to accuse one political faction of succumbing to this bourgeoning anti-media persecution complex. A growing unwillingness to tolerate dissent and any opinion that differs from one’s own means a BBC journalist is as likely to be booed at a Labour Party rally as at a UKIP gathering. Paradoxically, the malady is especially rife among those who are rarely off the corporation’s screens. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is a talking head guest on the BBC most weeks of the year – a strange sort of anti-UKIP bias on the corporation’s part considering the party has no MPs. Yet Farage will jump on the anti-BBC bandwagon whenever an audience is savvy enough to see through his demagogic rabble rousing. Just last month Farage was calling for BBC staff to be sacked over an audience which he said included too many “paid-up Corbynistas”.
From the other side of the political fence, petitions have been set up calling for the sacking of BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, accused with horrible regularity of reporting the ‘wrong’ version of events.
But most depressing of all perhaps are the attempts to discredit the BBC for its apparently imperfect response to acts of political violence. There has long been a campaign by dogmatic supporters of Israel which parrots a crackpot theory that the corporation’s coverage of the Middle East proves that it simply doesn’t like Jews. The terminally paranoid – and those apparently with nothing better to do – pore with microscopic precision through the wording of every BBC report and every piece of analysis in search of the ‘smoking gun’ – the misplaced adverb or the leading adjective which provides cast-iron proof of the corporation’s ‘real agenda’.
Read the full column at the International Business Times