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“What’s Left?” by Nick Cohen (2006, Updated 2007)

Nick Cohen is none of the following;


“A Right Wing Hawk”, “Someone who has metamorphosed into a Neo Con cheerleader”, “ an Islamophobe”, “.. following in the footsteps of David Aranovitch and Oliver Kam by ratting on the Left” etc, etc.


Luminaries of the Left such as George Galloway, Ken Livingstone and John Pilger have thrown all these charges at Cohen.


They are lazy and wrong.


Cohen has been a consistent spokesman over the years on matters such as Civil Liberty, and the relationship between the Labour Party, whether in Government or Opposition and the rest of Society.


He asks tough questions and reflects on issues such as Public Ownership, Education and the NHS, which the Left would rather bury their head in the sand over.


Nick Cohen is controversial, but that’s his job as a columnist and analyst for the Observer and New Statesman.


I think he is profoundly wrong about Iraq and the comparisons regarding the ‘Thirties and facing down Fascism in Europe are spurious ones, but is important that we on the Left have these debates for a myriad of reasons, not least to remember who we are and what we are trying to do, and to banish the dog days of the ‘Seventies and ‘Eighties during which winning intellectual and moral debate superseded winning elections.


The losers? Not those vanquished in debates over the Labour Party Rule Book. It was the British People forced to endure eighteen years of Tory Rule as the Labour Party did it’s best to destroy the Progressive Left in this country.


So it was in this spirit that I came to Cohen’s recently updated version of “What’s Left?”


What a disappointment. The problem lies with the fact that Cohen is a lazy with his denunciations as his above listed enemies.


Thus, if you are against the Iraq War you are immediately, “self defeating, fraudulent and vicious”. That’s all of us apparently. We “forget about Saddam’s victims” and that we believed that the War was “financial mania, and an excuse to batter the Crescent with the Cross”. Finally anyone who went on the February 2003 March went “morally berserk”.


He constantly refers to Galloway as the “Leader” of the Stop the War Movement and thus those who speak up against Blair’s folly are immediately in agreement with George’s bonkers alliance with the bigots of the SWP and (dis) RESPECT.


 Galloway is an aberration rather than the norm and never did my Mum’s lament that; “Empty vessels make the most noise” seem more appropriate. Vain, crude and bullying and it’s a real shame and a complete irony that he now sits for George Lansbury’s old Constituency of Bow in the East End of London. The veteran anti Fascist would be bemused that a Leftist such as Galloway could sit cosily with a bunch of misogynistic bigots, and religious zealots. 


And therein lie Cohen’s problems and the Achilles Heel of this tract.


He finds it impossible to make a connection such as this; I have great respect for Ken Livingstone and his progressive work as Mayor of London. This does not however, mean that I endorse Ken’s ridiculous and offensive succour of the IRA in the ‘Eighties.


Cohen is obsessed with factions of the Left being somehow representative of large swathes of those on the Progressive side.


Thus for a contemporary critique of Socialism I found it depressingly lazy that Cohen devotes a thirty five page chapter to the rise and fall of the Workers Revolutionary Party, an ‘Eighties sect with no more than fifty odd nutters for members, only made famous because of Vanessa Redgrave’s involvement and the sexual antics of it’s Stalinist leader Gerry Healy.


A totally bizarre and baffling interlude with absolutely no relevance to today’s Left.


In addition there is another meandering load of waffle about the Major Government’s appeasement of Milosovic, and it’s refusal to lift the arms embargo against the Bosnian Government. I assume the point is to draw a comparison with Blair’s intervention in Iraq, but the circumstances are completely different and he fails to produce a narrative that makes sense, or is logical.


Another of the books failings is its obsession with Foreign Policy, important but way down the list of voter concerns and whilst Iraq caused the Labour Party no end of trouble, I don’t think it did any lasting damage, as the consequences are there for all to see meaning any more interventions are much less likely.


What the Left should be talking about are issues such as the creeping authoritarianism of the State, private involvement in Public Services, climate change and the new economic conditions of the 21st Century.


 Nick Cohen’s book is a minor contribution and has been given far too much significance given its massive and obvious flaws


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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