Thursday, December 02, 2004

UN Peacekeepers for 119 Farringdon Road?

The Guardian's separatist insurgency gathers pace towards all-out civil war. After the now-notorious articles on the Ukraine by Jonathan Steele and John Laughland, it was the paper's liberal-hawk tendency's turn to hit back. On Tuesday, columnist David Aaronovitch delivered this rant about Mr. Laughland, who returned fire in the letters page the next day. Bizarrely, Laughland claimed that Aaronovitch had done nothing more than "an internet trawl", but didn't say why this made his statements wrong. No wonder he was angry, though - who wouldn't when one of your colleagues gets outed as denying that there was ever a genocide in Rwanda of all places? On Thursday, it was the turn of Tim Garton-Ash to weigh in with this piece, which is perhaps the best writing I've yet seen about the Ukrainian situation. As well as an elegant analysis of the row, there is (of course) a stinging rebuke for the other side. I've previously blogged about rows in the Grauniad as a form of ritual on the left, but if this one keeps up they'll end up with blue helmets policing the ceasefire line between facts and comment, behind a barricade of overturned desks.

This isn't really a row about the Ukraine, though. This is a very local British problem indeed, despite TGA's references to Italian and German papers. In some ways it's part of the last echoes of the boom in the British far left of the 70s and 80s - although the Communist Party of Great Britain was well into its decline by then, a variety of Trotskyist and other far-left groups were able to recruit intellectuals and trade unionists in considerable numbers. (In 2001, no less than six government ministers were extreme-left veterans.) The Revolutionary Communists (at least three versions of), the Workers' Revolutionary party, the Socialist Workers' party - they all had their heyday, and their main achievement was to infiltrate the Labour party and have some really good rows. All those old conflicts are rolled up on the broader left in Britain - the ex-Trotskyists and ex-Militant types, the traditional Labour left, the traditional Labour social-democratic right, the non-socialist liberals. Any understanding of either the Labour or Liberal Democrat parties has to take this into account (the Lib Dems' version of this is the tension between old-fashioned economic liberals and the post-Social Democrats who left Labour because of the Trotskyists....and now because of Tony Blair..).

The same goes for the Guardian, a newspaper without a proprietor, regulated by a charter that binds it to "Liberal principles", editorial independence of management, and the paper's continued financial independence. Or should those be "liberal principles"? Its origins in Manchester were as the paper of - well - Manchester Liberalism, which would put it quite a distance to the right of its position for the last forty years at least. But it has spent much of the intervening period aligned with the Labour party (but sympathetic to the Liberals), and its staff is without doubt the most leftwing in Britain. I get the strong impression that, faced with the problem of defining a left/liberal consensus in their newsroom, the Guardian's editors have decided instead on creative ambiguity. You might get Hywel Williams, a Welsh nationalist who made his career in the Conservative party (work that out). You might get Seamus Milne or George Monbiot. There are two ways of looking at this - one is that this offers real diversity and debate. The other is that it tends to let through too much nonsense.

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