Well indeed, it had to happen and there it is in cold newsprint! Reach Out To The Left Week! Admittedly, last week was also kindasorta ROTTLW for Nicko, because it was talking about giving more money to criminal defence barristers, among whom bien-pensant bruschettamunchers are pretty well represented (by the way, why was Nicko so wound up about barristers? Most of the criminal defence work in the UK is dealt with in magistrates’ courts and done by solicitors. Next time you’re in the cells for drunk ‘n’ disorderly, ask the constable to bring you a barrister and see how far you get). But any road up, this week there is clear blue water between Tweedledumb and Tweedledangerous; while Aaro is crying havoc for the new global economy and fuck you lot, Nick is thumping the table for the public sector ethos and redistribution of wealth. Stone the crows. Are we satisfied now? Not really.
The thing is (and in my opinion, the little filler-cum-joke piece is actually a lot more interesting than the big “hands off the NHS”; in a man’s unconsidered afterthoughts you see his true opinions), as my colleague below says, Nick’s heart is in the right place. His head, however, is in a quite strange place, and in my opinion it is heading down a trail already blazed by a previous incumbent of the inside back page opinion col of the Observer, one Ms Melanie Phillips.
The tell tale sign is that the old lefty rage against injustice is still alive and well, but the selection of targets to direct it against is bizarre. Have a close read of the class structure bit. It builds and builds until the true villain is revealed … it’s the BBC and the British Museum! They’re the ones holding the brother man down. What the hell? While browsing through the Business section looking for the Harry’s Place obituary, Nick might notice that there are lots of people named in there who are hardly ever metioned on blogs, but who are none the less considered important enough to have a whole section of the newspaper written about them. Funny that, you might almost think that there were a few members of the power elite who didn’t buy the Guardian on a Wednesday for the recruitment ads.
The obvious explanation here is that this is columnism as sado-masochism, the pleasurable frisson of telling a group of people that they, themselves, despite appearances, are responsible for all the troubles of the world. But that’s not really plausible. Even in a filler article, for a man to write the sentence “They fail to notice that the best protection for elites is to pretend they don’t exist”, and then walk away from his keyboard content in the knowledge that he’s fingered the guilty men at the BBC and the British Museum, is something that requires explanation. And I think that the explanation lies in the phrase “cultural power” in the last paragraph.
Back in the Will Hutton days, the Observer used to be quite keen on publishing a list called the “Power 500”. It was a sort of lineal descendant of Anthony Sampson’s “Who Runs Britain” and it was wildly eccentric. I used to have a fair old laugh every year it came out when Eddie George was ranked twenty places below Ginger Spice, or the chief exec of Shell was neck and neck with Gazza. And the reason for these strange assessments was that everyone’s ranking was set on the basis of a mark out of 20, which was in turn made up of marks out of five for political power, economic power, cultural power and media power (christ I can remember this shit off the top of my head ten years later). Astute readers will notice that the last two categories are a) exactly the same thing and b) bollocks. But this is the thing; the Observer newspaper, where Nick Cohen has spent the majority of his working life, has a long tradition of reifying something called “cultural power” and believing it to be as important as the real kind.
There is of course a possible reading of this piece in which the cultural elite (and I presume that Nick would include a wider variety of media organisations among the possessors of “cultural power”, though the fact he only mentions the BBC and the British Museum is as they say, no coincidence) are only guilty of covering up for the real conspirators and I suppose that it is to this saner interpretation that he would retreat if challenged. But then why not write a column naming the guilty men and relegate their toadies in the media to a sidebar? Why focus on publicly owned media rather than, say, Rupert Murdoch? The priorities are all skewed. This piece makes a lot more sense on the assumption that Nick really does believe that the problems of the world are being caused by the fact that the culturemakers are making the wrong culture.
It all fits. Iraq is to hell because the indecent left is giving publicity and succour to Zarqawi. The Tube got bombed because the newspapers give too much of a hearing to al-Qaradawi. Education is all to hell because the liberals won’t let councils bring back grammar schools. This is a version of things in which a small group of people in for the most part underpaid jobs in the public sector or in a public service broadcaster, subscribing to a single newspaper with an audited circulation of less than three hundred thousand, control the world.
There is real clear blue water here and I don’t know whether Decentism will survive as a political movement. While some of their cadres, like Aaro are returning to strict party-line Blairism, Nick (and a few years on from him, Mel) appear to be on the road to reinventing a twentyfirst century version of the socialism of fools.