Few noticed in 2015 when Seumas Milne excused the tyranny that held East Germany in its power from the Soviet Invasion in 1945 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Nearly every page reeked of a sly attempt to sweeten dictatorship and cover up the murder it inevitably brings. It was greeted with deserved indifference.
As for Milne, two-years ago he was just another columnist in a newspaper industry that is stuffed with them. He provided a niche service on the Guardian by catering for a corner of the market that yearned to hear defences of 20th century Soviet Communism and 21st century Islamo-Fascism at the same time and for the same reasons. Now Milne is Jeremy Corbyn’s Executive Director of Strategy and Communications. There is a faint chance he could be the most influential adviser in a Corbyn government, if Labour wins power. He won’t go back to obscurity, if Labour loses, however. Milne will fight to ensure that the modern version of the Hitler-Stalin pact, the alliance of the red and the black, continues to control the opposition.
Observer, October, 2017
The few people not caught up in leader worship in Brighton asked how the cult of Jeremy Corbyn’s personality would die. Would his support for Brexit drive his young admirers away? Have we reached peak Corbyn? They forgot the lesson of history that you don’t worry about personality cults that fail. You worry when they succeed.
On 12 May, Robbie Travers sent Esme Allman, a fellow student at Edinburgh University, a Facebook message.
“Hey Esme, just to let you know multiple news agencies have been delivered [sic] your comments on calling black men trash. You might want to think about saying that in future, some have been linked it [sic] to neo-Nazism.”
The ill-crafted words were at best half-truths and at worst outright lies. But there was a nugget of fact beneath them, which Travers could melt and remould. Allman had indeed said “trash”. But the context, which Travers did not mention, could not have been further from neo-Nazism. Allman was in a Facebook group for black and ethnic minority students at Edinburgh. Its members talked about the abuse Serena Williams received when she announced she had fallen in love with a white man. Black men who insulted a black woman for marrying the love of her life were “trash”, Allman declared. Harsh words, but understandable in the circumstances. Whatever their colour, trolls are trash, after all.
The Observer August 2017
Four years ago, I put on what I used to call my gym kit and went for my first run in decades. Two hundred metres in, pain shot through my ample, but I liked to think, still manly physique. It was as if a sniper had taken out my legs. Abandoning all thought of fitness, I hobbled home, wincing with every step.
One should try to grow old honestly. And for middle-aged men that includes facing up to self-delusions. For anyone brought up in the journalistic culture of the late 20th century, the greatest delusions were about health. All kinds of subconscious diversion strategies clicked in whenever it was suggested that perhaps we should think about leaving the pub occasionally and taking some exercise.
It sounds like the start of a bad stand-up routine. An Irish lesbian feminist walks into Ukip’s HQ and… And the Kippers walk out. Or at least three-quarters of Ukip’s members of the European parliament say they will walk out if Anne Marie Waters becomes their new leader.
The Observer May 2017
The racist right, it used to be said, wanted everyone to look the same, while the politically correct left wanted everyone to think the same. What unites the small and the dirty minded, however, is always more important than superficial ideological divisions. Now the worst of the right has become like the worst of the left. We must not only look like them but think like them.
Observer April 2017
In AD843, Charlemagne’s grandsons divided his empire like mafia bosses parcelling out territory. Louis received the land we were to later call Germany. A large part of it had been in the Roman empire, lying behind the Limes Germanicus, the great wall the Romans built to keep out the barbarians to the east. Cologne, Stuttgart, Vienna, Bonn, Mainz and Frankfurt, all the greatest cities of the future West Germany and Austria, with the exception of Hamburg, grew up within or in the immediate shadow of Rome’s western empire.
Louis knew where his kingdom began – Germany began at the Rhine, of course. He knew, too, that at its heart were territories that were now Catholic lands and had once been part of the Roman empire. But where did Germany end? He wasn’t sure, nor was anyone else. The Treaty of Verdun, which managed the partition, simply assigned Louis “everything beyond the Rhine”. It left open the question of where “everything” stopped. Did Germany end at the Elbe, where Charlemagne’s rule had stopped, or could it go on into the Slav lands to the east, whose rulers had paid tribute to Charlemagne?
James Hawes’s sweeping and confident history shows how deep the division of Germany between west and east became as Teutonic knights, Junkers, Prussian militarists and Nazi imperialists all determined to establish an empire over the Slavs in the lands beyond the Elbe.
The Observer, 5 February, 2017
Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power. Their trust turns the charlatan into the president. Their credulity ensures that the propaganda of half-calculating and half-mad fanatics has the power to change the world.
How you see the believers determines how you fight them and seek to protect liberal society from its enemies. And I don’t just mean how you fight that object of liberal despair and conservative fantasies, the alternately despised and patronised white working class. Compulsive believers are not just rednecks. They include figures as elevated as the British prime minister and her cabinet. Before the EU referendum, a May administration would have responded to the hitherto unthinkable arrival of a US president who threatened Nato and indulged Putin by hugging Britain’s European allies close. But Brexit has thrown Britain’s European alliance into crisis. So English Conservative politicians must crush their doubts and believe with a desperate compulsion that the alleged “pragmatism” of Donald Trump will triumph over his undoubted extremism, a belief that to date has as much basis in fact as creationism.
Observer 18 February, 2017
If you are unlucky, and all of us are unlucky in the end, you will visit a doctor in the confident expectation that they can fix any illness as a mechanic fixes a car and learn of the vast areas of ignorance on the map of medical science. If you are very unlucky, you will take an autistic child to a doctor and learn that “autism” is a vague and flabby label. There isn’t even agreement on what causes it, let alone on what, if anything, might alleviate or cure it.
Into the gap, between inexplicable suffering and the inability to relieve it, pour the conmen. Last week, Andrew Wakefield, the most contemptible of the charlatans, arrived in Britain to exploit the false hopes and fill the nightmares of his native land.
Observer, 27 February, 2017
If you want to understand the opportunism and shallowness of so much English commentary, look at how former Marxist-Leninists have prospered. On Radio 4’s Moral Maze or in the rightwing press the same names reappear: Claire Fox, Frank Furedi, Brendan O’Neill and Mick Hume. Their audience is not told they were members of the Revolutionary Communist party, which reconstituted itself as Spiked magazine, or that their careers provide a parable of modern media cynicism.
As Leninists they were the most ultra of the ultra-left, the type who would argue that sanctions against apartheid were a bourgeois compromise, or more funds for the NHS were palliatives that postponed the day of revolution. By the 1990s, they realised that socialism was a dead end. They grasped something else: if they abandoned their calls for revolution, but kept their denunciations of environmentalism, liberal elitism and help for the victims of genocide, they would never want for media work.