'A theme of this book is that ideas on the fringe are worth examining' writes the author. Read his new book, and you may end up taking his word for it. Far from examining ideas on the fringe, one chapter down and it's quite clear that the focus has turned into sheer obsession, almost couch-like, for the myriad of the tiny -and irrelevant- factions of the far-left. Cohen is probably the last mainstream UK journalist who's still truly preoccupied with (and quite obviously in awe of) the petty squabbles that lacerated the far-left thirty years-plus ago while still (conveniently) overrating their influence on British politics.
No doubt Nick Cohen rates the internal-wrangling of the WRP, the Redgraves' family history and the clownesque deeds of political zombie George Galloway the key discourse behind the millions who dared to feel a touch iffy about the consequences of the military adventure in Iraq. Incidentally, while Cohen has a point in knocking Galloway and the likes' gargantuan power-trips, it's exactly work like "What's left?" that hands their trifling ego way too much credit. To read Cohen's argument, one would almost buy into the idea that the two million people who marched against the Iraq war in February 2003 were mere pawns in the devious game of Galloway, the minute SWP (Socialists' Workers Party) and their alleged media machine - and wouldn’t have demonstrated otherwise. You really wonder if the author has lost his sense of proportion over who actually holds the balance of power in UK politics.
Then Cohen proceeds to muddle the game up even further. The genocides in Bosnia and Kosovo are none other than another piece in the jigsaw; along with Iraq, 'freedom causes' that evil leftists never understood. In fact, they chose to stick by their 'Serbian comrades'. Cohen forgets tiny details, like the fact that the Lib-Dems, The Independent -and most of the Labour MPs (think Robin Cook) who voted against Iraq- were actually very vociferous in favour of intervention in the former-Yugoslavia.
But Cohen's clever. He's not sidetracking you out of thin air. Cos while he's yakking about Bosnia, Galloway, the 'no-globals', Kosovo, Noam Chomsky et al., he also dodges the most delicate questions. Taking a country to war on the basis of a dodgy dossier? Surely that's a blunder that will end up in history books? Nah, you Stalinist, let's run through the antics of 2006's Celebrity Big Brother (Bother?) again instead cos that's what really matters in international relations. Or…surely it's a worry to a liberal like Cohen that 60% of the British public were against the war and weren't at all reflected in the Feb 2003 parliamentary vote? You've got to be joking. There are more pressing matters, like Michel Foucault's stance over Iran in 1979. And how about: are you really one of those mugs still frowning upon Blair's apocalyptic claim that Saddam was 45 minutes away from washing Britain's shores with WMDs? Don't you worry. Let Cohen tell you about what a pervert and a despot Gerry Healy was in 1973.
In fact, since I'm on it, I mean, what's all that about? Though I was born in 1976, I used to consider myself quite clued up with politics and current affairs. And yet I'd never heard of Gerry Healy and the WRP, Workers' Revolutionary Party, a tiny little sect on the far-left that imploded while nobody noticed (except Cohen, of course) in the 1980s. Granted, there's no excuse for my ignorance, so I typed up "Gerry Healy" and "WRP" on Google. A couple of rickety paragraphs on Wikipedia was the best I could get. I then went on to ask my older colleagues, but none of them had ever heard of Gerry Healy or the WRP. Yet in 2007 Nick Cohen manages to devote more pages to the WRP and their
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