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Cohen versus Corbyn: The fucking praise of fucking folly

Observer columnist Nick Cohen

It has been a while since I last read How to Win Friends and Influence People, but I do not recollect Dale Carnegie advising Sunday newspaper columnists to win over readers by branding them “fucking fools” who need to change their “fucking minds”. But such is now the level of debate in the Observer, which yesterday carried an extraordinary piece of Corbyn-bashing from the pen of Nick Cohen, concluding in just such a fevered peroration.

Let’s just say the polemic has all the hallmarks of being a product of what we must now learn to call “the late night typewriter”. At least the sight of the guy who likes to style himself the Orwell de nos jours descending into two minutes’ hate of Goldstein is not without a certain entertainment value.

Such secondary school playground cuss-word invective perhaps prompts a retort no more profound than ‘fuck off you fucking tosser’. But permit me to assume the mantle of a foul-mouthed latter-day Erasmus, and attempt the fucking praise of fucking folly. The substantive content – such as it is – is a tired and emotional rehash of the familiar charge-sheet against the Labour left project.

Labour sits at around 25% in the polls, and if there were a snap general election, that would result in a major loss of Labour seats. That “endangers British democracy”, as it ensures Tory government in perpetuity. Nor has Corbynism won back Scotland. There follows a somewhat implausible passage, maintaining that the Tories feared the fierce opposition to austerity purportedly propounded by Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna.

After that, it’s on to the inevitable Stalin analogy. When all else fails, elide a fluffed performance at PMQs with the Gulag Archipelago. There’s a pop at Corbyn for not having a Marxist programme. That’s right, not for having a Marxist programme, but for not having one. Go figure. And finally we get to the sweary sign-off.

To all this, the standard defences apply. Yes, Labour’s poll standing is poor, but hardly to the extent that rules out recovery or precludes victory in 2020. We can and will regain the ground. The undeniable collapse in Scotland is the creation of the Labour right, and perpetuated by continued Labour right domination of the branch office. To attempt to finger Corbyn on this one is just nonsensical.

And if comrades Balls and Umunna ever did come out against austerity, I guess I must have missed that meeting. Godwin’s Law stipulates that the first person to invoke Hitler in an online debate automatically loses. It’s high time we made the same stipulation for reductio ad Stalinism. I do confess some sympathy with Cohen’s kindly suggestion that Labour’s programme needs to be far sharper. But again, that’s a work in progress.

At a time when Labour badly needs unity, Team Corbyn remains committed to working on a building of love, even as its opponents admit to working every day to undermine it. Don’t tell me you weren’t warned about Cohen.

26 Comments

  1. Richard MacKinnon says:

    I agree with David Osland, Nick Cohen’s article in Sunday’s Observer was way over the top and must be ignored. Cohen is right of course in what he says, that in the event of a snap general election Labour could lose hundreds of MPs but his criticism of JC and his front bench team is far too extreme.
    I worry when I read articles like Cohen’s that enough Labour MPs will acknowledge the danger of Labour’s present predicament and feel motivated to try again to remove Jeremy as leader.
    What Nick Cohen forgets to mention in his nasty little piece of invective is the fantastic entertainment Jeremy, John, Dianne, and Emily provide. Millions of ordinary people that have never really had much interest in politics are now watching TV programmes such as PMQs Sunday morning politics in disbelief.
    The thought of JC and his hand picked team fighting a general election is an exciting prospect for many of us, and the day after, when JC has to explain the carnage and resign, it will be incredible just to be able to say ‘I was there’.
    So lets not have any more articles like Nick Cohen’s and if there are, as David Osland quite rightly says, they should be dismissed out of hand (what ever that means).

    1. JohnP says:

      Mackinnon is such a sad Right wing Troll with only this one sneering “line” to offer. It might go down well in the saloon bar of the Dog and Duck with the other Right wing Tories, but just makes the serious contributors to Left Futures think , “what a sad , ignorant, little man, with nothing to say”.

      1. Richard MacKinnon says:

        JohnP,
        Call me what you want, it doesnt matter, as long as you see my point.

  2. David Pavett says:

    Nick Cohen has developed an obsessively repetitive line of anti-left vitriol which has been relayed by The Observer for several years. His themes are well known to anyone with the stamina to read his stuff. The only point that I can see in commenting on his output is either to refute his malign interpretations of left positions or to respond when he scores hits on genuine weaknesses on the left. Short of either of those things I think that attacking Nick Cohen is not a good use of time.

    1. Richard MacKinnon says:

      David,
      Let me explain something to you, I think you need to realise what the first priority of a journalist is, its selling newspapers. Thats how they get measured, by the number of newspapers they sell. Thats it. The more controversial they are the better. If they say they are ‘left supporters’ its not because they are it is because they want to hype up an article: to sell more papers.
      People like Nick Cohen and Owen Jones love it when they read comments like yours David; ‘anti left vitriol’, ‘malign interpretations of left positions’ , (that one will make him smile). Cohen doe’snt give a damn what you call it, as long as you commment.
      Jones squeezes every last drop out of Jeremy Corbyn, its laughably, once as a supporter and now I think he’s not so sure. If Jones thinks he can write it into the script of the Labour Party soap opera, if he thinks he can write the article where he changes it back again, he will.

      1. David Pavett says:

        Your piece discussing why we should not discuss Nick Cohen: 170 words. My piece saying that attacking him without dealing with his arguments is pointless: 91 words.

  3. Richard House says:

    Here is a letter than mentions Cohen that I had in last week’s Star (below).

    People like Cohen are actually the “entryists” (along with Mandelson, Blair et al.), and have absolutely no connection whatsoever with the socialist tradition and roots of the Labour Party.
    Dr Richard House

    Letter: BRITISH MEDIA: Tone of political debate has reached new low

    Morning Star, Sat/Sun 18/19 March 2017, p. 18

    The anti-Corbyn media assault has now become a fixed, enduring feature of British political life. The latest example was the BBC’s extraordinary coverage of last Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs).

    On Radio 5 Live the insufferable anti-Corbyn commentariat (including the BBC’s John Pienaar and the Observer’s Nick Cohen) were queuing up to denounce Jeremy for allegedly having missed an “open goal” in relation to the Tories’ U-turn on national insurance contributions.

    They conveniently forgot to factor into their “analysis” [sic] that this was a carefully planned trap by the Tories, who clearly had days to prepare for this with Theresa May briefed to the eye balls, and yet Jeremy’s team were given barely 15 minutes notice of this humiliating volte face – carefully timed to be released just before PM’s Questions, and so putting Jeremy’s team in an impossible situation.

    Any remotely fair-minded commentary would have concluded that Jeremy did more than well enough in these circumstances. Yet not one of the sanctimonious political “experts” even mentioned this pathetic political game-playing by the Tories.

    It’s bad enough that the standard of our political life has sunk so low as to make such deceitful cynicism de rigueur. But to then see the commentariat not only completely taken in by it, but using it as a pretext for yet another sneering Corbyn-bashing fest is utterly sickening and beneath contempt.

    One couldn’t ask for a clearer example of why the Star is so desperately needed as the only consistent media voice that will give Jeremy a fair hearing.

    Dr Richard House
    Stroud

  4. Mervyn Hyde says:

    These orchestrated outbursts are all part of the erosion theory, Cohen is no more Labour than Kuenssberg.

    There is very little we can do about the capitalist press denouncing real Labour politicians, except to remind the people that matter what our policies are, character assassination is the hallmark of the Tory Press, that’s what we need to remind people.

    The other small point is that the guardian like other right wing news media is losing circulation, every time I go on the guardian site they ask me to pay to be a member supporter.

    Needless to say I don’t contribute, but would if they printed facts rather propaganda.

  5. Mervyn Hyde says:

    These orchestrated outbursts are all part of the erosion theory, Cohen is no more Labour than Kuenssberg.

    There is very little we can do about the capitalist press denouncing real Labour politicians, except to remind the people that matter what our policies are, character assassination is the hallmark of the Tory Press, that’s what we need to remind people.

    The other small point is that the guardian like other right wing news media is losing circulation, every time I go on the guardian site they ask me to pay to be a member supporter.

    Needless to say I don’t contribute, but would if they printed facts rather than propaganda.

  6. Peter Rossetti says:

    I used to say that there was only one thing lower than a politician and that was a journalist.
    In the case of Cohen I am afraid it is true

    1. Richard MacKinnon says:

      Peter,
      You despise a man for the job he does? and for being good at it? Ask yourself Peter where are you with those kind of thoughts?

  7. Robin Edwards says:

    Cohen marshalls a sort of Trotskyist critique of the degenerate UK left and its support for all sorts of reactionary and murderous regimes the recent and most disgraceful example being the cheer leading for the truly barbaric slaughter of the Syrian people by Assad and Putin in the name of some sort of bogus anti-imperialism but he does it not for socialist clarification but in order to arm the Labour Party right and furnish them with formally correct arguments with entirely false conclusions.

  8. Tony says:

    And elsewhere in that edition of the Observer was an hysterical full-page article about Momentum.

    Clearly, only the Labour right should be allowed to organise and exercise power and influence within the Labour Party.

    It seem that Momentum wants a leadership election candidate to get 5% of the PLP. This is hardly unreasonable. Labour MPs, let us not forget, were nominated with just 10 signatures out of a constituency electorate of usually around 75,000!

    1. Danny N says:

      It is noteworthy that the Corbyn-Lansman strategy of appeasement towards the Labour right (hence the lack of an economic programme, volte face on decades of opposition to the EU, Momentum coup etc) is now in tatters. Not that this will stop its practitioners from pursuing it, of course.

  9. Dr Paul says:

    I have long thought that Nick Cohen does not actually exist, but is really an App on a computer at the Observer. All you need to do is type in a topic (last night’s dinner, a walk in the park, next-door’s cat), press the button and — hey presto — out comes two lines on the topic and a huge rant against the left. Judging by its latest production, it seems that the Cohen-o-Matic App has been corrupted by a virus that inserts unparliamentary language, and thus need to be reformatted before it becomes a seriously embarrassing laughing-stock.

  10. Bazza says:

    Yes I have started getting the Obsever but tend to ignore most of the columnists (as in Friday’s Guardian) and simply turn the page; his pieces and the other Divi columnist who has just joined the Lib Dems (Barbara Bore or something) frankly are both boring and have NOTHING to say!
    Funny there was also another piece in this Observer – the non-story about Momentum and Unite which is probably a deliberate attack on McCluskey by Right wing Labour and a few supporting the centrist ‘crumbs for working people’ candidate in Unite.
    It took 20 plus years from the 1960’s onwards for Neo-Liberal Think Tank ideas to capture the Tory Party and these are now Tory mainstream ideas.
    Neo-Liberal Blair of what Tariq Ali calls: “The extreme centre” has just stumped up £10m (and 200 staff) to promote ‘centrist’ ideas.
    And of course Blairite Progress in Labour I think got £280k from from Sainsbury last year and I think £20k plus from a quasi dictator in a former Soviet Union Republic who Blair has links to.
    So if the Right and Centre can organise around ideas then why can’t Left Wing Democratic Socialists?
    But just to ensure there is no level playing field we now have throw in the Right Wing and Liberal media.
    So we need to reform Labour to get power to the grassroot members:
    1. Nominations for leader by (a) 5% of MPs OR (b) 50 CLPs OR (c) 5% of affiliates.
    2. Increase the number of CLP places on the NEC from 6 to 12 (6 male, 6 female).
    3. Allow organisations to send any resolution to Conference annually.
    4. Have on Parliamentary Shortlists with no Labour MPs or if a trigger ballot (a) at least 2 working class candidates (occupation parent/s) (b) at least 2 women and (c) at least one BME/LGBT/Disabled candidate. (Then pick the best left wing democratic socialist).
    5. And now add – elect a Deputy Leader who is not an MP!
    Power to JC and grassroots members!
    Keep the Faith!
    P.S. The best things in the Guardian are Steve Bell and like in the Obsérver the Business News!

  11. Karl Stewart says:

    There’s no doubt Cohen’s a nasty piece of work. In many ways, there’s often nothing nastier than a former left-winger who’s turned right.

    And this most recent, barely readable stream-of-consciousness gibberish masquerading as an article is indeed probably the result of too many glasses of wine with his fellow renegades.

    But wouldn’t this sort of bonkers attack be so much easier to dismiss if there was a robust socialist programme we could point to as evidence of our clear orientation?

    If we could respond to the Cohen’s and the Jones’s by saying:

    “We’re going to give the NHS an extra £350 million per week – whether we get the money from EU contributions or higher taxes.”

    Or:

    “We’ll ban steel imports, nationalise British Steel and invest in new plant and equipment to meet all our construction needs.”

    “We’ll restore engineering and manufacturing on the basis of import bans, procurement laws and serious investment.”

    “We’ll repeal all the anti-union laws, bring back the closed shop and make non-union membership the only criterion for fair dismissal.”

    “We’ll guarantee a proper craft apprenticeship or a university place to all.”

    “We’ll abolish all tuition fees at nursery, primary, secondary, further and higher education.”

    “We’ll guarantee an affordable home for every citizen.”

    We’d win mass support from the working class people for a confident and robust programme like that and we’d just dismiss off the sneers of Cohen and laugh off the whining of Jones.

    1. Imran Khan says:

      I thought this was Labour policy already. Did I miss something?

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        I’m glad to hear it Imran. Can you point me to the relevant policy document/statement/speech please?

  12. Imran Khan says:

    Cohen is still one of the most must read journalists writing, or rather published, today. His ” What’s Left” on the left, now ten years old is still essential reading for why the Labour Party is unelecteable.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      That’s the book where the poisonous little shite sets out his support for the illegal invasion of Iraq.

      And you think taking that position would make Labour more electable?

  13. Miriam Yagud says:

    I don;t understand why you give even more air space to commentators you disagree with and who are simply out to damage the Labour Party and the current leadership and sabotage our attempts to democratise our society.
    I realised many years ago that BNick Cohen is suffering from being the right wing child of lifelong Communists who spent too much time in bloody meetings and not enough time with their children. The country is littered with embittered and neglected adults taking it out on the democratic left. They need therapy but unfortunately, they’ve chosen a scapegoat. Us. So DON’T give them even more attention. We have an effective strategy to build and mobilise….. So get to it!

  14. Mike says:

    Cohen’s intervention is unwelcome – in its own terms and because it makes it too easy for Corbyn supporters to further rally around their leader.

    “You want Jez to go? So you agree with Cohen, a cheerleader for mass murder in Iraq??”

    There is something in politics called ‘strategy.’ I say this because the Labour left has demonstrated time and again in recent years that it is incapable of strategic thought and action.

    Strategy involves deciding what you want and then identifying the critical success factors that need to be in place to make it happen.

    You then work patiently and carefully to put these factors in place, while taking sober advantage of opportunities as they arise – keeping in mind that such opportunities rarely mean that the identified factors are no longer necessary.

    This does not mean lurching into power at the head of a largely hostile PLP and diffuse movement of 1000 different opinions – and then hoping to make a go of it in a FPTP electoral system.

    Ironically, the Labour left has been found out by Corbyn’s success.

    Years of self-righteous oppositionalism and ‘told you so’ critique is not a credible strategy for leading the main opposition party – especially in a context where levels of class organisation and struggle are at historic lows.

    The Corbyn leadership has become a political clown car. Many in the electorate have stopped listening. The die has been cast.

    Policy refinement at this stage is not enough, and hopes that all can be made well by 2020 are characteristic of the self-delusions that the Labour left too often indulges in when its lack of strategy and consequent lack of broad political support become evident.

    So, while I have no time for Cohen, cursing seems entirely appropriate at this time:

    “Get a fucking grip. Grow the fuck up. And fucking resign.”

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      Mike, you’re being extremely contradictory there mate.

      You say you want a well thought-out socialist strategy – so do we all.

      But what you don’t seem to get is that, if Corbyn is forced to resign, this will set back the left for a generation.

      Yes, there are clear weaknesses in policy and strategic programme, yes, yes and yes again.

      But these weaknesses can only be tackled on the basis of working with the current leadership, strengthening it and working to construct that robust policy platform on the foundations that exist now.

      Losing Corbyn now can only strengthen the right and the forces of reaction.

      There is no left-wing leader who will not face a hostile media, it happened to Benn, Scargill, Livingstone, back when the media found them dangerous.

      We can only resist that attack by being stronger, by having a solid programme, and not by retreating and surrendering – that will only embolden the right.

      The call must be to defend Corbyn from attack by the right and to push for a solid socialist programme.

  15. Mike says:

    Karl, what will set back the left for a generation (and maybe longer) is being held responsible for the electoral rout of Labour in England and Wales.

    Few things will do more to embolden the right than a historically devastating defeat at the polls.

    The choice today is not victory or surrender, socialism or death. Such oppositions are apolitical abstractions – apolitical because they pose a false choice between extremes that do not correspond to the real forces and options in play.

    Socialism is not at stake. Corbyn is not advocating a socialist programme. Much of what he has stated in policy terms would be supported by left-leaning members of the Wilson and Callaghan Cabinets of the 1960s and 1970s.

    The weakness of the left is not a consequence of the absence of a “solid socialist programme.” It is not in the gift of the left to conjure support for socialism by programmatic means. Socialism will become a credible political project to the extent that the working class moves to advance its interests in ways that challenge the logics of capital.

    There are no shortcuts.

    The British working class is still reeling from the defeats of the 1980s and 1990s. That cannot be reversed by a weak and fragmented left offering socialist promises.

    The way forward is for the left to consolidate its positions within the party where it can. Corbyn should resign.

    There is a difference between surrender and tactical retreats. Unfortunately, too many on the left are fueled by the notion that at any point in time there can only be an unremitting advance toward socialism – or surrender, defeat and disgrace.

    Actual politics is more complex and open than that. Those who want Corbyn to remain as leader no matter what need to (as I said in my first comment) get a fucking grip.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      I haven’t said:”Socialism or death” Mike, that slogan’s your invention.

      It’s very easy to make something up that sounds ridiculous and then argue against it.

      I could accuse you of supporting the illegal invasion of Iraq and then arguing against that couldn’t I?

      That would be equally dishonest and equally unhelpful.

      My argument was that, yes there are weaknesses and yes there are problems, but the only way to overcome them is by building on the foundation that exists now – the democratically elected left-wing leadership.

      Yes of course it should have been done a year ago, but we are where we are.

      I agree it will be very difficult, it will be hard work, and there’s no guarantee of success.

      But your suggestion that Corbyn should resign today will result, immediately, in the forces of the Labour right taking full control of the party.

      The forces of the left would be totally demoralised and it would be the Labour right who would consolidate their positions.

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