Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Three reasons why Milne's appointment was wrong, wrong, wrong

You'll have heard by now that Seumas Milne has been appointed executive director of strategy and communications for the Labour party. This is a disastrous decision for (at least) three reasons.

1. He has no expertise whatsoever on strategy. Shouldn't a director of strategy have some experience of, you know, strategy? What is the point of the Labour Party if it can't get elected? Has Milne ever been involved in a strategy that got someone elected to public office? (Rather, than, say, to the executive of the National Union of Journalists?)
2. He hasn't got much more expertise on communications. True, he's earned his living as a journalist all his adult life. But only three publications he's worked for are Straight Left, a Communist Party weekly, The Economist and The Guardian. In other words, his communication has overwhelmingly been with the already converted middle class left. If Corbyn is to usher in a new form of politics, he needs to reconnect the Labour Party with "ordinary" voters, with those who don't vote and those who've drifted to UKIP and the Tories. How can you do this, if your career is wholly within the activist bubble? This is a dreadful signal that Corbyn's Labour does not want to reach out to the ordinary working class people who make up the majority of the unconverted, but to mobilise a social movement.
Footnote: Many of Corbyn's left-wing domestic policies do resonate with voters outside the bubble; his foreign policies, with which Milne is closely associated don't:
YouGov for Prospect, via John Rentoul

3. His own views are just appalling. I won't bother to exhume all of the awful things Milne has said in his columns - on whether Lee Rigby's killers were terrorists, on whether Stalin was good for gender relations, on whether Milosevic deserved to be tried for war crimes, on whether we provoked Putin to invade Ukraine, on whether the UN-verified mass chemical attack on Ghouta happened, etc - because the right-wing press will be combing his easily accessible Guardian archive as I write and we'll be seeing plenty of this, making any leftists with a moral compass squirm with shame.
Further reading:
I also went through old links mentioning Milne on this blog. Here are some nuggets from the archive:

Norman Geras, 2008:
Seumas Milne is a very good guide to things. I mean, he's a good guide to how a certain section of the left - not to put too fine a point on it, the regrettable section - thinks.
David T, 2006:
Seumas Milne’s career as Comment Editor has been characterised by an editorial approach which suggests that he has little understanding of the nature of journalism, but a very strong commitment to promoting the political projects of his cronies. Milne has effectively run the Comments Pages of the Guardian as an updated version of the Communist Party’s “Straight Left” newspaper: an entryist project in the Labour Party in which Milne served as Business Manager.
Martin in the Margins, 2007:
Anyone searching for an explanation of why the comment pages of the liberal Guardian are regularly given over to apologists for illiberal opinions, particularly Islamism, need look no further than the identity of the man who edits those pages: Seumas Milne
In today's Guardian, Milne gives himself a column... in which to insist that, despite growing evidence to the contrary,Islamist terror attacks in the UK are not the product of a twisted cult driven by an authoritarian religio-political ideology, but (you guessed it) simply the blowback from British foreign policy. 
There's so much to quarrel with in Milne's contentious article..., but here are a few points for starters. I find Milne's sneering at repentant former Islamists such as Ed Husain (whom he insultingly labels 'a British neocon pinup boy') and Hassan Butt deeply patronising and...  ironically reminiscent of the very colonialist thinking he claims to oppose. It seems it's OK for minorities to express their views, as long as they tally with leftist orthodoxy: if they don't, it must be a case of manipulation by the white establishment. Heaven forbid that they might have opinions of their own, or that their direct experience of Islamist extremism might have some value. I hesitate to describe this approach as indirectly racist, though others might not be so cautious.
Norman Geras, 2009:
If there's an anti-democratic organization or movement anywhere, an individual dictator or a tyrannical regime, then it's a safer than safe bet, because it's a certainty, that somewhere or other a commentator on the Western left (verkrappt section) will be telling you that the said organization or movement, dictator or regime, isn't as bad as all that. And it's a near certainty that one of the somewheres he or she will be telling you this is in the Guardian. You don't need three guesses, you need only one; it's Seumas Milne.
The late Jams O'Donnell, 2009:
Although it can be said of others too there is not probably not a despot (sorry I meant freedom loving anti-imperialist) that unreconstructed Stalinist Seumas Milne will not support. In today’s Guardian he excels himself! It is an article that starts with a cheap shot, comparing the response in Iran to that of disgruntled Tories after Attlee’s resounding election victory in 1945 (apparently a Savoy diner declared "The country will never stand for it."). 
In Milne World (where the red star shines brightly among the hammer and sickles)...
[the bad guy is] 'western media, whose cameras focus so lovingly on Tehran's gilded youth and for whom Ahmadinejad is nothing but a Holocaust-denying fanatic.' (I don’t know about you but Holocaust-denying fanatic is enough to damn anyone in my books even if they are kind to animals and love their old mum.)...
I wonder if it ever occurred to the likes of Milne that the men and women protesting in Iran are not “gilded youth” but people who are frustrated not only by what they see as a blatantly fraudulent election; they are frustrated by life in an oppressive society, frustrated at being second class citizens (in the case of many of the women, frustrated at high inflation, frustrated at high unemployment. They are angry and they want change.
[Norm's Footnote: With regard to 'gilded youth', Milne is the 'younger son of the former BBC Director General Alasdair Milne [and] attended the leading public school Winchester College and read PPE at Balliol College, Oxford'.]
Jim Denham, 2012:
I've written about the Graun‘s tame public school Stalinist, Seumas “Posh Boy” Milne many times before and was inclined, at first, to ignore his latest pack of lies, half-truths, evasion and privileged westerner’s patronisation of, and generalisation about, people of other cultures, published in that paper yesterday. But it really is a loathsome, poisonous piece of writing, even by Milne’s distasteful ‘standards.’... 
All his adult life has been devoted to glorifying Stalinism and dictatorship. He seems to have a psychological need for a strong leader-figure. He certainly holds democracy in any form, in complete disdain. On leaving Balliol he became business manager of Straight Left (the publication of an ultra-Stalinist faction within the British Communist Party), and since joining the Guardian (via a stint at the Economist) has frequently devoted columns to defending/excusing/downplaying the mass murder that took place under his hero. 
But Mine has had a major problem since 1989: the masses of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union rejected totalitarianism, and the working class of the ‘West’ (and, indeed, most of the rest of the world) finally discarded whatever residual illusions they may have had in Stalinism as any kind of progressive force. History’s verdict on the Milnes of this world was decisive and damning. Since that blow (shared by his friend and co-thinker George Galloway), he’s had no positive vision of socialism to put forward. Like many other Stalinists, he doesn’t even use the word very often. 
Kyle Orton, 2014:
It’s not exactly news that the Western far-Left and ultra-Right have more in common with each other than either has with the mainstream, but a case has now emerged twice of Seumas Milne—once described as “so Stalinist … he had snow on his boots"—and Peter Hitchens offering an apologia for the West’s enemies in... strikingly similar terms.. It should be noted that the irony here is entirely at Milne’s—and those Leftists’ who support him—expense. Hitchens reactionary position is entirely consistent: Russia’s model of Christian conservatism and nationalism is much more to the taste of the ultra-Right that has now joined with the far-Left in its anti-Westernism, and especially anti-Americanism, seeing Washington as the leader of a secular, socially liberal revolutionary and globalist movement. That the Left feels drawn to making excuses for a regime that uses the blood-spattered Russian Orthodox Church as an official prop and has anti-homosexual demagogy and incitement as centre-pieces of its anti-Westernism only underlines the fact that for such people any anti-American will do.
And plenty more from Shiraz Socialist.... 


Anonymous said...

Just one small point in your otherwise informative blog.

When you mention "Straight Left, a Communist Party weekly", it's an error. "Straight Left" was the paper of the secretive "Tankie Faction" within the old CPGB organising opposition to the Eurocommunists. There was a cross over of views between them and some in the Labour Party where they also had their supporters.

John R

Bill Thomson said...

good luck guys....