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3 October 2018

The Guardian vs the Canary, Tribune rises from the dead and sitting out the people’s march

The pro-Corbyn “alternative news” website the Canary backed a two-hour Twitterstorm under the hashtag BoycottTheGuardian.

By Peter Wilby

Friends want me to join the People’s Vote March for the Future – in effect, a last desperate throw from the Remain camp – in London on 20 October. I may do so in solidarity with those who reject the bullying, racism, loud chauvinism and wilful ignorance of some prominent Brexit supporters. I hesitate, however, for three reasons.

First, marches rarely change anything. On the weekend of 15-16 February 2003, in what has been described as “the largest protest event in human history”, several million people around the world – some estimates put the number as high as 30 million – marched against the invasion of Iraq. In London, between 750,000 and a million protested. The invasion went ahead and Tony Blair, then prime minister, won a general election only two years later.

Second, even if governments were bothered by demonstrations, it wouldn’t be terribly democratic of them to make decisions by counting numbers on the streets. However many march on 20 October, they won’t outnumber the 17.4 million who voted Leave two years ago.

Third, if another vote is held, Leave will probably win again, thus killing off the Remainers’ best hope: that Theresa May can get away with a fudged deal that nobody understands but, for all practical purposes, keeps us in the EU. It’s no use telling voters once more that leaving would be economically disastrous. Even if they believe it, their settled opinion is that, however much they personally may lose, the hated boss class will lose more. Otherwise, they reason, why are the bosses so desperate to stay in the EU?

Two Hours Hate

The Guardian is one of three national daily papers that generally supports left-wing causes and to reach even that number I have to count the Morning Star. Nevertheless, on 16 September, the website fivefilters.org, which promotes “non-corporate independent media” and sells apps that block ads and filter out articles you don’t agree with, listed more than a hundred instances of the Guardian linking Jeremy Corbyn to anti-Semitism. It urged readers to join a two-hour Twitterstorm under the hashtag BoycottTheGuardian on 27 September. The pro-Corbyn “alternative news” website the Canary – frequently criticised as a purveyor of fake news – backed the Twitterstorm as “an important moment” in which people could “display… growing suspicion of the newspaper’s relationship with the powerful”.

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As the anti-Guardian storm brewed – sample contribution: “a neo-con rag that deliberately promotes false left identity politics” – Guardian hacks got wind of a lecture organised by the black members’ council of the National Union of Journalists and scheduled to be held at the paper’s London headquarters. It would be delivered by Kerry-Anne Mendoza, the Canary editor. An emergency union meeting at the paper decided that Mendoza should not be banned. But several hacks resigned from the union in protest. It seems the left is still the market leader in fratricidal squabbles.

Former British republics

If the dispute over the Guardian looks arcane, that over what the Balkan state of Macedonia should be called seems positively Pythonesque. At present, the country is officially called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom). It isn’t allowed to call itself Macedonia because Greece has a region called Macedonia immediately to the south and fears its neighbour will seize the territory and recreate the ancient Macedonia of Alexander the Great, which ruled all Greece and more. The argument has raged since Yugoslavia’s break-up 27 years ago, with the Greeks objecting to Fyrom naming a motorway and an airport after Alexander the Great.

A compromise – that the country be called North Macedonia – has just been put to a Fyrom referendum. More than 90 per cent voted in favour but, thanks to a nationalist boycott, the turnout was only 36 per cent. So the argument continues. Laugh if you like, but remember that there is also a country called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. If, after Brexit, Scotland and Northern Ireland opt out, what will the rump be called? The Kingdom of England and Principality of Wales? Southern Britain? Or as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage would surely favour, Greater England?

Life in the old dogma

Tribune, the ailing journal of Labour’s left, which was “suspended” from publication in January, has returned from the dead. The man behind the latest rescue act is the 29-year-old American Bhaskar Sunkara, who launched the magazine Jacobin across the Atlantic in 2011. It became a vigorous cheerleader for Bernie Sanders. The news website Vox described Jacobin as “the leading intellectual voice of the American left” and Sunkara as “the best socialist capitalist you’ve ever seen”.

In the relaunch issue Tribune’s editor, Ronan Burtenshaw, promises lots of class politics and repeats what Michael Foot, one of his predecessors, wrote on the paper’s 21st birthday in 1958: “The old dogmas are as good as ever.” Let’s see how they go.

Like them apples

Herefordshire, where we were last week, is probably the least celebrated county in England, despite its cider orchards and tranquil countryside. One survey ranked it only just above Wolverhampton and well below Sunderland as a desirable place to live. But authors and journalists are moving in, among them the New Statesman contributor Matthew Engel. They look down their noses at the nearby Cotswolds, with its arriviste weekend population. When prime ministers are discredited, the areas they favoured are discredited with them, and David Cameron may have done for the Cotswolds what Harold Wilson once did for the Scilly Isles. The smart money should now go on Herefordshire.

This article appears in the 03 Oct 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The fury of the Far Right